‘It’s Queensland or NSW… you’re on one side or the other’

Dear Queenslanders,

What does it mean to me to be a Queenslander? Mate, I am very proud of being a Queenslander.

Especially proud of being a far north Queenslander. I come from Cairns originally and I’ve grown up in the north. We had the best childhood. We just ran around doing whatever we wanted up there… fishing, swimming and just riding our push bikes everywhere. I had the best upbringing and I’ve got very, very fond memories of growing up a Queenslander. It’s just a nice, casual place. And full of great people.

I never watched a lot of football in my childhood. I basically just played it – every chance I got, everywhere. At school, in the mornings, we’d play. We’d play morning, lunch time… and after school we’d go home and play at the park across the road. Growing up, the only football I really watched was State of Origin.

The first game when Arthur Beetson ran out onto Lang Park. When I saw that game, there was so much excitement around Queensland.

All our best players used to go down south and then come and play against us. The excitement around Arthur Beetson coming back, and all the Queenslanders that were playing in Sydney, to play for Queensland… it was the talk of the town.

I watched that game along with everyone else in Queensland that night. From then on it, I felt like I just wanted to be a part of that.

Football, to me, we just did it. We just played in the backyard, we played in the parks, we played at school, we played at clubs, we just played football. You know? We just enjoyed it.

We never really thought about ever representing anything or going on and having a career playing football. It never really crossed our minds, we just enjoyed playing it growing up. We played football and we played cricket. That’s what we did. But after I watched that game, I felt that I wanted to be part of that. It was just something special. I wasn’t thinking I’d ever get there, ever play there, but I just had that feeling that I wanted to be part of it. Part of something great.

I absolutely remember my first game of rugby league. My first club was Wests in Cairns. Western Suburbs Junior Rugby League and it was under 7s. I remember the first game, without a doubt. I might’ve scored a couple of tries too, just quietly. But there’s no one around to confirm that. As I said, growing up in Cairns, that’s just what we did.

There wasn’t any computer games. The closest we got to playing games was with a Monopoly set, which would always end up in tears. We had Scrabble and that. But everything was outdoors.

We weren’t allowed to play in the house. We had to go outside. Everything was done over in the park or in the backyard. That’s just the way it was and everyone was the same. So we were all healthy, running around. Spending our days going from place to place, moving around the place. We never sat still, we never sat around and talked. We were always doing stuff. Running around, causing trouble here and there.

I look at those days as the best days of my life, growing up with all my mates. All those blokes are still my mates today. We’ve never lost touch.

When it came to playing for Queensland, back in those days you never got a phone call. You used to watch the television to see whether you made the side. They didn’t used to ring you up. True story.

So you’d wait for the TV to come on and your name would be read out on the TV. I felt proud when my name got read out. Mainly for my parents. They’d obviously over the years put a lot in. We used to travel three to four hours sometimes to a footy game and rep football, we’d travel down to Townsville, Herbert River, Innisfail, the Tablelands. We’d go all over the place playing football. They’d travel with us. They made a lot of sacrifices as well.

So playing for Queensland, for me, was more about a reward for the whole family. Not really just me.

You play Origin… you’ve got your name on your back, but that’s your family name. That’s why you play. You play to represent your family as well as your state.

When I found out I’d play, I had a mate of mine with me. It was a good moment. I had a feeling I was close but obviously you never know until your name gets read out. It was a very, very proud of that moment.

As I said, it was just a great feeling to be put in that league. Obviously that first team had some of the greatest greats of rugby league, as well as Queensland. Wally, Alfie, Gene Miles, Mal Meninga. Some of Queensland’s very best players in there, so you know, to be in that company was something very, very special.

When it came to my first camp, I didn’t really know what to do, to be honest with you. We used to stay at the Travelodge back then. They stay at better places these days. But we stayed at the Travelodge and I just remember walking in and Tosser Turner looked at me, grabbed me, and said “yeah, I’ve seen you before, come with me”. He took me up to the sixth floor of the Travelodge, to his room, and in his room he had all the Queensland training gear and tracksuits. All the stuff you needed for the week. He asked me what size, picked out all the gear and put it in a bag and off I went. Went down to the room, 601, went in and it was just a real strange feeling.

I couldn’t believe it. Couldn’t believe I was there.

Most players were feeling the same way. All the guys. The first thing we had to do was meet in the bar downstairs and have a few drinks. And a few more. I think the first couple of days was really getting to know each other. And we did that through socialising in the bars and pubs. We socialised with the public, we socialised with each other to get to know each other. We built up the bonds that way. Then we’d start training.

I roomed with Mick McLean. We got on pretty well. You pretty much got on with everyone. There was no real segregation at all. Everyone was there together. Everything we did, we did it together. We went on the bus together, everywhere we went, we went together. There was no breaking away. Everyone stuck together for the whole time. I roomed with Mick, but you become close with everyone.

