Grand final day mishaps: How a Wallabies legend saved Canberra in 1989
Grand final day mishaps: How a Wallabies legend saved Canberra in 1989

How a Wallabies legend saved the ‘89 grand final

Grand final day is the day that can change a footballer's life.

It's also the day that the game can be lost before a ball has even been kicked.

For decades, the pressure and intense focus has caused havoc for players on grand final day.

These are the great grand final day mishaps revealed - lost boots, wrong socks and even a former Wallaby, who helped save Canberra in the 1989 grand final.



Rabbitohs legend Bob McCarthy, who normally enjoyed a short commute to the Sydney Cricket Ground, almost ended in disaster due to a crowd of almost 100,000 people attending the 1965 decider featuring Souths and St George.

"I just lived at Redfern in those days," McCarthy said.

"Normally getting to the Cricket Ground was about 20 minutes straight along Cleveland Street. I always used to leave about one o'clock.


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Bob McCarthy lines up Brian Clay during the 1965 grand final.
Bob McCarthy lines up Brian Clay during the 1965 grand final.


"At 2:20 I started to panic - I got down to the Bat and Ball (Hotel) - we didn't know what was going on at the Cricket Ground, we didn't know about the traffic.

"I said to a copper 'I've got to play'. He said park your car here - I took off and didn't envisage what was going on until I got across ANZAC Parade and saw the crowd walking back.

"I fought my way through the crowd and at about twenty to three I got through. Bernie Purcell - our coach - was just inside the gate and he was starting to panic a bit.

"This day there were 100,000 there - the official crowd went up to 78,000, but with all the people on the ground and all the people on all the rooves and the stairs at the Showground and the old clock there - it was pandemonium.''




St George legend Graeme "Changa" Langlands arrived at the 1975 grand final against Eastern Suburbs with a longstanding groin injury.



Graeme Langlands is assisted from the field during the 1975 grand final.
Graeme Langlands is assisted from the field during the 1975 grand final.


Before kick-off, Langlands was given a painkilling injection to dull the injury, but rather than merely deadening the pain, his entire leg went numb.

One of the most dominant players of his era, whose kicking game was crucial to the Dragons premiership hopes, was left to drag his leg around before eventually being replaced as Easts raced away to win 38-0 nil.

Langlands wrote in his book Larrikin and Saint: "It was an injection that went wrong. It wasn't the doctor's fault. The injection went in where the nerves shouldn't have been. They had moved because of all the injuries that I've had around the groin."

To make matters worse, Langlands had signed a contract with Adidas to wear bright, white boots, which only magnified his severely restricted running-style due to his "dead" leg.





It's one of the great scandals of the modern-day game that in the 1988 grand final, Canterbury's Paul Langmack wore the wrong coloured socks.

After winning the 1985 title with the Dogs and then losing the grand final in 1986, Langmack decided before the 1988 decider, he should wear his 'lucky' socks from '85.

The problem was, when Langmack went to wash the blue and white socks for the first time in three years, teammate and flatmate Steve O'Brien tossed a yellow T-shirt into the washing machine as well.

Langmack's previously blue and white socks, were now blue and yellow.

"It looked like I was wearing Parramatta socks,'' Langmack admitted in a recent interview with Andrew Voss.



Wallabies legend David Campese still recalls dropping his size-9 adidas boots off to the Sydney hotel the Raiders were staying at the night before the 1989 grand final.

Canberra halfback Ricky Stuart had phoned his old Queanbeyan Whites teammate in a panic.

Inexplicably, Stuart didn't have his boots for the biggest game of the year.

"So I dropped my pair of Copa Mundial (adidas brand) off to him,'' Campese said.

"I had worn them the week before in the first grade grand final with Randwick and I got man of the match.

"They were actually soccer boots with moulded studs.

"I was only too happy to help my old mate, he won the grand final, he gave them back - and I've still got them too.''



Ricky Stuart.
Ricky Stuart.


David Campese.
David Campese.




Call it genius after experiencing the 1988 grand final build-up, Balmain Tigers forward Bruce McGuire devised a plan to improve his preparation 12 months later when the Tigers met Canberra in 1989.

Instead of feeling flustered like he did one-year earlier from the amount of time taken to sign thousands of autographs on grand final jerseys, balls and posters, McGuire took some creative license.

"Signing autographs in grand final week is hundred times more than what it normally is during the season,'' former Balmain teammate Steve Roach explained.

"Rather than waste precious time, Brucey went and bought a stamp made up of his signature.

"He just ran around with his ink pad and his stamp, stamping jersey's and balls with his signature.

"He was done and dusted in no time. It's one of the best things I've seen.''



Steve "Blocker' Roach says preparation before a grand final is everything - which is why Balmain may have lost the 1989 grand final to Canberra.

In the '80s the two grand final teams were given special jerseys to wear on the day that featured the prized Winfield Cup emblazoned onto the sleeves.

The excitement of the Balmain players quickly evaporated when they each pulled their jumpers on inside the Sydney Football Stadium dressing room.

They were all triple the size of their regular season jerseys.

"Mick Neil's was down to his ankles,'' Roach said.

"We tucked them into our shorts and they were still down to our knees.

"It was like my mother's nightie. So we all passed the scissors around and cut them to fit before we ran out.

"In big games everything has got to go perfectly.

"Things happen and then that upsets the rhythm of people. And here we were cutting up our jumpers before kick-off."




Eels star Jarryd Hayne sent teammate Junior Paulo, who is now retired, rushing back to his house with a police escort after he turned up to the 2009 grand final against Melbourne with two left boots.

Hayne, then regarded as the game's best player, was without boots until five minutes before kick-off after he had packed two lefts the night before the decider.

"I didn't realise until I went to put them on,'' Hayne said at the time.

"I had two left boots and I had to call one of my mates to go and get them. I just wasn't thinking when I packed them I guess. It was a pretty tough start to the day but I got there in the end.''



Jarryd Hayne turned up for the 2009 grand final with two left boots.
Jarryd Hayne turned up for the 2009 grand final with two left boots.


Originally published as How a Wallabies legend saved the '89 grand final