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Ian Heads’ The Great Grand Final Heist is a classic underdog tale that reads like a thriller. There has never been a rugby league book like it ...
Some grand finals fade into history, but not 1969. Balmain versus South Sydney. Tigers against Rabbitohs. Two famous clubs with an intense rivalry that went back to league’s earliest days. Souths were hot favourites, a team full of internationals such as John Sattler, Ron Coote and Bob McCarthy. Balmain were missing some of their biggest stars, including ‘Big Artie’ Beetson, who’d been sent off after being provoked in the major semi-final, and Dennis Tutty, who sat out the season over a contract dispute. But they were still full of character and characters.
‘Man for man, Souths look better than Balmain,’ said Leo Nosworthy, the Tigers’ savvy, street-smart coach, on grand final eve. ‘But team for team, we’re at least their equal.’
Nosworthy was a Balmain junior who’d completed his football education in western NSW. He is the hero of a unique football tale that contains more sub-plots than a Raymond Chandler whodunit. Why, on grand final day, did the Tigers’ players ‘flop down’ injured? Many Souths fans still believe they were cheated. Some looked suspiciously at referee Keith Page, whose name went hand-in-hand with controversy. Others wondered if Sydney’s big gamblers had organised a fix?
There were laughs too. Just before kickoff, Balmain boss Kevin Humphreys made his injured centre Hal Browne don a Tigers outfit and lead the team out onto the SCG, as the club mascot. Browne ran straight to one of his best mates, Souths halfback Bobby Grant, with whom he’d played junior footy. Grant, unaware of the identity of the mascot, threatened to flatten him …
In 1969, Ian Heads was the Daily Telegraph’s chief rugby league writer. In 2017, he was described as ‘the most respected league journalist there has ever been’. In The Great Grand Final Heist, he explores every angle of a remarkable sporting story, combing the archives, scrutinising film and interviewing players, fans, officials, reporters and punters. In doing so, he encounters pride, tragedy, humour and regret, solves the enduring mysteries that have surrounded this famous match, and painstakingly and superbly brings a fondly remembered league era back to life.
Heads also takes time to ponder the harsh reality faced by some football heroes of the ’60s and ’70s: are their current health struggles linked to the concussions they suffered during their careers?
Yes, they were the ‘good old days’. But they weren’t perfect.
The Great Grand Final Heist is available in Australia via this website and wherever good books are sold.
Only Steve Mascord could report on a rugby league game in Canberra at the end of May, see AC/DC in Manchester a week later, get married in Ireland soon after and then immediately fly (alone) to Nashville to see Guns N’ Roses ... and logically justify it all.
In the first sentence of Touchstones, Steve reveals he was ‘conceived in an insane asylum’. He remembers his early life as an adopted child. His description of his ‘lost and never found emporium’ captures the extent of his obsessions for league and rock’n’roll. His comments on football — such as the chapter on State of Origin and his analysis of modern footballers — are typically edgy.
He invents a word — ‘Adoptoxia’ — to explain the feeling that comes with discovering your birth family. Gradually, through the course of the book, he discovers the truth about himself. Chapter 23 , which has its origins in that game in Canberra, will reduce some readers to tears. At various times, Steve is joyful, cynical, funny or angry. Sometimes, he is all of the above.
His unique lifestyle allows him to look at things a little differently. Yet through the pages of Touchstones, we learn there might be a little bit of Steve Mascord in all of us.
To Steve, 'Touchstones' are things from childhood that remind him where his twin obsessions — rugby league and rock’n’roll — come from. Through the course of 12 months, during which time he sees 52 games and 52 gigs, he continually questions the value of these obsessions. He does this through two sets of eyes: his own and those of Andrew John Langley (his birth name), who might have enjoyed a very different life. The results are surprising, intriguing and entertaining. What does the future hold for Steve and Andrew, league and rock? Does growing up requires us to abandon our dreams?
Touchstones is available in Australia via this website and wherever good books are sold.
‘Certainly, there is an integrity to Mr Mascord.’ — RUSSELL CROWE