I come to praise Fatty, not to bury him

Tim Gore Columnist

By Tim Gore, Tim Gore is a Roar Expert

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    Since the news broke that Paul ‘Fatty’ Vautin has got the flick from Channel Nine’s Footy Show in 2018, there have been a lot of people wishing him good riddance. Celebrating his downfall even.

    It’s true that – just like Bart Simpson’s “I didn’t do it” fame – the mass audience Vautin charmed so well with his head wobble and catch phrases like “turn it up” and “I’ll get back to you shortly” have long since cooled on him.

    However, while the end of his long reign is probably overdue, let’s not forget what an ornament to rugby league and the game’s media Vautin has been.

    Those who simply wish to engage in our national sport of maligning tall poppies and celebrating when they fall need to bear in mind that his achievements are many and very impressive.

    In 1979, he was brought to Manly from Brisbane Wests. He went on to play 204 games for his beloved Sea Eagles, including the 1982 and 1983 grand final losses to Parramatta and – of course – captaining them to the 1987 premiership.

    He played 22 games for Queensland between 1982 and 1990, even captaining them on one occasion. You didn’t get into that side unless you were very good indeed. You also didn’t play 13 Test matches for Australia during that period – like Vautin did – unless you were extremely good. He captained his country three times back in an era where the Kiwis and Britons were formidable foes.

    The last of his 259 first grade games was played for the Roosters, against the year’s eventual premiers Penrith, on August 25, 1991, at the Sydney Football Stadium. His side lost 42-8. Much of that season he’d languished in reserves but his coach, former Maroons teammate Mark Murray, let him finish properly in first grade, as Vautin deserved.

    The question now is whether Vautin’s end on The Footy Show is what is deserved? You’ll likely be hard pressed to find too many who didn’t think he was past his use-by date.

    Having worked in television for the best part of a decade, I can tell you it isn’t a nice industry. American author Hunter S. Thompson described it well as, “a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.”

    In the four years I spent with the Nine Network, fear was certainly a frequent companion. Yet it was this very industry that Vautin obviously had his eye on even before his playing days were over.

    In 1988, Vautin started his forays into the media. It is now legendary that he dropped the F-bomb to a national audience while in co-commentary with the ABC’s David Morrow before that year’s grand final. He then had a few stints with Channel Seven.

    However, in 1992 he became part of the Channel Nine commentary team. And he was good.

    He hit the rugby league media scene like a breath of fresh air. He had a big smile, he was funny, and only recently out of the game. He had a great rapport with Ray Warren and Peter Sterling. He was a world away from Rex Mossop – and that was a good thing.

    He became very popular.

    He was the face of Tooheys’ ‘World’s biggest barbeque’ promotion in 1993 and of course he took that screamer of a catch in the Alan Border Testimonial match.

    Fatty was on the crest of a wave. Unlike the I Didn’t Do It Kid, his schtick didn’t look like growing old anytime soon.

    In fact, it was just beginning.

    In the early 1990s, WIN TV in Canberra broadcast a Thursday night rugby league panel show hosted by local sports anchor Phil Small and joined by Raiders halfback Ricky Stuart. For an hour, they picked over the last week’s games and previewed coming matches.

    While it wasn’t exactly champagne television, it certainly had a following. Then, at the beginning of 1994, the show was pulled.

    I was working at the local Channel Ten affiliate at the time and we naively thought we could poach the show. We brought in a young Laurie Daley to discuss him being part of it and he even did a few screen tests (I must say, judging by what I saw that day, whoever subsequently trained Laurie up to talk publicly as well as he does now is a freaking magician).

    However, Nine of course owned the rights and had no intention of letting a rival network do such a thing. They were working on their own show and shortly afterwards it was launched.

    And it was huge. It was funny, had all the guests, had a live audience, and it rated. At the forefront of The Footy Show was Paul Vautin. He took to it like a duck to water.

    Most of us watched every week without fail. Nine had the league audience captured and we were happy. Vautin was their jewel in the crown. There was a saying at Channel Nine that you’d never go broke appealing to the lowest common denominator. The Footy Show adhered solidly to that theory.

    Paul Vautin and Peter Sterling

    AAP Image/Dean Lewins

    Then 1995 happened.

    When the Super League war broke out on April 1, I had no idea what it was all about. What I did know was that my team – the Canberra Raiders – were on the Super League side and therefore so was I.

