Heroes of Yesterday, Interview 20 - 16 December 2016 - Bill Annabel
Where did you grow up?
Mascot, South Sydney territory
What was your first football experience?
During School, I gave it a go, came off the field and thought I want to keep playing. Mascot High School
As a child what was your most memorable experience of Rugby League ?
Clive Churchill lived in the same street as me when I was a kid and he signed my first football.
Did you collect footy cards as a kid ?
Not that I recall
Who were your footballing heroes as a kid ?
Clive Churchill and basically I just loved the game. Mostly I went to Redfern, short bus trip. Everyone used to get excited and the atmosphere was terrific. As I became a bit older I went to the SCG, including test matches.
What was it like playing for Souths 1976-78?
A mate and I played Second Division and one day we went down to Moore Park and asked to train with the Rabbitohs side and George Piggins was there and they let us train. That weekend they were playing a trial game in Dubbo and John O'Neill pulled out due to injury and Johnny King who was the coach said I had been training well and asked if I wanted to play. I ended up playing in all of the trial games.
In Round One of the 1976 season I was in Reserve Grade and we won and the First Grade side lost. I was promoted to First Grade for the Second Round against Parramatta at Cumberland Oval. Terry Fahey was also brought into the Souths side around the same time.
What was it like playing for Souths 1976-78?
It was great, pretty hard team we had with the likes of George Piggins, John O'Neill, Paul Sait and so on. To me all of these guys were legends and then next thing I was out on the paddock with them. I made friends for life, even though now you don't see a lot of them.
George Piggins was a hard man, I remember him getting Sent Off and another time he ran through the whole pack of Western Suburbs to score a try.
The players back then were very genuine, I remember Reg Gasnier came in after a game and said to me, you might not know who I am, I am Reg Gasnier from Channel 2 News, very humble man.
What made you switch to Cronulla in 1979?
I didn't consider myself a yes man and you had to be a yes man to Jack Gibson. I won three Game Balls and couldn't get a game in the main team. I always spoke my mind. I did get some satisfaction when I ran out one year and bumped into him as a Shark and said to him we ended higher on the ladder.
I was probably never meant to play football because I had curvature of the spine.
How was the Cronulla culture different to the Rabbitohs?
There wasn't much difference in culture, Norm Provan was the coach at Cronulla. Norm Provan played in ten Grand Finals, you can't get much more experience than that and the assistant coach was Billy Smith.
I got to play with Steve Rogers, he came to my wedding and he was a phenomenal footballer, probably the best back I have ever seen. You missed a lot of the action on TV, the thing with Steve Rogers was he seemed to be everywhere. I was lucky enough to see him socially, we used to go out for Chinese and it was never too much trouble for him to sign autographs for fans or take a photo, fantastic bloke, not a big head at all.
Do you remember your first game in first grade, and what were the highlights and lowlights?
We got beat, I came up against Graham Olling and Dennis Fitzgerald. Just getting into the top grade is something I didn't think I would ever achieve. The atmosphere of playing first grade took over and you just want to get stuck in. I managed to stay in the First Grade for the rest of the year.
Do you remember your selection for the Tour of New Zealand?
Adter the last game of the year I was having a beer with Chicka Cowie, Australian Selector at the time and he said to me, "Go easy on the beer mate, you're on the Tour to New Zealand" I played and John 'Dallas' Donnelly was the other Prop and Steve Edge was the Hooker. Tommy Raudsonikis was the Captain.
It was a great experience, on the tour we won most of the games. It was the first time I met the Sorenson brothers. It was pretty tough football and the weather was bad, there were puddles of mud everywhere, I enjoyed playing in that sort of field. I got to meet a lot of great players, playing in places like Waikato for example.
Noel Kelly was a great coach and a great person.
Graven Mild and AMCO Cup Competitions?
Souths won the Pre-Season Graven Mild Cup in 1978, and this was the only Trophy at club level I won.
The following season the Cronulla Sharks got the Final in the AMCO Cup but I didn't play because I was under suspension because of an incident against my former club Souths four weeks earlier.
What other memories come to mind during your playing career?
