Heroes of Yesterday, Interview 18 - 06 October 2016 - Chris Close
Where did you grow up?
South East QLD and then Rockhampton, my father was a policeman, so we moved around a bit.
What was your first football experience?
Living in Harvey Bay, my brother was older and training with the football side after school, I was 6 years old at the time. I wagged the bus, snuck down to the footy oval where my brother was playing and hid behind the bushes and watched them train for about 5 minutes, tackling, running the ball, I loved it. I couldn't sit there any longer, I flew out behind a tree and tackled a grade 7 boy. My brother chased me but couldn't catch me. My old man was waiting for me and when I got home he kicked my arse.
As a child what was your most memorable experience of Rugby League ?
As a kid a few of us made the rep scene whilst at Primary school at a carnival at Gympie. 4 of us got picked for Wide Bay and went to camp, we stayed at a pub. We went to the pictures, played the game, was the only one from Proston (Proston had a population of 500).
Did you collect footy cards as a kid ?
I grew up pre footy card days. Rugby League Week was my bible, I used to be waiting for Dad to bring it home each week, I liked to read the players ratings. The Sydney games were on at 11pm on Tuesday and I would stay up to watch it. I was interested in the Sydney competition when I was a kid.
I went to watch the English touring side play at Wondai and I was lucky to get Tommy Bishops jersey, my Mum conned it out of him. I used to play backyard footy in that jersey everyday for years with the McDowell brothers who lived three doors down.
Who were your footballing heroes as a kid ?
Bob Fulton, he was an amazing player, also liked Graham Eadie, he was a powerfully built fullback at 5ft 10 14 1/2 stone. The Rabbitohs were my first team to support then manly. The Rabbitohs players, I liked were Paul Sait, Gary Stevens, Dennis Pittard, Ron Coote and Bob McCarthy. As kids we got to watch the replay of the big games.
Do you remember your first game in first grade, and what were the highlights and lowlights?
I was playing for Beaudesert Under 19's team when I was 16, in the Gold Coast competition. I made the Gold Coast representative side when I was 17. At the age of 15 I bought a set of weights, I didn't know what to do exactly but started anyway and I put on 11-12kg in a short period of time and that helped me get into first grade.
Dad went to Cunnamulla and bought a hotel and I was working in the pub. At the time I was signed for Beaudesert and I had signed a contract with Ronny Willis for $1,000 in 1978. Cullamurra asked me to play for them and asked what I was earning and I said $1,500, they then counter offered me with $2,000 and they already had the contract there ready to go, so I signed. I had to ask them, why would you sign someone you haven't seen play, Bobby Banks was their only other player who was an International, who was 30 years prior to me. We asked your mother they said, she said he is a pretty good player. That year I scored 58 tries and we won the comp.
My first game playing for Valleys, Gerry Fitzpatrick passed me the ball in the backline.
Gerry Fitzpatrick gave me the ball in the backline. Steve Stacey was built like a brick shit house and he hit me hard I was concussed from the impact. I actually scored a try which I can't remember, however I must have been playing poorly because Gerry said "get him off the field, he has asked me what the score was 100 times". I woke up at 11 pm at night in a Marta hospital bed. The nurse said "if you ask me the score again I will knock you out again. When I was in the ambulance on the way to the hospital apparently I was saying, c'mon, let's all hop in for a ride. I had my parents in law and about five mates from Beaudesert.
That year I went to watch the first Interstate match at Lang Park with Billy Johnstone and my mate Tuite, who had one wooden leg. We got on the piss pretty heavy before the match and to get into the ground we climbed the 12 foot brick wall behind the score board. We scaled the wall only to be confronted by a big copper and he noticed Tuite hobbling and he asked what is wrong with his leg, It is wooden I replied. The cop said you blokes deserve to stay in the crowd then. Tuite was running down the hill and then we heard a big yell as he fell and his wooden leg came free a flew in the air.
After six weeks there was an intersate game and I didn't make, WQLD got belted by NSW at Lang Park and then bugger me dead the very next game they dropped Mal Mneninga and partnered me with a bloke by the name of Mark Payne.
I played in the 1979 Grand Final with Wally Lewis. We beat Souths 26-0 against Mal Meninga.
Experiences playing for Redcliffe?
The greatest experience was having Arthur Beetson at the club. In 1980 at Redcliffe we had Frank Stanton as coach. in 1981 Arthur Beetson was Captain Coach, what a character he was, I learnt a lot from Arthur.
What was it like when you joined Manly? Main differences between Brisbane and Sydney comp?
Bit disappointing for me, I was suspended for the last game when playing for Redcliffe, and we went down in the last 30 seconds of the Grand Final. The suspension carried over to my new club Manly, so I was disappointed.
Do you remember your debut for Manly
It was against Wests, I scored two tries at Lidcombe oval. About the fifth match we went to play the Raiders and I was carried off in that one as well. I tackled someone and Bruce Walker swung around and his legs hit my leg and tore my medial ligament, I was out for 15 weeks. The speed of the game was the difference, advanced in training, we trained more than in the Brisbane competition. Once you got used to that there no different
You only ever played for QLD, what was the feeling like when the Sydney based Queenslanders played in Origin?
