Sometimes it doesn’t pay to get out of bed. I had had one of those weeks. In between supervising burial duty for my favourite pet and negotiating several familial and automotive calamities I had the chance to talk to the bloke who might end up Australia’s next Prime Minister (about his love of sport) and, of course, something just had to go wrong.
Coming from a lecturing background I was only too aware of Murphy’s Law as it applies to technology. The number one rule as a presenter is to check your technology several times before you start because if something can go wrong, it will. Well, I checked the technology. Twice. I had several family members call me. Both times the app worked fine. So, I went ahead with my chat with Albo and while we talked, I carefully watched the level meter on the phone recording app telling me that it was picking up every word. After thanking him for his time and saying goodbye I immediately switched the app to play mode and discovered that our entire thirty minutes of conversation had come out garbled. Like I said, sometimes it doesn’t pay to get out of bed.
What should I have done? Should I have called the Leader of the Opposition and told him that I didn’t quite get it right last time, and would he mind if we had another go? Nah. Somehow, I figured that that was not going to work for a bloke who has barely enough time to scratch himself. I guess I was going to have to rely on memory. Forgive me, Albo, if I got some of this stuff wrong, but keep in mind that I am the grieving soulmate of a recently expired cat, the parent of young adults making their way in the world and the owner of a Mondeo! Life can get tough sometimes.
Anthony Albanese MP (Leader of the Opposition – Commonwealth of Australia) and his thinking on a range of important sporting issues. Dig as hard as you may, you will find nothing of a political nature in this story.
Albo’s thinking on the events of 1999.
As publisher of one of the few web sites that focuses on the philosophical and sociological aspects of sport Anthony Albanese’s media advisor had assured me that his boss was passionate about the critical role that sport plays in communities and, as such, he would (most likely) be keen to find some time for a chat if he could. He was. He could. He did!
When Albo called, the first thing that he pointed out was that he had recently attended a reunion for those who were involved in the events of 1999 when the oldest, most successful and most community-driven club in Rugby League history was booted from the top grade competition. In 1999 Anthony had been a board member of the South Sydney Rabbitohs Rugby League Football Club and he, along with tens of thousands of Rabbitoh supporters and hundreds of thousands of other Rugby League fans, had been horrified that a club so steeped in League history and so critical to the lives of so many in the Rugby League community could be “axed” because their club no longer conformed to what the competition organizers considered to be important business criteria.
It took several years, but community activity and protest, legal action and an alliance of such unlikely fellow-activists as Alan Jones, George Piggins, Mike Whitney, Nick Pappas and Anthony Albanese, to name a few, eventually won the day and resulted in the most loved team in Rugby League history being readmitted to the premier competition in 2002.
Knowing that Sportsocratic.com is interested in how communities are impacted by sport Albo wanted me to know just how important the Rabbitoh’s are to the South Sydney (a collective of Sydney inner city suburbs including Redfern, Surry Hill, Marrickville, Alexandria, Zetland, Waterloo, Mascot etc) community, to the Sydney community as a whole, to the Australian Rugby League community and to Australia’s entire sporting community as well. He is right. When we look back now it is remarkable to remember that there was a moment in time when a business argument was considered more important than community considerations in one of Australia’s most important sporting competitions. As Albo pointed out, the community won in the end. Sport is much more than just business.
Albo’s thinking on the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
When Anthony asked me what rugby league team I supported I explained that I was rather fond of a few the Sydney-based teams and that I was not devoted to any particular tribe. I did suggest that the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles and the South Sydney Rabbitohs were my two favourite clubs.
He was horrified. Mortified. He found this pairing totally unacceptable!
If I remember correctly, his response went something along the lines of…
“Well you should take a bloody good look at yourself. That is not on. Simply not on.” (This may not quite be a direct quote. I might have even left out one or two rude words uttered by the leader of the opposition here.)
Having deeply offended the bloke who may be my future Prime Minister I tried to explain that my local publican, Tom Mooney, was a former champion player and favourite son of both clubs and hence it was not unreasonable for a bloke like me to be keen on both teams.
Albo was not impressed. He was quick to point out the error in my thinking.
