Almanac Rugby League – We all have beginnings

A rugby league version of The Footy Almanac? “About bloody time” is all I can say – for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the literature of rugby league is modest, to say the least – a reality and a paucity that needs addressing; secondly, “the greatest game of all” deserves that its story be told, its culture examined and its significance explained.

My own appreciation of the game begins with foggy childhood memories of radio coverage from the late 50s and into the 60s; Saturday afternoons relaying scores from the farmhouse HMV over to the hayshed where Dad and my older brothers were working. Maybe it was an international match between Australia and Great Britain with Ken Irvine scoring slashing tries down the sideline; Gasnier, Raper, Walsh…; perhaps it was a Bulimba Cup match between Ipswich and Brisbane or Toowoomba, games that seemed then to have the significance and intensity we afford Origin clashes now.

And in George Lovejoy the game found its commentator, analyst, voice and personality extraordinaire. There was also the family involvement aspect of it all. Mum’s brother, Harold Bichel, played for Queensland in the 1930s and went on the tour of New Zealand with the Australian team in about 1935. A goal-kicking front rower, Uncle Harold was a family icon. (In most official records, he’s incorrectly listed as Henry Bichel for some reason or another.)

In the 1960s, cousin Sid Bichel was a bullocking, non-stop second rower for Ipswich while his younger brother Keith was a top BRL referee later on in the 70s and early 80s. I remember Dad taking us to North Ipswich Reserve early in the 60s to see Ipswich play the touring French team. The Frogs pounded the locals in front of (what seemed to a little kid to be) a huge crowd. I got an autograph from one of the French players on a piece of newspaper –and promptly lost it.

When my brothers were away at boarding school, Dad sometimes took me into town, Laidley, to see our local team play in the Ipswich competition. It was easy to barrack for Laidley – they wore maroon. For reasons unknown to me, we supported Redcliffe in the BRL. Perhaps it was because they were the “country team” in that comp; maybe it was because Big Artie played for them at one stage. (Thirty years later I became a Redcliffe resident and started to take my son to Dolphin Oval, in the process starting an enduring affection he shares for the game.)

Later in the 60s when I was at boarding school in Toowoomba, we’d listen to the BRL games with Norths, Valleys and Brothers prominent. In the senior boys common room, we supported Norths Devils against Valleys Diehards in the 1969 Grand Final while the boys in the junior common room barracked for Valleys. Bragging rights were at stake. Thankfully the Devils romped it in with a powerhouse display from their forward pack.

Australian five-eighth John Gleeson, a Toowoomba product, came to our College training one afternoon – whoa! At home on holidays there was the luxury of watching replays on black-and-white TV with descriptions and comments by the ABC’s Arthur Denovan and, later, Peter Meares. Lang Park seemed to host huge, rowdy crowds for club matches.

The only downer was the all too regular exodus of “our” top players to Sydney clubs, lured south by the big dollars available from the pokies. Then they’d be selected by NSW to pull on blue jerseys and come to Brisbane to flog the locals in interstate football. How we hated that but we seemed powerless to do anything about it.

Perhaps you had to live up here through those years to understand the extent of what Origin means to Queenslanders. A fourteen year sojourn in Adelaide followed with just the odd sneak view on winter trips home on holidays. I learned to appreciate and admire the alternative skills and qualities of what the AFL types call footy. But something better was waiting on my return to the north in the mid 80s…a story for another day.

Ian Hauser

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 www.writerightediting.com.au

Comments

  1. Hauser, you old Queenslander. Terrific memories, although some before my time. We got back to Queensland in August 1972. So I missed that classic 60s period. I am going to write something about Oakey’s grand team of the 1970s at some stage.

    Of course Andy Bichel (a relative of yours) was a ahndy rugby league player. Do you know for whom and what position he played? There is a stroy of him running out on the same team as Ricky Thornberry who went on to fight for a world title against Joe Calzhage and also fought Anthony Mundine.

  2. Mark Doyle says

    A good read, Ian! The thing I like about such stories is the similararities of footy culture in diferrent parts of the country for both rugby league and aussie rules. People have the same passion for their community club, their capital city club and rep. footy, both local inter-league and state of origin. Both codes have a strong indigenous culture, which also provides the best TV footy shows with The Barefoot Rugby League Show and The Marngrook Football Show. I think rugby league has the best structure with the NRL, the Toyota under 20’s comp., the state league comps., the various community comps. and state of origin. There is also the same levels of parochialism in the different parts of the country and hopefully these stories break down this parochialism, without losing any passion. Kudos and thanks to people such as Paul Daffey and John Harms for facilitating these stories on this website.

  3. Both rugby codes and Soccer will always have a major advantage over ALF in that a player can hope to represent his counrty in a game where the rules don’t have to be changed. One of my earliest memories going to the Athletic Oval in Toowoomba to see Great Britain play either Toowoomba or the Darling Downs. It was an old style sports ground with a high brick wall all around the ground. I don’t remember much about the game except an English forward rising out of the scrum bellowing in a broard north county accent “‘eh Mister ref e’s got me by the noots!

  4. david butler says

    Good to see my old mate Nick aka the punter Tedeschi involved on this site. Punt brings a Rugby League mental illness rarely seen by those with a university education. He is a rabid Canterbury fan and embodies the spirit of the late Bullfrog Moore. But whatever you do don’t mention Willie Mason. I did once but I think I got away with it.

    Don’t be frightened to tip us a winner Punter. Just remember it is quality over quantity.

  5. In response to John Harms’s questions about Andy Bichel.
    Having looked in the Andy Bichel book titled No Bull, I was able to put together the following info to answer your questions.
    I couldn’t find any mention of Ricky Thornberry, while the only real mention of Andy’s brother Robbie was that he played Queensland Cup footy for Ipswich and Logan City.

    Andy started playing league when he was six, and he played in Laidley teams. At 17 he debuted with the Gatton under 18 team in the Toowoomba league. After he turned 18, he returned to Laidley and played with its under 19 team in the Ipswich competition. Andy was captain of Laidley’s 19s team, and after the matches he’d later sit on the bench for the A grade team. By this stage he played 5/8, having started on the wing in the Gatton under 17s and in the centre and fullback roles, as he showed he could fit into any position in the backline. After he finished under 19s, he went back to Gatton to play A grade. He won best and fairest player for the season and won a colour TV. He was released from his contract with Gatton rugby league in 1992 to play cricket in England. He considered rugby league was his secondary sport, hence the fact that he pursued cricket.

  6. Ian, a great tale of Qld / Brisbane league, one I must admit I knew little about. Growing up in a NSW that thought of itself as THE’ league stronghold and with the self-contained Sydney RL comp of the 60’s and 70’s, Qld was largely off-radar, a funny yokel place where good footballers occasionally came from. ‘Rugby League Week’ did provide more details with time, allowing some of us to get a flavour of the Brisbane comp. I loved the exotic team names, nicknames and jerseys and as a Manly supporter, figured I had to go for Wynnum Manly. Thanks for the tales – keep them coming!

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