Almanac Books: Finding Jack Broadstock

 

In the years after they finished playing, Barry Jarman and Norm O’Neill spent quality time together on the old wicketkeeper’s houseboat on the Murray River. Variously others would join them and on this trip they were in the company of Ray Steele who was had been their Ashes team manager during the 1960s.

 

Evenings fall sharply on the river in winter and one night after mooring the boat, the trio rugged up, found a place in the bush for a fire, eased the cork out of a bottle of port and began solving a few of the world’s problems.

 

The rowdy conversation flowed from cricket to Australian football with a well-worn theme of interstate rivalries and player comparisons. Although honoured for his work with Australian cricket, Steele had a football pedigree including three seasons with Richmond during the war. He produced disparaging comments about South Australian players to which Jarman responded and things escalated until no one could hear anyone else.

 

To cut across, Jarman in his bullish way, demanded Steele nominate the greatest player he had ever seen. The bush fell silent as memories were sifted.

 

‘This will surprise you Jar,’ he began slowly, ‘but the best player that I ever saw play is a bloke called Jack Broadstock.’

 

Jarman for once was speechless. He stared across the flickering light at Steele and saw a face of sincerity. Jarman then nodded and said, ‘Ray at last we agree on something.’

 

 

If you want to find Jack Broadstock then don’t look in the usual places. I have been trying for almost two decades and he isn’t there. The players from Richmond’s 1943 premiership side admit they didn’t really know him even though Jack Dyer called him the most talented player he had seen. Fos Williams put him at centre half-forward in his best ever 20 but argued his outstanding trait was sleight-of-hand. Neil Kerley says he was among the very best to play for West Adelaide, yet he isn’t in the club’s hall of fame. He was named in a team of the century in the WA Goldfields and Whyalla yet played roughly a dozen matches in each place.

 

Barry Jarman was playing in the senior colts at West Torrens when he saw him in 1949. ‘We finished our match and ran to have a shower so we could get up into the crowd because we didn’t want to miss a second that he played.’ Ray Steele watched him turn Essendon inside-out in the 1943 VFL grand final when Dyer put Broadstock on the ball.

 

Piecing together a biography of a man who never gave a major interview, kept a diary or wrote letters and who people struggle to describe is a challenge but when some are still nervous about talking about him it makes it seem impossible. His criminal activities and street wit made him notorious and by necessity elusive. The only direct quotes come from court transcripts, police interviews and court-martials. More details of his life emerged from the reading room of the SA Courts Authority than the back page of The Argus. Some people still hung up the phone rather than discuss him.

 

Yet here in the freezing bush on a stretch of the Murray River are two argumentative blokes nodding in agreement decades after he finished playing. Broadstock is a character whose life is a time and place in Australia. He is Adelaide’s West End in the Depression and Melbourne’s inner city during the war. He is mining towns and shipyards, SP bookmaking and coursing. He loved the words of Banjo Paterson and at a time when the game reflected the grime and struggle of life for working people, he played football like a poet. This is where I found Jack Broadstock.

 

 

The Trials of Jack Broadstock at www.sportswords.com.au

 

You are invited to the launch of The Trials of Jack Broadstock, details are Here.

 

More stories from Michael Sexton can be read Here.

 

The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in the coming weeks. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order right now HERE

 

To return to the www.footyalmanac.com.au  home page click HERE

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

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About Michael Sexton

Michael Sexton is a freelance journo in SA. His scribblings include "The Summer of Barry", "Chappell's Last Stand" and the biography of Neil Sachse.

Comments

  1. Looking forward to reading this one. Michael’s books about Neil Sachse, and the 1964 SANFL season were both excellent

  2. matt watson says

    Sounds intriguing.
    I will keep a lookout for it.
    Cheers

  3. You have hooked me, Mike.
    Definitely going to purchase this one.

  4. John Butler says

    Sounds like another winner, Michael.

    Looking forward to it.

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