“Tom Mooney is not a favourite son of Manly,” he said. “He is a favourite son of Souths and Souths only! Manly stole him. They stole him in the same way they got their grubby fingers on other South Sydney favourite sons like Bobby Moses, John O’Neill, Ray Branigan and Ian Roberts.”
I suspect that Albo is steeped in the Roy Masters school of rugby league thinking where it is far safer to not even hint at having any sympathy for a sporting team based north of the Sydney harbour bridge at risk of being branded a “silvertail” and being considered untrustworthy. (Note: “silvertail” is a pejorative term initially used by former Rugby League coach and Rugby league journalist Roy Masters to describe people from supposedly affluent areas and their sporting clubs that achieve much of their success through pilfering star players from not so well-off clubs).
Albo’s thinking on himself as a kid
Anthony explained that his very first sporting love, as a participant, was for rugby league. This probably came from his family’s devotion to the South Sydney Rabbitohs. As a child he fondly remembered many family outings to see the bunnies play at Redfern Oval. I got the impression that a visit to Redfern Oval with other people from the Rabbitoh community was not far from being a spiritual experience for the young Albanese.
From a very young age, Albanese plied his trade as a rugby league half-back, five-eighth or lock for clubs and schools in the heart of South Sydney territory. He was pretty good, too. He remembers being as quick as hell over ten meters (quick enough to wreak havoc against opponents around the scrum base) but not quite so quick any further than that.
The young Albanese was also a keen cricketer and Australian Rules Football player in those early days. As a cricketer he says that he could catch anything but, unfortunately, his batting and bowling were not quite up to the same standard as his fielding.
A little later, in his sporting career, Albo discovered a love for tennis. The Marrickville Tennis Club was only a few blocks from his childhood home, and it was here that he developed a passion for the sport that he still plays competitively today. When I asked him what it was about tennis that won him over, he initially claimed that…
“I just loved it… I don’t know why.”
On thinking a bit more, Albanese explained that the thing he most loves about tennis is that it is such a mental or psychological game. In most other sports your mind can wander off onto other things, from time to time, he suggested, without there being too much in terms of consequences. Not in tennis. In tennis, if you don’t maintain one hundred percent concentration all the time you are done! Albanese just loves the intensity of the concentration that is needed to play tennis well!
It’s remarkable that Albanese ended up a politician given that politics hardly ever involves doing something with a ball. Most of Albo’s early life involved either playing games with balls or watching other people play games with balls. Other than going to his local Catholic church with his family it seems that balls were Anthony’s only other early obsession.
Albo’s thinking on unfulfilled dreams
Anthony admits that he would have loved to have played sport professionally. Probably a professional NRL player would have been his first choice but a cricketer or tennis player would have been good too. There was only one problem, explains Albo. He wasn’t good enough to make it to the pro ranks in any sport. He was good… but not good enough.
While Albo has accepted that he is now unlikely to make it as a pro half-back for his beloved Rabbitoh’s (leading them in a miracle grand final victory over the “silvertail” Sea Eagles), he does have one or two remaining sporting ambitions.
He suggests that he would still love to win a Division 2 tennis championship with his Marrickville Lawn Tennis Club team… something that apparently has not happened for a while. While the tennis he plays is not exactly Wimbledon (in that a single win in a tournament usually finds you a spot in the quarter finals), winning a championship is still winning a championship and something to get excited about! There is nothing quite like taking out a competition with your mates!
Albo’s thinking on the Marrickville Lawn Tennis Club
Albo played a lot of competition tennis over a lot of years at the Marrickville Tennis Club but, as the years passed, he discovered that a grass surface is a lot gentler on aging joints than a hard-court surface is. While Anthony is still a loyal member of the Marrickville Tennis Club, some years ago he listened to his aching joints, and joined the Marrickville Lawn Tennis Club where three hard sets of competition tennis is far kinder to old knees and rickety ankles.
Albanese loves both clubs for the community spirit that they promote. Some of the clubs that his tennis team plays against require members and visitors to play in all whites. At these clubs, afternoon tea and scones are served to players by waiters resplendent in white shirts, dark trousers and white gloves. Albo explains that at the Marrickville Lawn Tennis Club there are no waiters. At the Marrickville Lawn Tennis Club there are not even any employees! Everyone is a volunteer. Everyone helps around the club. Everyone is a cleaner. Everyone serves at the bar. Everyone hands out sausage rolls, beers and other snacks. Albo loves the fact that everyone in the tennis club community is just a tennis player who loves the club and loves to help wherever they can. No-one is more special than anyone else. They usually don’t even bother to talk about politics!
