A ship without a rudder
First published in League Express, Monday 12th Aug 2013
One of the greatest characters I have ever met in almost half-a-century of covering the Greatest Game of All was Jack Gibson.
Of course, British readers will best know him as Australia’s ‘Coach of the Century’ and his one-liners on telecasts of Rugby League from Australia. Just when you thought you had heard every possible one-liner, Jack would come out with another.
I remember sitting at a table with him at the 50th birthday lunch for Johnny Raper. Naively, I asked Jack is he was ever bitter at never having been chosen to wear the green and gold for Australia. After all, he had given some solid displays for New South Wales in the days before State or Origin.
Jack looked me straight in the eye and spoke quietly in his characteristic drawl: “Malcolm, there was only one reason I never played for Australia. I wasn’t bloody good enough. I was a very ordinary player.”
I couldn’t argue with the great man. But he certainly was a great coach and an even greater philosopher.
Right now, on the 30th anniversary of Parramatta’s triumphant era, I dearly wish Jack was here to offer a few words of wisdom to some of those running our game.
God only knows the powers-that-be need a wake-up call from the likes of Jack Gibson.
Maybe, I shouldn’t have used the word ‘God’. That’s what Jack’s players thought he was. Hence a quote about him from one of his most famous protégés, John ‘Bomber’ Peard.
Peard told the story about how Jack went home one night after training the Roosters squad and climbed into bed.
His wife, Judy, said to him: “God, your feet are cold.”
Jack replied quickly: “Judy, please call me Jack when I’m at home”. Boom, boom!
But I digress. The current mess at Parramatta and the awful infighting at Wests Tigers which could very well see the club torn asunder could do with a few of Gibbo’s pithy quotes about life.
Arguably his most famous was “Rugby League must be a great game to survive the people who run it”.
He was scathing about everyone who was involved with running the game and one can only wonder what fines he would have incurred had be been a coach in these allegedly more ‘enlightened’ times.
Back in 1977 he noted: “The truth is that the game has clearly outstripped the administrators. It’s a shame that a fine sport should be forced to carry some bad administrators.”
He once opened up with both barrels on the NSWRL bosses: “Those sausage roll eaters. I was on the general committee down there and it was like the Keystone Kops.”
And what about a few other Gibbo musings?
- “A coach is often responsible to an irresponsible committee.”
- “Sometimes the hardest part of being a winning side is to first train the committee.”
- “The trouble is that the players week after week go through quality control – but there is no quality control with those people.”
- “Behind every sacked coach stands a club president.”
Then there was his summation of the bosses of now-defunct Gold Coast Giants: “It looks like they are trying to build an atom bomb with kerosene [paraffin] and an old lemonade bottle.”
Jack gave us all as chuckle when, many years ago, the administration of the NSWRL was drastically changed, with vast numbers of the ruling body being pruned.
Jack told it as only he could: “The abandonment of the old 42-man committee that sat every second Monday was a plus. The tucker [food] bill was a big save.
I just wonder, had he been alive today, what he would have thought of the new-look ARL Commission. I thank the Sydney Sunday Telegraph for pointing out how, before the commission came into existence, the NRL employed only 60 people, who seemed to get everything done.
The wage bill has since trebled and they have 140 full-time employees under the direction of chief executive officer Dave Smith, who trousers $1.5 million a year. And there are still two senior management positions yet to be filled.
They are also in the process of building an extra floor on their League Central headquarters because there is currently not enough space to hold all the extra staff.
The Telegraph continues the theme: “What’s been achieved? Lower crowds, lower TV ratings, a biff ban, and 100 per cent ticket price increases for the grand final.”
So what hope does a mere club have?
But if all the Jack Gibson advice isn’t enough for the board of my beloved Wests Tigers, may I suggest they take on board a comment from famous English soccer coach Tommy Docherty: “The ideal board of directors should be made up of three men – two dead and the other one dying.”
Not that I am wishing the folk at Wests Tigers head for the great boardroom in the sky before their time.
But, as far as the fans are concerned, there are more than a few unanswered questions.
The answer may be in an anonymous quote Jack Gibson was fond of repeating.
“Every wind is a bad wind for a ship without a rudder.”