I think I was about 13 at the time, my cousin Adrian had a motorbike, which I thought was cool. He was a big Manly fan. One day after I’d finished running Track and Field at Narrabeen he said, “Do you want to go to Brookvale to watch Manly play?” My eyes lit up. “I can take you on the back of my bike”. My eyes really lit up, I looked at Mum and she nodded with cautious approval. At this stage I didn’t really follow any team, Mum wanted me to barrack for Souths, ‘The Mighty Rabbits’ she’d say.
She also said I wouldn’t have had a choice if her father were still alive, I’d be a Souths fan and that would be the end of it. Dad had no team and would rather read the Sunday comics than watch any game of football; I had to admire his rebellious streak.
So off Adrian and I went on his motorbike. I hung onto him for dear life as we weaved in and out of the Northern Beaches traffic; I was terrified and excited all at once. We got to ‘Brookie’ in one piece and headed to Adrian’s’ favorite spot to watch a game, the dreaded ‘Hill’. It was a preseason game against archrivals, the Parramatta Eels. This was 1983 and Rugby League was in its heyday, Manly had Noel ‘Crusher’ Cleal, Nasty Les Boyd and the fatman, Paul Vautin up against the Parramatta dream team of Cronin, Sterling, Kenny, Ella and Grothe.
Standing on the ‘Hill’ surrounded by grown men drinking their cans of KB and munching meat pies, I was hearing words I’d never heard before, mostly aimed at the Referee, it was great and I was loving it. I decided from that day forward Manly would be my team.
I was a shy kid and barely said a word but after this game, I couldn’t shut up, telling anyone that would listen about the ride on Adrian’s bike, standing on the ‘Hill’ with the boys and seeing Cleal, Boyd and the Fatman rip into the Eels. Unfortunately that year Manly lost to Parramatta in the Grand Final, but it further cemented their arch rival status.
Throughout the years I continued to follow the Sea Eagles all through the trials and tribulations of a Rugby League Club, no matter where I was in the world I’d always check the Manly score and unbelievably ended up in the official Manly team photo one year, got into the dressing sheds after games and watched matches from the sideline, which gave me a great buzz, just like standing on the ‘Hill’ as a kid.
People instantly dislike you albeit in a fun kind of way when you tell them you’re a Manly fan, the Sea Eagles have been called over the years “the most hated team in rugby league”, “the silvertails”, “the team everyone loves to see lose” and I’m sure a lot worse, we fans actually love the ‘we against the world’ mentality.
The gripe about Manly fans is they don’t like to travel over the bridge to away games, enjoying basking in their opulence on the Northern Beaches, I’m sure the image is rich Manly fans support the team from lounge rooms overlooking the ocean, which I think is quite funny and probably true on some level, although us fans are scattered all over, even in the bush, would you believe.
With making the finals 10 out of the last 11 years, and winning 2 of 4 Grand Finals Manly has had a good run and what Adrian started all those years ago on the back of his bike, will stay with me all my life. I made Souths my second team which made Mum happy but as I always tell her, Go Manly!