Albo’s thinking on smart-arsed young journalists
Wanting to hold up my end of the conversation, I told Anthony a story about a young Northern beaches journalist who, while playing a game of footy against a western suburbs club, made disparaging comments to teak-tough and uber-talented rugby league superstar, John “Dallas” Donnelly, who happened to be on the sidelines supporting the team from the west.
Albo suggested that there was one potential positive outcome from making smart-arsed comments to one of the toughest blokes who ever pulled on a rugby league boot.
I asked what possible positive outcome could come from tormenting “Dallas.”
Albanese explained that the only positive thing that could come out of provoking Donnelly would be that…
“It would be over very quickly. Instantly, in fact. And that the young journalist would remember none of it!”
Albo’s thinking on great people in sport
Anthony finds South Sydney Rabbitoh’s coach, Wayne Bennett, as “hard to go past” as one of the greatest people he has met in the world of sport. Albanese, being so close to the Rabbitohs, has had the opportunity to observe Bennett’s coaching approach for several years and he is full of admiration for the multiple NRL premiership-winning mentor and ex-policeman.
Albo says that Bennett is as much concerned about helping young men to become the very best young men that they can be as well as assisting them to become the very best footballers that they can be. His concern is for them as people as much as it for them as professional athletes. It thrills Albanese to see a coach committed to the lives his players. It’s impressive building winning football teams, year after year, while at the same time making a difference in the lives of hundreds of young athletes.
Albanese also tips his hat to many of the indigenous athletes that, through their hard work and example, have made a difference to the lives of many individuals and to the indigenous community as a whole. He explains that Yvonne Goolagong Cawley (former champion tennis player), throughout her entire career and post-career, has not only set a fine example of extraordinary play, sportsmanship and dedication to her sport but has also ceaselessly worked with aboriginal communities to create opportunities for advancement for its members. Albanese points to people like Cyril Rioli (AFL) and Kathy Freeman (athletics) who, along with many others, have worked ceaselessly for their communities as well!
Albo’s thinking on sporting clubs making a difference
According to Albanese the South Sydney Rugby League Club are a huge example of how important sporting clubs can be to communities. The Rabbitohs have been a beacon of community pride for the southern Sydney region for over one hundred years. For a long time the suburbs of the South Sydney region weren’t exactly flushed with money (in fact, for much of their existence, they had been among the least wealthy parts of Sydney) and turning up on a Sunday at Redfern oval to see the local team play was one of the few highlights of many people’s lives. Add in the fact that the South Sydney Rugby League Club had given so many young indigenous athletes the opportunity to make their way in the world and improve the lot of their families and communities is no small thing.
Albo’s thinking on how he would change the world of sport, if he could
Albo would love to be able to convince people that they should see sport as a positive thing in their lives and an opportunity to make a positive difference to their communities through their sport. He cites the professional tennis world where he believes some athletes have a positive approach to the game while others seem to see the game as a means for them to line their pockets and little more. He explains that Ashleigh Barty demonstrates how a positive approach to sport can work. She is warm, modest, generous, has impeccable behaviour and never takes herself or the game too seriously. Barty seems to understand that living a “good” life is more important than winning the next game of tennis. That doesn’t men that Barty doesn’t work hard and demonstrate commitment and determination. Despite her decency and warmth Barty is still one of the toughest and most skilful players on the tennis circuit. Albo explains that there are several other Australian professional tennis players who should follow her example.
Thanks to Anthony Albanese for his time and willingness to offer some insights into his sporting life. From his comments it seems that, while Albo is a sporting tragic (and like so many others would have loved to have played various sports at the top level), his love of sport goes a bit deeper than merely a love for playing the game. Albo’s fondness for sport is directly linked to its ability to enhance the lives of individuals and communities. If Albo, someday, succeeds in becoming Prime Minister of Australia I have no doubt that that will not stop him from finding at least some time to continue to chase balls – most likely Slazenger but possibly Steeden, Sherrin or Kookaburra as well.