George Best – The Belfast Boy, one of the most exciting players to have pulled on a pair of football boots

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 Best airborne, scoring the second of his three goals against West Ham United at Old Trafford 1971

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.                                               

A study of poise and balance in the late 1960’s
George holding his left boot after the F.A. Cup tie in 1965

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.

Best v Bonetti
Old Trafford October 1970 – Best preparing to dribble around Peter Bonetti to score a wonder goal against Chelsea

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.        

Best v Banks Colour
Gordon Banks about to be hoodwinked by Best at Windsor Park Belfast in 1971
Banks embarassed again by George Best – Stoke City, Victoria Ground 1971

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.”

Happy birthday Georgie.

© David Jack

22nd May 2020



How I do so love my palm
In all her green, with all her charm
We play our games and joke a lot
Me in thongs, she a pot

Sometimes she likes to dance and sing
Though dancing’s really not her thing
Her preference is to meditate
And now and then, self isolate

But some will say “she’s just a plant”
“A Bunnings Special” some will rant
But she’s my friend, so kind and calm
I love my flowering bamboo palm

David Jack   ©2020


Van persie 2
Flying Dutchman Robin van Persie scores a spectacular headed goal against Spain in the 2014 World Cup

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.

No more heading training for Apia Leichhardt juniors
Ted Drake
Arsenal 1938 – Ted Drake suffers a head trauma


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.

DBN Header 2
Heading 1930’s style as David Bone Nightingale Jack heads the “brown brick” goalwards

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 !

How not to head a ball

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 ?

Kid heading
Ouch ! Would be much worse in 1950

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.

Jeff Astle 2
Jeff Astle – heading heavy, often rain sodden leather footballs contributed to his death

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.

Heading duel at Old Trafford. Nobby Stiles, a dementia sufferer looks on

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.

David Jack

© 2020



Narrabeen Biker

Another sunny Monday, it’s nice to be alive
Exercising every day, but keeping 1.5
We’re out there on our rusty bikes and many walkers too
For much of our society, this is something new

The bikers in the main, are on their best behave
Not trying hard to send themselves, to an early grave
We’re all in this together, the Sco man tells us all
To fight coronavirus, before we kick a ball

The kids can leave at home the iPads, other gadgets too
And replicate what we did in nineteen sixty two
Our sport has been postponed, our beaches out of bounds
But canine sympathisers, are free to walk their hounds

And one day we’ll be through with this, we’ll celebrate with glee
A beer or two down at the pub, for some a G & T
We must hang on, we’re doing well and flattening the curve
We’re all in this together, it’s time to keep our nerve

David Jack

© 2020





Pan Hellenic                                                           2                        1                  APIA Leichhardt
J Karyannis 14 mins. G McCulloch 87 mins                                                      E Campbell 21 mins
Half time 1-1     Crowd 18,180
Wentworth Park, Glebe – 50 years on from the classic encounter

In 1968, the world was in turmoil. Already that year, Martin Luther King Jnr. and Senator Robert Kennedy had been assassinated, American forces in Vietnam were reeling under the Tet Offensive and on 20th August 1968, Soviet Russian forces had invaded Czechoslovakia. Two days earlier on 18th August 1968, far away from the world trouble spots I saw what I consider to be one of the most exciting football matches I have watched in my lifetime. It was not in Serie A, La Liga nor the English first division but was played between two NSW Soccer Federation teams, Pan Hellenic and APIA Leichhardt.

The match was played at Wentworth Park in Glebe, Sydney, a venue that was primarily a greyhound track but in the late 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s became the “spiritual” home of New South Wales football. I had just turned fifteen and as had been customary for many years, accompanied by father, a football journalist to the game.

Stan Slide
Sent off – Stan Ackerley the affable Apai Leichhardt left full back

It was a lovely sunny afternoon and having collected our passenger Tony “Hotspur” Horstead, the Daily Mirror football writer, we headed to Wentworth Park.  Even in 1968, parking was scarce around Wentworth Park and as usual my father called upon Johnny Thompson, NSW Soccer Federation treasurer and later Sydney Olympic identity, to sneak his cream 1966 Ford Falcon station wagon into the ground.

With just three games left in the season proper, Pan Hellenic were joint top of the table on twenty nine points with a very strong Hakoah side, four points clear of their opponents that day, third placed arch rivals APIA Leichhardt.

