Almanac Book Review: ‘Biff – rugby league’s infamous fights’



Biff: rugby league’s infamous fights by Glen Humphries (Wollongong: Last Day of School, 2020)


Glen Humphries is one of life’s interesting characters. He earns a crust as a senior journalist specialising in Transport and Infrastructure at Wollongong’s Illawarra Mercury but also writes for their TV guide! He’s clocked up the odd journalism award during his 20+ years career. Glen is also a rugby league fan, a Dragons man, and we published one of his rugby league stories here on the Almanac earlier this year.


In his spare time, Glen is an avid reader and writer and, to date, has self-published no fewer than eight books on topics as diverse as beer, crime, music and sport. He’s managed to pick up a few awards here, too, including the Ron Rathbone Prize for Local History in 2019 for his book Night Terrors: The True Story of the Kingsgrove Slasher. To see and read more about Glen’s publications, click HERE.


Recently I read Glen’s rugby league offering Biff:rugby league’s infamous fights. This is most certainly a case of being able to judge a book by its title as Glen charts the stories behind and the details of some of the iconic fights and brawls over the 112 year history of the code. These cover mainly on-field clashes but also encompass the odd stoush in the courts.


There is a basic dichotomy at the heart of Glen’s book. On the one hand, there has been the consistent, hand-wringing lament over the decades that ‘the biff’, or violence, is not a good look for the code. Commentators and officials have always been quick to moralise that parents will look at this on-field thuggery and steer their children towards other sports options with the result that the code will, eventually, wither and die. On the other hand, those promoting the game, especially in visual formats, have seemed only too happy to use images and videos of fisticuffs to advertise and promote both the code in general and some matches in particular. ‘It’s what the fans want’, they have been heard to say. Reg Regan, anyone?


In the end, as Humphries claims, ‘the biff’ is history with the modern game heavily sanitised when compared to the way it was played a mere three to four decades ago. There will be no going back to ‘the bad old days’ even though the physical, confrontational nature of the game means there will be the odd, comparatively modest, flare-up. Stiff arms, coat hangers, spear tackles, brawling scrums – all gone, thankfully. The current era of litigation, health and safety concerns, and corporatisation have seen to that. It’s mere push and shove these days.


The other theme of this book is the need to see what did happen as more than just a few seconds of unrestrained madness. Humphries sets out to put each of his examples into context to explain why they happened and the consequences for those involved, both immediate and longer term. In doing so, he reveals a game played in a very different time and according to very different mores. So there’s a useful dose of cultural history involved here as well.


Humphries covers incidents as far back as 1928, as recent as 2014 and all points in between. Many names are familiar, infamous even; others are vague outlines from the vaults of fading memory; others come from the mists of time unknown or long forgotten. Good, thorough research provides excellent detail of people, times and places. And all entertainingly presented with a good mix of wry humour and objective observation.


I found the period 1970-1984 of particular interest. I lived in Adelaide during that era when things were very rough in the code and so was not very familiar with events during that time, for example, the Fibros v Silvertails era, Les Boyd, Bob Cooper, Manly v Cronulla and so on. The Biff has filled in some of those gaps.


Humphries clearly enjoys his subject and writes with an easy familiarity and engaging rhythm. The experienced, well-read journalist and author shines through in this worthy little volume that adds both substance and style to the literature of the code.


The reviewer, Ian Hauser, is the rugby league editor at The Footy Almanac, a regular contributor to the site and a rugby league fan for over 60 years.


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About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A Queenslander through and through, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. I enjoy travel, good coffee and cake, reading, and have been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. As well as being one of Footy Almanac's online editors, I moonlight as an editor for hire - check me out at

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