Property ownership and the means of financing a property purchase are ever present in the minds of most Australians, “The Great Australian Dream”.
My book provides an easy guide to home loan financing, from deciding where you might purchase a property through to settlement of both your home loan and the property purchase. There is information on all aspects of home loan finance and the book explains so many aspects of a home loan, which can often be confusing for the novice home loan borrower. There are also numerous hints in the book to help the home loan borrowers save thousands of dollars over the loan term.
The early chapters provide hints on accumulating savings, where you might source your home loan from and preparing to make an offer on a property. This is followed by information on costs involved in purchasing a property and taking out a home loan and documents that would be required to approach a lender.
The types of home loans and repayments then are detailed together with information on features such as an offset account, redraw facility and a fixed interest rate lock. A chapter noting the time frame between loan approval and property settlement, allows the reader to understand at what stage they should be, week by week as settlement of the property purchase approaches.
Post settlement, there is then a chapter explaining how a borrower can speed up repayment of their home loan and also provides hints on managing the home loan after settlement.
The book ends with a glossary of common terms, explanation of different types of property title and information on contacting the relevant land titles offices in each Australian state and territory.
I hope that the reader finds my book helpful, educational and allows them to comfortably negotiate what can be a tricky pathway to purchasing a residential property.
MICK JONES – THE UPS AND DOWNS OF A PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL COACH.
In early 1969, Michael Aloysius (“Mick”) Jones arrived in Australia as a ” Ten Pound Pom” on the S.S. Canberra with his wife June, daughter Daryl Ann (10) and son Ricci (12), to take up a coaching position with Pan Hellenic in Sydney. At the time, Jones, with his English Football Association full coaching certificate, was one of the most credentialled football coaches to have worked in this country. Jones was a dapper, handsome, Yorkshireman with a thick north country accent and hair that was always immaculately coiffured, even when sitting on the sidelines of the most windswept of football grounds. Mick Jones fell in love with Australia and he was to spend the best part of 50 years in his adopted country until he passed away in March 2021.
The late Scottish football manager, Tommy Docherty famously quipped that he, Docherty, had had “more clubs than Jack Nicklaus”. By the end of Mick Jones’s coaching career however, “The Doc” may have needed to share that dubious honour with the erudite Yorkshireman. Docherty found many ways to end his employment, including having an affair with the wife of the physiotherapist at Manchester United and severely abusing a referee while on an end of season tour of the Caribbean with Chelsea.
No such indiscretions cost Mick Jones his coaching jobs but despite successful stints with a number of clubs, standing up for his football principles was often the Jones “crime”. These principles, which included promoting young local born players over imported footballing journeymen and denying selection interference from club committee members, did not always sit well within the boardrooms of Australian football clubs, where professionalism often gave way to cronyism. Coincidentally, both Mick Jones and Tommy Docherty included coaching Pan Hellenic (later Sydney Olympic) in their extensive coaching resumés and Mick Jones briefly served as an assistant to the exuberant Scotsman at Rotherham United in 1967.
Born on 20th October 1935 in Doncaster, Yorkshire, Mick Jones grew up surrounded by professional football clubs. Aside from his home town club, Doncaster Rovers, there was Rotherham United, the Sheffield clubs, Wednesday and United and Michael Parkinson’s beloved Barnsley only half an hour’s drive from his Doncaster home. A little further north you could find Leeds United, Huddersfield and the two Bradford Clubs and Scunthorpe United was not too far away. Being immersed in a football environment, it is not surprising that Jones should pursue a career in football.
Upon leaving school and before turning his full attention to football, Mick worked in the Bentley and Conisbrough coal mines where the threat of accident and injury were ever present. He later found less risky employment working for an insurance company before chasing his love of football. At school Mick was a talented footballer, being picked at the age of 16 to play for Yorkshire boys and subsequently being selected to trial for England schoolboys. Jones was offered and turned down an apprenticeship with Derby County, preferring to join the ground staff at Doncaster Rovers.
At the age of 18 Mick was conscripted into the army to carry out national service. Unfortunately, Jones contracted rheumatic fever whilst enlisted and he was forced to leave the army. The prognosis was not good and the combined effect of the rheumatic fever and a serious knee injury suffered on an icy football pitch, brought Jones’s promising football career to an early end.
Mick Jones was determined to forge a career in football and he took up refereeing, gaining a senior certificate at the age of 20 before turning his attention to coaching. In 1960, aged 25, Jones obtained his Football Association (“F.A.”) preliminary coaching certificate, advancing to his full badge in 1963 at Loughborough College. Among those graduating in Jones’s coaching group was the future Chelsea, Queens Park Rangers and Manchester United manager, Dave Sexton.
Keen to put his newly acquired coaching skills to practical use, Mick Jones was appointed trainer / coach of International Harvesters, a works team in the Doncaster senior league. Jones then coached Frickley Colliery in the Cheshire League Division 1, with whom he won two successive championships. In March 1966, Jones was appointed manager of Bridlington Trinity in the premier Yorkshire League competition. Again, Jones was successful winning the championship with Trinity in both seasons under his tenure, as well as taking out two cup competitions over that period.
For those not familiar with post war Australian club football, Pan Hellenic, were the best supported club in the NSW Soccer Federation with fanatical, but at times, tempestuous supporters. Pan Hellenic were keen to have Jones get on the boat as soon as possible and within weeks of arriving in Sydney, he guided the Greek sponsored club to the final of the 1969 Ampol Cup. Mick Jones’s Australian honeymoon however came to an abrupt end only two months later. Pan Hellenic’s supporters were impatient for success and when committee members sought to influence Jones’s team selection and there were rumblings of players being trained too hard, Jones and Pan Hellenic parted company.
It is difficult at any time to lose one’s job, but having uprooted his family and travelled half way around the world to suffer this ignominy, was particularly challenging for Mick Jones. As much as there is always employment uncertainty in being a football coach, there are always opportunities and almost immediately, another migrant supported NSW Division 1 club, Yugal – Ryde hired Jones. At the time Yugal were languishing a distant last in the competition however Jones was able to perform a great Houdini act, allowing the club to stave off relegation. This was achieved despite Yugal having lost star Yugoslav import Roko Ille, who was suspended for 12 months after having kicked the flamboyant, Croatian born referee Tony Boskovic.
Yugal – Ryde were keen to renew Jones’s contract at the end of the 1969 season but he was snapped up by Hakoah Eastern Suburbs, also playing in the top level of New South Wales football. For Jones, the Hakoah job was a plum appointment as the Jewish backed club counted numerous Australian internationals in their squad, including Ray Baartz, Peter Fuzes, Willie Rutherford, Dennis Yaager, Danny Walsh and former national team captain Alan Marnoch.
In 1970 under Mick Jones, Hakoah set a blistering pace at the top the NSW Federation Division 1 scoring 27 goals in their first five matches. Hakoah ultimately topped the table winning the minor premiership and were firm favourites to do the double by taking out the Grand Final. To the surprise of most, Hakoah stumbled at the last hurdle and a humiliating 6-3 loss to South Sydney Croatia saw them eliminated from Grand Final contention. Nevertheless, Mick Jones had enjoyed a very successful season and a new contract with Hakoah seemed a formality.
To Jones’s and most observer’s amazement, Hakoah declined to offer Jones a new contract. Undaunted and growing accustomed to adversity, Jones continued to work as Assistant Coaching Director for the NSW Federation and in 1972, he took control of second division Manly Warringah. In his first season, Jones missed out by one point in securing promotion for the Seasiders. He followed this up the following year having a similar outcome with Melita Eagles, just failing by a slender points margin to gain promotion for that club.
In 1974 Jones took over coaching Granville in the NSW Federation second division and in his first season in charge, Granville won promotion to the first division. The club was surprised by the immediate success of the team and many officials openly admitted that they didn’t really want promotion at that stage. Whether this was a factor or not, Granville did not retain Jones’s services despite the Magpies having topped the table. Now, disillusioned by the uncertainty of continued coaching in Sydney, Mick Jones moved to Perth briefly, didn’t settle there and returned to England to again coach his former club, Bridlington Trinity and assist at Doncaster Rovers..
The sunshine and Sydney’s northern beaches drew Jones back to Australia for good in September 1977 and he was appointed coach of Ku-ring-gai in the NSW Federation Division 2 for the 1978 season. Yet again, Jones was immediately successful, with Kur-ing-gai topping the league and the club being promoted to the first division.
Always chasing new horizons, Mick Jones was signed by State League Division 1 club Toongabbie (to become Blacktown City) for the 1979 season. The club finished a creditable fourth in Jones’s first year and then Blacktown City were unexpectedly promoted to the Phillips (National) Soccer League at the expense of Sydney Olympic. Given little chance of survival, the national league newcomers under Jones, held their own with the 42 year old former Manchester United star Bobby Charlton making one guest appearance for Blacktown, contributing a goal in a 4-2 win against St. George.
The 1980 season concluded and Blacktown City’s committee advised Jones that they did not want a full time coach in 1981. They also notified Jones that they wished to have a say in the recruitment of players for the upcoming season. Unable to accept these terms, Jones once more packed his bags and signed with Manly Warringah for a second stint. During this period with Manly, the club hosted an exhibition match against the local Dee Why side, who included another former Manchester United superstar, 37 year old George Best, in their line up.
Jones remained at Manly until the close of the 1983 season and in 1984 he received an S.O.S. from National Soccer League club Sydney Croatia, following the sacking of Attila Abonyi, Croatia’s then coach. The challenge that Jones was to face at Croatia was exemplified by club president Tony Topic’s comment following the dismissal of Abonyi. Topic was quoted as saying that “Abonyi may have been a Yugoslav by birth (he was actually Hungarian) but he was not Croatian”. How then would an Englishman cope at a Croatian sponsored club? Jones’s second match in charge of Croatia saw their first win under his tutelage and president Topic jubilantly said after the game “I always knew English coaches were the best in the world”. The following week Mick Jones resigned as Sydney Croatia coach after beer bottles were hurled at him and his car tyres slashed by disgruntled club “supporters”. Is it any wonder that Jones was just one of six different coaches engaged by Sydney Croatia in the 1984 season?
Mick Jones made a triumphant return to (Parramatta) Melita Eagles in 1985, guiding the club to a 4-0 victory over Fairy Meadow in Melita’s first ever Grand Final success. Jones announced that he would be retiring from coaching after the Grand Final and inspired by two goals from the prolific goalscorer Barry Walker and one each from John Davies and Peter Hensman, Melita gave Mick Jones a deserving send off after a most eventful sixteen year, ten club Australian coaching career.
