Steeden, Sherrin, Gilbert: You’ve just got to have balls

Chris Chard Columnist

By Chris Chard, Chris Chard is a Roar Expert

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    In every game of footy, from the loftiest stage to the suburban scrap heaps, there is one constant. An unsung hero, always willing to put his body on the line and give 110 percent. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am talking about the humble football.

    While the topic may appear trivial, the relationships that footy fans develop with their balls are deep and meaningful.

    A great ball is taken everywhere, a selfless, constantly giving companion forever marked with thick black texta and left to roll around in the boot of your car. It is mourned upon its passing, be it kicked down a drain or death from sheer exhaustion.

    The childhood memory of my cherished footy with the Michael Bolt autograph being stuck up a Norfolk Pine at North Wollongong beach still haunts me to this very day, and I can only hope that whoever found it after it finally blew down gave it half the attention I did.

    Our balls also have names. Names like Steeden, Gilbert and Sherrin. We will refer to them by these names, as if they were people. But let’s face it, if you were marooned on a desert island somewhere in the pacific, you’d much rather be stuck with one of these than the dork from Sleepless in Seattle.

    Sure, like anything in this mixed up, money driven world, our balls have changed over the years. You can now go down to ‘Sloppy Sam’s Sports Superstore’ and be confronted with the great wall of balls. There you can pick up a glow in the dark Gilbert. A hot pink, water-proof Sherrin. Maybe even an advanced release of the 2014 FIFA World Cup ball, complete with artificial intelligence that has the potential to become self-aware and begin tweeting halfway through a header.

    One ball that has just recently caught my eye is the limited edition ‘Heritage’ NRL Steeden being used for one of this weekend’s matches. Behold!

    A thing of beauty, yes? Although no doubt made of synthetic material, my foot feels sore just looking at its mud brown and off white pretend leather awesomeness. One can just imagine the Rabbitohs and Tigers players taking one look at the thing and deciding to start the game with a kicking duel, or building a little sandcastle to toe-poke a conversion from in front.

    Now while rugby league, save for Toyota Cup, has these days opted for the more generic white Steeden across the game, not too long ago you used to be able to tell what you were watching just by looking at the ball.

    At any one time you might expect to see a stripy ball being used for the pre-season, a fluorescent yellow ball being booted around for origin, the mustard yellow getting a run week in week out and the crisp white Puma being tossed along the backline at Wembley.

    Of course, the rules here were meant to be broken, and like all quality utilities, the balls would be happy to take one for the team and swap positions with one another wherever they saw fit.

    Occasionally there was controversy too, with Gilbert’s Super League and 2000 World Cup ‘Fatso’ balls both getting in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

    However, at the end of the day they were no doubt loved by someone on their own accord, with a ball’s eager to please nature making it a hit across all generations and creeds.

    So here’s to the NRL for giving the old brown bomber a run, and here’s to balls in general. For without them, sport would stop being a game, and become just an opportunity to see who can exercise the fastest.

    No wonder they call it ‘having a ball’.

    So, anyone else got a ‘ball tale’ to tell?


    Chris Chard
    Chris Chard

    Chris Chard is a sports humour writer commenting on the often absurd nature of professional sport. A rugby league fan boy with a good blend of youth and experience taking things one week at a time, Chris has written for The Roar since 2011. Tweet him @Vic_Arious

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    The Crowd Says (15)

    • March 30th 2012 @ 6:06am
      ManInBlack said | March 30th 2012 @ 6:06am | ! Report

      Interesting that you invoke the name ‘sherrin’ in the article, and refer to the ‘leather look’ of the heritage Steeden.

      I often think about the ‘balls’. Aust Football has retained a classic leather footy – the brand new Sherrin has a distinct smell, feel etc – – no need for ‘fake new car smell’.

      I think of cricket at the naturalness of the ball is so important to the play of the game that a suitable night ball is still a struggle to develop!!!

      And then I look at Rugby(s) and soccer where the old days of leather balls are done and dusted. To me, a synthetic just doesn’t do it. But, these sports have made the change.

      What I can’t help but ponder though, is, with the new age of stadiums, with superior drainage, in soccer often synthetic pitches, more and more roofed stadia; the question then is whether there’s still the need for a synthetic ball???

