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Gary Howell played for Parramatta from 1981 to 1983 before moving to Penrith in 1984 and stayed a Panther until 1987

 

Where did you grow up?

I was born in the country in Bourke.  I moved to Mascot in Sydney and first started playing footy around Mascot. 

How was your childhood?

I had two brothers who played a little bit of footy at Ashcroft but never followed on. 

What was your first football experience?

My grandfather loved his football, we often came to Sydney and watch Saints and Souths play.  He liked both teams, I don't know why? they hated each other. 

As a child, what was your most memorable experience of Rugby League?

Going to watch St George play at the Cricket Ground with my Pop.  I was very close to him, his name is Charles Howell. 

Did you collect Footy Cards as a kid?

I had a few footy cards but wasn't a big collector. 

Who were your football heroes as a kid?

My all time favourite would have to be Terry Randall.

I also liked blokes like John Sattler, Bob McCarthy, George Piggins.  Another guy who really comes to mind is Teddy Goodwin, just how dynamic he was for that era. 

Tell us about your junior football?

Junior footy I was lucky enough to play with Ashchroft High, we won University Shields, through school we won every knockout competition from Year 7 to Year 12.  We had a great guy who was leading us called Pete Clarke. 

We also won a Commonwealth Bank Cup and we were playing against players like Peter Sterling, John Muggleton.

When I was playing in the Schoolboys comp I had a chat with Dennis Tutty and he brought me over to play for Balmain.  It was the old days of the Import rule and I played for Balmain in the Graven Mild Cup.  The way the import rule was set up meant that I had to go back play schoolboys. 

Parramatta then offered me to play Presidents Cup and then straight into Grade, so I took that because I was already a junior. 

Tell us about your match for Balmain in the Craven Mild Cup?

I am pretty sure it was the Final back in 1981 and I actually came up against Terry Randall, they also had John Gray.  I walked off the field as though I had been in a car accident.  Before the game I didn't want to go out there.  Once I was out there it was good.  We had Neil Whittaker, David Grant, Percy Knight, it was a great team at Balmain.  

I was lucky to play because Dennis Tutty was told not to play me because of my age.  He played me anyway.  I was still quite young.  He was a great coach, looked after me and he knew I was travelling all the way out to Leichardt for training. 

What got you back to Parramatta?

The import rule.  Parramatta then offered me to play the rest of the year in Presidents Cup and then straight into Grade the following year, so I took that because I was already a junior. 

Do you remember your First Grade debut at Parramatta?

We were playing under Jack Gibson, you had to make sure you did your best.  I remember the Semi Final in 1981, that was against Easts at the SCG.  It was awesome to walk out and see the amount of people there.  I had experienced local grounds, but to actually be in the sheds at the SCG, that is something I thought I would never do.   

How did it feel to play with that Parramatta side of the early 1980's?

A lot of the guys were from the western area where we all lived, I knew a lot of them like the Gerard's, Eric Grothe, Steve Ella, Paul Taylor, we all lived in the same area, Mount Pritchard, Ashcroft.  There was also a real family atmosphere at the club that Jack made. 

It didn't matter if you were First, Second or Third Grade, we all trained together.  He split us up into groups at the start of the year and you trained in those groups which was a mixture of all grades.  We had Ray Price, Peter Sterling, Brett Kenny were in my group.  You could have been a brand new player of the club and playing alongside guys of that stature.  The way Gibbo did it was great, he was an awesome person to actually know. 

Who did you knock around with at Parramatta?

Paul Taylor, which I don't know was a good or a bad thing, I will leave it at that.  We shared a house together.  Eric Grothe, Neil Hunt, Steve Ella were all mates. 

What got you to Penrith in 1984?

When John Monie was getting ready to take over they started looking at contracts and Jack Gibson is the guy who actually took me up to meet Timmy Sheens.  Jack knew I wasn't happy at Parramatta with what I was offered and knew I was going to leave either way and he rang me up and said go up and meet Timmy Sheens.  It was probably one of the best moves I ever made. 

How was the culture at Penrith after leaving Parramatta?

I don't think it matters what team you play with.  I went to Penrith and there were guys I knew like Eddie Flahey, they sort of welcomed me with open arms, guys I didn't know, got to know them real quick. 

I think so long as the right attitude and leadership is there then it makes it easier for new people to fit in.  I never felt like I wasn't wanted or taking someone's position. 

Tell us about 1985 and being involved with the first Penrith side to make the Semi Finals?

We played the Sunday and then we had to play Manly on the Wednesday in a Play Off for 5th position which we won which went for 100 minutes.  Then we had to back up on Saturday against Parramatta. 

