He slices through the backline like a Stradbroke Island shark,
There’s glue on all his fingers, he’s the Emperor of Lang Park.The lives of sportsmen are often overlooked in Australia.
Seriously, I mean the real lives of great sportsmen. Main reason being that it’s considered bad taste to be elevated above the common plod, these are supposed to be men and women just like us.
Except they’re not like us, especially when checking the bloke-next-door feats of the Pat Rafters, Greg Normans, Dick Johnsons and Dennis Lillees.
When it comes to true champion’s biographies, who just so happen to be ordinary blokes, the benchmark is surely set by King Wally, written by sports journalist Adrian McGregor.
The subject being Wally Lewis, the Australian rugby league five-eighth who had an x-factor that could see him turn a game around purely by force of will and,
with it, the flagging hopes of supporters; from his neighbourhood, from his state, and from his country.
Every winter, in living rooms and pubs down the east coast, people were either screaming his name in delight or throwing family heirlooms at the TV.
But what are the qualities that differentiate a guy like Lewis from just another guy on the field with supreme talent and a creative brain?
McGregor explores the hero factor that exists in Australia by painstakingly researching Lewis’s upbringing, character and humility. And the results are not a million miles away from the words of Proust and his celebration of the outer manifestations of inner strength.
Whenever the chips were down, Wally would come up with something. Lewis had a peculiar leadership made even more magnetic by being an unaffected ordinary bloke, his humour having developed as much on the sands of Stradbroke Island and the seas of the Gold Coast as on the football field.
Not particularly shy, teenage Lewis would have preferred to have thrown the football away and chase girls around the beaches of southeast Queensland. Well that was until he met his wife and married young, and had something to fight for.
It may sound incidental to say this, given all his achievements, but as a kid Wally obsessively read The Phantom, a comic book hero favoured by many Australians because he doesn’t have superpowers. He’s got a sense of humour, he’s rough with roughnecks, and is just a family man having a red hot go.
King Wally lived exactly like The Phantom the ghost who walks, who’s secretly a normal man, the 21st in a family line of leaders, yet to the people he serves on a daily basis, he is immortal.
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