Heroes of Yesterday, Interview 24 - 15 Feb 2017 - Eric Ferguson
Where did you grow up?
NSW, I was born in Casino, we lived in a little place called Rappville just outside of Grafton and the nearest hospital was at Casino.
What was your childhood like ?
There was nine of us, I had four brothers and four sisters and I was the middle one. I copped the blame for everything and I was sort of the leader of the pack.
We were told not to go somewhere and naturally we would just go there. When we were living at Byron Bay we were told not to go to the lagoon because it was too far and the tide was pretty strong. We got caught out one time, my brother buried our clothes in the sand so they wouldn't get knocked off while we were swimming, the tide rose while we were swimming and we couldn't find the clothes anywhere, we were digging up holes up and down the beach looking for them. We had to walk home in our swimmers and when we were home out came the strap again and the old saying that this hurts me a lot more than it hurts you.
We were pretty tight brothers, there was another time we were told not to climb on the rocks near the water. We knew Mum loved the oysters there so we were out on the rocks gathering oysters when my brother slipped and the oysters cut up his hip and legs, he needed stitches. The walk back to home was solemn, we were more concerned about the strap than my brothers bleeding. It must have been a sight to see with us boys walking down the train line in our swimmers holding oysters crying and blaming each other.
Did you collect footy cards as a kid ?
No they weren't around then
What was your first football experience?
My first football experience was of Dad playing for the Mullumbimby side, blue and gold colours. Mullumbimby is located around 20km from Byron Bay and I used to go and watch him play, I was about 5-6 years old at the time. Even at that age I really wanted to play, I just liked the game. There was a youth club side but I was too young to play. When I finally got a run I used to just run across the tryline, I didn't realise you had to put the ball down. My older brother also played for the youth club.
It wasn't until we moved to Griffith when I was 9 years old roughly and weighing 4 Stone 7 that I finally got a run. Griffith bronchial asthma brother, needed dry climate. Griffith Police Boys club. then played Yenda.
Dad was working for the railway and was playing for the Grafton Ghosts. There was the odd one or two white blokes in the team, the rest were Koori players before I was born
When I was 11 years old onwards we watched the Grand Finals on ABC TV, they were the Canterbury and Souths years and I got hooked on the Bunnies. Bob McCarthy intercepted and scored under the posts which was impressing.
Who were your footballing heroes as a kid ?
My Dad was my football hero. He was offered to play for Easts in the Brisbane competition. He didn't take it because he met my mum.
Eric Simms was my other hero, I was kicking footballs all of the time. We would watch games all of the time, including AFL, I wanted to kick a ball like those guys. Eric Simms was my idol at the time but Reg Gasnier was unbelievable. I got to meet those guys when I came to Sydney and I ended up becoming good friends with Eric Simms. I still catch up with Eric at reunions today, that is the good thing about football, you make lifelong friends.
What got you to Sydney?
When I was going into Year 9 I started playing for the Yenda Under 18's side and I ended up captaining them in 1968. I got a bit wild there at one stage. My father was good mates with the Constable and he said this guy is starting to hang around the wrong crowd, I can get him a run at my old club in Newcastle. That was it, I got my bags packed and everyone was crying and I was on the train for Newcastle and I was still only 15 years old. When I stepped off the train they thought I was 18 years old and said you're small for an 18 year old, I said I was 15. They put me in the Under 17's Mayfield Waratahs side and we made it to the Semi Finals and were beaten there.
I was later picked in the Combined Newcastle Under 17's side and we played the North Sydney SG Ball side at North Sydney Oval. South African Roy Francis was the North Sydney coach and he spoke to my guardian about me, I ran a muck that day scoring a try and kicking 6 goals. They agreed I was a bit young still to come to Sydney to play so I went back to Newcastle.
On presentation night the coach and my guardian came up to me and said we have had an approach from the Eastern Suburbs junior league Paddington RSL side to see if I wanted to trial with them. They came up to Newcastle to play and I went to meet them. They said to me why don't I come down next season for a run with them. In the pre season I went down and had a trial with them, it was different to Newcastle, the junior teams were more professional, they had better training facilities. The weekend the side was in Newcastle I got to know many of the boys.
I played with the Paddington RSL side and was captain in the Jersey Flegg competition. I was boarding with a twins who played in the same side, surname the Croakes and we became really good mates. The boys invited me to stay there and I said you better ask your parents first.
The next step up from Jersey Flegg was the Presidents Cup with Eastern Suburbs. The next year I was lucky enough to be selected in the Presidents Cup squad and at the end of the season was invited to play in Third Grade.
My Third Grade captain was Bruce Stewart, he was a handy winger with the Roosters. It was unbelievable, you knew you were playing football then. The players in Third Grade were busting their arses to get into Second Grade and didn't want to be dropped, they had to play hard. George Taylforth was playing for the Sharks as the goal kicker in Third Grade in those days and I knew I had to pull my head in.
