Almanac Rugby League – ‘Brookie’ and the 70s

 

 

We continue our Thursday series of rugby league stories with this offering from Adam Muyt, a  lifelong fan of the mighty Manly Warringah Sea Eagles. It’s a case of childhood memories enriching a life and absence over the years making the heart grow fonder.

 

‘Brookie’

 

I first ventured to Brookvale Oval – Brookie – in 1972 as a nine year old.  At the time I was playing Under 10s for CBC Manly and as a District junior was given a pass that let me attend all games at Brookie for free. I’d been hankering to go to a match for a while and Dad finally relented, deciding I was old enough to properly appreciate a live game. So off we ventured, me brimming with excitement dressed in a Manly jersery and socks, a footy in my hand and lunch for both of us in Dad’s big hands.

 

We entered through the turnstiles on Pittwater Road near the public school, me in for nicks, Dad in for something like $2. I recall being awestruck by the enormous concrete and red-brick grandstand towering over the little wooden one behind it. And then the sense of surprise and delight as we made our way up into this huge structure, settling into a spot on the painted wooden slat seating down towards the front.

 

Dad and everyone around me seemed to smoke incessantly, the thick, rancid fug mixing with the aroma of beer, pies, tomato sauce, hotdogs.  Reserve Grade concluded and then on came the Cheerleaders. A strong waft of liniment in the air, together with the metallic clack, clack, clack of massed sprigs on asphalt, signalled the arrival of the First Grade players from underneath the grandstand. Huge cheers rang out around me.

 

I stood up, recognising – from my Scanlens footy cards or from the tele, or papers, I’m not sure – Ian Martin, Bobby Fulton, big Bill Hamilton (you couldn’t miss Herman) and Freddy Jones. And there was Joe Martin, one of my school mates, out there too as the official ball-boy.  How lucky was Joe?!

 

I can’t remember who Manly played that day or how they went but from that moment I was hooked – on the game, Manly and Brookie Oval. A Holy Trinity, One as the Other, each distinct and different though intrinsically the same. Alongside the Catholicism I was being immersed in, another form of belief had arrived in my life. Alas, only one faith would survive past my teens.

 

Over the course of the seventies I went to most Manly home games at Brookie, sometimes with Dad and his new partner, also a Manly fanatic, and sometimes with mates from school or from around where we lived. I hardly ever sat in the grandstand again (there was just the one until the late seventies). Dad usually preferred sitting on the Hill, my mates and I at the scoreboard end.

 

I’ve long forgotten the specifics of most matches at the ground – only snatches remain. A clash against the ‘Chocolate Soldiers’ from Penrith (you couldn’t forget those jerseys in a hurry); a length of the field try by Wombat Eadie against Cronulla in ’78; a one point loss to Parra in the same year (appalling); a Bozo try off one of his classic chip-kick and regathers; a bobble-headed Max Krilich arguing with a referee; a Terry Randall try-saver; a Mal Reilly dummy and break to set up a try.

 

There are other bits and pieces from games from those days though what really sticks in the memory is the space itself, the people and the incidentals associated with matches there.

 


Adam (right) in his Manly gear with his mate Joe Page circa 1972

 

Like the scramble for the corner post, a ritual for plenty of boys – and a few hardy girls.  With five minutes to go the scoreboard clock arm would stop, a signal to us kids to gather opposite a corner post. The moment the siren rang out – it sounded like an air raid siren – it’d be over the fence and at it in a mad race for the distinctive black-and-white cardboard tubes. Woe-be-tied you if you reached it first and didn’t keep running – you’d be knocked over and buried under a heap of bodies intent on pummelling you and ripping it from your grip.

 

The crowd, most decked out in maroon and barracking for the local side. Some big crowds too, well over 20,000, where you could barely move by the time Reserve Grade ended. Home-made streamers and flags, banners draping the boundary fences and the front of the grandstand. Maroon and white crepe rolls, toilet rolls and torn newspaper flung in the air after a try. The chanting, often begun by a dedicated bunch in the grandstand holding up white wooden letters spelling out the word M-A-N-L-Y (“Give us an ‘M’…”).

 

The magic of local Aboriginal, Steve Dodd, and his boomerang throwing at half-time – they always came back. The peanut man (an Italian?) walking the boundary, money going one way, peanuts the other. Coins tossed into the blankets for local charities and good causes.  The damp backsides from sitting on the grass (you’d only sit on your Big League or Rugby League Week if you were really desperate). Cheerleaders before the game and again at half-time. (Odd, they’re always blonde in my memories for some reason).

 

The boos or cheers from the crowd as the progress scores from other games were  announced over the PA. Cigarette clouds.  Beer cans downed and tossed away. The swish and stench of the male toilets, which always got worse as games progressed.

