Another day, another dollar. And after finishing another hard day's
work making carriages for Queensland Railways in their Ipswich workshop, Harry
Langer would always return home to the weatherboard on Ferrett Street to much
the same sound hurtling over the top of the house - the sound of his four sons
playing football against each other out the back.
They grow backyards pretty big up Ipswich way, and the Langer backyard was
a big'un even by that city's standards. Plenty big enough for the boys to play
full-on football and have a fight at the same time, and they rarely missed the
Usually, it was the same division: Allan, the youngest and smallest, would
always be drawn to play with oldest son Cliff, against the middle two, Neville
Funny that Allan seemed to all but hold his own in these games even as a
four-year-old, but then he'd always seemed a pretty tough kid even when judged
against the toughness of his brothers.
"It was pretty full-on," Allan says, "but at least it kept us off the
streets. We usually had either pretend Test matches or Brisbane club matches and
we'd keep playing till it got dark. Then mum would only let us go to bed after
we'd washed the grass stains off."
Such football was to be a good grounding in the game for the man who would
go on to be Broncos captain and Australian halfback, but there was an awful lot
of football to be played and hard work to be done before he'd reach that
Sometimes, if ever the brothers would tire of beating each other, they
would combine forces and play backyard football against the only other family in
the area with enough brothers to give them a good game - the Walters family.
There were five Walters boys - Brett, Steve, Andrew, and the twins, Kevin
and Kerrod - and they played in a similar way to the Langers, which is to say
"Yes mate, it was hard football, very hard," Langer says.
"I certainly didn't take it easy on them."
So who would win these backyard inter-family Test matches?
"I better say the Langers, mate, because my brothers and me really did
give them a bit of a touch-up. Mostly we'd have to stop because Steve would
always run away crying."
If Langer learned a lot of his basic skills from such games, maybe too he
learnt something about on-field leadership.
"He was always the boss," recalls his mother, Rita, "and I can remember
him always yelling at his brothers all the time."
"Always trying to get us to play the game his way," adds brother Neville,
"and always belting me first because I was the next littlest to him in size."As
well as backyard football, there was also school football and club football, and
soon after that rep football.
A bloke couldn't live by football alone though, at least not at 15, and
his first job out of school was as a truckie's offsider with the Ipswich general
store, Waltons, at the salary of $120 a week.
"I used to have to carry furniture and that, dryers, washing machines, and
all that sort of stuff. Just moving it from one place to another," he says.
"I used to find it pretty hard sometimes."
True enough, says Trevor Wright, the truckie who it was Langer's job to
help. Still living in Ipswich, and still driving the truck, Wright recalls
Langer was willing to try to lift anything, no matter how big, and most often
"Mostly, you'd just see this washing machine moving along as if was
walking by itself," Wright says. "And you could see this mop of blond hair
showing up just over the rim. He was a pretty good offsider and mostly always
laughing, joking around, you know?"
There was one drawback though.
"He couldn't stop thinking about football. Always had his boots and his
football gear in the cab and if ever we were passing his footie ground in the
afternoon he'd just jump out. I'd yell out 'hang on, you can't go yet, it's not
5 o'clock |' and he'd yell back over his shoulder something like 'I'll work
through lunch tomorrow |' and that would be it."
During his time at Waltons, Langer began his relationship with the woman
who would become his wife, Janine.
"We went to the same primary school and high school," Langer says, "and
she never liked me at either. Then one day at Waltons, she just saw me lifting a
fridge or something, I don't know, and maybe it was my muscles, but that was
that and I took her out and we've been together since."
Langer joined the council as a worker on the road gang for $200 a week.
"It would get that hot in the summer out on the roads," he recounts, "that you
could hardly breathe it was so hot and gee, I used to get burnt.
"Always out on the road, always building the bloody roads, mixing the
concrete, making the kerbs, all that sort of stuff. It wasn't easy trying to
lift jack-hammers, and crowbars and all that.
"For my footie, I never did weights but gee I lifted a lot of that sort of
The hard physical labour wasn't the only hassle. As the youngest bloke on
the road crew, it was also Langer's job to boil the billy.
"I used to have to get it ready by exactly 9.30 and if it wasn't ready by
9.30, the blokes weren't happy, I can tell you they weren't happy. And I hated
it, specially when it was sometimes wet weather 'cos you couldn't get the
bastard lit, the wood wouldn't light and they'd still want their billy boiled at
9.30 on the dot ..."