Pan Hellenic v Western Suburbs at Wentworth Park in 1971

Wentworth Park was not ideal for the footballing spectator. Although the playing surface was always well grassed, the dog track, gates, barriers and lowly hung racing lights hindered the view of the distant football pitch. Upon arriving, we were entertained by the reserve teams of the respective clubs, always a more entertaining distraction than today’s practice of watching a 45 minute warm up.

On paper APIA had the better line up. Cliff van Blerk, Stan Ackerley, Pat Hughes and Archie Blue had all represented Australia, Fil Bottalico was a tough as nails defender and the talented Argentinian Ricardo Campana and Italian born Johnny Giacometti were both exceptional attacking players. APIA also boasted an 18 year old Ernie Campbell, who had spent time at Chelsea and later was to play twenty four times for Australia.

Horrie Clarke
Pan Hellenic’s goalkeeper Horrie Clarke saves from Hakoah’s Willie Rutherford

Their opposition, Pan Hellenic had a string of UK born players as was the fashion in the late 1960’s. Among them a Welshman, goalkeeper Horrie Clarke, three Scotsmen, Davey Johnston, John Cole and George McCulloch, skillful English born winger Roy Blitz, his compatriot Alan Westwater plus Liverpudlian defender, Alan Hignett. These were supplemented with Hellenic heritage in the form of strikers Sot Patrinos and John Karyannis and their talisman, former Greek international and fan idol, Takis Loukanidis.

These two clubs consistently drew good crowds but with Pan Hellenic within reach of a maiden minor premiership and with the now well acclimatised Loukanidis in their ranks, every milk bar in Sydney was closed that afternoon. More than eighteen thousand spectators crammed into the home of NSW greyhound racing as packets of peanuts and the popular publication the green “New Soccer Vurld” registered record sales.

You didn’t mess with Australia’s former No. 1 referee Tony Boskovic

Pan Hellenic started brightly and took the lead in the fourteenth minute through their slender striker John Karyannis. The lead was short lived however as APIA struck back seven minutes later, courtesy of their red headed teenager Ernie Campbell. The game ebbed and flowed infused by the vibrant crowd as the Pan Hellenic fans took first half points in the noise stakes. Pan Hellenic had two goals disallowed for offside, much to the dismay of their enthusiastic supporters. Both claims were declined demonstratively as was his manner, by FIFA accredited referee the ebullient Tony Boskovic. The sides went to half time at 1-1 and it was time to enjoy that Wentworth Park delicacy, a Sargent’s meat pie and a cup of coffee.

The second half continued with APIA having the better of the early exchanges. The Leichhardt based outfit received a set back however when their former Manchester United left back Stan Ackerley was sent off. Rather than buckle, the sending off lifted APIA. Campana and Campbell both went close for APIA but in the eighty seventh minute, Pan Hellenic’s busy midfielder George McCulloch won the ball just inside the APIA half drove forward and from thirty five metres lashed a tremendous right foot shot past Brian Taylor in the APIA goal.

Greek superstar Takis Loukanidis shrugs off a challenge from Hakoah’s Chris Spilarewicz

Wentworth Park erupted as thousands of delirious fans chanted “Pan Hellenios, Pan Hellenios.” It was a magnificent goal to settle such an important match and Pan Hellenic hung on for a memorable 2-1 victory, remaining on top of the competition table on goal average. The majority of the crowd celebrated jubilantly as they went home, most probably via the Hellenic Club in Elizabeth Street Sydney.

Sadly for Pan Hellenic supporters, a couple of weeks later, their club was pipped for the title by a very strong Hakoah side but those fans of both teams who attended Wentworth Park on that sunny Sydney afternoon had witnessed a wonderful football spectacle.

Driving home, my dad, Tony Horstead and myself agreed that if we could witness the excitement of that match on a regular basis, Australian soccer would surely become the foremost football code in the country.

David Jack



Melting Moments

I love my Melting Moments
There’s nothing can compare
My sumptuous magic moments
Are one thing I won’t share

Those gorgeous little moments
No biscuit’s quite so nice
Especially when I snare them
At two thirds normal price

I scoff my Melting Moments
Twice daily by the score
I love 💕 those little Moments
As they crumble to the floor

Our lives are full of moments
As the years unwind
But if you want them blissful
Adopt the biscuit kind

© David Jack 2020



Harry Kewell Croatia
                                                              When will we find the next Harry Kewell ?