Mick Jones left the game quietly to enjoy retirement on his beloved Sydney northern beaches. He loved music and was a more than competent keyboard player and singer. As a football coach, Jones was not one to engage in histrionics nor melodrama or seek publicity. Among the very early ” tracksuit” managers, Mick Jones knew coaching, he knew football and he would never compromise his footballing principles. Jones enjoyed coaching success with many clubs both in Australia and England and will be remembered fondly by the football community. Mick Jones gained the respect of his players from the respect that he gave them and the manner in which he treated them. A footballer can ask for no more from their mentor.
In recent years I was fortunate to be able to chat with Mick and we both lamented the changes that modern football has brought, each of us longing for the return of “the good old days”. We both acknowledged though, that like the Yorkshire collieries, football as we knew it no longer existed but at least we still had wonderful memories of the Bobby Charltons and the George Bests – not as 42 year old or 37 year old football has beens on the superannuation circuit, but as enduring examples of the best that the our football has to offer.
A hundred years ago or so, were planted on this land Majestic pines that reached the sky, so tall, so proud, so grand Surviving storms and raging fires, as many wars went by But greedy men with banker friends decreed that they must die
A noble splendid stately home adorned the spacious lot Keeping watch upon the trees, from centre of the plot And now and then the snow would fall and dress the branches white A Christmas scene in mid-July, to all the kids’ delight
The owner wasn’t happy though, with one house on the block The council rubber stamped the plans, the neighbours were in shock Twelve more dwellings would be built, two hundred pine trees axed No consolation profit gained, would be just slightly taxed
The clanging chain saws went to work, the pine trees all cut down A thousand displaced homeless birds, fled to another town And where it all was once so green, just rubble now remains No grateful radiata pines to drink the falling rains
Some will call this progress, though I call it obscene To raze the land, destroy the trees, deprive the world of green But I feel blessed that I once was, the king of this great home And walked amongst the pine trees before they turned to stone
On this day in 1946, George Best, the son of Dickie and Anne Best was born in a Belfast Hospital. The pointless argument will forever continue as to who is the greatest footballer of all time and for me, George Best is up there with Pele, Maradona, Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Di Stefano, Cryuff and others in elite footballing company.
As stated though, it is pointless to nominate the “greatest” because it is not possible to compare players from different eras. As English Premier League pundit Andy Gray once suggested, could (Lionel Messi) “do it on a cold winter’s night at Stoke”. How would Pele have coped on the mud bath at The Baseball Ground home of Derby County and without modern training and sports science, would Cristiano Ronaldo be the almost perfect physically structured footballer that he is? We wonder too, would Maradona have been as effective and had such masterly ball control and touch had he worn 1930’s vintage clodhopper football boots and had to play with a heavy, laced waterlogged leather ball?
Between them, Messi and Ronaldo have won numerous Ballon d’Ors, the ultimate individual award for a footballer but they have also been fortunate to have played in club teams, consistently bristling with very talented players. As their success at international level has not matched that of when playing with their club teams, could it be argued that they owe much to their talented clubmates as it is certainly easier for an individual to impress when surrounded by class players? Likewise Alfredo Di Stefano at Real Madrid had an outstanding supporting cast, including the Hungarian “Galloping Major”, Ferenc Puskas. We need to concede that there is no level playing field to rank the numerous great footballers from any period of football history and therefore there will never be consensus.
Right ! As I have now established unequivocally that the greatest footballer of all time cannot singularly be determined, who is the player that I would most want to watch if I was down to the last 90 minutes of my life – my last two halves of football on this earth? My choice would be today’s birthday boy, George Best. This opinion is not based solely on the skill factor, although George and all the others mentioned earlier had it in abundance, but measured by the player’s excitement factor, poise, style, audacity and the ability to do the unexpected, in short, entertainment value. George Best was an entertainer, a showman and if you paid your admission and George was on the park, entertainment was guaranteed.
George’s career took off in 1964 almost simultaneously with that of The Beatles. If you were watching Manchester United at Old Trafford at that time, as soon as Best received the ball, instantly thousands of girls erupted into shrill screams and screeches. In the mid nineteen sixties, this type of behavior was usually reserved for four mop top musicians from down the road at Liverpool and a number of blossoming copycat pop bands. Before the soprano voiced crowd could faint, the slight, dark haired leprechaun in football boots had taken off, often through the Manchester mud, on a mazy run. The Irishman would glide past opponents, skipping over ruthless challenges with the grace and balance of a footballing Rudolf Nureyev. On many an occasion, Best would beat a defender and go through the exercise again, teasing his opponent for having the temerity to try and tackle him.
Though a modest and shy man off the field, on the football pitch George Best was forever the showman. He once beat an opponent by gently playing a one – two off the back of another defender lying injured on the ground. With time running out in an FA Cup tie for Manchester United against Burnley, George’s boot came off but he continued with one boot, laying on a pass for an equalizer with his stockinged foot and then supplying the pass for the winning goal. All this while playing without his left boot !
English first division football in the nineteen sixties was a tough gig. Hatchet men such as Chelsea’s Ron (“Chopper”) Harris and Leeds United’s Norman (“Norman Bites Yer Legs”) Hunter took no prisoners and were given more than enough leeway by referees. Best never shirked any challenges and took delight in showing his mastery of the toughest defenders of that time. Though not playing as an out and out striker, the Irishman proved to be not only a great goal scorer (he was Manchester United’s leading marksman for five consecutive seasons) but indeed a scorer of great goals.
George Best saved much of his audacity for goalkeepers. With a flick of George’s slim hips, he would have goalkeepers, clutching at thin air as he shimmied and strolled around them. Shooting for goal would have been the safer, more orthodox option but orthodoxy was not part of the George Best modus operandi. Two of England’s greatest custodians, Peter Bonetti of Chelsea and Gordon Banks of Stoke City were just two to succumb to the Best trickery. Never a dull moment with George.
George’s boldness and torment of goalkeepers peaked in May 1971 playing for Northern Ireland against England at Windsor Park, Belfast. Again, the goalkeeper was Gordon Banks whose kicking technique was to lob the ball with his hand into the air prior to clearing it downfield. Alert to Banks’ method, as the England goalkeeper released the ball, Best nipped in and flicked it goalward away from bemused Banks and then nodded the ball into the net. The “goal” was disallowed most likely because the referee just did not see the incident and to this day Irish supporters claim that they and George Best were robbed of a goal created by the supreme invention of their footballing idol.
It is unfortunate that so many of George Best’s goals were not filmed but in 1969 when Manchester United beat Northampton 8-2 in an FA Cup tie, the TV cameras captured all ten goals, with George Best scoring six himself. George completed his double hat trick by dummying around Northampton goalkeeper Kim Book and walking the ball into the empty net as the bemused Book sat in the muddy goalmouth.The pinnacle of George Best’s football career came just six days after his 22nd birthday in the 1968 European Cup Final at Wembley Stadium against Portugal’s Benfica. Blessed with utmost self confidence and seemingly devoid of nerves, with scores level at 1-1 in extra time, a long clearance by Manchester United goalkeeper Alex Stepney was flicked on to Best thirty five metres from the Benfica goal. Instinctively George slotted the ball through a defender’s legs and with only goalkeeper Henrique to beat in the most prestigious match in world club football, rather than drive the ball into the goal, as calm as you like, Best opted to skip around the stranded goalkeeper and stroke the ball into the net. This goal sunk Benfica and United scored twice more to secure their first European title.
One of George Best’s most memorable goals was scored in January 1971 against one of the best British goalkeepers and international team mate of Best, Pat Jennings. Playing against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford, Jennings punched a clearance in the direction of Best who was lurking just inside the crowded penalty area. The Manchester United wizard cushioned the ball on his chest and in one motion lobbed it gently over four Spurs defenders, including Jennings into the net. Goals don’t come much better or more audacious than that.
George Best was the complete footballer. He had incredible footballing ability and above all else, cheek. George was not just the player, he was the performer. Much loved throughout the football world, the handsome, quiet Irishman charmed fans as readily as he charmed female company. Ultimately, fame and alcohol brought Best’s illustrious football career and later his life, to a premature end but I will always be grateful that I was able to witness the career of a magical footballer. Is he the best player of all time? Who knows? But as former Manchester City manager Malcom Allison once said “George Best was special – all the others were just footballers.”
In April 1977, I scored two headed goals for APIA Leichhardt in a 2-1 victory over Sydney Croatia at Lambert Park, Leichhardt. If, however I was now a budding 8 year old footballer in the APIA junior ranks, the likelihood of my scoring two headers ten or twelve years down the track, would be considerably less.
APIA Leichhardt, a Sydney National Premier League club with a celebrated history in Australian football, has announced that they are going to ban heading at training for all players up to the age of twelve. Football Federation Australia have been conducting their own review into the perceived danger of heading a ball and will hand down its’ findings soon, which may have ramifications for all junior players. APIA’s move follows similar restrictions, recently introduced by the English, Scottish and Northern Ireland Football Associations.
The study on which the UK Associations based their decision, published by the New England (USA) Journal of Medicine, was carried out on behalf of Glasgow University, using a number of male Scottish professional footballers born between 1900 – 1976. The study investigated the incidence of neurodegenerative illness in former footballers when compared to non footballers of the same period. The results did show that the former professional players were three times more likely to suffer brain illness such as dementia and Alzheimers, than their non playing counterparts. The study also noted however that ;
Former professional footballers were less likely to die from heart disease and cancers and had a lower “all cause” mortality rate than their non footballing counterparts, reflecting their general better health.
Participants in elite sports competition enjoyed lifelong health benefits and were less likely to suffer lung damage, obesity and resultant cardio vascular issues. Former professional footballer’s life expectancy up to the age of 70, was nearly three years longer than that of non players.
Mortality rates of participants where neurodegenerative disease was the primary cause, did not differ significantly between goalkeepers and outfield players – interesting.
There was NO EVIDENCE in the study linking heading the ball to neurodegenerative disease
No evidence but despite this, the United Kingdom Football Associations (except Wales) and the United States Youth Soccer Association have now been joined by APIA Leichhardt in restricting young player’s development of heading – one of the most important skills in the game.
