Heroes of Yesterday, Interview 26 - 22 March 2017 - Greg McCallum
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the Manly area in a place called Cromer. I played Junior league for the Forestville Ferrets.
What was your first football experience?
I was introduced to the game of Rugby League by a school mate and it developed into a passion. I couldn't imagine my life without Rugby League, even at that young age. Early on I played in the 6 and 7 positions however when I was older I moved to the lock position. I also played Rugby Union for the Dee Why Lions, we would play Union on the Saturday and League on the Sunday. I also played for Cromer in the School side.
As a child what was your most memorable experience of Rugby League ?
Clive Rogers was the School Football Coach and he was like a father figure to me. I lost my father when I was 13 years old. Clive refereed until he passed away at 78 years of age.
Did you collect footy cards as a kid ?
Yes I did, I didn't like the chewing gum too much, but I liked the cards. I was a Manly supporter as a kid and unfortunately I lost my card collection during the Great War, my divorce. I had a great collection of Scanlens cards from the late 196os through to the early 1970s. I used to swap them at the footy, I would swap other clubs for Manly players. I had them up until the early 1980s.
Who were your footballing heroes as a kid ?
The first player I really enjoyed watching was Bill Bradstreet, he played for Australia in 1966 and I started following football in 1967. Bob Fulton was a great player for Manyl and I also enjoyed watching Ian Martin, I believe he was underrated and should have played at representative level. I really respected Terry Randall, he was a great forward, he would dish it out and take it as well. I thought all of the English players that Manly brought out all contributed in their own way. Phil Lowe, Steve Norton were all very good, in particular Malcolm Reilly who was the key to Manly winning their first Grand Final in 1972.
What got you into refereeing?
My mentor Clive Rogers became a referee himself at 65 years of age and he talked me into it once he got ticketed.
Tell me about how you got into the Sydney competition?
I started refereeing in 1979 and Clive Rogers coached me through the early days. I came through the junior reps and refereed the Presidents Cup in 1981, the first game was St George v Parramatta at the Sports Ground. In 1982 I was graded and the Refereeing Director was Eric Cox and who was a hard man and I got along with him really well, he was another mentor of mine.
DO you remember your debut first grade game you refereed in 1983?
Yes I do, it was Wests v Cronulla at Lidcombe Oval in Round 18 and there was a crowd of 2,200. Terry Lamb was playing for Western Suburbs. I was really excited, I knew it was coming, they told me keep your nose clean in Reserve Grade and your day will come. The next game I refereed was Penrith v Newtown, I was getting all of the lower games. Getting a couple of games in 1983 certainly made me train harder in the off season, I knew if I trained hard I would get a start in 1984.
Did you come across some sides who would always try and push the envelope?
I did, Western Suburbs were a very tough team in that period. They had players like Bruce Gibbs, John DOnnelly and Bob Cooper and when they came up against sides such as Parramatta and Canterbury they played the game very physically. It was around that time when Bob Cooper was suspended for 18 months.
Do you remember some of the good stinks in the Sydney comp?
Absolutely. Once I became an established referee in Sydney the game had calmed down a bit in comparison to the 1970s. A game Phil Cooley refereed between Souths and Parramatta Peter Sterling head butted someone. Every week in the mid 1980s there was a brawl. I think the NRL over reacted when they brought out the no punching at all rule, if it does happen the officials should be able to handle it.
1988 Refereed the first game at the SFS?
It rained all game and it was a great place to referee
Your first international was the 1988 World Cup match between PNG v Great Britain, how was the atmosphere and how did you feel with the promotion?
I was excited because I hadn't done Origin and I was picked for the ARL. The match was played in Port Moresby and the thing I remember was all of the people in the trees and they hosed the crowd off the stadium roof. Graham Anui was the Chief of Police and was also a referee. In that match Ellery Hanley was the captain of Great Britain, Gary Schofield played and Shaun Edwards injured his knee during the game. The Kumuls played very hard football.
On the flight home I was sitting next to Shaun Edwards and I gave him a Playboy magazine and he couldn't accept it, said he was very religious which I didn't realise at the time.
Your first State of Origin in 1988?
When I returned back from PNG I was appointed Referee for the third Origin at the SCG. NSW had Des Hasler, Ben Elias and Wayne Pearce. Queensland were just too good, Sam Backo was unstoppable, Wally Lewis and Allan Langer were also very good. Mick Stone and Barry Gomersall were the previous referees and I got the appointment because it was a dead rubber, so they decided to try someone new. That was a very exciting period of my career, I think this is when I established myself as one of the top referees.
First Semi Final?
In 1984 four referees were selected for the finals campaign and I was selected along with Barry Barnes and Miclk Stone. My first Finals match was the Major Semi Final between Parramatta and Canterbury. There were players like Steve Mortimer, Ray Price, David Gillespie, Brett Kenny, Peter Sterling and Peter Kelly, it was a great game of footy. It sort of showed me how the big games ramped up, it was a real learning curve for me.
