What a game! And I didn’t even get to see it

Taranaki Daily News - - Comment&opinion - JIM TUCKER

If you’ve lived in Taranaki for a while you’re bound to have favourite mem­o­ries of the Ran­furly Shield, and they were surely fresh­ened when we won the log for a sixth time. Mine go back to two ear­lier Shield eras, the one be­gin­ning in 1957 and the third ten­ure in the mid-60s.

A vague rec­ol­lec­tion from the ‘50s in­volves a match against North Auck­land. A lo­cal iden­tity called Cud­dles showed lit­tle of the af­fec­tion her nick­name im­plied when she clocked op­po­si­tion player Peter Jones with her um­brella. Jones, an All Black, gained no­to­ri­ety in 1956 when he told na­tional ra­dio he felt ‘‘ab­so­lutely bug­gered’’ af­ter a Spring­bok test.The sec­ond mem­ory has me packed into Rugby Park (now Yar­row Sta­dium) with thou­sands, many of whom like me needed the loo at half­time. When I fi­nally got to the front of the queue in the close com­pany of three other males emp­ty­ing into the same fa­cil­ity, I froze. My af­flic­tion – which has a hy­phen­ated la­bel, both of whose words be­gin with ‘‘p’’ – stayed with me for the rest of the match, and on into young adult­hood.

My 1965 rec­ol­lec­tion in­volves some­thing that hap­pened nowhere near Rugby Park. I’d just be­gun at the Taranaki Her­ald as a cadet re­porter, a job with such low pres­tige there was no hope of be­ing as­signed to Shield matches. I was of­fice-bound. And alone on a Septem­ber Satur­day af­ter­noon when one of the big old Bake­lite phones rang. Be­ing as yet un­versed in the news busi­ness, I won­dered who the hell could be call­ing dur­ing such a mo­men­tous event at the town’s num­ber one footie ground? This is what fol­lowed (mostly):

‘‘Long, here,’’ said the voice on the phone. ‘‘Where’s Hinch?’’

‘‘Long’’ was Dick Long, the chief re­porter, my new boss, who was call­ing from the park with his de­scrip­tion of the first half of a Shield de­fence against Hawke’s Bay. ‘‘Hinch’’ was Der­ryn Hinch, our star re­porter, who was sup­posed to be man­ning that phone to type up Long’s ur­gent prose as he dic­tated down the line.

‘‘It’s Tucker, Mr Long.’’ ‘‘Where’s Der­ryn Hinch?’’ ‘‘Haven’t seen him, Sir.’’

‘‘Who else is there?’’ ‘‘Just me, I’m afraid.’’ And I was by then, just a lit­tle.

‘‘Can you type?’’ ‘‘Um…I can give it a go. We didn’t have typ­ing at boys high, but…’’ ‘‘Never mind. Get the head­set on and load up.’’

‘‘Load up, Mr Long?’’ ‘‘Yes, yes…the type­writer. Has it got copy pa­per in it? Have you got a black?’’

‘‘A black, Sir?’’ ‘‘Car­bon pa­per, for god’s sake. It goes be­tween two bits of copy pa­per. The sec­ond copy is for PA.’’

‘‘PA, Mr Long?’’ ‘‘Oh hell…the Press As­so­ci­a­tion. The top copy goes to the sube­d­i­tors and the black to Mr Cave. He’s the PA man.’’

Clem Cave, the news editor, was known to me only as a pa­tient old bloke aged 100 who on my first day showed how to file the avalanche of other news­pa­pers coming into the of­fice. He said if I did an im­pec­ca­ble job I would be­come a fine jour­nal­ist. I thought it un­wise to trou­ble Mr Long with

My 1965 rec­ol­lec­tion in­volves some­thing that hap­pened nowhere near Rugby Park.

any of that just then - there was typ­ing to be done. As it turned out, my two-fin­ger peck­ing got quite fast as his molten words poured into the head­set, although there was a high er­ror rate (mine). His pa­tience lasted for a re­mark­ably… um…long time. Via my timid typ­ing, Mr Cave’s blacks and a teleprinter op­er­a­tor at the post of­fice, the world got to read Mr Long’s ac­count of Taranaki’s last win (21-17) of that Shield epoch.

The weak link in the sys­tem didn’t turn out to be me, af­ter all. It was Der­ryn Hinch, who’d gone to the pub with his mates from Truth. He was fired on the Mon­day. He went on to be a world-fa­mous jour­nal­ist, and be sacked another 15 times. Richard Long went on to be a fine editor of the Do­min­ion .I went on to be editor of the Auck­land Star. The Ran­furly Shield…well, it just went on, although not in my time. I grew up to be the rugby writer for a decade, but Taranaki didn’t win the Shield again un­til 1996. At the Star ,I caught the start of Auck­land’s record 61-match era that be­gan un­der coach John Hart in 1985 (he’d played a game or two for Taranaki at half­back, in­clud­ing one against King Coun­try coref­er­eed by Colin Meads). Some­how it wasn’t the same.

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