The study appears to have ignored the fact, that prior to the mid 1960’s, a football was a vastly different animal to the current ball. I have no doubt that prior to the phasing out of the old brown laced leather footballs, the continual heading of the waterlogged “brown bricks” as they were known, in European winters on sodden pitches could have caused long term neurological damage. However, the modern, lighter synthetic waterproofed balls bear no resemblance to the lead weight spheres of my grandfather’s era.
I am not in favour of the move to curtail heading at training for young players. To eliminate the development of this important skill in a player’s formative years will hamper, possibly irreparably, a player’s all-round footballing ability. This may be the first step towards the total eradication of heading from football and God help us, we might all end up playing Futsal !
The Glasgow University research did find that the former Scottish professional players were three times more likely in later life to suffer from dementia, Alzheimers and Parkinson’s disease, however the study stopped short of stating that this was caused by heading a ball. I have played the game for many years and though not a robust player, I have probably banged my head playing football, ten times during my career. Is it possible that if I was to develop brain disease that these head traumas had provoked the illness, rather than my heading the ball? Was I already predisposed to brain disease before embarking on my football career ?
Participants of the Glasgow University study were all born in 1976 or earlier. If it was possible to compare the brain health of players born before 1950, when heavy leaden footballs were the norm, with those born between 1950 – 1976, the latter of whom would have had the benefit of playing with lighter, waterproofed balls, the study might have produced interesting and definitive results. It was not in fact until the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico City that the first fully synthetic layered footballs became prominent.
The death of former English international footballer Jeff Astle from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (“CTE”) in 2002 sparked investigation into the effect of head traumas on footballers. Astle was a prodigious header of the ball and the coroner at the inquest into his death stated that heading heavy, often rain-sodden leather footballs had contributed to his death. The consultant neuro – pathologist also told the inquest that Astle’s brain condition was likely to have been exacerbated by heading heavy leather footballs.
I have no argument with that opinion, however we no longer play with rain sodden leather footballs. If APIA Leichhardt have made this radical decision to ban coaching of a critical skill, based on the football environment as it was 60 years ago, this is hard to justify. Only those who have headed a heavy wet leather ball can appreciate the difference from heading a football in 2020.
Another factor further reducing the possibility of brain damage is that heading as a skill is also becoming less prevalent in football today. The preferred playing philosophy now is to keep the ball on the ground and I would not be surprised if the incidence of heading the ball during a game had reduced by 50% from that of 30 years ago.
I believe that banning heading is an over reaction. We no longer head waterlogged leather footballs and from my experience, up until the age of twelve, young players head the ball infrequently both at training and on match days. If a youngster is taught the correct heading technique, I don’t believe that the consistent heading of a football will create any greater long term health risk than a serious knee injury, a shoulder injury or a back problem. Remember that the study on which APIA Leichhardt may have based their decision did not find any evidence that heading was directly linked to neurodegenerative disease. Football like most sports can be dangerous and lead to short and long term injury. It’s a risk that all of us take when participating, an occupational hazard.
The study that has prompted football authorities to ban heading at training, was based on the impact of the heading of a different type of football, in different conditions in a different era. The deliberate use of the head to propel the ball is unique to football and has been an integral part of the game for one hundred and fifty years. Any attempts to extend the recent heading ban at training and possibly eradicate heading from football, would dilute the beauty of “The Beautiful Game”.
By all means continue the studies into Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, particularly in fierce contact sports such as Boxing, Rugby League, Union or American Football. In the case of our football however, where medical research has concluded that there is no evidence linking heading a ball to neurodegenerative disease and that engagement in sport promotes better health and well being, I say that if the game ain’t really broke, let’s not try to fix it.
I turned on the television recently and watched a sport that reminded me a lot of cricket. Two teams competing with a bat and ball but the ball was white, unlike the player’s attire, which was multicoloured and emblazoned with corporate sponsors logos. One of the “batters” (as described by the commentator), was given out LBW but amazingly, the umpire was advised by a voice in his Sony earphones that he had made a mistake. The LBW decision was incorrect and the batter could continue his innings. This however, would not be for too long as in this particular match, each team could only bat for a total of 10 overs – good heavens, neither Geoffrey Boycott nor Bill Lawry would have time to get off the mark !
Apparently, this is a form of cricket, known as the Big Bash League. Although I had no idea where the players came from, I could only assume that they played grade cricket on the weekends and if successful with their local club, they might get picked for the Sheffield Shield competition (does it still exist?).
If you sense that I am slightly disenchanted with modern cricket you are not wrong. My disenchantment however, did not arrive with technicolour Big Bash cricket but had its’ seeds sewn back in the late 1970’s with the advent of World Series Cricket. The behaviour of Australian cricketers was starting to deteriorate and hit a new low in February 1981 with the underarm bowling incident. Many argue that Ian Chappell was the father of the “ugly Australian cricketer” but Chappell the elder, did have an inherent sense of fair play. His brother Greg however, by ordering Chappell son No. 3 Trevor to bowl underarm against New Zealand in February 1981, set the sportsmanship bar at a new low.
By the time of the Glenn McGrath / Shane Warne era, Australia had become cricket’s “sledging” champions. Sledging is a by product of cricket that runs concurrently with the game itself. Sledging gives players a chance to act like schoolyard bullies and express their machismo, hoping that their childlike behavior gives them some kind of advantage over an opponent. Those who engage in sledging, prefer to call it by the less offensive term of “banter” but whatever you call it, the practice is most unsportsmanlike. Sledging and a decided lack of respect for Australia’s opponents, was the root cause of my cricketing marriage breakdown.
For Australian cricket, unsporting behavior peaked in South Africa in March 2018. The ball tampering affair that found Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft guilty, severed any remaining affection that I might have had for cricket as I knew it. Even though I have fallen out of love with the game of cricket, Paul Simon once sang “preserve your memories, that’s all that’s left you”. These are my cricket memories.
Born in England and growing up in Wilmslow, Cheshire, I fell in love with cricket. Like football, our backyard cricket matches were only punctuated when the ball was hoisted over the fence and into a neighbor’s garden. The penalty of “6 and out” was miniscule compared to the fearful exercise of knocking on the neighbor’s front door, expecting to be confronted by Harper Lee’s Boo Radley or Alfred Hitchcock’s Norman Bates in full rage.
I first recall listening to an Ashes test series in 1961 on my Dad’s car radio. The BBC provided commentary from the soothing southern England country tone of John Arlott coupled with the very posh delivery of Eton and Oxford educated Brian (“Johnners”) Johnston. These and the other BBC commentators could keep me entertained for hours on end – even more so when the English rain would inevitably stop play. Johnston in particular, had a sharp sense of humour and among his classical utterings was, “the bowler’s Holding, the batsman’sWilley.” In 1961 I could not understand how an England team led by the dashing Lord Ted Dexter and boasting fast bowling royalty in F S Trueman and J B Statham had lost a home Ashes series to a bunch of colonials.
Living in Wilmslow, 12 miles south of Manchester, ensured that I was a Lancashire County Cricket club fan. I spent many hours at the Old Trafford cricket ground, watching Lancashire heroes Brian Statham, Peter Lever, Bob Barber and Tommy Greenhough, a leg spinner whose bounce and long, almost comical jaunty run up, has never had an equal in the history of the game.
Skip forward a couple of years and I had the misfortune as a Lancashire fan, of travelling to Bramhall Lane, Sheffield on the June long weekend in 1963. The occasion was the Yorkshire v Lancashire, “Roses” fixture and Lancashire were skittled to be all out for not too many, just after lunch on the first day. Yorkshire quickly lost three early wickets but then a bespectacled young man named Geoffrey Boycott and his colleague, W B (Bryan) Stott defied the Lancashire attack for the next two days adding 249 runs for the 4th wicket. I had witnessed Boycott’s maiden county century for Yorkshire and though Boycott’s hundred had probably only taken around four hours, to this nine year old Lancashire supporter, it seemed like a lifetime.
Later that month, England held on for a dramatic draw in the second test match against the West Indies at Lords. A match forever remembered for the aristocratic English batsmen, M C (Colin) Cowdrey, coming out with a broken arm at nine wickets down in the last over of the game, to try and save the test match. Cowdrey ultimately, did not have to face the last two balls from the rampant West Indian speedster, Wesley Winfield Hall, but the memory and excitement of that final over will remain with me forever. I loved cricket.
1967 and my father decided that he and mother Rose should emigrate to Australia with the seven Jack children in tow. How could this happen? How could I be going to live in a country where they didn’t play football (so I thought) and I would be subject to watching the cricketing enemy – Australia ? Those Aussies won’t win me over, I’m a loyal Englishman who will always support Colin Cowdrey, Geoffrey Boycott, John Snow and the like.
But win me over they did and it was possibly the brilliance of Kevin Douglas Walters that struck me on my road to Damascus. Living at Fairlight in Sydney in February 1969, I fondly remember listening to commentary of the Australia v West Indies test match on my father’s National Panasonic transistor radio, complete with removeable brown leather case. Doug Walters was batting with Ian Redpath at the Sydney Cricket Ground and it seemed that every time Walters faced Lance Gibbs, the ageing West Indian offspinner’s deliveries were smashed to the cover boundary fence. Walters ended up scoring 242 in that innings and completed another century (103) in the second innings, the first cricketer to have scored a century and double century in the same test match. I thought, this is the way to bat, this is my country – Australia !
The “Poms” (as I could now call them) came to Australia in 1970-71 and I had to rethink my allegiance when Ray Illingworth, with a lot of help from fast bowler John Snow, led England to a 2-0 series win. There were seven test matches in that series (the third in Melbourne was abandoned without a ball being bowled) and although four tests were drawn, there was always drama and excitement to enjoy. This was cricket. In that same series, the first ever one day international was played. Australia won but the teams were identical to the test match teams, wore the traditional creams with not an advertising logo in sight and played with a red cricket ball. For me, this was still cricket.
In 1971-72, when Apartheid caused cancellation of the South African tour, Australia entertained a very strong Rest of the World outfit. Though not a contest between traditional rivals, the series produced some sublime cricket – Dennis Lillee, flowing black mane and at the height of his bowling powers, destroyed the Rest of the World team in Perth. Lillee, with his delightfully smooth fast bowling action took 8 wickets for 29 runs in the first innings in Perth and the World eleven skipper, West Indian Garfield St. Aubrun Sobers scored a magnificent 254 in Melbourne. The innings of Sobers was the best batting performance that I have ever witnessed, an opinion shared by the great Sir Donald Bradman. The West Indian all rounder consistently square cut all bowlers with grace and venom to the boundary fence and 95% of those 254 runs must have come in boundaries. I loved cricket.