You’d be a really tight knit group by the end of camp. By the time you play, you’d do anything for those fellas. And visa versa.

When it came to putting that jersey on for the first time, the first thing I did was turn it over and looked at my name on the back. I think everyone does that.

You know, I felt more proud for my family than me personally. My job was to make sure I did them proud as well as Queensland.

To me, it wasn’t a moment for me. I had a job to do and I had to make sure I did that job. That’s the way I felt. There was a responsibility with that jersey, to make sure you do the very best you can for your family and your state.

First game, I came off the bench about 15 minutes into the game. That was just fantastic. It was at Lang Park. The crowd was louder than crowd I’d ever played in front of. I played with the Broncos, so we had some big crowds, but this crowd was just out of control. Yeah, it was a very, very good feeling. You just had energy to burn and you just didn’t feel like…. for the first game I played, I didn’t feel like I got tired. Like I could’ve kept going.

My biggest highlight though, without a doubt, would be the 1995 series.

We weren’t expected to really win a game that year in between the Super League split. I was at the Broncos at the time and I was the only player at the Broncos not to sign with the Super League which made me eligible to play for Queensland.

I got an opportunity there. When the side was announced I remember watching the TV and seeing everyone’s name get called out and half the players, I didn’t even know. I didn’t even know who they were. Fatty Vautin, he was coach, obviously.

I rang Mark Hohn up, just after it had been announced, and said to him “what about this? Have to seen the side?”. I said “I don’t even know half those blokes in it”. He said “well, at least you’re in the team. I’m on the bench. I can’t even make the side”. But I said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen here mate, but it doesn’t look good”.

But we got into camp and Fatty pulls everyone into the room, and by the end of that first meeting, I walked out of that meeting, turned to Mark Hohn and said “you know what? I reckon we can win this”. There was just a feeling I got with that group of players. The feeling that they all didn’t want to let anyone down. And in the end, we ended up winning it 3-nil.

I think Queensland fans – you – are unbelievably loyal. You’ve only got to look at the difference between our fans and NSW fans. At times there’s been NSW fans who have actually changed over to follow Queensland because they were sick of NSW losing. But I can’t remember any Queenslanders doing that. At times, fans get a little bit critical of some performances, but I can tell you one thing… there’s not one player that ever goes out there to play for Queensland that doesn’t want to do his very best, you know?

That rugby league team, Queensland, belongs to Queenslanders. To the loyal fans. It’s not just a footy team. It’s their team. It’s cut and dry.

With club football, some fans might have a team here. But they’ve got a couple of other teams they’ve got a soft spot for. But when you’re following Queensland there’s no in between. That’s what makes it such a great competition. It’s Queensland or NSW… you’re on one side or the other. Never in the middle.

Forming part of what that Queensland team is, for me, is something more for my family. Obviously I feel proud but it probably means more to me that my family’s proud of it.

I’ve got four kids now and they’ve never seen me play football. But when Origin comes around it’s a time for them to be proud. And they are.

It’s very, very hard to explain the feeling I get when it comes to Origin. It’s more, the Queensland football team, is not about you personally. It’s more about your family and your state. If players don’t understand that, they are very quickly made aware of that. Aware of what it means to the people of Queensland. To you. Aware of the importance of the past in shaping the future.

There’s a lot of people out there that can’t play for Queensland. Or for whatever reason, they’re not capable of playing football. Or they’re too old. Or haven’t got the skills. Whatever. Your job, as a player, is to play the football for them. Your job is to make sure you play the football they can’t play. Or haven’t had the opportunity to do. That’s your job.

As I said, playing for Queensland, you have a real responsibility to make sure you do your very best.

I think the future of Queensland looks very good at the moment. We’ve had a lot of young players come through last year. Over the last two years we’ve blooded a few players. Now they’ve got a few games’ experience.

You know, within one year, we lost over 100 games of Origin experience. But last year, we were just one minute away from winning.

NSW have probably got three of four times the amount of people to pick from but at the end of the day, they can only pick 17 players and we can only pick 17 players. Yes, we haven’t got the talent pool they’ve got, but the players that turn up, the players who get selected, are the guys who probably in the same position as I was. They want to be there, they want to play for Queensland, it means everything to them. They’re not going to let themselves, their family or their state down. They’re going to give their very, very best every single time. I think that’s what makes Queensland special. Queensland selectors, who have mostly played rugby league themselves, will never pick selfish players. They’ll pick players who are going to do their very, very best for the team. For their families. For the state.

We know we can pick a side, and we’ve proven it before in 1995, we can pick a side where on paper we haven’t looked as good as NSW. But the side we pick will always be one that will always do their very best. Sometimes that very best doesn’t get the result, but the players will always give a performance, that Queensland fans are proud of. I think that will always be the case.

Because, Queenslanders are special.

That’s what I think anyway.

Kind regards,

Gavin Allen

FOG #72

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