Question 1: Alan when did your love for Rugby League commence?
Alan: Well I didn’t originally, I had just started to play soccer for Wynnum at the start of the season, however most of my mates that worked at Borthwicks Meatworks had gone over to start playing Rugby League. My mate Keith Deitz was working at Borthwicks, so I went and worked with him and a fella called Vic Buckley said ‘this sissy couldn’t play Rugby League’ and I thought that’s a bit rough. That week I road my pushbike over to Kitchener Park, played a couple of games and was selected in the Brisbane Under 18’s side two weeks later. When I made the Brisbane Under 18 team two weeks later, my second-row partner was Mick Veivers who played for Australia.
Question 2: Your education took place at Manly State and Wynnum High Schools, did you have any success with schoolboy sport?
Alan: I played in the 6 stone/8 pounds division, I remember going over the limit one time when they weighed me in, assisting me on the day was our school representative Roy Phillips who had a lot to do with Rugby League later on. The bloke weighing us said to Roy is he any good and Roy replied “No, he is no good we just stick him out on the wing,” I managed to sneak through thanks to Roy.
We had some very good players at Wynnum High, there was a bloke called Howard and the other was Keith Kermond he was a dam good footballer. Unfortunately, Keith went and played in Northern NSW with former Wynnum fullback Barry Boyd. You must remember because money was very important back then. His brother Bumper was my favourite Wynnum Manly Rugby League player.
Question 3: When was your first season of senior football for Wynnum Manly?
Alan: I made my debut for Wynnum Manly in 1958, we normally were the reserves for all three grades and a couple of times I played in all three grades on the same day. My first big year and full season of first grade was in 1960.
Question 4: The Trevor Neibling Shield is still a highly regarded award today, which is awarded for the best junior to senior for the Wynnum Manly Rugby League Club, you won the award in 1959 this must have been a great moment for you?
Alan: Yes it was, the awards night was held at the Wynnum School of Arts (Municipal Hall) it was a great night had by all, getting stuck into the booze, with plenty of pranksters amongst the players. I remember the Greenhill brothers putting prawn heads in our beers and so on. Winning the award just made me feel so good, it was Slim Cloherty who presented the award.
Question 5: How did it feel to be a Wynnum Manly footballer through the community?
Alan: I thought it was the greatest thing ever, even to walk down the street. When I first made the A Grade team, I was an apprentice at the Corner House Butcher Shop, I was looking out the front window of the shop and I saw this bloke running down the road, he had a rest then he started back running towards the shop again, as he got closer I relised it was my own grandfather Edwin Sparks, he couldn’t wait to tell me how proud of me he was and that he had seen my name in the paper selected in the Wynnum Manly A Grade team. He had run all the way from his house in Carnation Street.
Question 6: What are your memories of your first full season for Wynnum Manly in 1960?
Alan: I played an awful lot of second row in that year. Unfortunately, an incident occurred in late 1959 when I was playing at Lang Park. I had just dived over for a try when Henry Holloway stomped on my hand, it became such an issue as I use to ride to Lang Park on a little motor scooter and I couldn’t change gears on my bike, being an apprentice butcher also made things difficult. I had my hand in plaster during the off season and had a late start to the 1960 season.
Question 7: You played in the first game ever under lights at Kougari Oval in 1969 against Sydney team Manly in an exhibition game, how was it to play the great Manly Warringah side?
Alan: I was sitting on the bench for this game and they put me on, when one of stupidest things was the Manly hooker Fred Jones smacking Gordon Haigh and said “that is what you will cop all game” I said to Fred Jones “what do you think we are a mob of schoolboys” probably one of the roughest games I have ever played in my life. In the first half of the game it was really on, the Wynnum five-eighth Eric Lilley was hammering Bob Fulton every time he got the ball, I just couldn’t believe it was ferocious. Some of the tackles made on that night were massive.
Question 8: When did you first represent Brisbane in the Queensland trials?
Alan: It was 1964, unfortunately I pulled out of the side to be best man at my mate Kevin Deitz’s wedding. Stan Gayton replaced me in the Brisbane team and went on to be selected for Queensland after that game, playing for Queensland was always my goal.
I had to ring up Smokey Davis and let him know I was unavailable for the game, he said that’s a pity. He was a Souths supporter and probably favoured the Souths player being selected. It wasn’t easy making a team back then, particularly Queensland as you are playing in all these trial matches and there was plenty of country selectors, being from the city it made it even tougher again. I was playing in a trial against Wide Bay at Lang Park, I received player of the match, however Col Weiss got selected for Queensland.
Question 9: The Bulimba Cup were representative matches played between Ipswich, Toowoomba and Brisbane on Saturdays, how did players manage to back up the next day for their clubs?
Alan: It got to the stage particularly when playing Ipswich, that blokes would pull out of the Brisbane team everywhere, a new rule had to be introduced by the Brisbane Rugby League. If a player that was selected for Brisbane for the representative fixture on the Saturday and did not play, it then made them unavailable for the club match on Sunday.
Over a period of nine days, some players would play four games and go to work on the Monday morning, the players of today would riot if this was to happen.
