Northern Suburbs (Norths)
In the autumn of 1963 we were living in the inner suburb of Braddon - Currong Street. One early evening, I rode my push bike just down to the end of the street to the entrance of Northborne Oval.
There were some men whom I thought were playing rugby so I went in to have a look. They were only training but being bored I propped my bike against the oval rails and watched.
One of the men, a sweaty smiley toothless fellow approached me.
"Hello I'm Geoff Kaye are you interested in playing with us".
I was startled - they were men. I was seventeen.
"What position do you play?"
"I used to play hooker at school".
"Well I'm a prop. Leave your bike n do some training".
Being young and a Christian Brothers graduate, I did not know how to say no.
Next week saw me playing with Northern Suburbs third grade XV.
I do not remember the game.
The essence of a hooker in the men's game was how quick your feet could strike for and win either the tight or loose head (the tight head is when the opposition half back puts the ball into the scrum - hence an advantage as the team with the ball - wins. If you were a good hooker, you won the ball and therefore gave "possession" the team could "carry you" in other parts of the game.
The teams in the competition were:
There were three grades - First; Seconds and Thirds.
Slug O'Donnell was the first grade hooker. To the club's chagrin he wasn't waiting to get married at the end of the season and have his honeymoon.
Common sense would suggest that the second grade hooker would substitute. Not so ... I played my maiden first grade game at sweet seventeen. Never been kissed.
It was against Queanbeyan.
Canberrans called Queanbeyan "Struggletown".
Its gentry were notorious for hard living, hard playing and the biff.
Again I did not know how to say No!
For several days I was in panic mode.
The thought of getting belted was not an issue. It was the suddenness of it all and being put into the limelight. I was 11 stone 7 pounds.
My "honeymoon" for the next three weeks was being shunted jostled thumped and bumped there in the front row.
My clear memory is how protective the team was about me. If there was even a hint of antagonism, out of the second row (on my side) would come a punch from Johnny Dunn.
To this day Johnny Dunn was the best enforcer on or off the field I have ever experienced.
I won Best and Fairest - Second Grade in 1963. A pewter mug with this inscription was my prized possession.
Playing for Norths was indeed a thrill. I enjoyed being in their company. On the field, in the sheds after a game and in the pub at night. I looked up to each and every one, I understood the meaning of bonding and mate ship. It was my first exposure to singing dirty ditties.
I had transformed from a self-conscious youth with an inferiority complex to a supremely confident person who could mix it with the men and stand up for myself.
Somehow, my schoolboy nickname carried over. I was always called "Tiger".