The first section of this article was written on the seventh of May. This day has produced some of the most amazing moments in my life, in the world we live in and in the history of our sport. On this day in 1927, future Wests Tigers entities Balmain and Wests had wins in the old NSWRL.
Balmain defeated University 23-5 at Birchgrove Oval, and Western Suburbs defeated North Sydney 19-5 at Pratten Park. On the same day in that year, my grandfather was born. The man who was responsible for the blossoming of my interest and eventual love for the sport of Rugby League.
William Stant, or Bill for short. He grew up witnessing the traditions of the sport. He also witnessed the growth, to the extent he could remember the first time clubs like Canterbury or Manly set the first grade field on fire. He could also remember a South Sydney premiership. Although he told me he still somehow couldn't remember a Cronulla one.
'Bill' would tell stories on occasions. My favourite was a test match he saw in the fifties. He remembered the exact amount it cost to get in, and remembered how thick the fog was that day. He would tell me about "that dirty Pommy front rower" that was sent off from the field. The fog was apparently so thick the prop tired himself out by running two laps around the field attempting to find the area of the sideline his side's bench.
Now I understand what people mean when they say players in the yesteryear worked harder.
Bill however was a proud Balmain supporter for around sixty years. A crowd member of the 1939 Grand Final, he enjoyed letting me know about witnessing a traditional Frank Hyde try. It might have taken me awhile to know who Hyde was, but the stories kept flooding.
Back in the day he let people know who he support. He loved to be a Balmain fan. The year I was born, 1989, you couldn't blame him for shedding a few tears on that horrid day. The worst possible day for a Tigers fan. Until a decade or so later anyways when the Balmain Tigers entity died.
One day though, Bill was watching a Wests Tigers game on the television against the Knights.
"Mate, did you tip your Tigs this week." "Nope." "Seriously, why not?" "With those Magpies bastards in the side we're only half a bloody team." "You still gonna support them?" "Probably."
The passion wasn't there, he didn't look interested. This concerned me.
"Did you see the Chooks win?" "Yeah, they'll probably win the comp." "Reckon Tigs will?" "Nope, hope they don't get the spoon at least." "Do you even like them these days?" "They're not the team I used to support, and I can't use the bloody Balmain catch phrases anymore." "Who will you support?" "No-one, don't mind Newcastle after that Johns kid visited the Coast a few years back."
He still loved the game but not his side, and in the years towards his death he still showed the same passion he did for the game, but not the Tigers.
In 2004, I visited him in the hospital. He was watching the ANZAC day game on the television.
"What's the score?" "11-8 I think, we're up." "Haven't seen a scoreline like that in years." "Yeah, Fittler got a killer try." "Good on him, he's a good player that bloke."
Another visit, this time to his house on his literal deathbed in 2005, was one of the last conversations we ever had. I can still remember every moment.
"Your old Tigers won hey." "Yeah, those Raiders had it coming though." "They're not going bad." "How are your Easts going?" "We have a bye, with our form we could lose this one."
The day of his death rang bells. I would love to be thinking about Rugby League on my deathbed. That day, fittingly, the Knights and Tigers both had games on. Unfortunately, they both lost.
This story may have had no central point, it may just be a tale of my relationship with my grandfather and our topic of conversation. I would love to pass my love of the game onto my children, and my eventual grandchildren.
The fans of Rugby League, the families who share traditions and rivalries. It was fitting that in the year of his death, a team known as the Tigers were the winners of the premiership.
Posted in the F7s Matches forum in May 2009
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