The Night the Music Died follows the story of the thrown-together Western Division side of 1974 – a team that overcame a mountain of adversity and overpowered some of rugby league’s greatest sides to lift the first ever Amco Cup.
Western Division comprised a team of battlers – a timber cutter, a slaughterman, a bush-loving rabbit-trapper, a schoolboy, a greyhound trainer, a bald-headed animal impersonator and several miners and farmers – who played for the love of the game not money. The Night the Music Died, written by Ian Heads, covers their against-all-odds triumph, the likes of which will most likely never again be seen in rugby league.
The ragtag bunch of committed country boys defeated Auckland and Canterbury, drew with Manly (before advancing on a penalty countback) and beat Penrith in the final to lift the first Amco Cup in front of a Channel 10 TV audience in the millions. The unlikely bunch of blokes, from across such a geographically diverse landscape, captured the public’s imagination – and nearly beat Great Britain in one of the most physical exhibition matches in the history of the sport, too.
A team built on heart and effort more so than on silky skills, Western Division triumphed on an ultra-aggressive approach inspired by their coach, premiership-winning Dragon Johnny King. The team’s attitude was reflected in all their players – and it helped produce a new bunch of stars including ‘TV’ Ted Ellery, barnstorming winger Terry Fahey and fearsome forward Greg Fearnley.
Heads’ tribute captures the public sentiment at the time – the impact Western Division’s triumph had not only on the regions they represented but on rugby league in general. Described by league legend Wayne Bennett as “Inspiring and important… a wonderful book”, The Night the Music Died pieces together one of the most romantic fairytales in Australian sporting history – one that will never be forgotten. It’s a ripping rugby league read.
The Night the Music Died, written by Ian Heads, is published by Stoke Hill Press and is available at nrlshop.com and all good bookshops.