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
"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
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.