My fondness for cricket peaked with the 1974-75 Ashes series played in Australia. I must have watched every minute of that series. There was the erratic brutality of Jeff Thomson’s bowling, Tony Greig’s arrogant defiance, the supreme elegancy of Greg Chappell’s batting and a paunchy forty one year old Colin Cowdrey, trying to defy the pace attack of Dennis Lillee and the frightening Jeffrey Robert Thomson.
The high point of the series for me, was Doug Walters’ century in the session between tea and stumps in the second test at Perth. On that Saturday, I ended up being very late for a bank Christmas party, unable to drag myself away from the television. Robert George Dylan (“Bob”) Willis was bowling the last ball of the day to Walters who was on 97 and needing 6 runs to score a century in the final session.
In 2019, a batsman would be content to see out the last ball and maybe collect three singles on the following day to complete his hundred. “Caution” however, did not form part of the Doug Walter’s vocabulary. The six foot seven inch wiry haired Willis, who officially added Dylan to his name in tribute to the legendary singer / songwriter, hurled the ball in short to Walters. The one time Australian army conscript swiveled and hooked the ball somewhere in the direction of heaven’s door. These were the days of black and white television, one camera and certainly no high definition. As the ball disappeared off the face of Walter’s bat, TV viewers could only hope that it would clear the boundary rope. The ball did clear the rope by some margin and immediately hundreds of fans also cleared the rope in the other direction, to mob Kevin Douglas Walters. There may have been better technical batsmen than Walters, more prolific run scorers, but as an Australian cricketing folk hero, none have come close to matching the boy from the NSW town of Dungog.
Cricket continued to be a major part of my life through the 1970’s and early 1980’s. I enjoyed the production line of superb West Indian fast bowlers and the imperious batting of Isaac Vivian Alexander (“Viv”) Richards. The Australians ultimately gained the upper hand over the calypso kings but despite the looming storm clouds of the World Series Cricket revolution, there was still a marvelous centenary test to be played in Melbourne against England in 1977. Among the many highlights of this game, was the plucky performance of one time Rural Bank of NSW colleague, Rick McCosker. The Australian opening batsman had his jaw broken in the first innings but batted at number 11 in the second innings, wired and bandaged up, to add a valuable 54 runs with Rodney Marsh for the last wicket.
Later that year, following the cricketing implosion created by Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, I remained loyal to the cricketing establishment. I discovered new heroes in the volatile fast bowler Rodney Hogg, dashing batsmen Peter Toohey and Kim Hughes and a forty one year old cricketing relic, Bobby Simpson. Simpson shrugged off ten years of retirement, returning to captain the “official” Australian team in a home series against India.
In the early 1980’s, the divide that was Australian cricket was eventually merged, but for me the damage to the game had been done. One day internationals of just fifty overs per team, had become an equal attraction to Test cricket for the public. Creams had given way to coloured clothing, bad light would not stop play as floodlights took over and the one hundred year old tradition of a cherry red cricket ball had been replaced by a white version that within ten overs was scuffed and discoloured. The behaviour of Australian cricketers continued to deteriorate and my love of cricket was on the decline.
Three or four month tours by the major cricket playing nations, including tussles with county or state teams were becoming rare. There was an abundance of one day 50 over matches, aimed at generating revenue, but these once exciting contests, had started to follow a predictable format. Too many meaningless matches staged and too many obscure, hastily named trophies offered. Many a one day international game had become boring between the 15th and 40th overs. Eventually, the authorities “fixed” this by creating 20/20 cricket, cutting out the tedium of the middle period, but we still had to suffer the never ending 50 over “ODI’s” to satisfy programming demands of the broadcasters and sponsors.
The first international Twenty 20 match was played in 2005 and then the cricket follower had the “luxury” of three different versions to watch. Eventually a pink ball would be added for night cricket, so that one of three different coloured balls might be used. The different forms of the game required a different skill set and upward of 40 players would now represent Australia in any particular summer. Frankly, it became impossible to know who was in what team, which format of the game was being played and for what trophy. As quickly as some of the 20/20 players were capped by their country, they would disappear into cricketing oblivion. My disillusionment continued.
Test match cricket has continued to be popular with the general public but with only passing interest for me. Although the Ashes series remained mostly five match affairs, too many two, three and four match tournaments have evolved. The drama, twists and turns generated during a home test series stretching from late November to early March, are no longer. In 2018 -19 Australia hosted India in a whistle stop four match test series that spanned just one month and one day. Then Sri Lanka arrived for a two test “series.” No sooner had we settled into this two match challenge, than the Sri Lankans were on the plane home. What was the point?
For me, Test cricket was the real attraction, the focal point of the game. There would be meaningful five day contests between bat and ball where there could be enterprising batting but if a two hour occupation of the crease was needed, the batsmen had the technique and the grit to hold on for an honourable draw. Batsmen would preserve their wicket with the tenacity of the 300 Spartans defying the Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae. Yes, we might have had to endure “barnacle” Bill Lawry batting all day to score a half century, but this was Test cricket, a unique sporting experience.
I apologise for wallowing in nostalgia but I do miss the cracking cover drive of a gum chewing Doug Walters and the stubborn defence of a Geoffrey Boycott. Where is Jeff Thomson unleashing the unexpected beamer at an unsuspecting (English) batsmen’s head and the one time roly poly Rodney Marsh, completing yet another “caught Marsh bowled Lillee” dismissal ? What happened to batting technique ? We now have batsmen (no Steve Smith, I won’t call them “batters”) playing improvised 20/20 shots in test cricket, often sacrificing their wicket. Bowlers don’t have to prise out batsmen’s wickets anymore. The backyard taught us that we could all slog, but who today can stroke a ball along the ground between mid wicket and mid on in the vein of Greg Chappell or square cut like Sir Garfield Sobers ? Where are the off spinners who can bowl 8 straight maidens like England’s Fred Titmus or the fast bowlers such as West Indians Andy Roberts and Michael Holding, bowlers with an almost casual run up but deadly delivery ?
And I might ask, where are the delicious names that have been sprinkled throughout cricketing history – instead of Arthur Theodore Wallace (“Wally”) Grout or Frederick Sewards Trueman or Sir Curtly Elconn Lynwall Ambrose, we now have Shane Robert Watson and Glenn James Maxwell. Come on Mr. & Mrs. Watson, Mr. & Mrs. Maxwell, how can your sons be true cricketers being named Shane or Glenn?
To keep the 20/20 cricket follower entertained, we have bowlers serving up fodder for the batsmen’s slogfest. There are endless reviews of contentious appeals, sponsored by an American chicken fast food purveyor and if you need more than 20 runs an over to keep you awake, clichéd anthems will regularly blare out of the P.A. system -“Another One Bites The Dust”, “Eye of The Tiger” and of course,”Howzat ?”
To some, the evolution of cricket may be seen as being positive. There is no doubt that a player hitting a six in the last over to win a 20/20 match can be very exciting or a run out on the last ball to claim victory, but when I look back and compare my cricketing memories with the game as it is in 2019, the modern variety “is just not cricket.”
As I sit here at midnight on a February evening in the stifling heat and humidity of suburban Sydney, I feel most uncomfortable. Sweat is dripping off my brow and the last thing I would want to do at the moment, is chase a ball around a football pitch. If however I was an A League or W League professional footballer, this would be my lot for the greater part of my football season and not in the comparative cool of midnight.
Back in 1984, crowds attending the Australian National Soccer League (NSL) were on the decline. Desperate times called for desperate measures. When the switch from playing football in winter to the warmer summer months was mooted that same year, then NSL General Manager, Stefan Kamasz, stated that the push to change to a summer season (which didn’t materialise until 1989), related entirely to the diminishing NSL crowds. The proposed switch to a summer soccer season was completely driven by negativity – a fear of competition from the other football variants.
During an SBS televised debate in 1984, Eddie Thompson, the former Australian national team coach said that playing in summer, would mean that soccer would only have to compete with cricket for spectators and media coverage. Thompson also said that “cricket was not everybody’s cup of tea,” although I would have expected no less a comment from a Scotsman.
No longer does soccer have competition solely from cricket and a couple of tennis tournaments. Without leaving our living rooms, we can now watch a range of sports from all around the world, including cricket’s Big Bash League, baseball, NBA, UFC and various forms of racing. When newspaper coverage of National Rugby League and Australian Rules Football can exceed four pages in their non playing months of November, December and January, the battle for print media exposure is still clearly evident.
Now in 2019, attendances at our national league matches are again on a worrying downward slide and TV viewing audiences are not holding up any better. Eddie Cochran in 1958 sang that “there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.” As far as our current attendance blues are concerned, my partial cure would be to revert to playing our football primarily in the winter months, a far more favourable climate for the world game.
Playing Australia’s foremost men’s and women’s football competitions, the A League and W League in the summer months when heat and humidity will sap the energy of even the fittest of professional players, does not make sense. U.S. WW2 General George Patten said “fatigue makes cowards of us all” and there is no doubt that the often oppressive conditions in summer, detract from the player’s energy and performance. Players make elementary errors simply due to fatigue. To improve crowds, we need to provide a better product that will thrill and excite the crowds. Playing matches in excessive heat will not increase the speed nor intensity of the games, basic skill levels drop and consequently the match as a spectacle will suffer. The essential drink’s breaks in extreme conditions also creates an unwelcome disruption to the traditional flow of the game.
The original intention with summer soccer was for all games to be played in the evenings when it was expected that the temperatures would be more moderate. This has not been the case however, with late afternoon kick offs commonplace and the Women’s League starting even earlier. A recent A League fixture between Adelaide United and Brisbane Roar kicked off at 7.30 p.m. and yet the temperature was still thirty one degrees Celsius. Global warming is a fact that we cannot ignore. In NSW in January 2019, average day and night time temperatures in thirty two centres, were the highest ever recorded. If we continue to play professional football matches in the increasingly hot Australian summers, the health risks for our players could be dire.
The summer soccer protagonists claimed that football fans wouldn’t want to go out at night in the winter months. The Australian winter in the major cities /football centres is not harsh, in fact it is quite mild during most months other than July and August. Football spectators in the colder climates in Europe have coped successfully with winter seasons for over 100 years and if local fans have to wear a coat and scarf to go out and watch a football match, that should not deter them.