As I headed for my regular walk along the beach, on a grassy area in the distance a dozen figures were kicking a round ball to each other across a 25 metre diameter circle. As I got closer, I realized that those kicking the ball were all girls. As I stepped on to the beach, I saw three teenage boys, showing exceptional skill keeping a tennis ball airborne with their feet and head. Returning past the grassed area, half an hour later, a group of boys aged from eight upwards had a small sided game underway, displaying some real football talent.

These scenes were so different from how they would have looked when I arrived in Australia in 1967. If a ball was seen on the beach then, most likely it would have been of oval shape. You certainly would not have seen a bunch of girls kicking a ball around in a park and if young children had organized a football game, in New South Wales there is no doubt it would have been “touch footy” (rugby league).

Boys on Beach Cropped
                                           2020 – Teenage boys juggling a tennis ball on the beach

It can’t be denied that today throughout the country, there are more Australians playing our brand of football than any other version. The women, led by Sam Kerr have put the Matildas well and truly on the football map and this much loved national team ranks well globally. Our male player representation however is minimal in the top leagues of world football and the performances of our national youth, Under 23’s and full international teams over the last couple of years, could be at best described as workmanlike. Australian football hit a purple patch with the so called “Golden Generation” and the very creditable performance in the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals. Why then when there are now record numbers playing the round ball game, are only a sprinkling of our locally produced men impressing on the world stage and why are our national teams struggling ?

If player registration numbers were declining the reduction in the number of local grown stars could be partially explained. However of our rival footballing codes, rugby league is in terminal recession at junior level and the traditional rugby union game has its’ own participation problems. Furthermore, I don’t believe that Australian Rules football, a sport requiring a totally different skillset to football is stealing too many potential stars from the “world game”. Clearly a lack of football participants in the national playing pool is not a contributing factor and in no particular order, I offer these suggestions for the hiatus in our production of standout male footballers ;


Italian Immigrants
                           1950’s immigration and a boatload of potential Apia Leichhardt supporters arrive in Sydney

The influence of football loving migrants has dissipated. Although soccer has been played in this country for over 100 years, the catalyst for increasing the game’s popularity and playing standard was the post World War 11 immigration from Europe. Not only did European migrants add skill and excitement to the local game but their progeny were imbued with a love of football and continued this love of Association Football. The Golden Generation of Australian football and the players of the previous generation were raised on their parents’ and grandparents’ football culture. Since the early 1960’s the Australian men’s national team has included many wonderful footballers, sons of European migrants such as Attila Abonyi, Billy Vojtek, Eddie Krncevic, Mark Bosnich, Mark Viduka, Harry Kewell and scores more. However, as the number of European migrants has diminished considerably over the last 25 years or so, the inherent footballing spirit of their descendants likewise would appear to have been diluted.


While the cost of grassroots player registration at local club level compares reasonably with the other footballing codes, it is at the elite junior level of National Premier League clubs that the cost soars. The registration fee for junior representative football in the Skill Acquisition Program (“SAP”) can range between $2,500 – $3,000 per season. With SAP, there is then the expectancy that young players will train three times weekly for forty weeks. This itself, incurs a huge obligation for a parent having to transport their child to training and matches. There is never a shortage of young players aspiring to play representative football, but could many potential stars be slipping through the cracks because parents can’t afford the financial cost and the time expense necessary to advance their children’s football career?


Street Football
                                                  “Taking it to the streets”

As an English youngster long before any coaching “kicked in”, I would football in the street, park, schoolyard or anywhere that my friends and I could find space to set up a couple of makeshift goals. We weren’t coached but we developed our skills by learniing on the pitch what worked and what didn’t. Through park and street football, the pressures of coaches or parental sideline interference, we learned to play by being inventive and imaginative. These formative years were vital in my football development and that of my contemporaries. Unfortunately, it is not easy today to find a street where there is no passing traffic and parents are loathto let their children play at the park without supervision. Consequently, learning to play football today has become more rigid, less    imaginative and a less frequent recreation. Entertainment wise, Australian children now have a wide range of options. Aside from the variety of sports and activities on offer, there are distractions in the form of electronic devices (iPads, computers, video games etc.). As budding footballers, we didn’t have these entertainment choices which, in 2020 can significantly restrict the time available for children to play football. 


