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Title: ... p97- Ken Thornett - Written by John MacDonald and published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday

For those unlucky enough not to have been born when the great Ken Thornett played for Parramatta - I have re-produced this article by John MacDonald (now I think with the Parramatta Advertiser - I assume it is the same bloke) which was in the SMH on March 6, 1986, eight days before the official opening of the new Cumberland Oval (aka Parramatta Stadium.
It is a great article, and one which I have kept for 24 years (obviously)
 
"To the true believer, the opening of Parramatta Stadium is the return to the Garden of Eden.

To the unenlightened, it is just the opening of a 30,000-capacity modern sports stadium where Cumberland Oval used to be.
To the chosen few thousand, March 14 (1986)   when Parramatta will play St George   represents a return to a place of worship, a haven of hope in a troubled world.

After four years in the wilderness committed Parramatta Rugby League fans return to their spiritual homeland.

More than that, for the long term believer who has seen drought, famine ephemeral triumphs and then disaster, it means a journey to pay homage to the man who will always be the first and final image of Parramatta   Ken Thornett. The Mayor as he was revered.
We ve had the regal visit so that all that remains is for the King of Cumberland to return and put his blessing on the day.

Since Thornett there have been Prices, Grothes, Kenny and Ellas   superstars all.

Thornett existed on a higher plane: "How dare you speak of God like that."

This before team songs, banners, Messiahs, fireworks and dancing girls. An image of Thornett remains frozen in time. 

A fullback standing behind his Parramatta team, wearing what seemed size OOOOSSSS shorts that ended just short of the knees.

A tall muscular man hunched forward, surveying the play and giving off a message that modestly said "I m decisive, occasionally flamboyant and a pillar of strength.

Thornett, ready to slice through any defence with power and speed   or spot a gap immediately and fire and immaculately timed cut out pass that always found its man.

Drop a ball? Unthinkable. And if things went wrong up front he was always there as an invincible last line.
Price may be the great warrior, but it impossible to think of a more inspirational footballer than Ken Thornett. 

Simply, he was rock-solid and able to find inner reserves when it seemed that the flesh could take no more.

To the young  worshipper  he seemed to be truth, manliness, honour, and not just the Australian way   the only way.
Heroes of youth later become just people. But Thornett will always remain what he was: the defender of all that is good, beyond blemish.

A fledgling supporter taken to Cumberland Oval for the first time saw St George beat Parramatta 66-4.
They weren t the Eels then. They were the Fruit Pickers.

S and G (Summons and Graham) were  the drinks that made Parramatta famous  and Cumberland Oval existed on the outskirts of civilisation.

Little Coogee was a sandy beach on Parramatta River just across from the oval where people swam in clean water long before Friends of Parramatta Park were interested enough to almost destroy Eden s greatest chance of rebirth.

As a precursor of modern day professionalism, Colonel Jack Argent, the then Parramatta secretary, walked the entire ground at half time selling raffle tickets.
The Noller Pavillion was seldom more than half full, unlike the drunks who wandered in to sleep peacefully on the hills.
There was no stamping of feet or cries of "Parra   Parra".

Instead a brave soul would exhort "Come on Parra, apply the pressure", as the score passed 40-0, almost weekly, only to be met with a sneering "What Pressure?" to a jeering chorus. Safety in numbers, and it is great to be a winner.

The raffle tickets and the fledgling Mecca known as the Leagues Club managed to convert a few big names to the true faith   future disciples like Brian Hambly and Ron Lynch.

It seemed a yearly event to troop hopefully to the Sydney Cricket Ground, only to see a false dawning as St George ritually topped 50 points.

The coming of Thornett in 1962 was truly the coming of the "Messiah"
Parramatta went from also rans with six wins and a draw from seven games as Thornett led from the back with a brand of play seldom seen before   an amalgam of the flair learnt at Randwick Rugby Union Club and the skills honed with Leeds in England (where the story goes, Leeds supporters bet on him not dropping the ball and never lost).

A memory remains of being taken to see Thornett for the first time at Brookvale Oval, long before such matches resolved into a pure battle of good versus evil.

He seemed invincible; a man apart. 

One time a Manly player came to Thornett with his winger outside. Thornett shepherded them into the sideline, stayed on his feet, forced the pass and barrelled the winger into touch.

The man could do no wrong.

It was a fleeting heaven, for Thornett had to return to England.

Without his inspiration and magic Parramatta lost all its remaining games and knocked straight out of the semi finals.

But he would be back for the whole season the following year.

The resurgence continued in 1963 and Thornett made his inevitable international debut, scoring the winning try for Australia to beat the strong New Zealand team 14-3 in the third Test.

A little later there was a worrying sign that he might in some way be fallible. A midweek game against the touring South Africans meant an early exit from school, a climb over the back fence at the back of the old score board, and a disturbing sight during the Parramatta romp.

Thornett, playing on the wing, made no attempt to try and stop his opposite number from scoring.

An allowable extravagance easily forgiven, not risking injury for the weekend, though it didn t seem possible he could be injured.
The dark cloud on the horizon at the end of the season, was the shining light of Reg Gasnier, always the villain in red and white and the hero in green and gold.

Two miraculous Gasnier tries allowed St George to beat Parramatta 12-7 in the preliminary final, although the Fruit Pickers were acknowledged as the better team.

Compensation was soon to come. The Kangaroos defeated England for the Ashes for the first time in 50 years.

The Sun carried the unforgettable picture of Thornett crashing through a head high tackle of English half back Alex Murphy to score with the immortal headline "The man they couldn t stop".

It was printing the fact and the legend. Parramatta was to make the semi finals in the next two years, first to be demoralised by St George again, before bowing out to Balmain, then to fall to a youthful South Sydney some up and comers named McCarthy, Coote and O Neill.

No matter. If great players like Lynch, Hambly and Dick Thornett could sometimes falter, Ken Thornett could not,
The  Parra" chants had long since started; the feet stamped in unison in the Noller Pavilion, and thrusting bursts still led to tries.

The flesh still scarcely seemed a beat behind the Thornett heart.

He had taken Parramatta to four years in the semi finals   the fat years.

There remained one event to rival Armageddon. Before the 1967 season it was rumoured that Thornett and Parramatta
Were not on terms and that he could be going to Eastern Suburbs.

What greater crisis could there be than to choose between Thornett and Parramatta, the true faith?

The Mayor remained, played out the season and retired from Sydney.

He was summoned from the wilderness in 1971, the speed and agility gone and only the heart and strength remaining, but it was enough to help Parramatta to the semi finals, again to fall. After that, three more long years of darkness.

Some consoled themselves with the thought that being a Parramatta supporter was good training for life: they were conditioned to pain and disappointment.

From 1975 five more years in the semifinals, with first Norm Provan and then Terry Fearnley. More controversies and disappointments.
The dedicated believer accepted fate   a premiership in a lifetime was the impossible dream. It came of course, two years later, and all things were now possible to all men.

The symbolic burning of Cumberland by rejoicing believers meant an existence spent in wilderness however. Now a new civilisation beckons at new Eden   and the King returns.

The Ken Thornett Stand won t be set afire. It will be appropriate only if St George, the old Goths and Vandals are burnt.

Written by John MacDonald and published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday, March 6, 1986.

Appears in the following pages ....P97_Ken Thornett
Date of posting ... 13-Feb-2010
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