Former NSL General Manager, Stefan Kamasz and many proponents of a summer soccer season also contended that the game was competing for spectators with itself in winter. The thinking was that grassroots players – men, women and children would not be playing in the summer, and would therefore be able to attend the senior professional competition games. This is true to an extent, however I would suggest that when the youngsters themselves are in season and playing in the morning or early afternoon, they would be more likely to be in the mood to attend an A League or W League game. When temperatures exceed thirty degrees Celsius in summer and the children’s football boots are gathering dust in the bottom of their wardrobe, I would say that the beach or a swimming pool would be theirs and their parent’s first consideration.
The availability of grounds from March to November should not be insurmountable with the current push towards “boutique”/ smaller grounds. If rugby and AFL competition at the major venues was an issue, there would be a number of smaller suburban stadia that could accommodate crowds of 15,000 – 20,000 people. Australian soccer cannot presently command crowds of 30,000 spectators consistently, so large capacity arenas are not necessary at the moment.
Our “winter” football season should extend from early March to mid November with no break. This would align us with the seasons of our Asian Football Confederation colleagues and would provide for an off season of around three and a half months, far more practical than the current five month layoff. The popular Football Federation Australia (FFA) Cup could take place during the season with the final taking place at season’s end. Currently the timing of the FFA Cup finale is anticlimactic, taking place very early in the A League season. Both National Premier League (NPL) and A League clubs would then have equitable preparation for the cup competition, unlike the present situation.Also, any Australian club progressing to the latter stages of the Asian Champions League would not be disadvantaged, by playing an Asian opponent, when they are out of season. Furthermore, overseas teams visiting Australia on their fundraising, replica shirt selling, “An Evening with Joe Bloggs” junkets, could expect sterner competition from season hardened local opponents, rather than a disjointed rabble of match shy players, who clearly would prefer to be at Bondi Beach.
Association football has thrived throughout the world for 140 years. In Australia, it’s time for us to stop worrying about competition, cease consistently looking over our shoulders and take all the steps necessary to focus on advancing our game in this country. It’s time to admit that the summer soccer experiment has not worked. Reverting to a winter football season for our men’s and women’s premier competitions would help raise the the standard and intensity of matches, improve player comfort and safety and bring our national leagues’ season into alignment with the rest of the football community, both in Australia and in Asia.
With the breaking news that the FFA is considering a shortened 2019-20 season to cater for the A League expansion, this would present an ideal opportunity for the launch of winter football for our male and female professional leagues in March 2020. Australian football, as Paul McCartney once sang of Jo Jo, needs to get back to where it once belonged – winter.
‘Twas not the night before the Christmas, in fact not even close, 57 nights before to be precise, but don’t let that get in the way of a good Christmas story. It was 30th October 2004 and on this day crowds had come from near and far to celebrate the wedding of Kylie (not Minogue) and Dean (not James) but despite the absence of Hollywood royalty, it was as grand an occasion as Dee Why had witnessed for at least two and a half weeks.
An English born finance broker / band manager (let’s call him “David”) had been secured by the groom to perform a dual role at the wedding. Dean thought that he would engage David as chauffeur on this day as, for one crazy year of his life, David drove a Jaguar. Dean also asked David if he could get some of his friends to create some melodic (sometimes) noises on musical instruments at the wedding feast because, if nothing else they were very cheap.
Now David shared one character trait with the infamous hussy, Fanny Hill. He could not say “no” and although his vocabulary could be voluminous, the one word that was missing was “no”. David accepted the chauffeur and musician role, only telling Dean the night before the wedding that he did in fact no longer drive a burgundy Jaguar but a 1994 blue Ford Fairmont with no air conditioning.
Back to the Christmas story. The ceremony in the Dee Why church was considered a necessary evil before the dutiful guests could toddle off to the Grand (exaggerated for effect) Cromer Gold Club for beers and champagne. This was to be their reward for enduring the church ceremony.
St. John’s Church Dee Why
Just when the guests in the back row of the church were nodding off and those in the front row wished they were in the back row so they could nod off too, a fair young lady stood up amongst the crowd like the bright star rising in the east (Christmas reference). Without having to contend with the traditional discordant sound of a church organ, the fair young lady sang out in a manner so melodic, so clear, so beautiful that even those in the back row stumbled to attention.
David, the footballer / finance broker / chauffeur / entrepreneur was enraptured by the beauty of this voice and thought that he could possibly use this fair young lady in one of his enterprises and it wouldn’t be as chauffeur’s assistant !
Cromer Golf Club – site of the birth of another union
After the nuptials were confirmed, the fair young lady and her mother joined the motorcade in a ticker tape parade, through elated crowds on the streets of Dee Why, eventually arriving at the Grand Cromer Golf Club. But for many an hour, David sat on the dock of a bay called Long Reef waiting for the ecstatic Kylie and Dean to have 100 gigabytes of pictures taken on the seashore. This place is called Long Reef because if you go there with bridal parties to have pictures taken, you don’t leave the reef for a Long (Long) time.
David eventually arrived late at the Grand Cromer Golf Club, setting a poor example for his fellow musicians who have honourably mimicked his tardiness to this very day.
The evening passed without incident until Dean, a garrulous Kiwi and sad to say, a relation of mine, decided on that day that they would each break the Guinness World Record for the longest and most mind numbing speeches in the history of wedding receptions. The speeches only ceased when paramedics arrived to treat a number of guests for extreme dehydration (no drinks had been served for 3 hours) and utter boredom.
Amanda with guitar, feeling quite at home
Normal alcohol service eventually resumed and the band played songs that would remain popular (with them at least ) to the present day.
David then cast his mind back to the church and the beautiful voice of the fair young lady. Being from a Catholic upbringing and having been starved of female companionship at school for nine long years, David approached the young lady cautiously. David discovered that the lady with the beautiful voice was called Amanda. At first David wondered whether Amanda’s parents were an unimaginative couple because in 1970’s, the first name in the Book of Girl Baby Names was always “Amanda” but upon meeting them some time later, it became clear that in fact they were both quite intuitive.
But I digress. David asked Amanda (not, if she would marry him because he had already used that line with another Amanda) but if she would like to sing a song or two with the band. Amanda’s mother encouraged her daughter to accept the offer or at least turn the water into wine as they were still suffering from dehydration, but Amanda calmly said to her mum, “my time has not yet come” (biblical reference). When David asked the question, Amanda’s first thought was “yes, if you give me $1,000” but she relented and said “yes” to the man who couldn’t say “no”
BackBeat in full flight some time later
That evening at the Cromer Golf Club, Amanda sang in that self same melodic, clear and beautiful voice that she had exhibited in the Dee Why church. Even today, I can still visualise Amanda singing in the church, calm and composed, that very bright star in the east (final Christmas reference). The 30th October 2004 was a day on which a precious union of music and friendship was born. It was indeed a special day, not just for Dean & Kylie Miller but for me.
“For you, ( I hope) there’ll be no more crying,
For you, (I hope ) the sun will (always) be shining,”
On 28th December 1963, on a cold Manchester afternoon, this 10 year old was smuggled (as usual) into the press box at Old Trafford, under my late father’s overcoat. My team Manchester United had been hammered by Burnley 6- 1 a few days earlier, continuing what for them had been an ordinary season. United’s manager, the legendary Matt Busby had made one notable change to the side thrashed a few days earlier, bringing in a slightly built 17 year old Irishman, George Best.
My memories of that game are blurred but I do remember the bright orange colour of the ball, in vogue in those days and that this young boy, George Best scored one of the goals as United exacted 5 -1 revenge on their Lancashire neighbours. Best had made his debut earlier in September that year, but his fatherly mentor and manager, Matt Busby decided that George needed a little more toughening in the reserves before he would be let leash on the English first division. Best was never again left out of a United side during Busby’s reign, after that Burnley match.
I would subsequently forego the relative comfort of the press box to watch United with my school friends on the Old Trafford terraces. Best reigned supreme at United for 11 years outshining no such lesser names as Bobby Charlton and Denis Law. Still a youngster, I was not allowed to attend mid week matches, but can remember many a morning waking up after a midweek fixture and asking my dad “How did we go ?”. Very often, the response would be simply “Bestie murdered them”
As a child I dreamed of playing for United and I wanted to be Georgie Best. I wore my shirt out over my shorts like George, I tried to imitate George’s dribbling style and mannerisms and as soon as I was able to shave, I would try to grow the “designer stubble”. My family moved to Australia in March 1967 and I was devastated. How could I live without my United, my idol, Georgie Best.I didn’t have to wait long however, as Manchester United toured Australia in June that year. On a rain soaked Sydney Showground on a Wednesday evening, United put three goals past a Sydney representative side and George Best scored a memorable goal from a short corner. I later played with the man marking George that night, Cliff Van Blerk. Cliff is a lovely fellow but as a full back he could tackle as hard as anyone. Well Cliff fondly recalls that although he played in the NSW Federation (State League) into his 30’s, his struggle with George Best that night took 10 years off his life.
Having had this shot of Manchester United and Best, I carried on my life in Australia progressing through the local football ranks until 1970 when I was offered a trial with Manchester United. Truly a dream come true. I had three months at United and witnessed first hand the character and the footballing brilliance of George Best. I played in the United “B” team and was fortunate to be on the same training pitch and play in small sided games with George.
United offered to keep me on for a further twelve months, but I was homesick and decided to return to Australia. Maybe I was still trying to imitate Best, who himself fled Manchester for Belfast, after just one day at United before later returning. I played many years in the local NSW State League still trying to be George. I tried (successfully) to flick the ball away from a goalkeeper like Best did to Gordon Banks in Belfast. I went through a period of consistently trying the audacious lob that Best pulled off against Spurs at Old Trafford. I gave up shooting with power for a whole season -just lobbed everything. How ridiculous !
I was content to live out my life in Australia and enjoy the childhood memories of a player whose artistry, courage, speed and sheer football brilliance will never be matched. Out of the blue I came across George again in 1983. By now he had become a footballing mercenary and he arrived in Australia that year to play for Brisbane Lions in the old National Soccer League. Along with thousands of others, I travelled to Marconi Stadium to see George play. All came with great expectations but George, by then 37 had a quiet match but we didn’t care – he was George Best.
