WAY back in 1969 I drove around the Bilgola bends for the first time and the beauty of the beach and its tropical seclusion took my breath away.
Ah, the good old days ... referee Greg Hartley attempts to break up fight between two players during a Manly-Parramatta game in 1981.
That was the moment I decided to accept an offer from the Sea Eagles to leave the Parramatta Eels after just one season with the blue-and-golds.
I was working with the Sydney Sun as a sporting journalist and the then editor, Jack Tier, was one of Manly’s most loyal supporters and great mates with Sea Eagles boss Ken Arthurson.
I was summoned to his office to meet Arko for the first time and offered a three-year deal to switch clubs. There were no salary caps then and I signed for $15,000 a season plus I was promoted from a D-grade journalist to the lofty heights of an A grade. That meant more to me than the footy contract, although in those days I remember buying my first home in Bilgola Plateau for just on $19,500. I had made the move at the right time with Manly on the verge of being a juggernaut in the game during the ‘70s and it was then that Parramatta made their move to the top.
The two clubs were a little more than 20 years old in 1969 and the bitter rivalry between them had yet to surface. Both entered the then NSW Rugby League in 1947 and it took Manly just five years to make a grand final and 25 years to win one.
It took Parramatta much longer, but I can remember the start of the intense clashes like they were yesterday.
Manly made the grand final in 1968, my first and last year with Parramatta.
Ironically, Manly’s first match in 1969 was against Parramatta at their old dust bowl of a ground, Cumberland Oval. And much to my disgust I was chosen in third grade for my return to a ground where I had played 22 games alongside the likes of Dick Thornett, Ken Thornett, Ron Lynch, Barry Rushworth and Bob O’Reilly the previous season. Manly had made the grand final against South Sydney in 1968 and basically that side started the next season.
A young fellow by the name of Max Krilich made his debut in the thirds and was sent-off after a wild brawl. At full time I was asked to sit on the bench for reserves and then again for the firsts. In my first afternoon in Manly colours I played in all three grades. Football was different back then.
By 1973 Manly had won their first two titles and playing first-grade football and being a full-time sports journalist was becoming difficult to juggle.
Ironically, the only other qualified journalist playing at the time in first grade was the legendary Ken Irvine, who left North Sydney to win two premierships with Manly.
By the mid-70s Parramatta was ready for a tilt at the title and it was then the bitter rivalry began. The 1976 grand final between the clubs saw Manly’s experience and a touch of arrogance up against the perennial underdogs from western Sydney. Manly won a cracker 13-10 on the back of five Graham Eadie goals.
Parramatta winger Neville Glover dropped the ball with the tryline begging for what would have been a match winner.
The next season saw Parramatta a runaway minor premier but again they were beaten in the grand final - this time 22-nil by St George.
In 1978 Manly won the premiership again with my old mate Max Krilich, now captain of the club and a ferocious leader through a finals campaign never seen before or since in the history of the game. Unfortunately, the Manly effort played second fiddle to some controversial decisions by referee Greg Hartley, later to become my long-time radio broadcasting partner.
Hartley awarded Manly a 7-1 penalty count against Parramatta in a semi-final and the Sea Eagles came from 13-3 down to draw the game 13-all. It forced a replay that Manly won 17-11 a few days later. Parramatta star Ray Price was sent-off by Hartley and the Eels protested the next day against his refereeing display.
One of Manly’s tries came on the seventh tackle - ironically picked up by Parramatta fan Dot Williams, from Blacktown, who happened to be a friend of mine from my one season there.
The league dismissed the Parramatta appeals and Manly went on to win the premiership after a grand-final draw and yet another replay win, 16-nil over Cronulla.
Rivalry between Manly and Parramatta had now turned to hatred and it accelerated after Western Suburbs coach Roy Masters ignited the fibros versus silvertails theory.
Parramatta had to wait until 1981 to win their first premiership with a hard-fought, 20-11 victory over Newtown at the Sydney Cricket Ground with Hartley the referee.
The next year they got sweet revenge against Manly with a 21-8 grand-final win, with Hartley now my co-commentator in the radio box.
I suppose I should have a soft spot for Parramatta, but I don’t. I don’t hate them, but those Bilgola bends really got to me. Go Manly.