This month: in our author spotlight, rocking out to rugby league.
One of the indispensable voices of rugby league, Steve Mascord delved into his passion for the sport with another of his lifelong loves, rock music – and the lengths he has gone for both of them – in his book Touchstones. (Interview edited for length and clarity.)
Surely you’ve been asked: is there a link between your league and rock fandom?
If you are a rock musician or rugby league player, you can’t completely exist in a bubble. The vast part of the audience for both is working-class: if you’re a Hollywood actor, you can join Scientology and get carried around in a limo. If you saw Chuck Berry’s funeral last year, it was local people at his church. Gene Simmons just happened to walk up and addressed the congregation. Same thing with Lemmy’s funeral.
I guess that speaks to how I’m across both things – to a workingclass kid from Wollongong, they were both naive expressions of glamour; something you wanted to be part of. But rugby league or heavy metal never attained the pedestal I saw them on when I was 12.
How has your passion for both changed?
I tried to like grunge, nu metal. But instead, I rebounded back to Warrant and Poison ... With rugby league, I’m a little similar. I’m not disillusioned with the NRL, but I find it quite vanilla. The last year, the thing that’s really excited me is the Toronto Wolfpack, and I’m excited about the World Cup coming up.
Part of the reason I’ve stayed is I never really settled down. Those things were kind of my anchors; like I said in the book, if I laid down on the ground and looked straight ahead, I can see 1987 very clearly. My life hadn’t really changed that much, so there was nothing obscuring my view of Appetite For Destruction being released.
Are the late 1980s your favourite period of rugby league?
I don’t really buy into that Winfield Cup nostalgia, but I’m grateful that it’s there. The people who are into it are my kind of people. It goes against the grain for me because I don’t like anything mainstream – if I like rugby league, I have to like the most obscure part of it. So for me, I look back fondly on going to early internationals, like seeing Italy play for the first time ... I’m not nostalgic because I don’t think the game has realised its potential yet. So I’m nostalgic for an imagined future, if that makes sense ...
I do have great memories for the Steelers. I guess my nostalgia is for those Sundays watching Illawarra get beaten again. I remember John Dorahy came back from playing in England, and I was there at training watching his milky, white legs kick goals. And I kicked the ball back to him.
You’re the reporter that got to everything. What’s your favourite crazy travel story?
There was the time I went to a Challenge Cup final in Edinburgh, and I think I stayed in the northern hemisphere for one night. I left on a Friday morning, and when I arrived in London, the flight up to Edinburgh had been delayed – and my ticket didn’t involve being put on the next flight. I was like, I’m only here for one day, so there was a possibility I was watching the final at Heathrow. And that almost happened.
You’re also known as an Origin sceptic, and you have a neat comparison – it’s like when that unknown band you love has a pop hit that’s suddenly everywhere.
People follow State of Origin who don’t follow rugby league, they join these supporters groups. And as an internationalist, I kind of resent the way Origin has usurped international league in the Australian market. I imagine it’s like what it would have been to be a rugby union person at the turn of the last century, and this rugby league competition kicked off with Dally Messenger ...
It’s also things like the half-time is too long, because Channel Nine says it should. What is sacred when the basic structure of our sport can be bent out of shape by a telecast?
I do accept often it’s a great spectacle, the action and the aesthetic quality of it.
Standard last question: your favourite sports books?
Rugby league books: the daddy of them all is
At The George by Geoffrey Moorhouse. The writing is at another level, but can be a bit impenetrable at times, but rewarding. The best player biography is Matthew Ridge, which no one ever talks about. But it is warts and all, especially what he got up to as a kid.
And there’s a book by Dave Hadfield, who is the best rugby league writer I’ve encountered:
Route 63, about travelling all over England on a free bus pass. Dave’s got Parkinsons – that’s how he got the bus pass – and he turns his disability into a really entertaining book.