    Rugby league was riding the wave of unprecedented popularity that had been earned off the back of the inception of State of Origin, the Jim Comans-led judiciary cracking down on thuggery, the introduction of the ten-metre rule, and the ever increasing professionalism and athleticism of the players – all of which combined had made the game into a great spectacle.

    However, the Super League war broke that massive audience into three groups: those on the ARL’s side, those on the Super League side, and those who just stopped watching the horrid farce the game quickly became.

    In the end, the whole thing was really only about two very rich men arguing over the broadcast rights so they could make more money. We who stayed committed to our clubs were used as willing pawns, cheering our teams while proclaiming right was on our side. What blind, stupid lemmings we all were.

    This was a fight fought both in the court of law and in the court of public opinion.

    Vautin was nothing if not loyal. He was employed by Channel Nine and they sided with the ARL. No one fought harder for their case.

    The Super League side rolled out an opposition show to Vautin’s Footy Show called The Hard Yards. Both shows became little more than propaganda.

    However, as with most fights, we saw the ugliness of partisan anger and we saw it in Vautin as well. Unlike his head wobble, it wasn’t funny or endearing.

    It was war and Fatty was fighting hard – just like he had on the football field – but in this battle he was fighting me and mine. He was telling me that I was a traitor, that I was wrong. Sitting on the other side of the divide, he began to personify the enemy.

    Deep inside, I’ve never lost that feeling.

    When it was decreed that none of the players who had signed with Super League would be considered for the 1995 Origin series, I was appalled. When the Vautin-coached Queensland won the series 3-0 as rank underdogs I wasn’t cheering for him. I wasn’t cheering for anyone.

    There were many like me too. In fact, I only stayed with league because I loved my team.

    While badly wounded, rugby league recovered from this fiasco and Vautin and The Footy Show continued on with great popularity.

    I occasionally watched after that and actually saw the episode in 2005 where – as a daredevil dude in a sumo suit – Vautin fell off the back of a ute and hit his head, injuring himself badly.

    It was a real turning point for Vautin. Since then he has mostly just been on The Footy Show and used for the big-game broadcasts like Origin games.

    This dislocation from the actual league games was bad for Vautin. Just as The Footy Show started being run by the light entertainment division of the Nine Network, rather than the sports division, Vautin became removed from the thing that made him relevant and popular in the first instance – the game of rugby league.

    Now, after 24 years, which is an incredible feat in the cutthroat world of television – he’s the longest running host of a TV show in Australian history in fact – it appears Vautin’s journey on The Footy Show is over.

    Just as he effectively took the show off a Canberra WIN News sports anchor, he now is being replaced by a former Canberra WIN News sports anchor, in Erin Molan. It sort of wraps it up neatly, I guess.

    Ironically the show is said to be refocusing on the actual football and getting rid of the person most qualified to talk on that subject.

    It has been suggested that he will now see out the remaining year of his contract doing match commentary, the way he started his career.

    Every dog has his day and Fatty sure had his.

    But while his time may have come, let’s not forget what a big part Vautin has played in the world of rugby league – as an elite player, good commentator and A-grade clown. He has been really good value.

    Good onya Fatty and thanks.

    Tim Gore
    Tim Gore

    Tim has been an NRL statistician for ABC Radio Grandstand since 1999, primarily as part of their Canberra coverage. Tim has loved rugby league since Sterlo was a kid with lots of hair but was cursed with having no personal sporting ability whatsoever. He couldn't take a hit in footy, was a third division soccer player making up numbers, plays off 41 in golf and is possibly the world's worst cricketer ever. He has always been good at arguing the point though and he has a great memory of what happened. Follow Tim on Twitter.

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    The Crowd Says (119)

    • October 18th 2017 @ 7:09am
      jamesb said | October 18th 2017 @ 7:09am | ! Report

      No matter who host’s the show, if the format doesn’t change from light entertainment to a pure football show, then it will still run into the same problems with low tv ratings as a result.

      When you look at the football shows on Nine, the Footy Show was a Hey Hey it’s Saturday wannabe, while the Sunday footy show, it reviews the games, but it tends to drag on for two hours.

      The best NRL football show Nine ever had was the Sunday Roast. The panelists on that show debated the topics, on and off the field. There were some great discussions. But the show met it’s demise because the host of the show, Andrew Voss was shafted because he criticised a Ray Warren statue.

