The 1963 Australian Rugby League team’s flight to London was diverted to Beirut, because of fog in Cairo, where the plane was scheduled to refuel. But manager, Jack Lynch still described the trip as “uneventful”.
It might be different now, if the same thing happened, given the strife in Lebanon. But in the 1960s, Beirut was a playground for the rich and famous, and some of the hotels in Beirut in the 1960s would have been better than ‘The Royal’ in London, where the Kangaroos stayed for the first few nights of the English leg of their tour of Britain and France.
Lynch described ‘The Royal’ as “old fashioned internally, whilst the meals left a lot to be desired’.
“It was however convenient, by reason of its close proximity to the heart of London,” Lynch added, in his report to the Australian Rugby League, at the conclusion of the 36 match tour, which saw the Australians win the rugby league Ashes in Britain, for the first time in 50 years. They won the first two Tests against Britain, but lost the third. In France, it was the other way round, with Australia losing the First Test before winning the next two.
I have been sent a copy of Jack Lynch’s managerial report by his grand-daughter, Lynnette Flemming. Lynch’s co-manager was Queenslander, Arthur Sparks. I never had the privilege of meeting Mr Lynch, but I had a lot to do with Arthur, when he was chairman of the Brisbane Rugby League and later, ground announcer at Easts’ Tigers home games at Langlands Park.
The report makes for fascinating reading. The touring party left Sydney on September 7, “following an unforgettable send-off by an exceptionally large number of rugby league supporters and friends, in addition, of course, to the wives, sweethearts and families of the NSW section of the party, it not being practicable for the Queensland members of the party to have their near and dear ones present, in view of the distance and travel involved. However, the send-off made a deep and favourable impression on all members of the party, and something they kept talking about in glowing terms, for quite some time after departure.’
The squad flew on a Qantas Boeing 707 (which from all reports, left on time), with stop-overs for fuel in Perth, Singapore, Bangkok, New Delhi, Karachi, Cairo and Rome.
In London, the team was met by Rugby Football League chairman, Harry Roebuck and secretary, Bill Fallowfield. The team trained at White City Stadium. At the airport they were met by a large media contingent, but in the following days struggled to get publicity from the London media, which, in effect, was the national media. (Northing has changed, with rugby league heartland in the north of England, effectively ignored by the London press).
“Every opportunity was taken to publicise the Australian party through statements etc to press and radio, whilst at all times members of our party were attired in their Australian blazers etc., while moving around London,” Lynch wrote.
The Kangaroos were given a formal welcome at Australia House by High Commissioner, Sir Eric Harrison. The team left for Leeds by train, and on arrival boarded a Wallace Arnold coach, to be transported to Ilkley, in the Wharfe Valley, about 30km east from Leeds, where they booked into the Troutbeck Hotel.
Lynch described Ilkley as being in a lovely country setting.
“The air is fresh, clean and healthy compared to the industrial and mining towns where our games were played,” he wrote. “Excellent training officials were available to us by courtesy of the local council.”
The Australians opened the tour with a 28-20 win over Warrington at Wilderspool, in front of a 20,000 crowd. They backed up two days later with a 6-5 win over Huddersfield.
Footnote: Radio commentators, Ernie ‘Tiger’ Black and Frank Hyde covered the English leg of the tour, with ‘Tiger’ Black and two off-siders on the same flight as the players. Frank Hyde joined the tourists in Ilkley.