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The Sydney Morning Herald


Date: 09/08/1992
Words: 938
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Sport
Page: 39
It took Sydney until yesterday to forgive and accept Wally Lewis, Gold Coast's aging captain-coach and former destroyer of NSW teams for Queensland and the Brisbane Broncos.

Well, not all of Sydney, just the embarrassingly small crowd of 4,800 which went to Caltex Field to see Lewis play his last game in this city.

To be precise, it wasn't everyone at Caltex Field either. At the end of his team's uninspiring 14-12 loss to Cronulla, the King turned to face the eastern side of the ground and waved regally as a farewell gesture.

But most people in the outer areas and the Peter Burns Stand were looking elsewhere, stampeding towards the exits in the freezing wind, too cold and shamefully uninterested to stay for a couple of seconds and pay tribute to one of the greatest players of modern times.

As if nothing surprised him, the King turned towards the new Endeavour Stand, closer to him on the western side of the ground. This was full of footballers' families and fans who had purchased more expensive tickets.

These were obviously the true aficionados, and they forgot petty interstate rivalries and gave Lewis a standing ovation.

This prompted an incredulous Gold Coast fan to mimic the locals: "All's forgiven, Wally."

"How many years did they bag him? The hypocrites," he said.

Even Cronulla's coach, Arthur Beetson, could not help referring to Sydney's previous treatment of Lewis.

"I suppose this instance has been one of the very few times he's ever been cheered off the field in NSW, and the sad part about it was that even when he played for Australia people sort of didn't appreciate his qualities. It's a sad reflection," Beetson said.

Beetson had no doubt about who was the best footballer of his time: "Lewis is the greatest player at representative level I've seen - and I've seen some great players, I was there when Gas (Reg Gasnier) and Chook (Johnny Raper)were at the end of their careers.

"Lewis can do things other players only dream about."

Beetson's kind words put the Sydney reporters-long seen by Lewis as antagonists-into the mood for a bit of sentimentality, and they went to farewell the King next door armed only with good wishes.

And for a while, the audience with Lewis was suitably sweet. "It was nice to get a cheer, it's been a hell of a long time since I've got one down here, so it was nice to get one and I thank them very much for their generosity,"the King said.

But it wasn't long before he found something that annoyed him. He was asked whether Gold Coast had been approached by the Lang Park Trust to play some games next year at Lang Park, the ground abandoned next season by the Brisbane Broncos, who will play all their home games at the Queen Elizabeth II stadium

"I've heard that, sounds like a journo was a bit short for a story as usual," Lewis replied. "Some of the stories I've heard, the thing that annoys me is they say: 'Have you heard the rumour about such and such?'

"I say: 'Who told you that story?' and they say: 'Ah well, aah, I don't know, I just heard it'.

"So in other words, no-one told them, they're just making it up."

Gold Coast's football manager, Greg Bandiera, later confirmed that the Lang Park Trust and the Queensland Rugby League had approached the Gold Coast football club's board of directors about staging some Seagulls matches at Lang Park next year.

Bandiera said it was now up to the Seagulls board to act on the offer.

Lewis was then asked whether stories that the Gold Coast management had discussed whether to reappoint him as coach next year, despite his having two more years of his contract to run, were also media inventions.

"That rumour started four months ago, obviously someone was short of a story," Lewis said.

"The guy who wrote the story said: 'Is it true?', and I said: 'No', and he said: 'Would you mind if I ran the story?'"

Lewis's future with the club may not have been discussed by Gold Coast management, but it's no secret that his club believes Lewis - who now appears to have captain-coached the Seagulls to the wooden-spoon - will be more successful next year as non-playing coach.

Out of Lewis's earshot, Bandiera said: "The captain-coach thing should never have happened."

CRONULLA 14 (G Coleman, J McKelleher tries; M Healey 3 goals) beat GOLD COAST 12 (W Bartrim S Jackson tries; Bartrim 2 goals). At Caltex Field. Ref: Tim Mander. Crowd 4,800.

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