 

The small embankment at the Pittwater Road end of the ground, eventually replaced in the late 70s by the ground’s second grandstand. The white, not-quite-straight, narrow fence running along the top of the Hill. The cluster of wooden showground pavilions behind the grandstand. The row of trees framing the ground. The big, wide skies and views beyond, towards houses and flats on surrounding hillsides. The angled winter sunlight falling across the Curl Curl-Harbord rise off in the distance.

 

Playing tip with mates after the game (we dubbed it touch occasionally, too). Senses heightened by being out there on the same ground as the players, mixing with the feel of the soft, spongy ground underfoot and the earthy, turf aromas.

 

Sometimes, usually after a particularly good win, we might head over to the race to cheer and pat our sweat-drenched players off the ground. Occasionally we went into the Manly change-rooms. Players chugging away on beers, some puffing away on durries, jerseys saturated in sweat and dirt and blood, the smiles and laughter coming easily after a victory.

 

Afterwards, through the gates, to be greeted by hot-dog sellers, a long row of blue and white buses lined up on both sides of Pittwater Road and a real nip in the air to go with the rapidly fading, late afternoon light.

 

For a few seasons towards the end of the decade, if I couldn’t get to a Manly away game but still wanted a rugby league fix, I often ventured to North Sydney Oval to catch the Bears match. I loved the ground for its human scale and village air feel, the dark 1920s brickwork, the picket fence and wooden seats, that magnificent Moreton Bay Fig leaning over the dead-ball line at the northern end. The place felt like it belonged in one of those classic Reschs or Tooth’s Beer posters that used to adorn the outside of some pubs in Sydney in those days.The Bears were pretty ordinary back then but I discovered I enjoyed barracking for the underdog. (It might help explain how I found it easy to follow Fitzroy when I moved to Victoria).

 

I travelled to other home grounds too, trips that taught me about the geography of the bigger city, its social fabric and the distinctiveness of different places. The Sports Ground, Kogarah, Lidcombe, Cumberland, Redfern, Leichhardt, Belmore: each with their own flavour and quirks. They, and the districts they sat within, illuminated what each club actually – physically and culturally – represented. I quickly realised how fortunate it was to be growing up in green and bushy suburbia, with easy access to beaches, and space.

 

Clubs and the districts they represented were deeply entwined back then and nothing exemplified it better than when teams made the Grand Final. In the Sea Eagles case, the buzz through the Northern Beaches was palpable: plenty of cars, trucks and vans decked out with maroon and white streamers and ribbons, shop-fronts and houses adorned with bunting, banners, balloons and team photos, local bakeries coming up with ‘maroon’ breads and pastries (I particularly liked maroon and white nennish tarts), hairdressers offering maroon hair dyes, the Manly Daily splashed with photos and stories celebrating the team, and on and on.

 

I left Sydney for good when I was 19, Manly having won four premierships by then. I was at three of those victories – plus the 1978 draw – only missing the first in 1972. In footy terms it was a blessed youth.

 

I’ve returned to Sydney countless times over the years to visit family and friends. And to catch up with the Sea Eagles. When Mum was still around, I’d ring and say I was coming up to see her; she’d respond with something like, “Wonderful, dear. And who are Manly playing that weekend?” She knew me well.

 

I’ve been to three more Grand Finals, each time witnessing another Manly triumph, taking my personal tally of Sea Eagle premierships to six, from six matches. All of them special of course, with the 40-0 thrashing of the Storm in 2008 my personal all-time favourite. Might have been Parra we loved to beat back in the 70s and 80s; nowadays it’s the Storm we love to thump (in more ways than one).

 

Following Manly – whether from afar, or up close at a game, particularly at Brookie – has been, and still is, important for me. But it’s more than simply watching a game I enjoy, watching a side I love.

 

It forms part of the thread that connects me to the place I grew up in, part of the story of who I am, helping to anchor me as a person at some basic level. It’s a personal concept of a larger Manly-Warringah: family, friends, beaches, the harbour, ferries, rock pools, bush, Kangaroo Hill, the Corso, Pittwater Road, Manly Lagoon, Narrabeen Lake, Manly Dam, St. Mary’s, Warringah Mall and more, all mixed together with maroon and white, the Sea Eagles and, of course, Brookie.

 

I still get excited walking in to Brookie, feeling lighter, more relaxed, like I’m visiting the comfy abode of a close friend or relative, familiar, and loaded with rich memories, experiences and connections. No doubt it’s a mood helped by the fact the ground hasn’t fundamentally changed since the late 70s, a space carrying a fair wad of nostalgia for just about any Manly barracker over a certain age. There might not be any more huge tobacco wafts rising from the crowd, or rolls of crepe and toilet paper being thrown after tries, and the corner posts aren’t cardboard anymore, but the Hill’s still there, as are the two concrete and brick grandstands, the scanty rows of seats hugging the fence on all sides, the big wide skies and the large trees framing the eastern and northern backdrop. In this case familiarity breeds contentment.