We didn't know what to expect, there was an air of expectation from Arthur who galvanized it from the beginning. We were really focused on the job and felt obliged to give them a hiding. NSW weren't prepared for what we did, their forward pack was as strong on paper as ours. We exploded, Wally and Mal unleashed on them.
Your debut for Australia?
I got sent off against the New Zealand Maoris, there was a war hut before the game for 1 week. We played at Hastings in front of a large Maori crowd, dressing shed was a house at the end of the field. Frank Stanton was the coach, he told us whatever you do, don't retaliate and don't start any blues. I scored a try in the first half. We were getting beaten at half time, there were head high tackles, stiff arms and late tackles, Henry Periciful was the referee. In the second half, Tom Raudonikis was inside me and ran the ball up from a scrum and one bloke tackled him, the next hit him in the head and another belted him, so I ran and hit the first bloke and he went down and the second went down then I hit the third guy, then I hit John Lang. Kevin Tamati was running at me, I jumped Clayton Friend and hit him between the eyes and knocked him out. I was Sent Off and I gave the finger to the crowd because they were giving it to me. When I was on the sidelines I looked back and the fight was on again so I ran back on with the trainer Alf Richards hanging onto my jersey trying to pull me back, and I was into it again. The ref sent me off a second time (What the F!#$ hell you doing, I have already sent you off once, get off once) 1980. The game ended up in a draw. Frank Stanton walked in the sheds where I was waiting, he was the second last person to walk in. His Cranky Franky, his face turned into a smile. Tamati was in hospital for 4 days after that.
The last game we played was against Auckland. they had a send off at the Auckland leagues club. Aussie and Kiwis were sitting together and next to me was Kevin Tamati. He said fuck you can hit hard. we shook hands and we had a beer.
What was your highlight of playing First Grade football?
First origin win.
The first time I was named in the Australian side. You never, ever think you will make it that far. I Don't know how that transition happened from playing barefoot in the bindis transferred into playing for my country. All of the miles mum and dad drove to take me to the footy finally paid off. I was handed down a pair of running spikes, I used to run around the house to get more speed. All of my friends went on a road trip to WA to go surfing, I remember my Dad said think to think of this, you don't want to be sitting in a pub in five years time watching the footy and thinking that could be me. I then felt maybe I am a chance. It was only two years later I made the QLD side and then a year after that I made I made the Australian side. My father never said much in those areas, so when he said something I listened.
How was the culture when you joined the Gold Coast Seagulls in 1988?
We were surrounded by legends such as Bob McCarthy as coach, Billy Johnstone was captain, Ken Irvine as sprint coach, Larry Corowa, Sprint coach, Elwyn Walters football manager, two directors were Peter Gallagaher, John Sattler and Bob Hagan, and Graeme Langlands as a backs coach. It was an exciting time. Our first win was against the Broncos. I won man of the match in that game. Geoff Bagnall and Ron Gibbs had great games.
You had many years in the QLD camp as manager?
It was a great privilege, I was never treated with any disrespect. I Enjoyed my time there as well and survived about 6 coaches by the time I gave it away.
Who was your most respected rival?
Mick Cronin, he was enormously strong, resilient and a good goal kicker
What was the best team you played against?
Parramatta during 1982 and 1983. I could have been part of it, Jack Gibson said. He tried to get me to Parramatta, the only reason I didn't is because Ken Arthurson came on the scene. We spoke to the secretaries of the clubs like Dennis Fitzgerald. The first thing he said is he will help me buy a house a house by the beach and he never had to ask anyone else for approval on his promises. He met every one of them.
When did you know it was time to give the game away?
At the Gold Coast I was doing all the work and other players were coming there for big money and not performing, I wasn't being offered similar of money.
What followed after football?
I went back to the bush. I was going to coach under 23's at the Gold Coast but the contract was being mucked around. I did one year captain coach at Brothers. I coached at Tieri, a mining town with a drug problem and it needed leadership and that's what I did. I captain / coached there and they won the premiership the following. I got kicked in the head in the Grand Final and had to leave the field the year before they won the comp. I was all starry eyed. I had to get it stitched and I was off the field for 25 minutes and in that time the opposition scored 18 points and ended up winning the match by two points.
How has the game changed since your playing days?
The rules have changed dramatically, players are protected. You couldn't run the way they run now when I played, they would take your head off! I don't like two referees on the field, they compete with each other. The element of surprise is gone.
What’s your favourite restaurant?
We are blessed mate these days as far as choices are concerned. Thai restaurant in Darwin called Heddermen is my favourite, it's amazing
What are your hobbies?
Looking after my grandson, Tyler. He's having his first year of football at the moment
Have you collected your own footy cards ?
My wife was a mad collector of news articles, she collected a fair bit of memorabilia over the years.