      In Aust Footy for example, thankfully they never transitioned to synthetic – but, had they done so, the main reason would’ve been the old mud heap suburban grounds with cricket pitch squares in the middle that got chopped. Now, not even the MCG has a permanent cricket pitch and so, instead of changing the balls – they changed the grounds!!!

      So, for me – long live the leather cricket ball and the leather sherrin.

      • Roar Guru

        March 30th 2012 @ 9:27am
        The Cattery said | March 30th 2012 @ 9:27am | ! Report

        Yes nothing beats leather, and if you’re going to be beaten within an inch of your life – do it with leather!

        Mr Sherrin, a grand child of the original Sherrin, is still making hand-made Sherrins in his garage for special occasions.

        • March 30th 2012 @ 12:12pm
          Jimbo Jones said | March 30th 2012 @ 12:12pm | ! Report

          Thats often what I end up saying to my dominatrix

          • March 30th 2012 @ 12:25pm
            Nathan of Perth said | March 30th 2012 @ 12:25pm | ! Report


      • March 30th 2012 @ 10:13am
        Bakkies said | March 30th 2012 @ 10:13am | ! Report

        Not a fan of leather balls. You have to shine it with dubbin and look after them like a good shoe. If leather rugby balls were still made I doubt you could get one for less 6 quid.

      • March 30th 2012 @ 3:53pm
        chris said | March 30th 2012 @ 3:53pm | ! Report

        But you don’t get penalised in AFL for knocking on….that the difference i see.

        • March 30th 2012 @ 4:59pm
          ManInBlack said | March 30th 2012 @ 4:59pm | ! Report

          Chris –

          I’m not sure I follow you??

        • March 30th 2012 @ 6:56pm
          Bakkies said | March 30th 2012 @ 6:56pm | ! Report

          and you don’t have kick it from a dead ball situation.

    • Columnist

      March 30th 2012 @ 9:18am
      Brett McKay said | March 30th 2012 @ 9:18am | ! Report

      Well played CC, and it is certainly great to see the old brown bomber back on telly. Just a shame they couldn’t have gone the old hog back to leather, but then I suppose it’d slice away off the patent purple boots they wear these days…

      Speaking of the Gilbert, I watched a classic 1996 Super 12 match last night (previously recorded) between the Brumbies and Shorks (or Natal, as they were back then) being played under blue skies at Manuka Oval in Canberra. Talk about a throwback: loose-fitting, proper jerseys, tape around ears, a cricket pitch in the middle … ah, good times!

      But in the middle of all of this was the one constant of 17 years now of Super Rugby: the Gilbert. And apart from a new paint job these days, it is still the same Gilbert Barbarian that has been used for the history of the competition, and the Barbarian itself goes back further than that too..

      (in fact, the Barbarian was the Super League ball you make mention of..)

      • March 30th 2012 @ 10:10am
        Bakkies said | March 30th 2012 @ 10:10am | ! Report

        Gilbert have different types of match balls. There is the Gilbert X and virtuo. Gilbert is now owned by Grays International and has been making match kit for a good while now.

        • Columnist

          March 30th 2012 @ 10:49am
          Brett McKay said | March 30th 2012 @ 10:49am | ! Report

          Bakkies, I’m pretty sure Grays own Steeden too…

    • Roar Guru

      March 30th 2012 @ 8:49pm
      Hoy said | March 30th 2012 @ 8:49pm | ! Report

      I started playing at school and all the training balls were leather. And old. Real old. Oddly enough, I can’t really remember dropping it that much.

      I was reading something the other day, possibly on this site, about an old stalwart saying the players couldn’t control the new synthetic balls as well as the old leather ones.

    • March 31st 2012 @ 12:45am
      c said | March 31st 2012 @ 12:45am | ! Report

      Brett I bet sales are down for the tight Soccer tyle jersey for both codes of Rugby.

    • Roar Guru

      March 31st 2012 @ 9:27am
      The Cattery said | March 31st 2012 @ 9:27am | ! Report

      I was just watching Fox sports then, and they were reviewing the Waratahs game for later today, and it occurred to me – there’s a Sherrin sitting smack bang in the middle of the iconic Waratahs logo!!

    • April 3rd 2012 @ 1:31am
      tpcam said | April 3rd 2012 @ 1:31am | ! Report

      Gilbert still makes the old ‘Match’ leather rugby ball – check their UK site. Cheaper than a Sherrin too. They may only be ornamental though…
      They don’t seem to make the eight-panel Super League ball anymore however..

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