When George’s stint with Brisbane came to an end, he stayed on for a short while and amazingly I would again end up on the same pitch as my idol. The Best resume which showed “work experience” ranging from the world’s most famous football club to Dunstable Town, suddenly had a new entry – Dee Why Swans. George, a little short of cash at that time, agreed to play for Dee Why for a reputed sum of $5,000. A crowd of several thousand turned up at Cromer Park, Dee Why where my team Manly Warringah were to play Dee Why. George played the full match. He struck the post early in the first half from 35 metres, just to remind the crowd that they were in the presence of a one time superstar. Manly won 3 -2 but George did manage to get on scoresheet. When George scored, nobody cared that he was conservatively 3 metres offside. George rounded our keeper Mark Dower, with the same ease that he did when beating the Benfica goalkeeper, Jose Henrique to score that famous 1968 European Cup Final goal.
A shy and modest man despite the fame and adulation, George Best was the complete footballer. The adjectives to describe his talent are never ending and only those who saw him at his peak can bear testament to his true greatness. The world of football is an immeasurably better place for his life and was greatly saddened by his premature death.
George Best died in a London hospital on 25th November 2005 from complications resulting from an earlier liver transplant.
One day the MLB and his father had to find an alternative way to get to school, due to a malfunctioning motor vehicle. The father being the wise man that he wasn’t, pinpointed the bus the night before on his surprisingly up to date timetable. The father told the MLB that the bus would pick the two of them up at Sir Thomas Mitchell Drive at 8.32 a.m. There was no doubt in the father’s mind about this Thomas being the pick up point.
Father and MLB stood twenty metres away from the bus stop to avoid the burning sun. The father stood in the shade of a withering bottlebrush and the MLB stood in the shade of his father, standing in the shade of the bottlebrush. When the bus had not appeared by 8.42 a.m. the Ruth, married to the man with a lawnmower welded to his arms, arrived. “Would you like a lift anywhere ?” she said. The father said “No but my wife would like one under her bottom“. After the little bit of banter, father and MLB got into the car. MLB legs, arms, school bag and recently polished Clarks shoes flailing wildly, climbed over the baby seat in the back of the car. Fortunately baby was not on board.
The Ruth said she was going to Forestville which was in the opposite direction, so father and MLB left her company at Forest Way in the hope of sponging another lift. The father approached a young teenage girl standing on the corner watching all the cars going by. “Is this a bus stop?” asked the father with the beads of sweat on his face obviously causing some consternation within the mind of the young girl. When she finally composed herself and looked down at the beautiful blonde boy, she realised that he could not be in the custody of a paedophile. “Yes” she replied.
Although it was a bus stop, the next bus that arrived did not stop at the stop but went around the corner. The father grabbed the bag of the MLB, to which the MLB was attached and hurried after the bus. The driver opened the door as the MLB searched in vain for his new bus pass. MLB was bitterly disappointed that after waiting so long for his pass, he would not get to use it. He was determined to ensure that his mother’s efforts to obtain his bus pass would not be in vain. Five minutes elapsed with the driver saying 43 times “don’t worry about it”. Finally MLB produced the document smothered in Cottees strawberry jam and squashed sandwich remains and held it proudly aloft.
The father saw the beautiful little one get on the bus, praying to Jesus, Mary and Joseph that the very patient bus driver would carry him safely to The Belrose Public School. The father was by now saturated in sweat and carried on his way to meet the $30 million dollar client. The beautiful little MLB arrived safely at school on time.
P.S. The father declared that this was the most humid day of all time and that the “MLB” (Miserable Little Bastard) was really not so.
With another grassroots football season almost upon us, participation rates in Australian football for female and male players continue to increase. Not only are the numbers growing in the traditional winter season but so many now enrol in summer football competitions from under 6’s through to football’s elder statesmen and women of more senior years. With so many playing “Association Football” you would expect the game’s popularity to translate into expanding the profile and awareness of the game at elite club (A League & W League) and national level. Sadly, this is not the case and in more than fifty years of following Australian football, I dont believe that I have witnessed such a lack of interest or so much apathy towards our game from the general public.
Obviously, the impact of Covid 19 has affected the effective functioning and fluidity of the A League and W League and postponement of the men’s World Cup qualifiers has created a drop off in interest in the national team but even pre pandemic, the attention and interest of the Australian population in our football was diminishing. The reasons for this are many, not the least being the harmful and often embarassing invasion of the Video Assistant Referee (“VAR”) on the game. Remarkably, this has only drawn an indifferent response from Football Australia – “nothing to see here?”
Thriving elite competitions would help boost the game’s image and visibility but despite some commentators assertions that we are seeing a better standard of football this season, I am not convinced. Long after Hyundai drove off into the sunset, the A League still has no naming sponsor, attendances continue to decline and TV ratings are struggling. Clearly, the A League, our elite male competition cannot curently be the knight in shining armour that would rebuild interest in Australian football.
In 2005 with the formation of the A League, traditional clubs such as South Melbourne Hellas, Marconi, Melbourne Knights (formerly Croatia) and Apia Leichhardt were cut adrift from the top tier competition with no opportunity to prove their worth on the playing pitch. Not only was there a disconnect with the senior players who were denied the opportunity to compete, but critically junior players and their parents in these clubs and their surrounding associations, were deprived of the chance to support their senior team in the premier men’s football league in the country.
How many grassroots players and their families have lost interest in supporting their local team and football in general, because the team cannot be a part of the elite national competition? Promotion and relegation between all tiers of our football must be incorporated as soon as is practical or the A League will disappear like the former National Soccer League (“NSL”) onto the Australian football scrapheap.
Over the years, “marquee” / overseas guest players have lifted crowds and recognition of Australian football. Our game needs quality star players but with current Covid 19 travel restrictions and the dire financial position of many A League clubs, it is doubtful that we will see any foreign superstars gracing our football pitches for some time to come. The benefit of guest players has been questionable at times but many such as Takis Loukanidis, George Best, Kevin Keegan and in the A League’s short history, Dwight Yorke, Shinji Ono and Alessandro Del Piero have sparked the local game and made more Australians aware that we too play the “World Game”.
Particularly post World War ll, Australian football managed to retain a profile with visits from overseas clubs. The 1960’s especially, saw English clubs Everton, Chelsea and then reigning Division 1 champions Manchester United tour as well as AS Roma and a Scottish international team that included Sir Alex Ferguson in its’ playing ranks. Brazil’s Santos arrived in 1972 with an ageing Pele and in 1979, few will forget the match between Australia and “Kaiser” Franz Beckenbauer’s New York Cosmos at an overflowing Sydney Showground. Although the touring teams often outplayed their local opponents, the games were always competitive, well attended and media attention and exposure were guaranteed.
In recent years we have been visited by English Premier League giants, Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool but these visits now coincide with the Australian off season, where the rusty, under prepared local A League opposition is usually cannon fodder for the tourists. The matches draw big crowds but the football has become secondary to merchandising and the promotion of these wealthy overseas football clubs. The crowds at these fixtures include many “Eurosnobs”, fervent fans of the touring team but generally not interested in supporting the local game consistently.
I consider that the foremost reason for the drop off in interest in Australian football is that we very rarely get to see our male international players in Australia. The retirement of Socceroos stalwarts Tim Cahill and Mile Jedinak in the last couple of years has not helped but the Australian national team has lost it’s identity. Even during the pandemic, Australian sports fans have been able to watch the best we have to offer, whether it be cricketers, rugby or tennis players but not our footballers. Of course, Covid 19 has made it virtually impossible for our overseas players to return but even pre Covid, we rarely got to watch our international stars. Understandably, scores of Australian players seek the perceived glamour and recognition of playing in Europe but before local players were lured overseas by dubious promises and petrodollars, it was possible to travel to Wentworth Park in Sydney, or Olympic Park in Melbourne and watch the best Australian players turn out for their club teams. Peter Wilson, Adrian Alston, Jimmy Mackay, Billy Vojtek, Johnny Warren and the rest were on show every week and even non football fans could be tempted to catch a bus to a modest suburban Hurstville Oval in Sydney in 1971 to watch a St. George team littered with Socceroos.
The country’s international stars were real, visible and on show every week – not Scotsmen who had never set foot in Australia and were playing on the other side of the world. Today, the neutral onlooker would not know Martin Boyle or Harry Souttar from a boiled haggis. In contrast, 1974 World Cup squad member Ray Richards, who played all his senior club football locally, would have been familiar to all Australian sports fans, if not for his drooping moustache and London accent then for his incredibly long throw in ability.
Most of our current international players are out of sight and as a result, out of mind. Australia no longer plays “friendly” international fixtures or if they do, they will be played at Craven Cottage, Fulham’s home ground in London. Try tapping your Opal card to get to Craven Cottage ! Local fans deserve the chance to see the Socceroos and the Matildas compete regularly against other national teams. Australia had memorable friendly international victories over Greece in 1969 and Uruguay in 1974 both at the Sydney Cricket Ground. These results lifted the profile of Australian football and many non believers started to show an interest in what Australian football could achieve.
Improving neighbouring Asian nations such as Thailand and Vietnam would provide stern opposition for the Socceroos as well as the Asian powerhouses, Japan, South Korea, and Iran. Aside from World Cup or Asian Cup qualifying matches, we don’t play these countries. Why don’t we invite New Zealand here to play a full international? Rugby union and rugby league can manage it and although I understand that many players may not be released from overseas clubs, why not reward the best local players with caps and make the overseas incumbents fight for their positions?
I acknowledge that Covid 19 has made international fixtures almost impossible but internationals in Australia outside of cup matches, have been non existent for many years not just for the last twelve months. The national governing body, Football Australia needs to show some initiative and put the Socceroos and Matildas, (even under strength if necessary) on local display consistently and make Aaron Mooy, Mat Ryan and maybe even Harry Souttar, household names. This will help lift the profile of Australian football and get office workers again talking about our football over their morning coffee.
Awareness of Australian football has also dropped off as broadcast operators promote a number of rival sports that do attract higher ratings and crowds. It has always been difficult to obtain media coverage of Australian football and over the last twelve months, a reluctant Foxtel has signalled that its’ affection lies with other sports. Print and digital media editors have picked up on the game’s deteriorating profile and are loath to promote and support what appears to be a sinking ship.
Australian football will never die. It is to be hoped that our hosting of the 2023 Women’s World Cup will give the game a desperately needed injection of interest and remind the population that we can have a viable local competition and also competitive international teams, both female and male. The huge groundswell of those playing the game will always prop up our football but the challenge is to convert all those trundling around our local pitches every weekend, into diehard supporters of the game at every level.
