The honorary All Black
RECOGNITION often comes in strange ways. When Maurie Graham was in his prime as Gordon’s resolute fullback through the club’s golden era of the 1950s, nobody who played against him doubted that he was among the best in the game. Yet his representative selections were sparse. He made it to the NSW Country team as a very young man, and was selected for just one game for NSW in 1954, before joining Gordon. That was it . . . until the All Blacks came calling.
Maurie Graham died on December 10 after suffering a stroke. It was a great sadness for the Gordon community, who had known Maurie not just as a champion footballer in champion teams, but as somebody who loved the game and never lost contact with the club. He was a stayer, a kind and gentle man who made a great many friends in and around Gordon Rugby.
Among his prized possessions was an All Black jersey, given to him after he played for New Zealand in a match against Queensland at the Sydney Sports Ground in 1960. The All Blacks were en route to South Africa for a long tour, and wanted some warm-up matches in Australia to get their game oiled up. Two of the players in their 30-man squad were unavailable for a double–header at the Sports Ground in which they played Queensland first of all, and then NSW. They needed a winger and a fullback.
They invited Eddie Stapleton for the wing spot. Stapleton was a champion international of the time, and duly scored the first try of the All Black tour in a 32-3 win against Queensland. Maurie Graham was invited to play fullback. As a non-international whose only NSW selection had been six years previously, it was an enormous mark of respect. As recognition goes, it doesn’t get much better.
Maurie played well, which came as no surprise given the impact he had on the Sydney club scene as a safe and reliable custodian with an educated boot, and as a goal-kicker supreme. He joined Gordon in 1955 when the backline was studded with superstars. Don Logan at halfback, Arthur Summons at five-eighth, and Jim and Peter Phipps in the centres were, or later became, Wallabies. The side made the grand final in 1955, won premierships in 1956 and 1958, and would have won in 1957 too had not six players been stood down from the grand final to ensure their fitness for the 1957-58 Wallaby tour of the British Isles.
Those of us who saw Gordon play through those days marvelled more than once at Maurie’s ability to win games with brilliant goal-kicking, or though the command he could exert with long, raking touch-finders. But I didn’t fully appreciate the skill he had at his feet until the 1970s, when I was coach at Gordon and called on Maurie to occasionally conduct some kicking classes. He could almost make a ball talk, even then, 10 years into retirement.
He would nominate how the ball would curve, when it would dip, where it would cross the touchline, He talked of hand position and foot angle, of body weight and balance and all manner of commutations to make a ball do exactly what he wanted it to do. And they were heavy leather footballs in those days, too.
Maurie Graham also was a player who contributed long term, playing his last game in 1968 . . . in about third grade I think . . . 14 seasons after he started. His best was long past but he still had so much to contribute, not least in the lessons he could pass on to the younger men around him.
I remember refereeing a third grade game at Coogee Oval one day, when Maurie was at fullback, Don Logan was at flanker and Bob Dwyer was in the Randwick back row. It was an era when players were prepared to make long term commitments and play on, just for the fun of it, and for the help they could provide for the young blokes. That trio must have had about 800 club games between them.
Maurie Graham did his bit administratively for the game as well. He was secretary of the Sydney Rugby Union in the late 1970s. And his support for Gordon extended over more than 60 years. He was a member of the FOGs to the end.
Many champions have come and gone through Gordon’s ranks over the years, and many more will emerge as well. But some have a particular aura about them, reflected in their nature as well as their football. Maurie Graham was one such champion. Understated . . . imperturbable . . . courageous . . . unflappable. The sort of guy you just like to have at your side.
- 1955 – 64, 1966-68
- 140 1st Grade Games
- 200 plus Club Games
- 1953 – Australian Colts
- NSW Representative (no. 900)
- NSW Country Representative
- All Black (no. 609)
Rugby Administration Record
- 1976 – 80 Secretary – Sydney Rugby Union
- 1971 – 76 Foundation Secretary – NSW Schools Rugby Union
- 1971 – 76 Secretary Australian Schools Rugby Union
- 1974-75 Manager Australian Schools team