THE word miracle is bandied around all too much in sport, but from all accounts Western Division’s Amco Cup win in 1974 was just that.
Written off at the beginning of the competition, Western Division - a ragtag, thrown together team made up of tradesmen from central west NSW - entered sporting folklore by winning the inaugural competition.
Coached by Johnny King, a winger in St George’s all conquering team of the 1960s, Western Division overcame several of the era’s greatest teams in Auckland, Canterbury, Manly and Penrith on its way to the title.
Ian Heads, the game’s pre-eminent author and historian, has now immortalised the 1974 Western Division team in his new book, The Night the Music Died.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Western Division’s title - and semi-final win over Manly at Wade Park - Heads was on hand in Orange yesterday for a book signing.
“The idea was in the back of my head for a long time,” he said.
“There is plenty of history in it and I always thought one day it would be good to tell the story, the 40th anniversary seemed perfect.
“It really is very close to the best underdog success story in Australian sport ... the Western Division guys would have been 1000-to-one odds at the start.
“It was a real pleasure to write.”
Heads was joined by 1974 Western Division halfback Bob Pilon, who was awarded man-of-the-match in the grand final against Penrith, and front rower Greg Fearnley.
Pilon was playing for Orange CYMS at the time, while Fearnley was dominating for the Cowra Magpies.
“It was a very special thing to be a part of,” Pilon explained.
“All those games were grand finals for us. We based our game around defence, and just play what was in front of us otherwise. We thought once it was done it was over, but here we are 40 years later.”
The book features detailed accounts of Western Division’s Amco Cup campaign, and a first hand account of its clash with the touring Great Britain side at Wade Park - a game frequently labelled “the dirtiest ever played”.
The late Kevin Honeybrook officiated the game, and his account of the happenings of “Black Wednesday” has been printed for the first time in the book.
“That was an unexpected bonus really,” Heads said.
“It’s an interesting point of view, he thought he was going to be strung up. That’s the other element to that match, whether there was an element of fiddling with the referee at half-time. Did the powers that be not want England to lose?
“The English guys all said the game added a lot to their preparation for the following Test matches, it was a tremendously tough game."
The Night the Music Died is available in Big W, book stores and newsagencies.