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REVIEW: Their Finest Hour – A History of the Rugby League World Cup in 10 Matches

29th August 2017, 11:27

REVIEW: Their Finest Hour – A History of the Rugby League World Cup in 10 Matches

Ian Golden, Communications Manager at WRL, reviews this book that's out in time for the World Cup.

An excellent new book has been released in time for the Rugby League World Cup, which of course starts at the end of October. It’s called “Their Finest Hour – A History of the Rugby League World Cup in 10 Matches” and is written by Andrew Marmont, a freelance writer, producer, presenter and voice-over artist based in Melbourne, Australia. 

There has already been a history book released in the past, which had a second edition and will soon be due a third, but this one is a little different. Yes it’s a history book, but not only is it primarily told in the method of interviews with players and personalities throughout the years, it’s formatted by focussing on the games that the author feels were the 10 most important or crucial in the history of the tournament, starting from the very first Rugby World Cup Final back in 1954 (yes it was Rugby League but it preceded the union version by 33 years) right up until the classic Wembley semi-final four years ago, and I’m not talking Australia v Fiji here.

It’s doubtful you’ll agree with his full choice, and that’s not a bad thing - books like this are always written for debate. For me, the game that I would have selected for the top ten would have been Wales’ 12-7 defeat over England in Brisbane, the game that cost England the World Cup, and remember, England have NEVER won the World Cup (apologies to both Monty Python and Coventry City here). I realise that the 1975 “World Championship” something a bit different as it was staged in two hemispheres over the course of a year, but it was quite an event and I would have put more focus on that wonderful year.

I enjoyed reading about the historical element of the first few World Cups that only contained four sides – Great Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand – and also reading about the unusual elements of the last few tournaments especially featuring heavily, rather than ignoring as some would do, the so-called minor nations like Tonga, Fiji and the USA and the massive contributions they have made to our truly global tournament – that Wiggles song from four years ago still haunts me today, thanks for the reminder Andrew (shudders)!

Highlights of the 1995 World Cup plus brief clips from earlier tournaments

I learned a lot by reading this book, and that’s a good thing. I’ve read an awful lot of rugby league history in my time, I’ve been called Wikipedia in the past, and this book has continued to fill a number of gaps in my RL knowledge - not just on the field but off it. A few examples here - I didn’t know that Maurice Lindsay paid Diana Ross $100,000 US, plus Concord and Dorchester Hotel fees, to mime at the opening ceremony of the 1995 World Cup at Wembley Stadium. I did wonder if Status Quo or Carol Decker got that much for participating in the same event. I don’t know about Quo but I checked with Decker via Twitter and she confirmed to me that she actually got more, and didn’t have a nice word to say about Ross! I also didn’t know that the Great Britain side of 1954 had to break into their training ground in Paris to use it, nor that they didn’t have any balls and training with a bag of old socks as a makeshift ball. I also didn’t know that their Scottish born captain Dave Valentine used the song of 1700s highwayman Dave MacPherson as inspiration to his troops. More importantly, I didn’t know (or may have known and forgotten) that Keith Barnes, who won 17 caps for Australia and coached them in the 1960 World Cup, was born in Port Talbot. These days, he’d have flown back to wear the red jersey, but in the 1950s, once you’d emigrated, that was that. He kicked 742 goals in 13 years which would probably put him along with Billy Boston as the greatest Welshman never to have played for Wales.

So, as looking at the book from a Welsh perspective, are there many mentions of the Welsh game in there? Thankfully, plenty. I was lucky to have a PDF review so I could search the word “Wales” and “Welsh” to see what I could come up with. After going past interstate mentions (this book was written down under after all). Clive Sullivan gets a big mention for leading Great Britain to the 1972 World Cup, the final game of that tournament being one of the author’s 10 choice games, and there is a section on Wales in the chapter about the 1995 tournament, which focuses on the dramatic Australia v New Zealand semi-final which went into extra time. Clive Griffiths is interviewed about his role as coach in the 1995 and 2000 tournaments and whilst this has been covered in other books (see a good one called “The Welsh Crusade” if you can), it’s wonderful that his insights about our nation are portrayed again to an international audience. The author is also rightly critical of Wales’ downfall between 1996-99 and again from 2001-2008 (after our fake 2000 mini-revival) with Lee Briers being quoted as calling it “scandalous” that internationally, we hadn’t kicked on after those tournaments. The introduction of Celtic Crusaders was of course our lifeline as an international side, but that’s another story.

A magic moment from 2013 at a packed Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

It’s a great read but there are omissions and there is the odd error here and there. Saying that “Dally  Messenger and the All  Gold’s (sic) started rugby league in 1908” is the biggie, and I’m sure even my good friend in Cheltenham Lionel Hurst I’m sure would disagree with that one, and also Wales also didn’t compete in the 1977 tournament.

Both don’t let those minor points distract you from what, as I’ve already implied, is a wonderful book which, going by the bibliography at the back, is well referenced. The previous history books are not included in the references which is probably a good thing, it shows that the author wanted to be original in his style and he has achieved that. As the title says, this isn’t THE history of the Rugby League World Cup, it’s A history and an interesting one at that.

This book tells me two major things, 1. Wales need a good World Cup this year, and 2. The World Cup itself has a glorious, wonderful and interesting history. You won’t get the full account of said history in “Their Finest Hour”, but that’s not what it’s all about. Should you buy this book, and I hope you do, what you will read are so many interesting stories about rugby league, its teams, its players, its personalities, its triumphs and its failures, all relating in some way to the original Rugby World Cup. Make it your plane reading when you travel to watch Wales later this year, I guarantee that the first time you put it down will be when you change planes.

I loved this book for all the reasons that I listed above. I attended World Cups in 1992, 1995, 2000 and 2013 and have great memories of watching the 2008 event on television. I enjoyed all of those World Cup tournaments in many different ways. Now we’re back in Australia in a matter of weeks for the next World Cup tournament in which I’m sure events will add to this remarkable history portrayed in Marmount’s book and beyond.

Their Finest Hour: A History of the Rugby League World Cup in 10 Matches - by Andrew Marmont - Paperback – release date (UK) 5 Oct 2017 but can already be bought on Kindle. Look inside the book on Amazon right now.

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