You may remember him as George Dunkerley, but I remember him as Dave Hadfield from Bolton, a magnificent sports journalist and a friend, who was always entertaining company.
Dave’s great love was rugby league, so much so he played the game in his home city, where soccer is king, and later became chairman of the Bolton Mets Club.
He lived in Sydney for a time, and wrote for Rugby League Week under the pseudonym, ‘George Dunkerley’, a name which he retained when he returned to the UK and filed stories for RLW about the British game.
In 1990 he joined The Independent, and in the days of broadsheet journalism, when newspapers were king, he was given a tremendous amount of space by his sports editors, a luxury not afforded league writers on other papers.
The Independent even backed Universities Rugby League.
From memory, I first met Dave, when I covered the 1982 Kangaroo tour of Britain and France, although he may have been in Hong Kong then. Anyway, our paths crossed many times from the 1980s until relatively recent times, pre-Covid. He even stayed at the home of my wife, Marie and I on a few occasions. I also prepared a couple of country schedules for him, which saw him exploring unlikely places such as Warwick, Leyburn, Tenterfield, Stanthorpe, Kyogle, Casino, Murwillumbah, Nimbin and Lismore.
In 2008, after covering the World Cup (in which the Kiwis beat Australia in the final at Suncorp Stadium), Dave spent a couple of nights at our town house at Grange, in Brisbane’s inner north. The town house is built on what was once Corbett Park, the home ground of Past Brothers, one of the power house clubs of the old Brisbane Rugby League, but now relegated to Second Division status, because of a financial catastrophe.
This is what Dave wrote, in ‘Down and Under’, one of a number of books he has written.
“I’ve explained to Steve, the long serving and unnervingly dedicated rugby league writer on ‘The Courier-Mail’ how very dangerous this is. On the Indian graveyard principle, anything built on the former home of a rugby league club is hexed. Housing estates built on the sites of former grounds like Watersheddings and Station Road, are places of misery, with statistics for marital breakdown, mental disturbance and home repossession, which are off the graph. It is a negative equity of the soul and it is the way the unquiet buried spirits of rugby league, get their own back.”
Dave made a visit to the Crown Hotel, Lutwyche, hoping to meet former Test halfback, Tom Raudonikis, who was a regular.
“I ask the barmaid if he’s around, and without checking anywhere but my corner of the pub, she is adamant that he isn’t,” Dave wrote. “How can she be sure he isn’t lurking somewhere in what is a pretty crowded establishment? ‘Because you’re sat on his stool, and he would have shifted ya by now,” she said. Australia…I think I always will call it some sort of home.”
When he first worked for ‘Rugby League Week’ in Sydney in 1981 (when Ian Heads was managing director), he wrote about Australians, such as Darryl Brohman, who was playing for Penrith at the time, suggesting that he should get a chance in the Queensland State of Origin side. Brohman made his Origin debut two years later.
Hadfield released the book ‘Playing Away’, about Australians in British Rugby League, men such as Brian Bevan, Harry Bath, Mal Meninga, Peter Sterling and Brett Kenny. The book was published in 1992, with photographs provided by Andrew Varley Picture Agency, which is still going strong.
The late great, Arthur Beetson was one of those featured, with Hadfield recalling that ‘Big Artie’ was really hitting form in December, 1968, at Hull Kingston Rovers. On Christmas Day, Hull KR played their traditional morning derby against Hull.
“We were winning 33-30 or something,” Beetson told Hadfield, years later. “I ran on the blindside, fended off a couple of tackles and, as I half turned, the leg just went. (Trainer) Colin Hutton came running on and said, “Come on Arthur, this is no time to be messing about’. I got up to play the ball, but I couldn’t move, and that was it for me in England. I had broken my leg. I still made it to the Christmas dinner, though.”
Dave Hadfield loved his food, and a pint or two of English bitter.
When I covered the New Zealand v Lebanon game at Gloucester, during the 2000 Rugby League World Cup, I dropped into a pub which I had read about in ‘The Good Beer Guide’ and there was Dave enjoying a Banks’s Original, or something similar.
Here’s to you Dave.
Dave Hadfield was 70, when he died on March 15, 2022, after a battle with Parkinson’s.