Like vintage wine

Malcolm Andrews
Malcolm Andrews

First published in League Express, Monday 16th Sept 2013

Like many people, a lady friend of mine would hide her age – even though she carried it with classic aplomb.
But such an attitude had its drawbacks. Especially when she turned 80 and was hoping that friends would throw a party to honour the special milestone.
Sadly, no one knew just how old she was and that 80th birthday passed exactly the same as every previous one.
I was reminded of that recently when reading a letter in this newspaper’s ‘World Famous Mailbag’. Colin Moroney of Rustington noted: “my, doesn’t Malcolm Andrews keep on giving away his age! Mind you, he is always an interesting read.”
Yes, I do give away my age, Colin. Nothing to hide, old mate. And thanks for the pat on the back. The ego of every journalist always needs a bit of a polish.
Except for the few new aches in the joints and the increased lines around the face and neck, each and every year gets better than the previous.
In my case I have been blessed to have had almost half-a-century of being paid (at least most of the time) to pursue my three hobbies – meeting new people, watching sport and writing about all manner of subjects.
Perhaps, Colin, that’s why you will find me wandering around Casa Andrews humming and singing to myself the Frank Sinatra classic, ‘It Was a Very Good Year’.

 When I was seventeen, it was a very good year
    It was a very good year for small town girls
    And soft summer nights

That was 1961, the year of the first of three straight Grand Finals in which my beloved Wests Magpies were beaten by the superb St Gorge combination. Johnny Raper was on the cover of the official Rugby League Yearbook.
And the Kiwis shared a two-Test series with Australia on the mud of Auckland’s Carlaw Park. The New Zealanders had such great players as winger Tom Hadfield, backrowers Mel Cooke and Ron Ackland and the wonderful hooker Jock Butterfield.
We had some good’uns, too. Remember Ian ‘Abdul’ Walsh, who sadly left us recently, Reg Gasnier, Ken Irvine and Arthur Summons … to name a few.
And the likes of Alex Murphy, Eric Ashton, Neil Fox, Billy Boston, Mike Sullivan, Derek ‘Rocky’ Turner, Dick Huddart and Brian McTigue were gearing up in Old Blighty ready to head Down Under the following year to give us a flogging.

When I was twenty-one, it was a very good year
    It was a very good year for city girls
    Who lived up the stair

That was when police closed the gates at the Sydney Cricket Ground because there were officially 78,056 fans crammed in for the Grand Final – more than 12,000 above the safety limit. Many more climbed the walls to get in to see St George beat South Sydney, many fans sitting precariously on grandstand roofs.
Once again Carlaw Park was the scene of a drawn Test series. Roy Christian played for the Kiwis. He was a direct descendant of Fletcher Christian of Mutiny on the Bounty infamy.

When I was thirty-five it was a very good year
    It was a very good year for blue-blooded girls
    Of independent means

I don’t think Great Britain had recovered from the defeat by Bob Fulton’s Kangaroos on home soil the previous year. Because the 1979 Lions were the first to go down to Australia in all three Ashes Tests.
Mick Cronin scored 54 points in the series (two tries and 24 goals) to top the previous Test record of 48 set by Welshman Lewis Jones, against France in 1956. There were some very forgettable names in the Lions lineup. No names, no pack drill!
However, St George quoted by the bookmakers at 33-1 outsiders to win the Premiership before the start of the season beat Canterbury in the Grand Final. They were dubbed ‘Bath’s Babes’ after coach Harry Bath, the former star forward for Balmain, St George and Warrington.

But now the days grow short, I’m in the autumn of the year
    And now I think of my life as vintage wine
    From fine old kegs

Each season, I watch the greats of yesterday drive in convoy around the Olympic stadium as they bid farewell to the Greatest Game of All.
This year their numbers will include internationals Danny Buderus, Benji Marshall, Matt Cooper and Matt Bowen.
Steve Menzies won’t be there in person, but he will be in spirit. Talk about vintage wine!
Yet for each and every one of the veterans hanging up their boots, there are other great youngsters coming through the ranks. Canberra utility back Anthony Milford, Manly backs Peta Hiku and Jorge Taufua, Cowboys winger Wayne Ulugia, Wests youngsters Luke Brooks, Tim Simona (already in the Kiwis’ World Cup train-on squad) and Curtis Sironen, Gold Coast stand-off Aidan Sezer, Souths half Luke Keary, Broncos utility Coey Oakes … and these are just some of the new kids on the block. Mark them down in your little black book.
And we can look forward to England being competitive in the World Cup with the quartet of the Burgess brothers, James Graham and Gareth Widdop flying home from Oz to add starch to the home side’s efforts.

Yes … I think of my life like fine old kegs
    From the brim to the dregs
    And it poured sweet and clear

It was a mess of good years!