The fighting styles, physiques and sportsmanship of both Barry Hall and Paul Gallen – by default – represented their respective football codes, with the fight itself being promoted as the Code War.
Not so long ago I joined a couple old colleagues from the Sydney Morning Herald at a rather plush eatery at Green Park in London, right next to the Ritz, for a catch-up.
It’s that time of the year – I know multiple people coming through town for the Ashes right now, even though I won’t watch a minute of it myself. I’m hoping to catch up with a certain hair metal-loving cricket writer, and a certain sports editor with a haircut that always conjured up the word foppish, this coming week.
I won’t drop names because this is not about them. You might conclude that I want this to be about me. As I type the third paragraph that’s not my intention but… we’ll see. Maybe.
I have a dear friend who was a sub-editor at the Herald who is gravely ill right now. Out of respect to him and his family I won’t name him either, although this man was the quiet, assured, smiling life of every post-shift Tuesday night gathering we ever had – and not afraid to be last man standing at Hotel New Hampshire at the Cross when everyone else had gone home.
He’s now in palliative care. It’s bloody heartbreaking.
There is a confluence of these things right now that make one contemplate a life – or half a life anyway – spent in sports journalism. Yesterday, US website The Athletic launched in the UK, having poached some of the best football writers and sports editors in this country from mastheads big and small.
Interestingly, there is an argument that more work for journalists is going to kill journalism – because the dwindling number of people who still buy newspapers do so for the sport and they’ll now stop. I don’t buy that at all – more jobs for journalists means more journalism, and that’s good.
I juxtapose what I’ve written about so far – I guess you’d call it big picture, if you wanted to be plain about it – with the rugby league news I read in my timeline.
Gold Coast are a terrible team and they don’t use the right process is hiring coaches. Brisbane let too many good players go last off-season. Paul McGregor should be sacked instead of getting a contract extension. Jesse Ramien’s dad was shopping him around to other clubs.
Then there’s the referee stories: the match officials hate the Warriors, it’s the referee’s fault that the crowd rioted in Perpignan.
I can almost see steam on Fox League coming out the ears of their pundits as they discuss things that no longer matter one iota to me and which I can’t believe once did.
And to kind of complete this perfect storm of reflection, they are going to induct a reporter in the the Australian Rugby League Hall Of Fame. That’s great news – EE Christensen would be a great first inductee – as would a man who is already on the shortlist for an administrative inductee, Harry Sunderland.
But, once more, it makes you ruminate about the legacy you leave in a job, what it takes to leave a huge one, and – most importantly – whether it’s really worth it.
I no longer care too much about whether a coach should be sacked, who is going to win State of Origin or whether St Helens will win the double.
The reason is because these are the same old issues with only the names changing year on year. Sport is uncertain in a micro sense but mind-numbingly repetitive from a macro perspective.
I do care about concussion, I care about changing rugby league culturally, demographically and geographically so it can realise its potential, I care about the next World Cup and the one after, the expansion of Nines, putting games on more TVs in more places, better merchandising and even catering. I love the Toronto Wolfpack experiment and what it represents.
Yet in between hosting a corporate function at Bradford on Sunday and selling merch, I missed 75 per cent of a pretty good game against the very same Wolfpack and couldn’t care less. I’ve not watched an NRL game in weeks.
I could say that I care about permanent, important, historical change in rugby league but that still leaves one burning question.
And that is: why do I care so much about a sport I am happy not to watch? It’s like saying I am passionate about a museum but care not for art or history. It seems illogical.
But the answer is in those first few pars. It’s the people the game has introduced me to and the experiences those people have helped me have over the first half-century of my life. The game did that for me, so I care about what I can do for it.
The people you hang out with on the hill, the players you idolise or despise, the referees, the media identities, the administrators… long after they’ve all stopped doing what you love or hate today, they’ll remind you of a time in your life.
And when they go, they’ll remind you of your own mortality.
This column isn’t about me, it’s about you.
Tone down the outrage – or at least recognise it as the two-dimensional representation of life that it really is. None of this stuff really matters – including the winning and the losing. All that matters is the people you’re sharing it with.
Be thankful the game has brought those people to you – and if at all possible, do your bit to ensure it continues to enrich the lives of others.