But then, in mid-1987, something happened which would take him away from
Even though he was playing in only an Ipswich club side, he was picked in
the State of Origin side. Picked to play halfback inside "The King" Wally Lewis,
under coach Wayne Bennett, and against the cockroaches of the south.
Preceding his selection, there had been a heated debate in the Queensland
league community as to whether or not Langer was good enough to take over from
the injured Mark Murray.
The names of those against him were formidable. "Wally didn't want me,
Wayne didn't want me, a lot of the other players didn't want me," Langer says
But at least there was still one guy in his corner whose opinion counted
for a lot: his coach at Ipswich, the one and only Tommy Raudonikis.
"The one guy who really stood up for me and said I should be picked in the
side was Tommy. He told 'em all to go and get stuffed in Rugby League Week and
said that I was good enough. I really owe Tommy for that."
Not that his troubles were over. When he turned up at Brisbane's Roma
Street Travelodge to find he was rooming with Bobby Lindner, one of the
Queensland forwards most vocal against his selection, there were no apologies
Then, in one of the early team meetings, there was open discussion between
Bennett and Lewis as to how best to go about covering for Langer's presumed
"They were trying to see where they could hide me in the defensive line,
in the second line or out wide, and I just had to sit there," he says.
There was no Raudonikis on hand this time to speak for him and it would
have been inappropriate for Langer to make an outburst, but help was at hand.
Having listened to the discussion for as long as he could, Paul Vautin
stood up and interjected:
"Hey, he's a Queenslander | He won't let us down. He'll play were he
Which Langer did and acquitted himself well. The next year, as the
incumbent Origin halfback, he returned to Brisbane full-time to play with the
new-born Broncos and ... his big-time rugby league career was truly launched.
The years passed, the way they do in those 1950s movies when the pages on
the calendar turn over when a sudden gust of wind hits, and before Langer knew
it, it was March 1994.
He was doing well. He was captain of the Broncos, Australian halfback,
most popular person in Queensland, and rich. Between the money paid to him by
the Broncos and the money he earned in many endorsements, he was able to provide
a comfortable lifestyle for Janine and their two daughters.
And now, as always, there was another journalist who'd to talk to him.
This one from Sydney, one of hundreds who had made the trek.
The journo was talking about something he'd seen on the box the other
night where Langer had jinked left, then right, then ... right again going
through a gap the defence had not had time to even see, let alone try to close,
and he was in under the posts for another try.
In response to the obvious question, like HOW DOES HE DO THAT?, Langer
waxes a kind of matter-of-fact disinterest. "I don't know. It's off the bat. It
just happens," he says.
"You don't go out and score tries, according to some plan, it just comes
like that and you feel where you should go next."
Part of Bennett's grand plan is to have someone as capable as Langer out
on the field calling all the shots, and the coach himself has no hesitation in
naming Langer as "an absolutely fantastic captain, the best man I could hope to
have out there, to keep the players' minds on the job, to get them 'up'".
Not much of which happens in the dressing-room before the game. Langer's
account of what he usually says in the dressing-room is off-hand: "I'll say a
few things, that's all - you know, like, we've got a show a lot of commitment
today and everyone's got to go out there and show 100 per cent and it will make
everyone's job a lot easier."
It is out on the field when things occasionally go astray, that Langer's
captaincy comes to the fore. Though again, it is in his own fashion. When put on
the spot as to what he says to the players when standing behind the goal posts
after a runaway try has been scored against them in the first two minutes,
Langer is at something of a loss.
"I don't say much really ... what do you say when something like that has
happened? The players all know what's on, I don't need to tell 'em."
When it's a question of what he does, he is on much surer ground.
"I'll try and get the forwards geed up again right away ... make two or
three tackles in a row on their big blokes or something ... you know, something
like that usually gets 'em right back into it."
Does he ever think, in quiet moments, what might have been his fate if his
skill at football hadn't entirely transformed his life?
Yes he does, damn right he does. Thinks about it a hell of a lot in fact.
And what does he think he'd be doing?
"Mate, I think I'd probably still be on the council boiling that bloody
billy," he says.
"I'm just glad I had football on my side. I got a few lucky breaks and
it's moved me along. One day I want to put a lot back into it."