Back in red and black

Back in red and black - 2nd January 2003
(Credit: The Sydney Morning Herald - Footy Folklore)

The new year will bring the return of an icon. Alex Buzo is celebrating already.

The applause at the Independant Theatre sounded different from the applause across the road at North Sydney Oval, but the CEOs of each, Doris Fitton and Harry McKinnon, were remarkably similar.

Depending on your point of view, they "epitomised the bulldog breed" or were "as stubborn as a mule on a gluepot".

From the 1930s to the 1980s they gave the lower North Shore much of its character. They would not have been pleased to see the Independant used for speech days and North Sydney Oval become the home of Soccer. Relief, however, is at hand.

In 2003 North Sydney will once again play Rugby league in the red and black at Bear Park. The only victim of the league wars, Norths will be playing in first division. For logicians and the uninitiated, it should be pointed out that Australia A is the B team, and First Division is second grade.

The coach of the bears will be Gary Larson, who joined as a player in 1990 and was in the thick of the clubs most successful decade, in which it made finals almost every yea, only to fall into oblivion. Larson looked like a backpacker who opted to play league instead of going fruit picking when he first turned out for Norths. But with his snowy hair and horse voice, plus a work rate to die for, the man Roy and H.G dubbed "Far side" is almost as much a legend as his brother-in-law Greg "Go with the Flo" Florimo.

A further boost has been provided by filmmaker Richard Bradley with his video series, The mighty Bears, the third volume of which has just been released. Bradley claims this is the most comprehensive social and sporting history ever put together.

He interweaves film of Norths in action with interviews, commentaries and song into a masterpiece of its kind.

"There is database for rugby league film, nor any archive as such," he says. "Most of the footage I used has not been seen since it was shown live." Many of the interviewees - Roy Francis, Fred Griffiths, Harry Kadwell, Kelvin Nash - won't be seen live again either, but they were great characters and their contribution to the club and the region is infinite.

The videos contain the frankest, spookiest and funniest interviews ever seen with sports people. Bradley approached a wide range of personalities, from academic Andrew Moore to "bad boy" Doug McKinnon, the player who vaulted the fence at North Sydney Oval to remonstrate with a heckler.

The character of Norths is tantalisingly mysterious. Some believe that the Kameraigal tribe, who gave their name to Camerray, put a curse on North Sydney Oval. The team has always been likely to topple premiers and lose to wooden spooners. What attracted Bradley to the club, which he has followed since going to Neutral Bay Primary School, was its Bohemian panache. "They founded this club in 1908 out of economic necessity and just for the hell of it," he says.

The dispute between pay television and free to air resulted in the forced merger with Manly and then the fraticide that saw Norths disappear into the Central Coast. Long time fans were distraught, but now they have the bears back - both in the flesh and on film. Even if the clubs bid to join first grade as the Central Coast Bears in 2005 is successful, the red and blacks will still play a quota of games at North Sydney Oval on Friday nights.


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