First Grand Final?
It was the 1992 Grand Final between Brisbane and St George. Bill Harrigan had refereed the previous three Grand Finals. Graham Annesley and I were refereeing the Semi Finals that year and I got the nod for the Grand Final. The feeling was fantastic, it was all new, I had heard from other people what it would be like. I had a great group of guys working with me on the day. We worked really hard to referee a good game, no one would have beaten the Broncos that day. Steve Renouf ran the entire field for a try with me running next to him. I refereed the next two Grand Finals, you kept the top billing unless you buggered it up. Mick Stone, Bill Harrigan and myself did three Grand Finals in a row.
The following year it was the same teams and I refereed all of the up until the Grand Final. St George were a better side in all three games and should of won the Grand Final in 1993. Jason Stevens ripped his thumb off and I think it affected the balance of the Dragons side. It happened in the first few minutes.
The big brawl in Origin Game 3 1993?
I refereed the first and third State of Origin Games from 1993 and NSW won the first two matches so the final one was a dead rubber. It was Game three and it was Bob Lindners last game and the Test team had been leaked. Martin Bella and Ben Elias were not going to be in the side. Martin Bella took on Paul Harragon and Benny Elias took on Steve Walters. I sent the four of them to the Sin Bin. When the players came back Steve Walters yelled out hurry up Benny I have a Test to play next week, it was a pretty tense sort of game.
No one should ever say that Origin doesn't matter.
What were your highlights of Refereeing First Grade football?
I always thought it was great to referee Test matches. I went to England four times and France twice and in 1993 I did the three Tests. All up I refereed 14 Test matches.
Who was your most respected rival?
The player I respected the most whilst at his peak was Steve Mortimer and also Peter Sterling. When you look at players who had overall impact on the field you couldn't go past Brett Kenny who was fantastic, he stayed on his game even when his team wasn't playing well. I also respected Wayne Pearce because he had to handle Ben Elias and Steve Roach.
The referee I respected the most would have to be Kevin Roberts, I modelled my own game on his style, he exerted his authority.
What was the best team you came across?
The Broncos team in 1992, nobody would have beaten them. The other side was the Canberra Raiders from 1994, Mal Meningas last game along with Laurie Daley and Bradley Clyde. Canterbury beat the Raiders in extra time in the Semi Final but Canberra destroyed them in the Grand Final. That Grand Final was my last match along with legend Mal Meninga who was a great leader and great player.
When did you know it was time to give the game away?
I was offered the position in England midway through the 1994 World Club Challenge between Wigan and Brisbane. Origin One had been played and I was nominated for game 2. Wally Lewis complainded after the WCC and I was removed from the Origin which was played in Melbourne. At that time I was felt it was ditched, how you could be the top referee, how things could change on one game. He didn't want me to referee the game because his players wouldn't play that well under me.
In 1993 I had done a report for the English Rugby League about their refereeing structure and made a comment to Maurice Lyndsay to help the referees over there in relation to development, which basically meant coaching them. In the end I was there for six years.
John Quayle said even though I was leaving at the end of the year and he said if I am still competitive I will be in the running for the Grand Final. I believe this was the best I had refereed because the pressure was off.
What followed after football?
Two weeks after the Grand Final I was off to England and that is where I stayed for six years. In the end I ended up as Director of Rugby for the RFL over there.
When I came back to Australia I was appointed chairman of the Match Review Committee of the NRL. It was tough, we had a number of memorable cases, for example the Danny Williams king hit on Mark O'Neill, John Hopoates flying elbow on Keith Galloway and Greg Birds knee that got him 10 weeks. I was in the position for ten years.
During the same time I was working at the NSW Leagues' Club as General Manager. Rejuvenated the bottom bar area and called it the Dally M bar and then we named the whole area Blues HQ, we had memorabilia on display.
How has the game changed since your refereeing days?
The game has closed itself down a lot, there is a lack of initiative in attacking play. Time clock and on drop outs and scrums, less inter change this resulted in a change to how the game is being played, more attacking play. Last years Semi Finals series were far better for it compared to last years. Canberra and Penrith were outstanding.
What are the changes you would like to see in regards to refereeing ?
I would like to see individual referees have a licence to develop their own styles and be less robotic. They are paralyzed in decision making. The bunker is struggling with interpretation, it should be the greatest tool in the game. The officials are making the rules ambiguous. It is a challenging time to be a referee in my view.
If the bunker is worked effectively then I would prefer to have one referee. If the bunker can be maximized to its full potential then you wouldn't need two referees.
I am in favour of the captains challenge, but it can go wrong very quickly as well. There is a big challenge to work out what is the best way for it to come together.
What’s your favourite restaurant?
Eastern City Chinese at Pennant Hills
What are your hobbies?
I am also a marriage celebrant which I thoroughly enjoy. http://www.gregmccallumcelebrant.com.au/
Did you keep a scrap book?
I did. It will be something. My wife is a scrapbooker and she will put it all together properly.