I remember another rough game about five of us got Sent Off and Dallas just left the field and spat on the camera man.
In 1976 Paul Hayward played in his last match before getting into strife, he was a very tough player, similar to Tom Raudonikis.
In my fourth game I dislocated my shoulder, I strapped it and swam and played the following week. I had two broken jaws and didn't miss a game. They packed it in plastic and made a permanent mouth guard.
Paul Sait got picked for Australia from Reserve Grade, Gary Stevens was a worker, tackled non-stop but didn't as much recognition.
I played at the start of one year for 4-5 games without a contract, I didn't chase them, they approached me with some money. At the time I had a good boss who liked South Sydney while I was truck driving and he gave me time of to play. I was a butcher by trade. I remember early on seeing the superstars didn't like training as well, making them more human to me.
What was your highlight of playing First Grade football?
Getting picked on the 1976 Tour of New Zealand would have to be my personal highlight, playing for my country.
You just try and help your mates out on the field, be an honest footballer. I just think I had a good game and the selectors happened to be there.
who was your most respected rival?
I wouldn't like to come up against John O'Neill, Craig Young or Arthur Beetson for ability. If you come up against Steve Kneen you were up for a rough afternoon I'll tell you that. We used to fight like cat and dog. However when I joined Cronulla he was the first bloke to come over and shake my hand and said we'll fight them together.
Those days were different, I was told to turn up to training and Norm Provan will have your contract in the car.
What was the best team you played against?
Easts were still very hard to play against in those days. Western Suburbs you knew you would need your boxing gloves on every game. It was hard in a good way. I remember we got beat against Wests, George Piggins scored a try and the kids were already all over the field.
When did you know it was time to give the game away?
I had a existing problem with curvature of the spine, I was having a lot of trouble with the back and I knew I had the rest of my life to get through.
What followed after football?
I was driving a truck for a while. I did a bit of coaching in the Country and worked in the mines.
I was coaching Lithgow Group 10 and we made one Grand Final and were beaten, Bob O'Reilly was out there at one stage.
How has the game changed since your playing days?
It is a lot faster now. I remember having a beer with Arthur Beetson and he said they have taken the stamina out of the game.
In my days you would be working your bum off for 70 minutes and the fighting released the tension. George Piggins was extremely tough and we as a team would help each other out in tight situations. You respect your opposition, respect and being scared are two different things. I remember a rubber telling me in the early days that they all hurt and they all bleed, they are all the same as you. It was a permanent learning curve, each game I learnt something.
The way players lay now days, I hate it, I had cracked ribs and limped off the field, I didn't want to show the opposition they hurt me.
Today, win, lose or draw they all get the same money.
What’s your favourite restaurant?
Seagulls have a fantastic all you can eat upstairs.
What are your hobbies?
Music, especially Frank Sinatra. I have a large collection of 1,100 Vinyl LPs and 1,200 CDs.
I have an 11 year old Monaro which is good to spend a bit of time on. I am happily married. I enjoy watching the footy and going to the odd reunion. Last year I went to the Second Division reunion. The hardest part about these reunions is you hear about someone has died. In your own mind you remember them as still being fit and young like they were on the footy field.
Have you collected your own footy cards ?
I have a couple there mate
Did you keep a scrap book?
I got a write up the I put in my scrap book because there was a photo of me getting pole driven by a Newtown player. All I could think about was keeping hold of the ball, don't let your mates down by dropping it.
My mum and sister did keep a scrapbook, the trouble is that oever the years it gets discoloured. In those days if you made the Team of the Week you would get a carton of KB
I won the Courage Award of the week and the prize for that was a night on the rotating restaurant at Centre Point Tower. To win this award we were playing Easts and Herbie Timms came off injured and we had no more replacements and I had to stay on with a dislocated shoulder and tackled with my good left shoulder. Courage Beer gave out the award.
I still have my Souths, Cronulla and Touring Australia jumpers as well as my Combined Second Division jumper. In the 1975 Combined side we played against the Sydney Under 23s side which had some big names like Don McKinnon, Rex Williams, Greg Cox and Ken Stewart, we beat them 33-3