We desperately need to develop and improve the standard of our premier national competitions, the A League and W League, although this is much easier said than done. Initially, if the salary cap was abolished this would benefit both the local player and attract a better quality of overseas player. Abolition of the cap would also allow clubs to retain the best Australian talent, which would drive up the standard of the competition.

To entice young Australians to covet a local professional football career, we need to provide an exciting match day experience in the A League and W League. Critically, games need to be played in smaller stadiums, preferably rectangular in configuration bringing spectators closer to the action. This would help to generate atmosphere and enhance the excitement of the occasion. Free entry to A League & W League games for children would also be a worthwhile initiative.

Big Ground Small Crowd
                        Big ground small crowd – not ideal for A League excitement

The A League does not provide enough opportunities for local Australian footballers. The league’s governing body must seriously restrict the number of run of the mill overseas “visa” players cluttering up the A League clubs. Currently, A League clubs can have five contracted overseas players – far too many. For every imported player of the outstanding quality of a Thomas Broich, the A League has presented scores of Alex Meiers, Mario Jardels and Michael Mifsuds who have effectively used our national competition as a retirement home. We have more than enough local youngsters willing and able to take their place if given the opportunity.

Thomas Broich
                                                 Thomas Broich – An A League diamond

If there were more opportunities for local players and increased income, playing full time professional football in Australia would have more appeal for our talented youth. Furthermore, playing alongside a better calibre of overseas imports would no doubt enhance the quality of the Australian player and therefore the standard of Australian football.


In addition to the visa player issue, the current set up of our senior football competitions is stifling the progress of young players. The A League is currently a closed shop. Clubs are “the untouchables” with no fear of being relegated. This itself is a major impediment to the qualtity of the matches, particularly towards the end of the season. At the other end of the scale, the lack of promotion also dulls the ambition and the potential of a large number of NPL clubs. Sadly, A League clubs have no direct relationship with longstanding Australian football clubs such as Sydney Olympic, Melbourne Knights, South Melbourne or Apia Leichhardt nor with the large number of local district football associations throughout the country. As such, there can be no seamless transition from local club football through the National Premier Leagues to the A League. There is also no A League reserve competition that would allow promising young players to challenge their skills regularly with more experienced players. Although the A League youth teams compete in a truncated competition, in a normal season, these players would play less than half the number of matches than would their overseas counterparts.

Outstanding 16 and 17 year old players need to be playing consistently at the top local level with more senior players. Football history is littered with great players who made their senior debut at 17 (Pele when he was 15 !). The glut of overseas players and the reluctance of many cautious A League coaches to persevere with young players, is setting back the development of our youth players at a critical stage of their careers. The FFA board have indicated that implementation of both a second division and A League promotion and relegation is in their sights but for the good of Australian football, these modifications can’t happen soon enough.   

Jardel PDF
                             Mario Jardel – A League superannuant who failed to deliver

A further problem is that of the promising young player who is encouraged to go overseas too early in their development. The goal is usually to play at “the next level” but what is the next level? Playing in the second division in Switzerland or Denmark or in Saudi Arabia? It is possible that the money may be better in the Middle East but it is debatable whether the playing standard in these leagues is higher than the A League. Is the cost of a disjointed spell overseas, often with mandatory language adjustments and limited game time, worthwhile?

For a long time, there has been a mentality that the overseas football grass is always greener. I challenge this and believe that many players would be far better off pursuing their career locally than wasting their time playing irregularly in average overseas competitions. The disruption to their careers by a failed overseas excursion can be irreparable.


                             Former Australian international Mark Viduka – not a product of the coaching manual

Last but not least in my search for the reason for the dearth of quality Australian players, is coaching. Are the quality and methods of our local coaches to blame for the reduction in exceptional players coming out of Australia? Never before has this country had so many qualified coaches and football academies. We also have a national coaching curriculum to help us along our way, but nevertheless, the playing standard of our national teams is slipping further behind that of a number of Asian nations.

Cromer Park
              Cromer Park – home of Manly Warringah football provides marvelous training facilities

I don’t believe that a lack of funds for our youth development is an excuse. Many football associations have excellent training facilities to offer junior players and just by building more facilities, we are not going to be able to teach the skill of dribbling, passing or shooting any better. Are we becoming hung up with coaching tactics and playing systems rather than the game itself? Are our players being “overcoached” and missing out on the enjoyment I found in my schoolyard football?

