Two ex-Wellington Athletes meet on Neutral Ground and Find Lots to Talk About.

21 September 2014

A story here which probably means nothing much except for two old Kiwi mates having a bit of fun. And one of them, an old commentator indulging in skiting just a wee bit....! Before being straightend out!

I had a call at home the other night from the 1974 Commonwealth Games 10,000 metres athletics gold medallist Dick Tayler. He's a top bloke and a good mate of mine since those far off days of yore. Here in 2014 Dick passes himself off as a Cantabrian through and through but I always rib him that I definitely know otherwise.

Basically it goes like this; I will always remind Dick that when he won his great Gold Medal he was not running then as a New Zealand rep athlete out of Christchurch with their Red-and-Black Canterbury colours. Nor was he even as a Green-and-Black from his birthplace in South Canterbury! That's because in 1974 Dick was living in Marlborough and as the Marlborough Amateur Athletics Association was then affiliated to the Gold-and-Blacks of my home province of Wellington when Dick was picked to go to the Christchurch Games for his great success he went as part of the Wellington squad to join the New Zealand team.

Ha! Good on yer Dick, y'er one of us!

The two of us have had a lot of fun with our more then slightly obscure gag over the years! Everyone thinks Dick is a long time Cantabrian - and maybe he is now - but factually in his greatest hour he was a Wellingtonian.

But back to the phone call to my place. When Dick calls for a yarn he never introduces himself he just starts talking. But his voice is distinctive and his manner is always cheery. So the other night he opened with a question; "I'm sitting here in a bar with two South Canterbury originals who played their sport to international level for their country and are often thought to be Wellingtonians - but they're not actually! Who do you reckon is here?'

I paused only for about four seconds. Then said quietly down the line....'..OK, one of you is YOU Dick ... and how is Tom?' I said.

I swear I almost heard the phone drop; that was followed by a muffled voice saying 'I knew he'd be onto you Tom! He got you straight away!'

In truth I just took a wild guess. Of course I knew one of the two would have been the Timaru-born Dick Tayler himself. He has always been proud of his origins in South Canterbury but I love his link to Wellington.

But to identify the other man present from my memory-bank which still can surprise me - I instantly made a South Canterbury-Wellington sports connection to the 1968-71 All Blacker Tom Lister. I was correct so Tom was called onto the line and we had a good yarn for a couple of minutes. Mostly about the good old days.

Tom was a terrific player. A loping flanker of great intelligence who came to Wellington to play for the Athletic Rugby Club after three impressive early seasons for his local province. He quickly fitted into a tough loose forward combination with two other top Wellington players of the 1960s, Andy Leslie and Graham Williams. All three became heroes of a young commentator. And all became All Blacks.

Down the line Tom then put me nicely in my place. The proud skiter in me had assumed from memory that having been in Wellington for three seasons 1965-67 that Tom had progressed to the All Blacks from the high standards of play he would have found in the Capital.

'No way,' said Tom, 'The All Black selectors wouldn't look at me until I decided to go south again. After 1967 I went back to much smaller Timaru but the next thing I'm off on the 1968 tour to Australia. And I got all my tours, tests and matches over the next four seasons as a South Canterburian - and never from Wellington!'

I was chastised (in a very kind way) and the conversation ended a short time later. 

The story I relate to you here as nothing more than one of the nice things that can happen through men getting together and yarning. There's always something you forget or misplace in your mind. But rugby can still conjoin old mates. Sport does that.

So Wellington fans of a certain age; by all means we can claim Dick Tayler as one of ours - but not the great Tom Lister! He remains a proud All Black, but only out of Timaru and South Canterbury. Just ask the locals down there - including broadcaster John McBeth. He's actually been reminding me of the Lister facts for decades now. I should have listening more closely!






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