In Nine Stone Seven School Boys football side for NSW they picked double players from every position except for the fullback position on the tour to PNG. Russell Fairfax was chosen in front of me, we had a long competitive history. Then we get to the bloody Roosters and he keeps me out again. We are and were good mates, great camaraderie.
It was on for young and old in those days, you had to perform your very best week in and week out in the early 1970s
Your first time in the top grade?
We played Cronulla at Endevour Field, the coach at the time was Tony Paskins. On the day it was pouring rain and it was freezing. It was a quagmire. I had nerves in my guts and butterflies as big as kookaburras. They had a flagon out of port or something before the game to warm us up. As soon as it hit my guts my nerves were calmed, it settled me right down. Roger Millward was playing then as well. Arthur Beetson slipped me a pass and I only had to run 20 metres to score under the posts. I must have went alright, I ended up getting the Frank Hyde $200 gold watch. which I cherished and gave it Mum, my parents were so proud.
The players in the side included Arthur Beetson, Bill Mullins, John Brass and Peter Moscatt to name a few.
In those days we played for the love of the, I had to get up at 5 am to go to work, by the time training was finished and back at home it was around 9pm.
What was the culture like at the Roosters?
It was unbelievable. When Jack Gibson arrived he turned the place upside down, he got all the wives involved. He got the three grades together. Out of that he picked four different teams with a mixture of different grades to play against each other, really brought the club together. Through the years we had functions, we sung calendar girl, we had to dress in drag, then the women got up and they sung an Elvis song, stuff like that, we had different things during the year. BBQs to peoples places, it was a great atmosphere. Training like this had each group competing against each other with a mixture of all different grades in each team.
In 1974 I was the Reserve Grade player of the year.
Greatest memories of playing rugby league?
I cherished every game. When you're on that field to represent the club you are playing there is a lot of pride happening.
Jack Gibson picked his 10 most dangerous players in 1979 and he rated me the most dangerous goal kicker above Mick Cronin, that was a great feat.
Who was your most respected rival?
Everyone. If you had the ability to play first grade or any grade you were a pretty handy footballer. Anyone who ran on the field marking me I had a lot of respect for them.
Who was the best team you played against?
Parramatta during the late 1970s, they had a pretty handy side with players like Eric Grothe and Neville Glover on the wings and Phil Mann at fullback. In those days you didn't try and go for the three points, you had to watch the goal kickers and Parramatta had a pretty handy goal kicker in Mick Cronin.
When did you know it was time to give the game away?
I just lost interest in the game, Bill Anderson was my coach at the time in Reserve Grade.
What followed after football?
After I gave the game away I moved back to Griffith and I pulled on the boots for Yenda. My coach was Mick Fish who I played against in the Sydney competition, he played for Balmain. The next coach was Tony Trudgett was the next coach who played for St George. It was great to be back around my family again after so long in the Sydney competition. The smell of the air, it was clean air into my lungs, I took my first breath and wished I had 6 pairs of lungs.
What was it like having a career during football and ?
I preferred working when I was playing actually. When I was playing football I enjoyed being involved in charity events. I went to these events on several occasions and they were called the Black and White Charity and was held in Barcaldine, QLD and what it involved was three indigenous and three white players travelling there and playing a bit of football . The funny thing on one of these trips was when we flew back to Brisbane and there was an airline strike and we were stuck at smokin Joe Kilroys place along with my good mate Ray Blacklock for a week.
I also did a lot of work with the kids in Sydney Juvenile centres. Someone would call the club if someone could do a talk and I was always volunteer to do a presentation.
When I was playing for Souths I worked for the Aboriginal Children Services in Redfern after this I went to work for the Probation Parole, we had to work in those days, it was semi professional and we couldn't live off what we earnt from football. Football was classed as a second job and we taxed around 40% in the dollar. When I moved to the country I got out of that for a while and I worked for the Department of Water driving heavy machinery. I then joined the Police force as an Aboriginal Liason Officer and worked in this role for 12 years and then moved into the Juvenile Justice System as a Conference Convener which entails chatting to kids who commit a crime. We sit around in a circle and discuss what has happened, things like victim support groups and the offending support group, and I held the floor. The kids were generally pretty remorseful.
How has the game changed since your playing days?
Defence is bloody atrocious. Terry Randall and Bunny Reilly really hit hard, they would make you stay down. These days they are taught to wrestle.
Play the balls, they roll them between their legs. They have got to do something with the scrums and piss the bunker off ! The referee is getting paid some money along with the linesman, let them do their job and give them some balls. Just award the try already, don't worry about what happened so long ago.
Did you keep a scrap book?
My Mother In Law kept a scrap book and it was pinched. Someone wanted it more than me, I had videos of lots of games as well. We were broken into and they knocked it all off. I rang the coppers, and they were three parts pissed when they turned up, they came over and wanted my autograph. I said to them what about my videos, records and Wedding ring?
Doyles at Watsons Bay.