Rugby League is the major winter spectator sport in New South Wales, The Australian Capital Territory and Queensland, and has minor outposts in all other mainland states and in The Northern Territory. The sport has attracted media rights deals approaching two billion dollars in recent times.
Given that degree of popularity, it is perhaps surprising that so few books have been published describing its events. Most of these have been memoire type statements by very successful players after their retirements. Histories of clubs beginning with their formation and running through to the present day have been particularly rare, so Ray Chesterton’s effort detailing events in the history of Manly Sea Eagles is particularly welcome.
That written, while the book has valuable insights, as a publication effort by the normally-reliable New Holland group it does provide a great deal to forgive.
Chesterton is a veteran media personality whose specialty always has been Rugby League. He has a colorful history of his own in which well-publicised conflict has featured. It is clear that he is an enthusiastic long-term supporter of the Manly team.
Chesterton’s descriptions of the club’s early days are fascinating, a highlight of his book. He reminds us of a time when vacant land on the peninsula north of Sydney Harbour was cheap and plentiful, and so was attractive to the migrants from Europe who came to Australia in great numbers after the second World War.
This fact gave Manly the remarkable history of producing two Australian representatives, Max Krilich and Nick Yakich, who are of Croatian heritage. Krilich captained both Manly and Australia. Given the current wealth of the area, it was fascinating to read of club officials doing door knocks with buckets to raise funds to pay players. Chesterton notes that player bonuses at the end of the year, in the early days, depended on gate takings at matches.
The book relates the great playing and administrative careers of major servants of the club – Fulton, Mossop, the remarkable Ken Arthurson. It was well known that Arthurson had left Manly to play in Parkes after one very successful season in Sydney. I’d never understood that this was because early Manly coach, Ray Stehr, had advised him that reaching the Australian team having starred for Country in the annual City-Country clash would be easier than struggling with Sydney competition. We also learn the general process, though not the detail of the ousting of Board control of Max Delmerge (whom Chesterton estimates to have donated between twelve and fifteen million dollars to keep the club afloat when destitution loomed) by the Penn family.
We also learn the general process, though not the detail of the ousting of Board control of Max Delmerge (whom Chesterton estimates to have donated between twelve and fifteen million dollars to keep the club afloat when destitution loomed) by the Penn family.
While there is much to enjoy, the book is marred by a nearly-unbelievable series of punctuation and typographical errors. It is clear that either Chesterton or his editor does not understand the means of punctuating direct speech. The text provides page after page of howlers – some of my favourites include the three luminaries described as “the best layers the club has ever had”; Geoff Toovey becoming Geoff Tovey on page 297; Steve Menzies hoping to “ruin out” for his first NRL appearance. These errors occur every couple of pages through the text and became a major distraction to me. I find it difficult to believe that the pages ever were proof read by some competent person. So troubled was I by the standard of expression that I rang the publishers to be sure that what I have was the published version to appear in bookstores; I was assured that it is.
Chesterton’s book is a worthwhile addition to published writing on Rugby League, marred by a sloppy publication process.
Manly Sea Eagles: The Team they Love to Beat is available from Dymocks.