I have been intending to write this piece for some time and the recent passing of the late Australian football coach, Frank Arok has prompted me to pen my thoughts on football coaches and managers worldwide. Deservedly, Arok has been touted as one of Australia’s better coaches but for someone to call Arok an “icon”, a term today used to describe a person or thing worthy of veneration, exemplifies the unjustified acclaim afforded football coaches in the modern age.
Over the last twenty years, particularly in the English Premier League, we have seen elite level football managers and coaches elevated far beyond their true worth, with those such as Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp commanding outrageous salaries and twenty four hour seven day a week media attention. Do these football managers really deserve the status and celebrity sent their way? A coach or a manager cannot transform an average footballer into a good footballer. Sir Alex Ferguson did not make David Beckham, Paul Scholes or Ryan Giggs the players they were. Despite Manchester United winning thirteen Premier League titles under his management, if my late mother had been given the squads and financial resources at Ferguson’s disposal, I’m sure that mum could have sent Ferguson’s Manchester United teams on to the pitch and achieved similar results.
A football coach is not a teacher but a supervisor and can never bestow upon a player the ability to play football. Who taught Bjorn Borg the tennis skills to win five successive Wimbledon championships? Who showed Muhammad Ali how to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” and can anyone name Sir Donald Bradman’s batting coach? In fact, Bjorn Borg’s mentor, Lennard Bergelin warned against coaches trying to change Borg’s rough looking jerky strokes. Of course, the innate natural ability of these famous sportsmen was born and not coached.
The predominant value of a coach is their capacity to get the best out of his or her players and to maintain harmony within the playing squad. In a professional club, the coach will have input into the recruitment of players and he or she will then pick the best eleven and devise tactics based on the players at the coach’s disposal. Aside from these aspects of the coaching CV, can someone explain to me how Jurgen Klopp can justify his £10m (AUD 17.6m) annual salary and the God like status granted him by the adoring football media? The little known American, Emmert Wolf once wrote that “a man is only as good as his tools” and likewise the man, Jurgen Klopp is only as good as the collective ability of his Liverpool “tools”
I’m sure that coaches spend hours working out their systems whether it be 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1, studying videos of their opposition or just holding press conferences. They probably agonise as to whether they should play with a “False 9”, “inverted wingers”, “two number 10’s” or whatever new vocabulary and positions are topical. In saying this, it would be appropriate to recall former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly’s opinion that “football is a simple game made difficult by those who should know better”. Fellow respected Scottish born manager Sir Matt Busby’s pre game instruction to his Manchester United teams would often be limited to “go out and enjoy yourselves”. Busby knew he had the players capable of playing the style of football he wanted, knew their limitations and no further instruction was necessary. The players from those Liverpool and Manchester United teams had enormous respect, if not affection for their mentors, traits that the modern day manager would find more difficult to extract from their pampered, extremely wealthy footballers.
The “Magical Magyars”, the wonderful Hungarian team of the 1950’s owed their success primarily to exceptional footballers in Puskas, Hidegkuti & Bozsic. Their coach Gusztav Sebes, was tactically astute in his use of Hidegkuti as a withdrawn centre forward but the players were instrumental in that country’s achievements. In 1958 & 1962 Brazil’s World Cup victories were built on the wonderful performances of Pele and Garrincha rather than any outstanding coaching. In 1966, England manager Sir Alf Ramsey was praised for his “wingless wonders” playing a 4-3-3 system without wing forwards. That England triumphed however, was primarily due to a superb goalkeeper in Gordon Banks, the defensive qualities and leadership of Bobby Moore and the goalscoring prowess of Geoff Hurst and Bobby Charlton. In fact, it would be difficult to nominate any manager who had a major influence on a World Cup win since the inception of the competition in 1930.
Blanket TV and other media football coverage has magnified the persona of the game’s players and coaches /managers with the numerous “expert” pundits micro analysing matches and seeking to make the game into the science that it is not. Unfortunately, the focus on coaches and their tactics and systems, has filtered down through all levels of football. Believe it or not, we now have grassroots’ coaches asking Under 10 kids to play as a “6” or for another to play “in the hole” as a “10”. Children don’t need tactics, confusing terminology nor their coach barking instructions to them consistently throughout the game. They need to get out and play as often as they can, without interference from parents and coaches. By all means let the parents and coaches encourage and support the children but that’s as far as it should go. On the football field, like elsewhere, necessity can be the mother of invention. If the child has a ball at their feet as much as possible, their intuition and football ability will ultimately come out on top, irrespective of any coaching input.
In the early 1950’s with television growing in popularity, the famous English cricket batsman Denis Compton wrote that watching ten minutes of quality players from any number of sports, was more beneficial for the budding player than ten hours of reading a coaching manual or 10 days of physical coaching. I agree wholeheartedly with Compton’s opinion. Watching football as a boy, either on television, at Old Trafford or just a local park, was my football education. I played as much as I could – in the schoolyard, the beach and even in the vacant guard’s compartment on the train going to school, all the time trying to emulate the skills of those better than myself.
I played football from the age of five and emigrated from England to Australia at the age of thirteen. It was not until I was selected in the Manly Warringah Under 14 representative team, that I received any form of coaching. Three years later I was scoring goals for the Manchester United “B” team. I don’t believe that the lack of coaching impaired my football development.
In 1958, Tom Finney, one of England’s finest footballers lamented that “British football produced more great players in the days when coaching on a national scale was non-existent”. There is no shortage of people wanting to make a dollar out of the game. This has seen football academies grow in massive numbers throughout the world. The academies feed off gullible parents desperate for their children to become the next Lionel Messi or in Australia, a Harry Kewell or a Sam Kerr. Sadly, the parents have to foot the bill, not just pecuniary but in time, ferrying their children to their many coaching sessions. If the fundamentals are there, a good coach can improve a player’s sense of positional play and blend a group of eleven units into a machine but no amount of coaching will transform a player with two left feet into professional footballer.
As long as football retains its’ popularity and the TV pundits and the media scrutinize every word and action of professional coaches and managers, the myth of the coach’s importance and their influence on the game will live on. If Jose Mourinho ultimately fails at Tottenham Hotspur, there will be another club that will be prepared to pay his extravagant salary, suffer his bouts of sullen behaviour and maybe even pick up the tab for his living in a luxury hotel for two and a half years. If Liverpool are prepared to pay Jurgen Klopp £10m annually, being the market rate for his managerial pedigree, I’m fine with that but if Liverpool win the English Premier League this year, you will not convince me that Jurgen Norbert Klopp was the fundamental reason for the club’s success.
Just over two weeks into the 2020-21 A League season, the sky hasn’t fallen in, like the well behaved child, pleasingly VAR has been seen but not heard too much, the impoverished Newcastle Jets are still with us and Central Coast Mariners are on top of the table ! It has been a very interesting couple of weeks and on New Year’s Eve Twitter was awash with tweets from the A League alluding to a “game changing announcement”. This must be big news – Lionel Messi wanting to escape Covid 19 ravaged Europe has signed for Sydney FC ? A knighthood from the Queen for Rale Rasic?
No, nothing quite so earth shattering, just an announcement that the A League was being “unbundled” from Football Federation Australia (and I won’t use this term again as recently, I have been crushed by an abundance of unbundlement). Paul Lederer, the chair of the newly formed Australian Professional Leagues (“APL”) declared it “an historic moment for the future of football in Australia – for the fan, for the player, for the whole game.” Furthermore, Mr. Lederer asserted that this (historic moment) has generated a “euphoric feeling”. Well, I’m sorry Mr. Lederer but now a little over a week since the announcement, I have no symptoms of euphoria although maybe I should get tested as euphoria could be asymptomatic? The outcome of this separation of powers means that the A League and W League will be independent of Football Federation Australia but once again Australian football politics and the game’s administration was the story whereas the focus should truly be on the football.
Enough of the game’s administration and the “U” word, what the initial A League fixtures have shown is that Australian football can survive, though I won’t say prosper at this stage, without a glut of second rate, overseas Air BNB short stay footballers. There has always been a place for longer term quality imports in Australian football dating to English international Doug Holden in the 1950’s through Takis Loukanidis and Roberto Vieri in the former State Federations on to Thomas Broich and Milos Ninkovic in our modern game. The performances so far of four young Australian players have confirmed that given the opportunity and most importantly, an extended run in the first team, players such as Lachlan Rose, Calem Nieuwenhof, Dylan Wenzel-Halls and Ramy Najjarine have the potential to lift Australian premier club football out of threatening mediocrity.
In a first up victory over Western Sydney Wanderers, Rose, a product of the NSW NPL Division 2 sparkled effervescently in the Macarthur Bulls midfield. On A League debut, Nieuwenhof, previously unknown outside of Sydney FC circles, scored a cracking 25 metre goal, only to be eclipsed later by a superlative free kick from another local born player, the grossly underrated Luke Brattan. Dylan Wenzel-Halls, not as green as Rose or Nieuwenhof was also lively and showed rare skill setting up his second half goal for the Brisbane Roar against Melbourne Victory and complementing this with a calm finish. Najjarine too is an exciting talent whose services Melbourne City deemed surplus to their current requirements. Not yet 21, Najjarine is on loan to Newcastle Jets and is keen to show City Football Group why he has represented the national team at Under 17,20 and 23 levels.
Interestingly, a number of overseas based Australian footballers are now returning to, or are considering returning to Australia, maybe with a sense that money can’t buy you a love of football if you can’t get a regular game. The financial impact of Covid 19 and now the employment restrictions of Brexit on Australian players wanting to earn a living playing in the United Kingdom, will see even more Australian born or raised players looking to come home in the near future.
Former Socceroos captain Mark Milligan is back captaining Macarthur Bulls, Tom Juric has returned to spearhead Adelaide United and Mustafa Amini and Apostolos Giannou are also said to be in the airline ticket queue. Add to that the clubless Jackson Irvine and you get the sense that maybe the overseas grass is not turning out to be quite so green. Australian football can’t offer the attraction, financial or career wise of playing football in a major European league but surely playing at BankWest Stadium in a Sydney derby in front of 40,000 spectators (Covid 19 willing) has more appeal than playing for Pontefract Collieries against Brighouse in the English Northern Premier league (personally I would be concerned about playing against any team called Brighouse.)
What playing in Australia can offer is the proximity of family and friends, an agreeable climate and a familiar culture and language. For many players Australian club football should also be able to offer regular game time to help them win or cement a spot in the national team. Part of coach Graham Arnold’s dilemma has been the lack of consistent football for current and potential Socceroos. One would expect that returning incumbent and fringe national team players will become club regulars and that their consistent first team football in the A League, should not only improve the quality of the competition but simultaneously enhance the performance of the national team.
