Late last year TCT were fortunate in securing historical contributions from Parra Pete, a regular correspondent in the media during the 1960s. Pete has quite a scrapbook on the Eels, and a wealth of memories about the heady days of that decade.
As we hit the week celebrating the 70th anniversary of Parra’s first ever Premiership match, and the Eels look to end a month long winning drought, it’s opportune to take a timely flashback to the ending of an even longer dry spell. Fittingly, we venture back 55 years to a clash with the Wests Magpies.
With thanks to Parra Pete, join us as we jump into that TCT Time Machine for our Easter footy flashback.
THE ENDING OF A DROUGHT.
by Peter (Parra) Montgomery
The Easter Monday clash between the Parramatta Eels and Wests Tigers will hold significant memories for long term supporters. It will be 55 years (and 3 days) since the Parramatta 1962 team – under the coaching of Killer Kearney – ended a 3,169 day drought in matches against Western Suburbs Magpies – surely one of the longest losing streaks between two Clubs in an established competition.
Wests were a powerhouse back in those days, evidenced by their appearance in three successive grand finals (1961, 1962 and 1963) against the St George Dragons in the midst of their 11-premiership run. It’s hard to believe, but they were considered to be the “Silvertails” of the premiership, and only the might of that famous Red V club prevented the “Maggies” from notching their own little slice of premiership folklore.
Parramatta, on the other hand was the perennial wooden spooners finishing last in the 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961 seasons. During that six year period, the Parra side only collected 16 victories and one draw. A total of 91 losses marked that era as a dark time.
This incredible losing streak against Wests finally came to an end at Cumberland Oval on this weekend (April 14) in 1962 with the highly regarded Robin Gair landing two goals to enable Parra to record a narrow 4/2 victory over the Magpies.
The match was not without its controversy. A second half intercept try to Parramatta winger Ken Foord was disallowed for a double movement, a decision which did not sit well with the blue and gold faithful.
This dour affair was decided in the middle of the field, with the Eels pack earning plaudits for their tenacity and their scrummaging (a highly valued skill back in the day).
Later that season, Parra would go on to again defeat the Magpies 23 to 11 in a bruising battle at the Sydney Cricket Ground, announcing the Club as a strong contender for a semi-final position in its then sixteenth season in the competition.
Flash back even further and funnily enough, the Western Suburbs Magpies was the first team Parra beat as ‘stand alone Club’ in the NSWRL. It was a bruising 13/8 win at Parramatta Oval on June 21, 1947.
However, after that victory, matches against Wests usually went the way of Magpies, with Parra only winning two and having a draw with the neighbours in the five seasons 1948- 1952.
Parramatta (will call them Eels from here-on) started to hit its straps in that 1962 season.
In 1962, the Eels put together an undefeated streak of nine matches (eight wins and draw) – the signing of The Mayor, Ken Thornett, from English Club Leeds on loan for a ten week period -being the catalyst of success.
On The Mayor’s departure from the Club to return to Leeds to complete his contract, Parra lost its four remaining “home and away” matches, but had enough competition points (20) to grab fourth spot, just ahead of Eastern Suburbs on 19.
Parramatta supporters rejoiced at the Club FINALLY being a chance for premiership honours.
The season resulted in a huge build up in support for the Parramatta side. Fans became louder, parochial, and fanatical in support of the team, and expectations of success were high, especially as the team had recorded good wins over the Magpies in the ‘home and away’ series.
However, the task to go one further proved a ‘bridge too far away’, especially without the inspirational Ken Thornett in the line-up.
In the semi-final, Wests won a hard match 6-0 with centre Gilbert McDougall crossing for both tries. Gilbert, the father of Test winger and Newcastle Knight premiership player Mad Dog Adam McDougall, was a very good player and he was outstanding in this match.
Clashes between the Eels and Wests are always something special. I enjoy them immensely.
Watching the teams compete on Easter Monday will have me recalling the days of the start of the awakening of the sleeping giant.
I will recall those who “dug the well the current crop of players are drinking from”.
I will recall the feats of Ken Thornett, Dick Thornett, Brian Hambly, Ron Lynch, Leo Toohey, Bob Bugden, Billy Rayner, Noel Dolton, Kenny Foord, and Mike Jackson running around in the Blue and Gold.
These were just some of the players who gave the young teenagers of the Parramatta district a team of which it could be proud.
This team ignited the passion in me for the love of the Parramatta Eels and Rugby League.
Rugby League has opened many doors for me – and provided me with many fantastic memories and friends.
These days I take it as it comes. I am as parochial as the next bloke, but finally at my age – I can enjoy the ebbs and flows of what the team provides, without suffering depression following a loss.
But it wasn’t always that way.
Enjoy the game and be respectful to it. The sun will rise tomorrow!