Farewell to a Goddamn Prince

Filed in Other by on December 5, 2010

“The torch we’ll always carry
For our nations’s golden child
And even though we try
The truth brings us to tears
All the words cannot express
The joy you brought us through the years”
– Elton John, Candle In The Wind (Princess Diana Tribute)

The sad and lonely mushiness of winter tends to magnify the desolation and the destitution, news that in spring or summer or winter would illicit but a few moments of reflection, hurls you into the deep funk of depression. It really should come as no surprise that suicide is a particularly popular finale in Scandinavia.  When the wire lights up and delivers news both unexpected and sad and definitively final, the murky grey skyline acts as a mirror, reflecting and magnifying the torrents of melancholy that flow within. The road seems long and straight and endless and paved with the bones of heroes come and gone…

And all this glumness leads one to do silly things. Like quote Elton John and reflect with great clarity on the afternoon Diana breathed her last in the foreign lands of a French tunnel and the Peter Wilkins call of the Western Suburbs game was abandoned for the all encompassing coverage of royal death.

The trigger for these words of sadness was the sudden retirement of Chris Anderson.

The greatest coach the game has ever known, a man at the very least the equal of Jack Gibson and Wayne Bennett and Warren Ryan and Tim Sheens, has had enough. The Roosters heartless efforts and the constant jabbing by two-bit media hacks who get their thrills from rabbit punching those with talent, saw Chris Anderson driven from rugby league. Those who hate Anderson- a group of fools who know nothing about the game and are driven by bitterness, jealousy and self interest- have finally got their wish. It was a day the jackals have been awaiting for two decades.

For his health and his sanity, Opes had to walk away.

And he can hardly be blamed. There isn’t much future in spending your days taking the heat for a bunch of weak-of-heart players and soft-cocks who don’t understand what it means to be a first grade footballer. And there is no point in letting these soft suckers rip apart your legacy like rabid dogs fuelled by the smell of blood.

A 56-0 defeat is tough to swallow for a man with as much pride as Chris Anderson. As he watched his team fall off tackles like leaves off a tree in an autumn windstorm, Ando surely realised it was hardly worth the risk to his health to keep imparting his knowledge on this ungrateful and clearly stupid bunch. Even the Sharks, who were so infuriated at Anderson’s attempts to win, managed to at least perform with some level of pride every week. Not the Roosters, who are showing all the strength and sturdiness of a Bondi Junction café latte. Ideas of tackling and body commitment seem vulgarly repulsive to a bunch of players more interested in drinking at Ricko’s pub and ensuring their jerseys remain pristine.

The constant Roosters hidings, of course, pleased the simple-minded commentators, analysts and journalists who have taken every bit of airtime and every inch of available column space to push their notion that Chris Anderson was out-of-touch and he was the cause of the unprofessional manner in which the Roosters conducted themselves. Snide, biting remarks from ex-players mentally incapable of coaching an NRL side were designed to string Anderson up as the grey-haired scapegoat, a piñata of blame. Not that remarks by the likes of Mark Geyer and Gary Freeman, two men who struggle to construct sentences making intelligent analysis of rugby league impossible, hurt Anderson or his reputation one iota. But even the most mind-numbingly ludicrous mantra, repeated ad nauseam, can get you questioning the truth.

But all this is by the by now. Chris Anderson has coached his last game of rugby league. Long gone are the glory days of Belmore success. In the end, he was left with a group of soft players who paid no heed to his instruction. When he installed young Mitch Aubusson as halfback against Canterbury two weeks ago at half-time, senior players met in the tunnel and decided they knew better and made Amos Roberts the chief playmaker. Rather than take responsibility for the jolly rogering they were receiving, senior Rooster players thought it best to undermine the coach. And that pretty much sums up the Roosters over the last few seasons. The Roosters, of course, were pathetically awful last season, long before Chris Anderson was called upon to play saviour.

The hot tip is that the Roosters needed Ando a hell of a lot more than he needed them. He is a dual premiership winning mentor, a Test coach with a near perfect record and most importantly, a man who has stood tall for his principles and his players. And he will retire with the reputation of a giant, a winner who is respected by everyone who understands rugby league.

But now is not the time to be angry. Now is the time to reflect, to look back on the fine days of yore when Chris Anderson made the nut time and time again. I have few fonder rugby league memories than Chris Anderson bringing the Dogs back to prominence, keeping the club in the family, when the Dogs were Dogs and Peter Moore and Chris Anderson let outsiders know exactly where they stood. Rainy Belmore Sundays and brave September comebacks. Teaching that bum McCracken a lesson and bringing home the Winfield Cup. And always with the gum chewing. He was a link to the game of yesterday and instilled the work ethic and camaraderie that has evaporated from the modern game that existed in his playing days. Chris Anderson, a character of virtue and brilliance and a goddamn genuine love of rugby league.

In a game that is often dominated by fools and power freaks and self-important simpletons, Chris Anderson was a goddamn prince. And history will remember him as such.

But times catches up with us all and in the end, all we have is a grave and a legacy and the best you can do is make a mark. Chris Anderson certainly did that, leaving rugby league in a better state than he found it. There are few who can claim that.

Farewell Ando. Old Punt will always remember you with fondness and there will always be a place in the heart of this league loving author reserved for the finest coach rugby league has ever known.

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