Farewell Frank Hyde

Filed in Other by on December 5, 2010

“Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen and down the mountain side
The summer’s gone, and all the flowers are dying
‘Tis you, ‘tis you must go and I must bide”
-Danny Boy

This week the pipes called for Frank Hyde, one of rugby league’s most iconic figures and truest gentlemen. God has always had a queer sense of humour and thought nothing of taking The rugby league legend in the game’s most important week. The Almighty decided ninety was enough Grand Finals of the Greatest Game of All for Frank and it was time for him to take the next train to Clarksville. First and only stop, The Pearly Gates. He was, of course, a Catholic and it is straight to the top for such a fine and upstanding Catholic with a heart for rugby league and a voice for the common man.  

When news filtered down the wire that Frank Hyde was dead, and unfortunately this time reports of his death have not been grossly exaggerated, the rugby league world was thrown into a state of grave melancholy in the week where followers of the noble sport are usually at their peppiest. In a week usually reserved for the celebration of rugby league we are moved to mourn a death. Instead of holding a rose for rugby league, we give lilies for a legend. Danny Boy will play across fields marked of white wherever rugby league is played and mourners will openly weep for a true pioneer, a near unparalleled legend of the sport. The sky will be grey with sadness over the next week in memory of a crusader who let not heart nor wit get heavy.

They say rugby is the game they play in Heaven, a claim that has always been considered extremely dubious in most circles. Now that Frank has reached the sideline of St. Peter’s Recreational Sports Ground, there is no doubt that rugby league is the only game played above.

My time, for good or ill, did not coincide with what those in show business call the heyday of Frank Hyde. They were, by all reports, as glorious as they were plentiful. From the thirties through to the eighties, Frank Hyde was an integral part of the fabric that was rugby league. As a player and as a referee, as an administrator and as a caller, as a fan and as a poet Frank Hyde was a figure that reached out and grabbed, latched on and buried his way into the heart of all those who dared engage in the working man’s cultural centerpiece, rugby league.

Rugby league, in terms of style, nearly always reflects the methods of the war of the day and so it was with Frank Hyde. Trench warfare came not only to define war in the infancy of the twentieth century but also rugby league. It was a brutal arm wrestle nearly unrecognizable to rugby league fans today and Hyde excelled. A rangy centre with a brutal fend, he was highly regarded as one of the best. Debuting for the Blue Bagger’s of Newtown, those of the dyed potato sacks, Hyde was matched against the mighty Dave Brown and by all reports, did not give an inch. He went on to win a City Cup with Newtown only a year later, defeating Easts by the mammoth tally of 57-5 with Hyde playing a starring role.

Then controversy hit. Back in the day before the salary cap, the residential rule was the law of the day. All players had to live in their club’s respective catchment areas. Frank, unfortunately for Newtown, lived at home with his parents at Millers Point. Balmain territory. In 1938, Hyde was forced to don the orange and black. He was welcomed with open arms, given the captaincy in his first season. Over the next two seasons, Hyde would win representative honours for City and New South Wales and guide the Balmain boys to a Grand Final in 1939.

Then the World went to war. This, undoubtedly, cost Hyde an Australian jersey as the Kangaroo Tour of 1941-42 was aborted. Frank was shifted north to Newcastle to help out on the Home Front in 1940 but only for a year. He returned to Sydney in 1941and ran around for Balmain but he was again caught out by the residential rule and was shifted to North Sydney. He led them to their last ever Grand Final in 1943, a high watermark for the star crossed club of red and black and the team that Hyde seemed to have his greatest affinity with. The defeat to his original club, Newtown, would be Hyde’s farewell from playing.

It has been nearly sixty five years since Frank Hyde laced up a boot in competition, a lifetime or two, and it is hard to imagine him in action. But if you stare at those dusty and tattered old photos long enough, Frank Hyde comes to life, fending in stride, attempting to avoid the defender with death in his eyes.

While Hyde no doubt won many admirers as a talented player, as most talented players make a habit of doing, it was as a broadcaster that Hyde reached across generational divide after generational divide and left his mark as one of the game’s most beloved champions.

I never had the pleasure of listening to one of his calls that spanned four decades. I never once heard live his gravelly voice burst with excitement as he confirmed with absolute clarity: “it’s long enough, it’s high enough and it’s straight between the posts”. All I have is the image of a man, a man genteel and noble like my grandfather, holding court at the sideline card table on a murky Saturday afternoon besotted with the game of rugby league and conveying same to the masses through one of those old time microphones that he would hold with grace. I have, like most of us, the words and photos of rugby league books of yesteryear that you read as a child with awe and wonderment. I have the memories of spending rainy Sunday afternoons, listening to the successors of Hyde calling Western Suburbs and Canterbury-Bankstown and Illawarra, and playing a handed-down version of Frank Hyde’s Footy Game, consumed by rugby league with the passion and purity only a child can have. I have the stories and the tales from those who were there.

The term immortal means more in rugby league than it does in most facets of life. Frank Hyde was an immortal and will live on in rugby league forever and a day. All rugby league fans owe Frank Hyde an enormous amount. And all rugby league fans will feel just a little hollow this Sunday evening knowing that for the first time Frank Hyde will not be watching with us. There is a time for us all and Frank’s was now but it does not take away the sadness of his going. Farewell Frank, you will always be remembered in these parts and all parts where rugby league rules the roost.

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.