      As for Fatty, he was told what to do. I’m sure if Vautin had his choice, he would be talking about football, rather than wearing dresses.

      Yes, Fatty was the face of the show and was past his used by date, but he shouldn’t be the only one blamed for the shows demise. I think the people behind the scenes who direct and produce the show are the ones at fault.

    • Roar Guru

      October 18th 2017 @ 7:34am
      Edward Kelly said | October 18th 2017 @ 7:34am | ! Report

      I have nothing good to say about channel Nine and its long involvement with the NRL, Vautin and the footy show were just symptomatic of Nine’s treatment of the game.

      • October 18th 2017 @ 7:57am
        qwetzen said | October 18th 2017 @ 7:57am | ! Report

        Ditto. Nine detract from the appeal of every sport they cover by deliberately dumbing down the comms, and in RLs case, off the field as well with the appalling Footy Show. Never mind Adani, Nine should Stop Boganising Sport.

        • Roar Rookie

          October 18th 2017 @ 8:35am
          Hard Yards said | October 18th 2017 @ 8:35am | ! Report

          + 2. Channel 9 have really played to the lowest common denominator.

          As for Fatty? Look the bloke will never pick up a Nobel Prize, but the fact that he has been able to sustain an entertainment job for so long is testament to his tenacity and ability to play the best game he could with the cards with which he was dealt. To that extent, he really is living proof that hard work, persistence and tenacity can take you a lot further than many blokes who objectively have more to work with on paper. And he should be applauded for that.

          And he understood the basis of his success. A few years ago I was leaving a Sea Eagles and GC game up at Robina. The two channel 9 stars were walking just ahead and the bloke beside me said ‘ Onya Fatty, Onya Rabs’. Nothing gushing. Rabbits walked stonily on; the Fatman turned and gave the bloke a smile. So little said so much.

          Ultimately, the Footy Show died 15 years ago in format, and Fatty as an entertainer failed to revamp his act.

          Reinvent yourself son! An old dog can learn new tricks.

          • Roar Guru

            October 18th 2017 @ 8:59am
            Mark Richmond said | October 18th 2017 @ 8:59am | ! Report

            I haven’t been a fan of the show for a long time, but I echo your sentiments re Fatty. In a previous life I was on the show a number of times as part of my job. Fatty and Blocker were always willing to mingle and talk with anyone who was there, and always came into the green room. Sterlo on the other hand, I only saw him in there once, and that was only to meet Harry Kewell when he had just signed for Leeds.

            • Columnist

              October 18th 2017 @ 9:13am
              Tim Gore said | October 18th 2017 @ 9:13am | ! Report

              I’m a Sterlo Zealot. Still my favourite halfback, when I was at Nine he was always a really great bloke and his commentary is superb.

    • October 18th 2017 @ 7:34am
      Buddy Holly said | October 18th 2017 @ 7:34am | ! Report

      I stopped watching the footy show regularly around 4/5 years ago. I enjoyed fattys commentary on the Origin matches this year. I much prefer Fox Sports coverage of NRL but having fatty back may entice me to give nine another chance in 2018.

    • Roar Guru

      October 18th 2017 @ 8:08am
      The Barry said | October 18th 2017 @ 8:08am | ! Report

      Yeah, the same joke has gone on for way too long but I’ll stand by Fatty.

      People looking back at his playing career these days under rate him. He was a tackling machine, good ball skills. Regularly played semi final footy including three grand finals and captaining a premiership.

      Played 5/8 for Australia in a tour game in NZ in about 89.

      Near the start of his TV career he and Simon O’Donnell had a segment on the Friday midday show where they’d talk sport and give racing tips. It was off the cuff and hilarious.

      The footy show was a breath of fresh air when it started and it’s following was huge. The chemistry between Fatty and Sterlo was great. Fatty was passionate, funny and self deprecating.

      Yeah its a lot of the same old jokes and gimmicks but that doesn’t mean we should judge his entire media career by what it’s become today.

      • October 18th 2017 @ 8:47am
        Oingo Boingo said | October 18th 2017 @ 8:47am | ! Report

        And let’s not forget he coached a team of supposedly second rate players to a SOO series win .
        The big boof headed ranga has heart in spades , and any of these wannabes on here that wanna slag him out , should go and take a long look in the mirror and ask themselves,,,, What have I achieved in my life?