We needed to beat the Sharks on the Sunday to get a chance in the Play Off for 5th.  Against Manly, after 80 minutes it was still deadlocked.  In those days it wasn't golden point, it was ten minutes each way.  We ended up getting a try in the second lot of ten minutes and ended up getting through. 

We had Brandy (Greg Alexander), Geoff Gerard, Ken Wolffe, Craig Connor, Matt Goodwin.  It was the first Semi Final and there was a buzz around the club, but to play with guys like Royce Simmons and Greg Alexander was amazing.  Brandy is a genius, you can see it with his commentary. 

How was playing for Penrith from 1984 to 1987?

    

Late in the piece I injured my knee and never really got back from the knee surgery, that is when Ron Wiley was coaching there.  I still have a lot of mates and people I like to catch up with, the reunions are sensational.  Good friends that I have for life. 

What made you move to Leigh?

A friend of mine, Mick Davies who was playing for Penrith at the time was over there.  I had no intentions to go.  I received a phone call on a Wednesday night at the end of the year and it was Mick who asked me "What are you doing?"  I said nothing.  He said " Come and play in England, I will send you the flight tickets and all that" and I turned around and said to my wife I am going to England. 

What was it like playing for Leigh?

In those days it was different environment totally.  The supporters were great and the fields were so condensed.  I'd hate to be a winger, because if you were pushed out, you were into the fence.  You become part of the town, they all know you, all want to talk to you, it was such a friendly and inviting place. 

I just did the one year because when I got back from England is when I injured my knee. 

What are your highlights of playing Rugby League?

Probably the Penrith days with the players I played with.  At Parramatta I played with absolute legends and a lot of them are still good friends, but at Penrith with the family atmosphere and the people I have met. 

Also to play with some of the most naturally gifted players was a buzz, like Royce Simmons, Greg Alexander at Penrith and Brett Kenny and Peter Sterling at Parramatta.  They are legends of the game and I don't think you can go back and watch old games and not mention how brilliant they were.

Who was your most respected player?

Funny this, there are a couple but there is one guy that sticks out and he probably doesn't get the justice he deserves, but every time I played against David Grant it was hard.  I don't know why, but he always busted me in half.  He was a huge man.

Also the whole South's forward pack.  In those days when you had Sirro and Blocker playing for Balmain, you couldn't say there was an easy match, every team had the hard men, and there were guys you knew to stay away from. 

Which was the best team you played against?

Parramatta was the best.  Canterbury were always a hard team, you had to make sure you were on your game or you would just get swamped and at poor old Penrith, we did a few times. 

When did you know it was time to give the game away?

When I couldn't get up on Monday mornings.  My knee, it was just swelling and I was getting it drained.  I did the knee against Norths. 

The scar on your head, how did that come about?

My recollection was it happened at the Sydney Sports Ground and I got spun in a tackle by Royce Ayliffe and copped a knee in the head by Terry Reagan.  It was nothing intentional but it left a 4 inch scar and had about 60 odd stitches.  It opened up the artery, when they took me to hospital it looked like I had gone through a car window. 

What followed after football?

I worked for Philip Morris for 24 odd years here in Australia and New Zealand.  After that I started my own business and now I am semi retired. 

I have a family and a couple of grand kids and I am enjoying life. 

I love my golf, beer and good mates, like catching up with mates at BBQ's.

I love going to reunions, it is a good laugh, it is a real good relaxing time, to catch up with guys who you know through playing sport is different than just normal friends. 

A special mention to Nisso.  Nisso is the social director and you wouldn't meet a greater person.

How has the game changed since your playing days?

I still like watching the games but some aspects piss me off.  Scrums piss me off because it is not a contest.  Union still has a contest in the scrums. 

I think interchange is a problem and I think they are looking at that already.  The little guys like Mark Shulman and Geoff Toovey, they were great footballers and they could pick their time in the game to do something special.  Even Steve 'Slippery' Morris. They were not big boys but geez they made an impact on the game.  Big blokes get tired if they have to run around all day.  It is just how the game has evolved, whether it right or wrong, the fans will make the decision about that.  It isn't touch footy and it isn't the NFL where the players are huge. 

Did you keep a scrap book?

I didn't collect my own footy cards and if it hadn't had been for my dear Mum before she passed, we didn't even know she had all this stuff.  She had a massive suit case filled with memorabilia.  If it wasn't for her, all I would have is a few footy photos with the teams. 

What’s your favourite restaurant?

Have a look at me, think I have a few.  I like seafood, lebanese, Asian, Indian.  Anything with a bit of taste and spice.  I am willing to try anything. 

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