‘Comment Wally May’

by Bernard Whimpress

Wally May has died, aged 84.

The man with the concise comment became an Adelaide television hero on a Sunday sports show of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and inspired a phrase which passed into popular idiom whenever authoritative comment was sought.

I interviewed May when I was editor of the South Australian Football Budget and what follows is largely drawn from the Budget story which appeared on 9 July 1983.

‘Max Hall was compering the Sunday sports show at the time and he and a couple of others were trying to goad me into saying something controversial about a particular game, but I didn’t feel like manufacturing any remarks.’

The exchange went as follows:

Hall: ‘… Comment, Wally May.’

May: ‘No comment!’

Hall: ‘Good comment, Wally …’

May preferred to deal with facts when presenting his match summaries and they were succinct analytical masterpieces. He liked a half-forward flanker to kick goals and two majors was a satisfactory day’s work. For the bullocking ruck rovers who often used the knuckle he resorted to the euphemism, ‘He did a lot of good work in the packs.’ It was a pithy phrase but we knew what he meant.

‘I suppose it probably came from my engineering background, but I considered people wanted to know why their side won or lost and how success was achieved. Many other reports I believe suffered because they concentrated on the influence of umpires or on incidents within games.’

Ironically May was originally chosen by Channel NWS9s Mike Petersen because of his controversial reputation as one of football’s hit men during his playing career of 54 games for Sturt between 1954 and 1957.

May was a powerful man, 183cm tall and weighing 88kg when he joined Sturt from Essendon and played the game with characteristic Victorian vigour, testing and resting opponents with hard bumps.

In his first season (1954) he was in trouble for kicking West Adelaide’s Ralph Packham and reported for striking West Torrens’ Lindsay Head and a South Adelaide player. There were other confrontations too with West tough guy Clarrie Cannon, Bernie Slattery, Jim Slaven and Mick Clingly.

However, he dismissed claims that he was a thumper as ‘ballyhoo’ and the tribunal supported him. While being reported four times only once was the charge upheld and he was suspended for two matches.

May claimed he was 90 per cent bluff.

‘If you can put an opponent off by pretending to charge him you reduce the odds against you, particularly in a game which was played largely as man-to-man duels. My aim was always to make opponents lose a yard by having to run around me.’

The same sort of psychology applied to the protection of small players.

‘If you can prevent them being hit, you are obviously benefiting the side.’

In his younger days with Essendon May played chiefly at centre half-back and although he was strong mark and kick saw himself as essentially a stopper.

‘I would wear the centre half-forward like a second skin and try to reduce him to about four kicks a game. The rebound game was only just beginning at half back. Most attacking drives started from the centre line.’

May was born and bred in Essendon and his father Charles ‘Chooka’ May, who was an excellent centre player in the Dons 1923 and 1924 premiership sides, later coached Glenelg from 1955 to 1957.

May began with Essendon in 1947 and played 94 games in the VFL including the 1949 and 1950 premiership sides. He was a battle hardened campaigner when he switched to Adelaide with his employment in 1953, but was refused a clearance until the following year.

The Sturt side in the 1950s was weak and May changed roles to lead the ruck, quickly revealing himself to be an excellent palmer of the ball at bounces and throw-ins. He also combined well with the Blues’ triple Magarey Medallist Len Fitzgerald to give their side many attacking opportunities.

A generation after his playing days and ten years after his time as a television sports personality May hoped he would be remembered as a better than average footballer who played in some great VFL teams and representing South Australia a couple of times. He said the myths about him were just that.

A footballer with character, a thinker and larger than life personality May was a former state manager of Golden Fleece Petroleum and later national sales manager for the Eight Mile Creek cheese factory in Mount Gambier.

About Bernard Whimpress

Freelance historian (mainly sport) currently writing his 20th book. For the previous 15 years was Curator of the Adelaide Oval Museum and Historian for the South Australian Cricket Association. Will accept writing commissions with reasonable pay. Most recent books - The MCC Official Ashes Treasures and The Greatest Ashes Battles.

Comments

  1. I remember Chooka playing for the Dons in the late 40,s and early 50’s. I was always impressed with him because he was one of the few Essendon players who always played in a sleeveless jumper. I remember him being a tough footballer who shared the ruck work at Essendon with such greats as “Swampy” Syme, “Bluey” McClure and Doug Bigelow. Rod Oaten

  2. bernard whimpress says

    Thanks for the comment Rod.

    I only remember Wally as a TV personality but personality he certainly was. He had the reputation of being a tough man in SA football in the 50s. When I was in primary school I remember his father ‘Chooka’ May coming and giving a coaching clinic in Murray Bridge, the country town in which I grew up.

  3. i remember wally commentating football when i was a boy. his comment…typically, in his rather gruff authorative voice “if you can’t kick you can’t play” this was just one of his many wally mayisms that made it a treat to listen to his commentary.

  4. bernard whimpress says

    Thanks Darryl. He truly was a wonderful commentator and no doubt would be driven to distraction by continual handballing, pathetic footpassing and goalshooting. In yesterday’s game between Freo and Carlton there was one instance where the Blues gave about a dozen handballs going around in circles before advancing the ball forward about 30 metres with a kick. Isn’t it about time that a new rule was introduced that after two handballs you have to kick the ball forward or lose possession.

  5. Clarrie Cannon… Akka Bang, Bang Cannon was my grandfather.

  6. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    ‘Bad kicking is bad football’

Leave a Comment

*