The Webcke Biography ? More Substantial than the Headlines

The record of the biographies of sportsmen, and women, in recent years is not a particularly inspiring one. That is why many end up in the $5 dollar, or even $2 dollar, display stand much sooner than most.

But there are exceptions, and Shane Webcke?s biography, ?Warhorse: Life Football and other Battles?, is surely destined to be one of them.

Sadly, one revelation ? that he failed a drug test five years ago for a prescription drug given to him while he was in hospital being treated for what could have been a very serious knee injury ? has totally swamped media coverage of what is a very interesting read, and a refreshingly frank one.

Now it is true that Webcke, and his co-author, Ian Heads, would have been well aware that the drug test revelation would have made the headlines, and it won?t do book sales any harm ? though apparently a second print run has already been ordered!

For the rugby league addict, or those interested in sport generally, this book has much more appeal than the drug revelation.

It is a totally frank account of one of the more successful football careers of our time.

The foreword alone makes interesting reading. Written by Wayne Bennett it runs to no less than THIRTEEN pages, and reveals for the first time that Webcke has spent a substantial portion of his earnings from football, and business, directly funding junior football in the bush. Elsewhere his mother reveals that most of his earnings from origin and test football have been given to junior sport.

But the foreword, and Webcke?s own chapter on Bennett, is a fascinating ? and absolutely frank ? account of a player-coach relationship. While he has chronicled their differences, and there have been a few, Webcke is full of praise for Bennett the coach, and importantly, the person.

Rugby league fans will be interested in his views on a range of issues affecting the game ? its administration, expansion, the neglect of football in the bush, and ?players behaving badly?. And he also has views on the media?s coverage of the game?including ?The Footy Show? on Nine. No need to guess what he thinks about that!

It chronicles 11 seasons in the NRL ? 252 matches played ? and a test and origin career extending from 1997 to 2004.

And it?s not just a chronicle of the good games ? the disappointing ones, and Webcke?s own disappointing performances are not glossed over.

What the book does not fully reveal is that when he made the decision early this year to retire at the end of the season ? and the age of 32 ? he could do so free of financial considerations.

Webcke has been no less successful off the field as he has been on the field. He probably leaves the game as its wealthiest player. He owns farms, the hotel in his home town of Leyburn, and is believed to have substantial property and other investments.

And, he has not been letting the grass grow under his feet in his retirement ? now five days old! He has already signed a lucrative long term deal with the Seven Network and more will undoubtedly follow.

The interesting aspect is that he has achieved it all without the ?assistance? of one of rugby league?s many (too many) player managers!

His co-author is well and favourably known to league fans. Since the passing of Peter ?Chippy? Frilingos a couple of years ago, Ian Heads has been the doyen of league writers. And easily the most prolific author the game has known.

Not only did Ian Heads serve as Chief Rugby League Writer for the ?Daily Telegraph?, and Editor of ?Rugby League Week?, he has authored, or co-authored, no less than 35 books?many of them on rugby league. The most notable was ?True Blue? the magnificently produced history of the NSW Rugby League.

But he has also written biographies with distinguished league luminaries ranging from eminent players Wayne Pearce, Peter Sterling, Noel Kelly, Arthur Beetson and Malcolm Reilly to the games pre-eminent broadcaster, Frank Hyde, and one of its best known and respected administrators, Ken Arthurson.

I perhaps need to disclose that the Webcke biography uses a quote from yours truly on the involvement of footballers of German descent in the early development of the game in Queensland (Webcke is of German descent) and that of another Darling Downs farmer, Herb Steinohrt, in particular.

Even though Herb Steinohrt played in the 1920?s and 1930?s ? and was a distinguished Kangaroo ? he remarkably has an historic link with Shane Webcke. When Wayne Bennett joined the police force and was transferred to Pittsworth (on the Darling Downs) he played football with the historic All Whites Club in Toowoomba. And who was his coach? None other than the great Herb Steinohrt!

I digress. Rugby league has been well served by Shane Webcke. Departing with a Grand Final win was fitting way to go out. And, unlike far too many other players, he was able to choose the time of his own departure.

He will not be lost to the game, or, even more importantly, to the community. One suspects that down the track a political career looms.

But for the time being, he has gifted the game, and fans generally, a substantial, thoughtful biography.