From a very early age our football is structured. Under 6 teams have a coach, quite often willing, but sometimes not able to demonstrate football skills at this critical stage of the player’s development. Are our coaches emphasizing the physical rather than the technical aspects of being a footballer and where will we find the next Harry Kewell or Mark Viduka? We have long relied on our athleticism and physical strength to overcome Asian opponents but it has been clear for some time that athleticism is no longer sufficient.

Billy Vojtek Vietnam
               Billy Vojtec – Australia’s “Wizard of the Dribble” in 1967

I firmly believe that our coaches place far too much emphasis on “possession football.” More and more young players are coached to retain possession but not encouraged to attack once possession has been obtained. Possession football discourages dribbling, a critical skill in breaking down defences. We need to develop players who are able to attack defenders down the flanks. We need midfielders and defenders to relinquish their obsession with square and backward passes and look to go forward consistently. It is time for all those responsible for youth development to allow players to express themselves, to be adventurous and to rediscover the art of dribbling. Coaches should also step back and let young players experiment and enjoy some free form football on their own. Set them tasks to go home and practice. Trapping a ball, dribbling and juggling the ball. Most importantly, it is crucial that coaches make every training session interesting, not tedious and done with a sense of urgency. Above all else, the coaches must ensure that training is enjoyable.

                                                                                 Daniel Arzani – an exciting Australian talent

In this country there has always been an abundance of raw material primed to be developed into top quality footballers. With a handful of talented youngsters now playing consistently in the A League, including Riley McGree, Nathaniel Atkinson, Reno Piscopo and Chris Ikonomidis, we are on the right track. Additionally, we have the exciting Daniel Arzani soon to return with Glasgow Celtic from knee surgery so there is reason for optimism. Issues need to be addressed however to steer the Australian football ship in the right direction. Hopefully the FFA board and its’ new CEO James Johnson will have the understanding and the wisdom to make it happen.

Modern day young footballers may not be able to throw down makeshift goalposts on the busy streets of Australian cities. If, however we can provide our young players with the opportunity for a prosperous football career in Australia and ensure that coaches and their training sessions emphasize skill and football invention rather than the athletic aspect of the game, Australian football may start to lay some more golden generation eggs.

© David Jack 2020


                            17th APRIL 2019

Arlo Guthrie plays his final Thanksgiving show at Carnegie Hall on 29th November 2019

In July 1969, two historic events took place. On the twenty first of the month American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon. “One small step for man”….etc. The second “happening” to quote a hippie buzz word, was the Aquarius Music & Arts Festival which took place on Max Yasgur’s farm at Bethel, Woodstock, New York State between 15th – 18th July 1969. To this teenage music fanatic and babe of the counter culture, there was no doubt which occurence had the greater impact.

Woodstock crowd
                                Woodstock – 3 Days of Peace Love & Music

The Woodstock festival was unique and the three days of peace, love, music and lots of mud was a career “stimulant” for numerous artists who performed at the festival. One such artist was a fresh faced 21 year old Arlo Guthrie, son of the legendary folk and country artist, Woody Guthrie.

To this day Arlo Guthrie’s “Coming into Los Angeles” remains my favourite track on the Woodstock album which was originally a three record set. When 50 years later Arlo Guthrie was booked to perform at the City Recital Hall Sydney, it was a chance to shorten my bucket list.

Arlo Woodstock
                           Arlo Guthrie 21 Years Old At Woodstock

Travelling to events in Sydney can be challenging but being only a half hour bus trip and a two minute walk from the venue, I was obligated to relive my memories of 1969. Arriving in good time, I waited excitedly, enjoying my Young Henry beer as the throng of white and grey haired former hippies shuffled to their seats.

The show was scheduled to start at 7.30 p.m. and as Arlo and his four piece band were tardy coming on stage, I wondered  if the 71 year old might have nodded off in the green room.

When the band took the stage, they launched into an up tempo though truncated rendition of The Motor Cycle Song. The sound mix was fine and not too loud for the aged audience but Guthrie’s voice now shares the croakiness of Dylan and at times lyrics were lost between microphone and audience.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is arlo-small-sydney-2-e1631887910172.jpg
A relaxed and contented 21st Century Arlo Guthrie

Politically and on a social conscience front, the 2019 Arlo Guthrie appears a decaffeinated version of the double shot expresso Guthrie of 1969, who stopped mid song to berate the Woodstock crowd for not joining him in Dylan’s Walking Down The Line. In a week in which an Australian, Julian Assange was arrested for exposing American War Crimes, a passing reference at least by Guthrie, author of the latently anti war anthem Alice’s Restaurant Massacree, might have been expected. This however is a contented Arlo Guthrie, maybe tired of political activism, who clearly enjoys touring and being part of a large musical family.