The A League in its’ current format is far from perfect. Promotion and relegation with the formation of a national second division can’t come quickly enough and a new TV broadcast deal is critical. Most importantly, there must be a united front with equal opportunities for all clubs thoughout Australia but I will leave these topics for others to debate. As it stands, post Covid 19 A League clubs will struggle to meet the wage demands of marquee players, let alone those on lower incomes. If however this means that clubs have to blood more Calem Nieuwenhofs, Lachlan Roses, Dylan Wenzel-Halls and Ramy Najjarines, is that necessarily a serious concern?
Ironically, Covid 19 may have delivered the A League an unexpected lifeline. Now is the time to dispose of the corporate speak, talk of ecosystems and stakeholders, the fanciful blueprints and let the players and the football matches do the talking. Then maybe I might start to experience Mr. Paul Lederer’s “euphoric feeling”.
Friday 18th December 2020 Big Music Performance Hall, Crows Nest
It’s not called Big Music without reason and on Friday 18th December in the year of Coronavirus 2020, the Mecca of live music north of Ernest Street, Crows Nest witnessed the biggest musical duel since Sherbet, with “Free The People” defeated Jeff St. John and the Copperwine to win the 1972 Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds. The male performer’s hair may be a little bit shorter now and the waistlines a little more expansive, but the British Invasion show pitted the Gene Maynard coached “Cats on The Scene” against their arch rivals, Ash Rothschild’s cleverly named “Ash Band”.
Band members had given blood sweat and even shed the odd tear for 14 weeks in the lead up to the finale, a homage to British performers who took the music world by storm in the 1960’s. Gene Maynard had astutely won the toss at rehearsal on the preceding Wednesday night in the absence of opposition coach Ash Rothschild and Maynard elected to bat first in this titanic confrontation.
Naturally with such talent on display and household musical names such as Bill Kable LLB, Peter White and Nigel Smyth present, the show was a sellout with an estimated further three hundred million watching live throughout the world, courtesy of Zoom (these figures never need to be substantiated).
The room bristled with excitement when Cats on the Scene took the stage bang on time at 7.36 p.m. From the moment that Pete (“Sticks”) White pounded the drum skins introducing the Rolling Stones Get off My Cloud the audience realised that they were now in the presence of something special. The beehive coiffured Shantelle McCall, looking every inch the sixties British diva, provocatively eyed Ash Band in the “green room” telling them not to “hang around ’cause two’s a crowd”. The battle was truly on – Sherbet v Jeff St. John & the Copperwine 1972 revisited.
Shantelle then shared vocals with guitarist David Jack on a rollicking version of The Beatles 1965 number one hit Can’t Buy Me Love. There were no Kinks in All Day & All of the Night with McCall’s smooth vocal delivery and a note perfect guitar solo by Bill Kable LLB. It had to be note perfect as Bill had composed it himself. It was then time for player coach Gene Maynard to whip out his Hohner blues harp from his back pocket (uncomfortable if it’s still in there when you sit down) for I’m the Face and let the audience know that he was “the face” (as well as coach, bassist, drummer, guitarist, guitar pedal technician……..etc.) of the band.
A well informed (and obviously quite old) passer by happened to hear Maynard’s harp playing, the like of which he said he had not heard since Larry Adler played a World War 2 gig for US Marines at the Cat & Fiddle Hotel Balmain in 1944. Some compliment!
Crazy ‘Bout You followed, a song written and recorded by Christine Perfect (later McVie) allegedly expressing Ms. Perfect’s infatuation with Spencer (The Spencer Davis Group) Davis. This was carried off perfectly by Shantelle Perfect on vocals with Michelle Perfect, her melodic keyboard accompanist.
The Yardbirds For Your Love showed that Pete White didn’t spend forty years in the legal profession solely to emerge as a mere drummer. The many hours spent walking to the Land Titles Office in Sydney’s Macquarie St. provided a unique opportunity to also hone his vocal skills that would allow him to sing the words “for your love” on the Yardbirds classic numerous times, with impeccable feel and empathy.
Keep On Running, was how the aforementioned Spencer Davis reacted to Christine Perfect’s persistent amorous advances and it kept the crowd on it’s toes with David Jack and Shantelle McCall then duetting on Cream’s White Room. This 1968 classic from the album “Wheels on Fire” featured a searing guitar solo from Bill Kable LLB which extracted rapturous spontaneous applause from Bill’s friends and family strategically placed in the front row.
Those Cats on the Scene were purring like a kitten served premium Atlantic salmon in a warm room in the middle of winter. Rival band coach Ash Rothschild’s tight pants were growing ever tighter in the wake of his opponents scorching set.
Son of a Preacher Man followed by Spooky gave Shantelle the opportunity to show why she came second in the 2012 Lower North Shore “Who Can Sing Like Dusty Springfield?” competition. The room exploded after Shantelle’s outro to “preacher man” as Shantelle showed that, like USA Presidential elections, Dusty Springfield sing alike competitions can also be rigged.
By now Ash Band were in the green room trying to calm their nerves and lower their collective blood pressure. Were they the 2020 Jeff St. John & the Copperwine to Gene Maynard’s Sherbet? Band members were considering options to settle for an honourable draw including pulling a fuse and plunging the room into darkness. Coach Rothschild rallied his team though reminding them that in the spirit of the Mick Jagger/ Keith Richards composition, they were “Street Fighting Men” which immediately drew quizzical looks from Jo Mooney and Cristobel Peters.
Meanwhile back on stage, Cats on the Scene were drawing to the end of their set. Tin Soldier, their penultimate offering allowed Michelle Helms to showcase the keyboard skills that won her a one year scholarship in 2009 to the North Turramurra Elton Jack School of Piano and Occasional Drum Tuition. Shantelle McCall produced a vocal performance of which the late Steve Marriott of the Small Faces would have been proud and then closed the set with her very best Paul McCartney impression on The Beatles 1963 favourite, I Saw Him ( Her) Standing There.
As Cats on the Scene took their bows to the inevitable thunderous applause (well as thunderous as thirty five people can generate), the frenetic audience speculated that if this was the support act, what might be expected from the headline band?
Ash Band launched into their set with the Searchers 1964 number one hit, Needles & Pins. Lead vocalist Jo Mooney certainly was not searching for anything as she was immediately into her vocal stride. This was followed by Mooney’s raucous rendition of the Swinging Blue Jeans’ Hippy Hippy Shake, a condition that one experiences upon entering the outskirts of Nimbin on the NSW Far North Coast. There is currently no vaccine for this condition but Donald Trump has assured Nimbin visitors that one day it will just go away. Craig Cartner delivered a rasping instrumental break, simultaneously “shaking to the left and then shaking to the right” which is no mean feat playing lead guitar. In the background Cristobel Peters punched rhythmic chords punctuated by a startling keyboard glissando.
Up next was Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress sang by a long cool woman, Jo Mooney almost in a black dress with a long cool guitar intro played by a long cool man in black but not a dress, Craig Cartner. Cartner and fellow guitarist Glen Parker traded rhythmic shuffle chord progressions with Ash Rothschild on bass the Clag glue bonding the work of the two tall axemen. The early songs in the set featured Greg Dayhew on drums whose steady beat and timing would bring a smile to the face of any cardiologist.
It was then time for the not quite so long but equally cool woman in the red dress, Cristobel Peters to showcase her keyboard prowess in one of this writer’s favourites, The Zombies She’s Not There. Cristobel perfectly replicated the original song’s intro, played a delightful instrumental break and decorated the whole two minutes and forty two seconds of this classic piece with cleverly placed trills.
Ash Rothschild reminded the crowd that Covid 19 restrictions (at that time) allowed for fifty on the dance floor as Ash Band tore into the 1968 Peter Green composition, Albatross. At the conclusion of this epic instrumental, there was still room for fifty on the dance floor and Cristobel Peters had to be awoken from a micro snooze. Nigel Smyth was mesmeric on drums and for this performance of the classic Fleetwood Mac track, guitarists Cartner and Parker have both been nominated for the Paul (Pete’s brother) Townshend Lower North Shore Over 35 Guitarist of the Year award.
Van Morrison’s Gloria was the next Uber off the musical rank featuring a superb piece of vocal call (Cartner) and response (Mooney). This is always a favourite for those who have family members of this name and have trouble spelling “GLORIA” on birthday cards. It also serves as a reminder to any budding guitarist that you only need to know the A, D & E major chords to play rock and roll. Jo Mooney continued up front on the Jagger/ Richards composition As Tears Go By, delivering a hard rock version as it would have sounded if the Ramones had been around in 1965.
Assuming the character of a vamp, Jo then delivered a most creditable rendition of Tramp. This R & B classic highlighted Cristobel Peters’ keyboard skills which were even more prominant when the Roland Juno “On”switch is engaged. Thank you Ben.
The Animals Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood was very well received then Gene Maynard joined Ash Band on stage for the Kinks You Really Got Me , adding backing vocals to his impressive resume that includes every instrument excluding the Hornucopian Dronepipe. Gene has vowed however to take lessons if a tutor for this instrument (or the instrument itself) can actually be located.
The most contentious song in the set would have to have been Substitute by The Who. Early on in rehearsals, Jo Mooney felt that a lyricist of Pete Townshend’s ability could have done a little better and consequently a couple of lines had the new Mooney lyrics “substituted.” Mooney is now seeking royalties from The Who’s management for any future publishing or performance rights for the song. The Who are seeking damages of up to $1b from Mooney who has engaged Bill Kable LLB to defend the law suit.
With controversy now set aside, Ash Bandclosed the show with the Rolling Stones’ Jumping Jack Flash and the overworked and underpaid Jo Mooney again delivering a powerful lead vocal, fortunately without the strutting and pouting of Michael Jagger. As the sound of the final B major guitar chord wafted off into the Alexander St. night, members of both groups stayed around for the inevitable autograph signing and selfies. The Battle of the Bands was over, tension between Cats on the Scene & Ash Band had evaporated and both groups agreed that the Big Music “British Invasion” show had been an extremely enjoyable and worthwhile exercise. Enormous credit is due to coaches Gene Maynard and Ash Rothschild for the success of the show and to sound engineer Ben (“George Martin”) Siva for his contribution over many weeks.
Jo Mooney was seen in deep conversation with Bill Kable LLB as the curtain closed and the concert hall emptied.