      • Columnist

        October 18th 2017 @ 9:14am
        Tim Gore said | October 18th 2017 @ 9:14am | ! Report

        Absolutely. He was given a job. He did it. People cooled on his schtick but 24 years in the role is amazing.

        • Roar Guru

          October 18th 2017 @ 10:21am
          The Barry said | October 18th 2017 @ 10:21am | ! Report

          It is. And while there a lot of people on here saying “it should have been axed years ago” (it probably should have ?) nine aren’t in the business of airing shows out of loyalty or whatever.

          The show obviously attracted enough viewers and ratings to keep its spot and win Logies.

          Like him or not Fatty is one of few rugby league people that have transcended the sport. And mostly for good reasons.

          • Columnist

            October 18th 2017 @ 11:11am
            Tim Gore said | October 18th 2017 @ 11:11am | ! Report

            Spot on Baz

      • October 18th 2017 @ 10:48am
        Albo said | October 18th 2017 @ 10:48am | ! Report

        Like plenty here, I haven’t watched the “Footy Show” for some years , basically since I got Foxtel. Whilst I like a good laugh better than most, I like my footy more, and I found the Footy Show developing into something that had little to do with the footy. However, I have nothing but admiration for Fatty Vautin. He is a funny character, but was also a great footballer. Tough and dedicated he spent a few lean years at Manly in the mid 80’s basically carrying that team week in and week out. He always delivered for State & Country, and to last 24 years in the tough TV industry is probably an even greater feat of success. I have nothing but admiration for all he has achieved, and I trust his new career options will be just as satisfying for him.

      • October 18th 2017 @ 6:46pm
        soapit said | October 18th 2017 @ 6:46pm | ! Report

        reckon his commentary is underrated. hopefully channel 9 can use him more in games now he got less to do.

        • October 19th 2017 @ 8:17pm
          Rod said | October 19th 2017 @ 8:17pm | ! Report

          Good luck to Fatty. Terrific footballer, underrated coach and I agree his commentary and knowledge of the game is second to none. He was in one of those celebrity shows to see how smart they were. I seems to recall they discovered he had a very high IQ. He was a lot brighter than what is perceived of him

    • October 18th 2017 @ 8:15am
      Andrew said | October 18th 2017 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      I am pretty confident that Paul Vaultin is a pretty decent person and I think he had a bit of an awakening after the incident in 2005.

      But he was never a good host on this show. His mis-reads and slip ups were seen as funny and endearing at first, so it gave him some legs. But on no level should this show have lasted as long as it did (either as an entertainment show or sports show) and the NRL over the years have themselves to blame for not requiring a more high quality NRL based programme that promoted the game , as part of its rights negotiations with the only FTA network with the rights and hence interest in promoting the game.

      In TV the show before your show is seen as important for your ratings number as it is believed people won’t change the channel. Even with an actual rugby league game on before them they still rated poorly – less than 80,000 viewers on one occasion according to reports. That is embarrassing for the shows producers and cast.

      Hopefully it is an end to the Beau Ryan experiment as well.

      • Roar Guru

        October 18th 2017 @ 12:54pm
        Nat said | October 18th 2017 @ 12:54pm | ! Report

        Andrew, what has the NRL got to do with the footy show? CH9 and Fox buy the rights to broadcast the games. The stations are free to create shows that attract sponsors as they wish and the Footy Show served their purpose for many years. Blaming the NRL for the content of a TV show is like blaming Fox for the quality of a game.

        • October 19th 2017 @ 9:00am
          Andrew said | October 19th 2017 @ 9:00am | ! Report

          Nat: I am not a person that blames the NRL for everything from climate change to road congestion. But they own the game. When networks say, this is what we are willing to pay and this is what we are willing to show – games at these times, they could have stipulated the FTA broadcaster having to deliver a “magazine show” – and at some point it should have said we want you and you want us, but you are going to have to provide an additional or alternate NRL program as the Thursday night show is not promoting the game or meeting the games sponsors needs. It’s called negotiating.

    • October 18th 2017 @ 8:24am
      Adam Bagnall said | October 18th 2017 @ 8:24am | ! Report

      Anyone remember The Gameplan? Ran for a couple of years and was a great show hosted by Andrew Moore, much better than the Footy Show which should have been axed 10 years ago.

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