Rewriting our rich history

Malcolm Andrews
Malcolm Andrews

First published in League Express, Monday 29th July 2013

I never cease to be amazed by some of today’s sports reporters.
Their knowledge of the particular sport on which they are reporting goes no further back than when they were at school.
The stories about Rugby League suffer accordingly.
After Parramatta’s capitulation on Friday night, and the news that international Jarryd Hayne may not play for the Eels for the rest of the year, one scribe went right over the top.
“If Jarryd Hayne doesn’t play again this season Parramatta fans should order a stack of groceries, lock the doors, turn off the TV and cancel phone and internet access,” he wrote.
“This is going to be six long weeks.
“Parramatta might not be the worst team in NRL history but they would sure make the Grand Final.” Come again!
What about Canterbury in 1935? It was the club’s first season in the Premiership and they were easybeats. In successive weekends in May they lost 91-6 to St George and 87-7 to Eastern Suburbs, still the two biggest winning margins in the history of the Australian game.
Parramatta Eels were regularly flogged in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
And what about some of the clubs in Old Blighty? Not the least is my sentimental favourite Flimby and Fothergill, crushed 116-0 by Wigan in the 1924-25 Challenge Cup.
Another week recently a different journo was suggesting this year’s Queensland State of Origin side was the best side in the history of the sport. The fellow did manage to give the St George side that won 11 titles in succession an honorable mention.
But what about the 1914-15 Huddersfield side dubbed ‘The Team Of All Talents’ which won all four Cups that season. Huddersfield was captained by the legendary Harold Wagstaff and had another seven Test men within the ranks.
I suspect the Aussie journalist probably wouldn’t even recognise the name Wagstaff … or for that matter his team-mate Alby Rosenfeld, one of the greatest wingers of all time, and Australian to boot!
The 1963 Kangaroos, the first all-Australian touring side to beat Great Britain on home soil. They were darned good!
The 1951 Frenchmen who visited Australia weren’t too bad either. Most people who saw them play reckon they were the best ever to tour Down Under, with some of the greatest players ever to represent Les Chanticleers. Eccentric fullback Puig-Aubert, who used to smoke cigarettes on the pitch. Future captain and legend Jacques Merquey. Jean Dop, who used to fortify himself before each match and at half-time with a glass or six of the French fire-water pastis Then there were several forwards I have included in my current book ‘Hardmen’. Louis ‘Lolo’ Mazon was so courageous that, as a member of the French Resistance during World War II, when twice captured and tortured by the Gestapo he escaped both times. Needless to say he knew no fear on the rugby field.
The second-rowers were as hard as nails, too – Édouard Ponsinet and Élie Brousse. Yes, back in the 1950s they bred them tough in France.
Another was Marcel Bescos.
English Test prop Cliff Watson was no shrinking violet himself, and he locked horns with many of the game’s toughest forwards during his career.
Among the Aussies he admits respecting were the likes of John Sattler, John ‘Lurch’ O’Neill, Kevin Ryan, Brian Hambly and Bob O’Reilly.
But Watson has admitted Bescos, from the RC Albi club, was tougher than any of them.
Watson told fellow journo Neil Cadigan that he discovered Bescos’ looks were very deceiving when the pair first confronted each other in a 1966 Test match [the last of Bescos’ 21 Tests]: “He was a short, stocky, prop with thinning hair. And I was young and cocky so I thought to myself ‘I’ll rip into this lad and make his life a misery’. So in the scrums I head-butted him, wrenched his arms, squeezed the muscles under his ribs…all I could do to unsettle him.” Eventually, after one scrum broke up, Bescos looked Watson in the eye and suggested: “No more, monsieur. No more!” But Watson was a slow learner. He had no intention of being swayed by the Frenchman’s entreaty. He laid about Bescos with even more vigour in the next scrum. It was a big mistake.
“From that moment on, he punched me, strangled me and threw my body around like a rag doll,” Watson explained.
“He was the strongest player I ever faced. He absolutely exhausted me. I couldn’t control him at all.” At full-time Bescos approached Watson, nodded politely, shook the young English prop’s hand and smiled while uttering the simple words: “Thank you for the game, monsieur.” I tell the story because news from France last week explained how Bescos had died, at the age of 74.
There was no mention anywhere in Australia’s newspapers.
But that figures. Today’s Aussie journos wouldn’t be aware of his reputation, let alone that this short prop with the deceiving looks was something of a Jekyll and Hyde.
Off the field Bescos was a mild-mannered antique dealer whose hobby was the study of French history.
Thanks for the memories, Marcel!