Arlo 2019
                                                                Arlo Guthrie & Friends 2019

The opening set continued with Gates of Eden, a very competent homage to Bob Dylan. The influence of Dylan has always been present which is not surprising as Dylan himself was a disciple of Arlo’s father, Woody. The first set lasted a little over 45 minutes which didn’t displease those in the audience, in need of a toilet break. The opening part of the show had been pleasant, without being invigorating and we could comfort ourselves knowing that a number of Guthrie’s better known songs must follow.

We weren’t disappointed as the second set included the Alice’s Restaurant tome, the delightful City of New Orleans and Coming Into Los Angeles. Unlike the now reticent Dylan, Guthrie is more than happy to share his musings with the audience and his recounting of when he first played Woody’s This Land Is Your Land was fascinating.

The band was more than competent – not overbearing but they knew their place and contributed to an enjoyable performance. Arlo Guthrie’s social conscience and rebellious instincts may have been submerged below several layers of contentedness but he can still deliver an enjoyable show.

Recital Hall Stage
                                                                                          Show’s Over – Ready For The Load Out

David Jack



Anything Goes Nov 2019 Pic
                                                      Anything Goes – Friday March 8th 2019 Elenora Squash & Fitness Centre

Last Friday night I went down (up really from Dee Why) to the crossroads, not the Mississippi Delta location made famous by the legendary blues guitarist, Robert Johnson, but the Elenora variety – where Kalang Road meets Powderworks Road. Specifically, The Racquet Bar, where Anything Goes, comprising, Steve, Bruce, Ernie and Marty entertained an appreciate throng of AG fans and anyone else living within two hundred metres of this Mecca of Elenora night time entertainment. Regular bassist Fred was a notable absentee having been invited to the United Kingdom to perform as a special guest at the prestigious London Bass Guitar Show. 

I was able to park my vintage Ford Fairmont pleasingly close to the venue and as I opened the car door, the pulsating familiar chord progression of the even more vintage Ben E King’s Stand By Me, reverberated around the Elenora “CBD”. I had missed the early part of the set with multi instrumentalist Steve on rhythm guitar, but was assured later (by Steve) that before switching to the bass, his six string acoustic work was faultless.

Bruce Moonlighting
Drummer Bruce Neill moonlighting with an other band

Next up was J J Cale’s After Midnight. Admittedly, the band had got their timing awry as my watch only reflected 7.54 p.m. but this had to be squeezed in early, as most Elenora locals are in bed by 9.30 p.m. Mark Knopfler’s So Far Away and Fastball’s cookie one hit wonder The Way, featured superb stick work by Bruce Neill on the skins with lead vocalist Marty and stand in bassman Steve, chiming in with great effect on the chorus of the Fastball number (Whatever happened to Fastball?).

The set concluded with a rocking version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising. As a I closed my eyes and massaged a pure blonde (beer), lead guitarist Ernie’s precision double stop licks evoked thoughts of my sitting on the banks of a Louisiana bayou exchanging memories of gigs gone by with CCR’s John Fogerty. It should be said that Fogerty had a good few more memories than me!

While Steve, Bruce and Ernie took a well earned break, we were treated to a return to musical modernity with Shallow from “A Star is Born.” Backed by her father Marty on acoustic guitar, Ishara offered a delightful rendition of both Bradley Cooper’s and Lady Ga Ga’s parts from the popular hit. To tactfully avoid overshadowing his daughter’s flawless act, Marty refrained from the interpreting the Bradley Cooper slice of the Academy Award winning song. Although, if I am to be blunt, the only resemblance between Marty and Ga Ga’s partner in song, Cooper, would be their three day growth and that both are male.

Ga ga
A couple of novices performing Ishara & Marty’s “Shallow”

Back to the main event and Ernie’s Fender Stratocaster was in top form on Black Magic Woman, merging songwriter Peter Green’s original Fleetwood Mac take with the silky Carlos Santana Tex Mex blues feel. It was fitting that with the Jimmy Barnes look alike, Steve on stage (though I must add that I consider Steve is more handsome than the Working Class Man), the band should rip through Cold Chisel’s My Baby and then Cry In Shame, made popular by Jimmy Barnes’s brother in law (and therefore Steve’s by default), Johnny Diesel.

