Almanac Rugby League – It’s all there in black and white

Footy tragics, by definition, are sentimentalists. Why else would we put ourselves through the agonies of hope and anxiety, triumph and disaster?

Our obsession manifests itself in many ways – in my case I collect Big League programs. Of those that are gathering dust in a corner of my study is the one from Round 16, 2006, when the Warriors gave the Bunnies a 66-0 flogging – the worst loss in the proud history of the Cardinal and Myrtle. Occasionally I’ve exercised a macabre curiosity by re-visiting that day, just to see who was responsible, but otherwise it’s my most uncherished historical document.

My programs were generally purchased for Souths games, but there are a few exceptions.

One is dated September 30th, 1986 (Vol 67. No. 31). Grand-final day. Parramatta v Canterbury-Bankstown. On the cover are the jerseys of the respective captains, Ray Price (#8 – it must have been very close to the last year before we adopted the Pommie practice of numbering the lock 13) and Steve Mortimer (#7). It cost $2.

In the foreground is what was then known as the Winfield Cup – that rather grotesque statue of Norm Provan and Arthur Summons having a cuddle.  The Rothmans Medalist for 1986 was Manly’s hooker, Mal Cochrane, while the Coca Cola Coach of the Year award went to the Rabbitohs’ George Piggins – full page ads for Coke, ciggies and beer (Tooheys New) bankrolled the publication.

It was to be the first grand-final at which the Clive Churchill Medal would be presented to the best player (Peter Sterling), and I remember sitting in the grandstand that had been named after the champion full-back at the Randwick end of the Sydney Cricket Ground. What I don’t remember, but am delighted to recall as I flick through the pages, is the glittering array of media celebs who were trotted out for the event – Cameron Daddo (to introduce the NSW Baton Twirlers), Darryl Cotton (thankfully not in his pink Zoot suit), Kerri Anne Kennerley (yes, she was around even then), Greg Evans and, performing at 10.15 a.m., when most of us were just sinking our first beers at the Olympic Hotel in Moore Park Road, a ‘rock band’, the Cockroaches (who would have thunk it, that ‘the greatest game of all’ would set the Wiggles on their road to world domination?). Half-time in first-grade featured the finish of the Army Around Australia marathon, with runners being welcomed by the Prime Minister, the Hon. Mr R. J. Hawke … You can have too much of a good thing, can’t you?

Parra’s coach was John Monie, an unassuming bloke who inherited the side after the legendary Jack Gibson had led the Eels and their long suffering fans to the long-awaited promised land of premiership glory in 1981. In charge of the Bulldogs was the pragmatic Warren Ryan.

I’m studying the line-ups now – the upper-case names, listed vertically, are in the same font as they were in my boyhood, and as they are still printed in 2012.

Minor premiers Parramatta boasted a star-studded line-up that included Michael ‘the Crow’ Cronin, Steve ‘the Zip-Zip Man’ Ella, Eric ‘the Guru’ Grothe, Brett ‘Bert’ Kenny, Peter ‘Sterlo’ Sterling and Ray ‘Mr Perpetual Motion’ Price. The two props were Terry Leabeater and Geoff Bugden, ‘the Bookends’.

In the Blue-and-Whites’ corner were Terry ‘Baa Baa’ Lamb, Steve ‘Turvey’ Mortimer and, in the front row, a personal favourite, rugged Peter Kelly, who apparently managed to forge a successful career in rugby league without a famous nickname.  The Dogs’ reserves included David ‘Cement’ Gillespie. The ref was Mick ‘Pebbles’ Stone.

The game itself, a bruising, tense encounter on a muddy pitch, was notable for being the first and hopefully only tryless grand-final. Parra got up 4-2, although I maintain to this day that Kenny scored from a bomb in the second half.

But it’s page 34 that warms the cockles of the Red and Green heart, for the Under 23s decider was between Souths and Penrith. Big Bobby McCarthy’s son Darren played in the centres for the Rabbits, Joe Thomas in the second-row and Ian ‘Lurch’ Roberts as a prop in the 13-0 victory. The Panthers were captained by Tony Butterfield and a conspicuous member of his pack was the gangly number 35, Mark Geyer. On their bench was Mark ‘Spud’ Carroll.

You can google it all and read about it on-line, but for me the battered pages of the Big League are the real deal. I devoured every word in it, applauded the winners with it, wrote in it in biro who the scorers were (Cronin 2 goals, Lamb 1) and caught the bus home with it in the back of my jeans.

It was twenty-six years ago, and I can’t wait to go through the gates and get my next program .


  1. Ian Hauser says


    I enjoyed your memories, and the names came flowing back of a different, politically incorect age which featured some of the absolute greats.There’s a pile of such magazines downstairs, mostly from the Queensland Cup of more recent times. I hope my son retains them so that, down the track, he can look back and celebrate as you have here. There’s something special about having the printed version crackling in your hand. You might enjoy reading the article on the AFL page by Barry Dickens as he recalls another bygone era in another city in another code but with a similar love and awe.

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