ONE OF THE MOST important signings St George ever made occurred before the 1957 season, when they convinced Brian Clay to join the club. Known as ‘Pop’ or ‘Poppa’, Clay had played in grand finals with Newtown before spending the 1956 season in Griffith. At Saints, he became a key figure, not least for the way that he, as five-eighth, made life as easy as possible for the backs outside him. Reg Gasnier was eternally grateful …
‘Pop was very much the spirit and focal point of our backline. He would never sell me a dump. He was a physical bloke who knew when to hang onto the ball and take the dump himself. He was so caring and his great concern was ensuring that I was fit and fresh and full of running when the game opened up.
‘Then he’d serve me up dream passes that either put me into a gap or came so fast and so accurately that I had time to take my own attacking options. Pop nurtured and protected me and deserves the credit for so much of what I achieved.’
Brian Clay was the epitome of ‘hard but fair’. In Never Before, Never Again, long-time St George treasurer Glyn Price remembered how Clay hated being punched.
‘He didn’t mind being tackled hard, but if anybody punched him, he’d get square with one of his tackles and they did more damage than any punch I ever saw. He’d say, “Hit me with anything, but don’t punch me. There’s no place for punching in football.” Wests’ Peter Dimond whacked Gasnier at Pratten Park one afternoon, and Pop said, “He’s mine.” Brian chased Peter all over the park and, of course, when he finally caught up with him, he buried him.
‘God, that man could tackle. When rivals threatened to get square, Clay would say, grimfaced, “Any time you like. I’ll be here all day.”’