Heroes of Yesterday, Interview 29 - 01 June 2017 - Les Hayes
Where did you grow up?
What was your first football experience?
I went to the old Sydney Sports Ground when I was a kid to watch Easts play, I think it was either 1947 or 1948. I think they played Newtown and they won.
As a child what was your most memorable experience of Rugby League ?
My grandfather knew some of the players from the original Easts team from 1908. I did get to meet Dally Messenger and Jersey Flegg who lived not far from where I grew up in Paddington. It wasn’t until I was older and realised how important these guys were to Easts football club and to Rugby League as a whole.
Did you collect footy cards as a kid ?
Who were your footballing heroes as a kid ?
Wally O’Connell, Ferris Ashton and Col Donahue.
What was it like playing for Easts between 1966 and 1971?
It was tough at times, especially in 1966 when we didn’t win a game all season. Jack Gibson came on board and turned everything around and we ended up making the Semi Finals the following season in 1967. I might add this turnaround was with the same group of players. We got a roll on and went on from there.
What were you doing between 1972 and 1974?
I had a few irons in the fire at that stage. I had a brewery truck and delivered beer to all of the pubs and restaurants around Sydney. I also owned a Fruit and Vegetable shop in Spring Street, Bondi Juntion which was just across the road for the Easts Leagues Club. I have been told it is a Sushi Train now.
What was it like being in the Roosters side of 1975, had it changed much from your first stint?
1975 was my last year at the Roosters and we were a very professional and well drilled team. We had a lot of high profile players as well. We practiced the basics such as passing, tackling and playing the ball until you could do it with your eyes closed. We had a good trainer in Mick Souter who would work on the fitness with us.
What was the culture like at Roosters ?
The culture was great, we were all mates off the field as well. Most of us played juniors together or against each other in the local comp with Bondi United, the Paddington Colts, London Tavern and Millers Double Bay sides. We also had a couple of Rugby Union converts in Alan Cardy and John Ballesty making it a great place to be.
Do you remember your first game in first grade, and what were the highlights and lowlights?
It was against Balmain at Leichhardt Oval. We won.
What was your highlight of playing First Grade football?
It is definitely playing for the Roosters, I could never ever play for another team.
Who was your most respected rival?
George Piggins, he was a tough bloke and fair. Off the field as well, he is a champion bloke.
What was the best team you played against?
The mighty St George team that won 11 straight Grand Finals was virtually an Australian side. I played against them in 1964 and 1965.
When did you know it was time to give the game away?
It was around the beginning of the 1975 season, every game began to feel like a comeback.
What followed after football?
I sold the Fruit and Vegetables shop around 1977 or 1978 and sold the brewery truck around the same time. It was around this time that the larger companies began to get into alcohol distribution. I also studied law part time whilst working in the oil industry at Golden Fleece, which became Caltex. I worked my way up the ladder there until I retired.
How has the game changed since your playing days?
For starters it is much cleaner and professional now; I guess you could say it is made for TV. I don’t think some of the blokes playing today would have cut it back then, they would have spent their weekends at St Vincents hospital counting sheep!
The referees now days think they are bigger than Ben Hur. They are not that big and never will be. Back when I played most of the refs played the game at one point and knew the ‘unwritten law’. Blokes like Kevin Roberts and Col Pearce knew how to ref a game. If there was a high shot and the inevitable get square came along, they’d call out “You’re both even” and that would be it.
One club men like Anthony Minichello, Mitch Aubusson and Mitchell Pearce are few and far between these days.
What are your hobbies?
Relaxing at home and spending time with the family.
What’s your favourite restaurant?
Giovannas at Kingsford