As the set unfolded, Anything Goes powered through classic pop / rock as we were treated to the late Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down, The Box Tops’ The Letter and of course Robert Johnson’s Crossroads with Ernie’s Mesa Boogie amp cranked up to “11” in true Spinal Tap fashion. No doubt those Kalang Road residents still awake, were enjoying rock history being played out in their own front yards. The Clash may have rocked the Casbah but on this particular night, Anything Goes were rocking The Racquet Bar.

Bruce Neill, starved of his beloved microphone, more than compensated for the cutting of his umbilical vocal chord with additional verve in his drumming. Marty too, had expended so much vocal energy that he saw fit to revive his larynx, with an oversized bowl of the best hot chips you could find in Elenora on a balmy Friday evening in March.

Marty’s recipe for smooth vocal tones

As the heat continued to rise in the sweaty rock cauldron, many patrons would have gladly swapped their Carlton Draughts, for a cool Carlton draught blowing up from the Melbourne suburb of the same name. The band had to wind down relatively early as Steve had to get up for “proper work” at 6.00 a.m. the following morning (the Racquet Bar is no cash cow!). We still had time though, to enjoy Steve Miller’s The Joker, where the lyric “I’m a midnight toker” seemed a little unlikely in sleepy Elenora. There were also very plausible versions of the ever present (did I say monotonous?) Brown Eyed Girl and a crunching performance of the Marvin Gaye hit I Heard it Through The Grapevine. Classic Aussie rock in the form of the The Sunnyboys Alone With You and The Angels No Secrets reminded this listener of 6.00 p.m. Sunday nights watching the bumbling Molly Meldrum on Countdown and the golden age of local music. Both tracks were presented by Anything Goes as more than competent replicas of the original tracks.

To close the show, this reviewer was offered the chance to accompany Bruce, Marty, Steve and Ernie on Chuck Berry’s classic Johnny Be Goode. Marty kindly offered me his acoustic six string and immediately I could tell that this guitar had special musical lineage. The amount of liquid paper on the guitar neck, clearly indicated that this instrument had spent considerable time in the home of Monkee Mike Nesmith’s family home in Dallas, Texas (some readers might need to Google “liquid paper” to understand).

Liliarna showing her style with birthday girl, Niro looking on in admiration

The musical magic of the band was complemented by the dance performance of Ishara’s mum, Niro. Celebrating her birthday, Niro ripped up the dance floor, accompanied by her little sidekick, the pocket dynamo Liliarna. Lily, of very tender years but extraordinary feet, dazzled the crowd and made the John Travolta of Saturday Night Fever, look like an arthritic eighty year old who had forgotten to take his anti inflammatories. You can bet that the recently toured front man of Artic Monkeys Alex Turner, would have remarked that the dancing duo did in fact “look (very) good on the dance floor.”

I managed to negotiate the entire three chord challenge of the Chuck Berry song without embarrassing myself as the curtain came down on a very enjoyable evening. It was 10.30 p.m. and although those neighbours still awake in Kalang and Powderworks Roads clamoured for an encore, by then Bruce, Marty and Ernie had settled into the inevitable signing of autographs and the taking of selfies with the Anything Goes faithful. Steve was on his way to work.

Anything Goes perform on the second Friday of each month at The Racquet Bar, Kalang Road, Elanora. 


Big Bash Slog
Big Bash in full colour

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?).

McGrath Sledging
Glenn McGrath having a chat to a West Indian opponent

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.

Backyard cricket – Theresa takes strike and the author chuckles

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’s Willey.” 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.

Old Trafford Manchester – the pavillion unchanged since 1963

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.

Geoff Boycott
Geoffrey Boycott (right) opening the batting for England in 1964

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 !

Doug Walters PA Photos
Dashing Doug Walters in his prime

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.

Dennis Lillee
Dennis Keith Lillee in classic fast bowling mode

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.

McCosker Colour
Rick McCosker with broken jaw facing Bob Willis in the 1977 Centenary Test

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.

Night Cricket
Night cricket – not for the purists

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.

Cricket ball options in 2019

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 ?

Jeff Thomson hurls down another thunderbolt

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.”

“Time it was and what a time it was”  (Paul Simon)

 © 2019 David Jack