Question 10: Your main position was lock forward, how much has that position responsibility changed since your time there?
Alan: We were cover defenders and that is not the case anymore. When you specialised in being a lock forward you learnt what to do if a winger stepped inside you and so on, these days it is just one line of defence which changed when the four and six tackle rules were introduced.
Question 11: Your father didn’t like Rugby League and thought it was a stupid game, how did this end up playing out?
Alan: My Dad never watched me play as he didn’t like the game particularly. It was only when he gained the contract to bus players to the game and I had been playing A Grade for a good couple of seasons it changed. We were playing at Davies Park and he said he would stay in the bus and wait for me to stop playing that stupid bloody game, however on this day he decided to come in. After this day my father never missed me playing a game of Rugby League.
My father who owned Monaghan’s Local Bus Service would take players to away games and end of season tours, he also ran the school & Wynnum buses for many years.
Question 12: What was the funniest thing that ever happened when playing football for Wynnum Manly?
Alan: We were playing at Lang Park and the ground announcer Mr. Scott went to pronounce the Wynnum fullback’s name Ivan Udowika after kicking a goal and he got it completely wrong he called him Ivan YOU-DICKY, well you could imagine our team on the field we were in stiches. Trevor Neibling and Graham Curtis just roared laughing.
Question 13: Who was the best player you played with?
Alan: Lionel Morgan without doubt, he just had this natural ability, it was unbelievable. They would come over and start swinging punches at him, he would just go straight back at them not an issue. He was just the absolute athlete. Billy McDermott was the best tackler I saw during my career, his timing was incredible. Trevor Neibling is also worth a mention.
Question 14: Who was the best player you played against?
Alan: A Valleys player called Des Mannion, he was as good as any footballer I ever played against. He was just a complete footballer he played lock as well as five-eighth, he could kick the ball, had a great step and wonderful timing with his passes.
Question 15: Who was the hardest player to tackle?
Alan: A bloke called Frank Duncan who played for Easts, he was a real rough bugger, he would hit you front on, swing you around. There was also a fella called Dinga Bell for Norths that is worth a mention.
Question 16: Did you ever field any offers from other clubs?
Alan: I had an offer from Tully it was for 600 pounds, which was an enormous amount of money back then. The Tully officials came down to watch me play and club director Mal Irwin marches over to the Tully officials and says “well you can’t have him because we have a thousand-pound transfer fee on him,” so it never eventuated. I was also negotiating with Wigan along with Trevor Neibling but pulled out of that deal, Trevor ended up going.
Question 17: What were recollections of Wynnum Manly winning the 1982 Grand Final and what did you do on the day?
Alan: We owned the butcher shop at 74 Bay Terrace in Wynnum, so we got out all our old Wynnum Manly jerseys and the whole staff wore them that week. The club committee asked if they could join the flags they had brought down from the awning of my shop, which we agreed too. They attached the flags from our awning to the girl’s school flagpole across the street. Those things had a very strong chord rope, unfortunately the first truck that came down the road took the flags out and flagpole across at the school came down as well. (Lucky no one got killed) Unfortunately, I never made the game I was so involved in sailing and tennis and couldn’t make the game.
Question 18: Name the Wynnum Manly player that never reached their full potential?
Alan: Neil Kingston, who I coached in the Under 18’s in 1972, one of the best footballers I had ever seen in my life. If there was ever a bloke who I thought would play for Australia, he was one of them. He was the gun rugby league player that I coached, I have never seen anyone with so much ability, he was the best player across that whole competition that year. There was nothing he couldn’t do, Neil was an inspiration to the entire team.
Question 19: You turned your hand to coaching in 1972, what success did you have?
Alan: Well it was a very interesting year as mentioned, I believe I had the best player in the Under 18 competition Neil Kingston. One of the problems that occurred was that we would have the team in their jerseys, just about to take the field and suddenly the police paddy wagon would turn up and pick up seven players and take them away it made it almost impossible to field a team. They must have got up to mischief the night before and the coppers knew what time they were playing the next day, so they would arrive and take them away. I was also worried about getting the jerseys back.
There was another time when the players decided after a training session that they would pants me, so all I heard was okay let’s get him, the players took off and I was left in my underwear. It was raining and I had the responsibility of turning the lights off and they had shot through with my pants. I drove home and asked my wife Pam if she could let me in, imagine how that looked when opening the door, they were priceless memories.
As far as coaching I based my coaching off Jimmy Thompson, it was the four-tackle rule at this stage and I would implement intensive training. I was also a player coach in 1971.
Question 20: What have you done with your life after football?
Alan: I was heavily involved in our local business Monaghan’s butchery in Bay Terrace, it got very big during the 1970’s. I sold my shop in 1986 and went on and worked for Sunstate Cement as a mill operator. My wife Pam and I brought up our three children Andrew, Trevor and Cathy. I continued to play sport and was involved in Tennis and Yachting. I retired in 2008, have been on a few cruises, try to stay active playing tennis and assist the Anglican Church at Birkdale.
Story Source: Paul Comber