 

You can never return to the past, of course, but if you’re fortunate or lucky, you get to carry part of a warm embrace with you as you venture through life.  And I’m fortunate: that warm embrace includes the Sea Eagles and Brookie.  Give us an M…!

 

You can read more of Adam Muyt’s Almanac contributions about various sports by clicking here.

You can read more of our great rugby league stories by clicking 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 Adam Muyt

Born into rugby league, found aussie rules, fell for soccer, flirts a little with union. Author of 'Maroon & Blue - recollections and tales of the Fitzroy Football Club' (Vulgar Press, 2006). Presently working on a history of postwar Dutch migrants and soccer in Australia.

Comments

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed this, Adam, but not enough to make me want to become a Manly fan. But you nail the ‘flavour’ and the intimacy of the suburban grounds where it’s all up close and personal – so much better than the concrete monoliths.

    And aren’t mothers just so good at seeing through our best laid plans? I can just hear Mrs Muyt (Snr) asking in that telling but just below accusing tone, ‘Wonderful, dear. And who are Manly playing that weekend?’

  2. Liam Hauser says

    Hi Adam. I wasn’t around in the 1970s, nor do I support Manly, but I watched DVD replays of their grand final appearances since 1972, for the books I’ve written about grand final history. With regard to the brutal 1973 grand final involving Manly and Cronulla, I think the media often exaggerates the level and frequency of the violence that occurred.
    Also, I’ve met quite a few former Manly players to sign my State of Origin and/or grand finals books. At Burleigh last year, I dropped in at a ‘Golden Eagles’ function. Those at the function to sign my books were Frank Stanton, Ken Arthurson, Peter ‘Zorba’ Peters, John ‘Pogo’ Morgan, Graham Eadie, Nik Kosef, Steve Martin, Dennis Ward, Fred Jones and Mark Willoughby. I particularly enjoyed talking with Steve Martin and Nik Kosef, both very down-to-earth.
    Other former Manly players to sign my books include John McDonald, Paul McCabe, Chris Close, John Ribot, Les Boyd, Michael O’Connor, Dale Shearer, Kerry Boustead, Max Krilich, Cliff Lyons, Josh Perry, John Hopoate and Steve Menzies. I had some good conversations with some of them too.

  3. Adam Muyt says

    Thanks Ian, I do understand you can never be a Manly fan. I was actually pleased to have the Broncos come into the comp – meant the abuse we Manly fans copped from every other team’s supporters became ever so slightly diffused, as Sydneysiders swung their abuse further northward.
    My Mum was never ever anything but warm and supportive towards me and my siblings. Nothing accusing in her tone at all, just the reverse in fact. She ‘got’ my Manly passion and was happy for me to head off for games while also catching up with her.
    Liam, am jealous – some might fine Manly players in that rollcall. Reckon Steve Menzies would be one of the most interesting of th elot. A great player and character.

  4. Mark Horton says

    Awesome memories Adam. So well written. I was 19 in 1970 and a big Manly fan also. I knew some of the lower grade players but none of them made it to 1st Grade. Headley Flakes was one of them – a Mona Vale boy.

  5. bernard whimpress says

    Almost come from a rugby free state in SA but wonderful writing, Adam, conveying the atmosphere and the time brilliantly.

  6. Graham Edwards says

    This really is such a well written article. My experiences are similar to yours. I was born in Parramatta and lived in the western suburbs until my parents did the smart thing and move to the Northern Beaches in the mid 70’s.

    What a time for a kid to live there as Manly were in the middle of a period of dominance and for a young 9 year old boy, I remember my Dad who supported the Dragons taking me to Brooky oval in May 1976, Manly played Penrith and duly won the game 27-14 and Tom Mooney scored 4 tries that day. For me it was an amazing experience as I got to see my hero Graham Eadie play and it was Bozo’s last season as a player.

    1976 was magical as the team won the premiership and it was the birth of a bitter rivalry with Parramatta that for people of my generation festers to this day.

    Back in thoses days there were big crowds at games and in that season at least 5 games there wre 20K plus crowds at Brookvale.

    The 1970s was my first impression of football and 45 years on my passion for the game remains the same and whenever I go back to Brooky to watch my Manly Sea Eagles, I remember my first time there and remember the hundreds of games since that are some of my happiest memories in my life so far!

  7. Adam Muyt says

    Thanks Mark, Bernard and Graham for your kind words.
    Mark – Headley Flakes. Never heard of him – but that name is fantastic, and fantastical. Love it.
    Bernard – can you recommend any SANFL memoirs that capture the passions of the comp from the supporters perspective?
    Graham – 1976 was a terrific year. Beating Parra in the GF was cruel in one sense – they played the better game. But we got the chocolates! Great memories.

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