Code 3: Huey’s Rare SCG Treble

 

“Baby Huey” in hot pursuit of the ball for East Sydney in 1981

As the game celebrates 140 years at the SCG, Dr Rodney Gillett looks back at a larger-than-life character with a unique record at the famous old ground.

As Greg Harris, the coach of the newly assembled Sydney Swans Under-19 squad, strode out on to the SCG in late Spring 1988 to conduct training, he turned to me, and said: “You know I’ve played three different codes of football on this ground.”

I said: “Yes, Huey. I remember you taking eighteen marks out here for Easts in a match against North Shore a few years back.”

“Yeah, plus I played rugby and rugby leagues games here too …,” he added, leaving that last comment to hang in the warm air. “Now, put the cones out for the boys to do the handball drill!”

Greg Harris was known throughout his sporting career as “Huey”, shortened as Aussies are want to do from “Baby Huey”, the oversized baby duckling in the Harvey comics in the 1960s. The nickname was bestowed on him by his Sydney Uni rugby team-mates after he wrestled a sumo wrestler on a tour of Japan.

Huey and another former East Sydney champion, Ray Millington (to be featured in Part 2), are believed to be the only two players to have played three codes of football on the SCG.

In Huey ’s case, his father, Col Harris, an original inductee into the AFL Sydney Hall of Fame in 2003, also played on the famous ground when he represented NSW in 1949 against Queensland.  Huey coached NSW state teams in matches against Queensland in 1983 and 1990.

He started playing junior football with the Penshurst Panthers in the St George district competition, and then graduated to the St George seniors at age 15 in 1970.

Following an impressive debut in a Sydney representative team while still at school he received an invitation to train with Richmond but chose to take up a scholarship to study at Sydney University.

Greg Harris playing for St George v South Sydney at Trumper Park [10]
Greg Harris playing for
St George v South
Sydney at Trumper
Park
His first experience of playing any code of football on the SCG came in 1972 when the rugby league team from his school, Kogarah High, played against Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School, from Tamworth, in the final of the state-wide University Shield, which Farrer won.

At Sydney University, Harris quickly adapted to rugby union. “I found it easier to play than footy as it was a 180-degree game,” he told me in an interview for this article.

In his second season for in Sydney’s rugby union competition, in 1975, he was a regular in Sydney University’s first-grade team and he played at No.8 for a combined Sydney team in its defeat of an England XV at the old Sydney Sportsground.

A fortnight later, he played for the NSW Under 23 team against the Queensland Under 23 team in a curtain-raiser to the Wallabies v England Test match at the SCG.

Following graduation, Huey returned to rugby league. He signed with Cronulla-Sutherland, where he mainly played reserve grade, but this included a final on the SCG in 1978.

“It was a great thrill to play at the SCG”, Huey said. “I usually played fairly well in games there. The atmosphere is special, and you were conscious of the crowd noise even in a curtain-raiser”.

Harris returned to Australian Football the next year, in 1979, with East Sydney, which turned out to be the ill-fated “flag’s-in-the-bag” season in which the Bulldogs, under former Fitzroy star Alex Ruscuklic, went through the roster matches undefeated, only to lose both finals – out in straight sets – as the saying goes.

However, in the club’s much-celebrated centenary season in 1980, Huey sustained a knee injury during the opening rounds which ruled him out for the rest of the year including the grand final at the SCG.

Legendary Easts president Jack Dean, a contemporary of Harris’s father, Col, in state teams, recognised Huey’s astute leadership skills. He arranged for Huey to take over from Austin Robertson as the playing-coach in 1981, and took Easts to a premiership with a victory over the Sam Kekovich-led Newtown, in the Grand Final.

Harris added further premierships to his record when he coached Easts to victory over Pennant Hills and Balmain respectively in the 1982 and 1983 grand finals, cementing his place among the best all-time coaches in Sydney football.

“Huey could mix with and understand many diverse types: aspiring young sportsmen, musicians, plumbers, stock-brokers and garbos.

While he is university educated, Greg could slide easily from one group to another and was able to unify diverse people into one team with a common goal”, Easts’ premiership and State back pocket player Ted Pleming reiterated when we discussed this story.

During the 1984 and 1985 seasons, the local Sydney clubs played against each other in curtain-raisers to the Sydney Swans matches on the SCG.

East Sydney often featured in these curtain-raisers, and the smaller ground suited the hulk-like physique of Harris, whose ability to read the play enabled him to win a pile of possessions.

The Swans Reserves hosted their matches in Melbourne until the end of 1985. The following year, in 1986, they too were finally brought to Sydney.

When the Swans decided to base an Under 19s team in Sydney for the 1988 season, Harris was a logical choice to coach the squad, given his teaching background at Sydney Boys’ High School and his success with NSW development squads. The Under 19s played home games at the SCG and away matches in Melbourne.

Huey’s connection with the SCG was deepened when he took on the role of senior chairman of selectors for Swans coaches Ron Barassi and Rodney Eade from 1994 to 1996.

It was in 1996, that the Swans made their first grand final appearance since 1945 after famously beating Essendon by one point kicked by Tony” Plugger” Lockett after the siren in the preliminary final also at the SCG.

– The Boy From Parkes – 1935

jim-reid-2-001If you turn to page 139 in Miles Wilk’s book, Australian Football Clubs in NSW, you read about a player who played with the South Melbourne Club in 1935-36 who was recruited from the Parkes Rugby League Club.

