Nevertheless, he was a true champion.
Jim lived at Mascot and attended the Gardeners Road School. While there and under the tutelage of teacher-mentor, Rupert Browne, he, like many members of his family, began to play Australian Football.
At an early age he was selected in the NSW schoolboys team where he excelled. Then, at 17, while playing with the South Sydney Club, he was chosen to represent NSW. In and out of the reserves, in 1930 he came equal third in the Phelan Medal and also runner up in the Sanders Medal (reserves B & F) in then the following year at age 20, he was named as the best player in the state’s match against Victoria on the SCG.
Then in 1933, again playing for NSW, Jim won the best player at the All-States Carnival held in Sydney over 10 days – against all the stars from other states. At 1.6m and 64.5kg he was a dynamo but erratic in his attitude towards football.
The several approaches by VFL clubs were rebutted and it appears that the handsome young Jim was happy living and playing in Sydney where he worked as a tool maker.
His coach of the time (who went on to coach NSW for five years after the war) and another member of the Hall of Fame, Frank Dixon, cited Stiff as the best footballer he had ever seen. Maybe his opinion had a touch of bias but others of the period, from different clubs who saw Stiff play, also shared his opinion.
Not only was he a good footballer he also played first grade cricket in the Sydney competition with the Glebe club and between 1935-37 Stiff played 18 first grade games for the South Sydney Rugby League side and, it is said, was unlucky not to be selected in the 1937-38 Kangaroos tour of England. This was a marvellous feat in the time of the great depression when there would have been great competition for a place in the rugby league team where the match payments could have meant the difference between eating or going without.
It is a pity he was not selected because the fearless young Stiff was killed in a motor cycle accident in Botany Road, Botany in December of 1937 prematurely ending the life of a leading Sydney sportsman.
Ironically, Stiff was followed as South Sydney’s first rover by his brother, Micky (Malcolm) who, after living in his brother’s shadow, went onto play over 200 games with the club and represent the state on numerous occasions.