You have to ask if there’s got to be more to it than that.

Well in 1934 a young Rugby League player from Parkes, New South Wales, took himself to Melbourne with the intention of trying  out for the South Melbourne team.  An ankle injury put paid to his chances so he returned to play the season out with the Parkes Rugby League Club.

His name was Jim Reid and back with the Blacks where he had played at either fullback or in the centres for the previous two years.  In 1934 Reid played against the visiting Balmain team so at 19 he was pretty well entrenched in the club.

However come the following year Reid again made the trip to Melbourne to try out with South.

Now I guess you have to ask yourself why would this young man persist in his attempt to break into the VFL ranks when coming from a Rugby League background?

His mother and father were both from Western Australia.  Unusual at the time but by 1930 found them in William Street East Sydney operating a newsagency.  In fact just near the real estate premises of a former president of the NSW League, William Butler.

This was a strange move for someone who had been a railway worker then to run a newsagency or paper shop as it was called in those days, then later to manage brewery owned country pubs, and all this on the other side of the country.

Well, not that much later from his newsagency position, Jim’s father took over the license of a hotel at a Lake Cargelligo, NSW and of course brought his 17 year old son with him.  Then by the early 1930s the family was in Parkes and dad the licensee of the Royal Hotel.

This is interesting because although a 1935 Melbourne newspaper article, supposedly written by Jim Reid the footballer, says his family left Perth or Western Australia to settle in Adelaide for a period of time then onto Parkes, there is no mention of his time in Sydney.

H2008.122/31 Missing South Melbourne
1936 South Melbourne
1st Grade
(SLV 122_031)

His father also named Jim, has an interesting history.  He was born in South Australia in 1884  and his footballer son said that his father had played for both Port Adelaide and ‘Fremantle’, facts we were unable to verify but we did find his father had served in WWI.

Young Jim also said he played on the wing with the South Australian Schoolboys team in the national carnival held in Melbourne in 1924; this would have made him 11.  Well that year the carnival was played in Sydney and no trace can be found of him ever representing South Australia in a schoolboys carnival.  We also checked the 1926 South Australian Schoolboys team that did play in Melbourne to no avail.

Regardless, Jim was also good at cricket both as a wicket keeper and batsman and said he played in several representative teams.

It became obvious that this young fellow was  a talented sportsman and in 1935 the Sporting Globe said of him: “Jim Reid, the South Melbourne wing player has burst onto League football with a bang and surprised all the critics.  Formerly a Rugby player from Parkes, N.S.W. he felt that he would like to play the Australian game … Gordon Rattray, a  former  Fitzroy captain “bracketed him with Austin Roberston as the best man afield against Hawthorn”.  Another 1935 Sporting Globe article said “this season finds him more than holding his own with the best flanks in the game.”

His speed on the ground was quite often quoted.  He played on the wing with South and at one stage was said the be the fastest man in the game.  He is pictured here in the 1936 South Melbourne team at far right in the back row.  We thanks the State Library of Victoria for use of the image.

At the end of the 1935 season Reid said because he had no work he was returning to play Rugby and was sure he would be picked up by one of the Sydney clubs.  He also suggested he could quite easily claim a spot in the Australian side which was set to tour the UK.  He told the press he was offered the job as coach of the Parkes Rugby League team at £4 ($370 today) a week and this was 12 months after the club said they had received 100 applications for the position.

While newspaper articles carried the story, it was probably only a ruse to find him a job.  It worked, and he was quickly offered three positions – and this was deep in the time of the 1930s depression.  He took a job as a driver of an ice wagon.

In 1936 he again turned out for South playing seventeen of their twenty one games.  It was in this year, for the second successive season they were runner-up to Collingwood for the flag.

By this time his parents had moved from the Club House Hotel at Eugowra to another brewery pub, the Federal at Wallendbeen (near Harden).  His father by now was in his early fifties and a move back to Perth was on the drawing board.  He purchased or got himself a job in a newsagency in the Western Australian capital.

Young Jim also decided to make the move west and joined his family at the Agett Street Claremont address.  At 23 he had played 35 games for South Melbourne.

He signed with the Claremont Club and applied for a clearance.  Although he had completed the then compulsory 3 month residential qualification and said he had told at least three officials from the South Melbourne Club of his intention, his clearance was refused.

Following repeated requests South finally cleared Reid, with conditions.  Reid lived up to his reputation as a “speed merchant” helping Claremont to three successive premierships in 1938-40.  He missed selection in the 1939 team because of injury.

Reid was the club’s best and fairest in 1939-40 and also vice-captain of the team in 1940.  He represented Western Australia in the 1937 Carnival.

By 1941 WWII was well and truly underway and he enlisted in the army.  By this time too he was married.  Reid Remained in the services until his discharge in October 1945.

At 32 he made a comeback for Claremont whilst still in the army.  He was keen to get back in the saddle but his club were not what they were before the war.  He saw the season out and managed a handful of games the following year after which he retired.  He was made a life member of Claremont in 1946.

In 1948 he played with Boulder in the Goldfields League.  Used as a goalsneak he booted 52 goals in seven games.  He returned to Perth where he became football coach at his local police boys club and was noted about the same time hitting a quick century for the Claremont Cricket Club.

Reid died in 1983 aged 70.