Men of League Foundation Northern Rivers division held a successful race day at the Ballina Jockey Club last Saturday.
Among the invited guests were some former players who have been doing it tough recently with illness. One special guest was Len Cook, of Lismore, who has been battling liver cancer.
Len is well-known around the district after being involved in football in Lismore, running Summerland Tyres in Lismore for 37 years, and being a successful horse trainer for 57 years (he still has a couple of horses in work).
What is not so well-known about Len is that in his younger years, he was quick – so quick that he competed in the famous Australian foot race, the Stawell Gift.
He is a winner of the 100-yard dash at Stawell, and finished second in the 1954 Stawell Gift semi-final to a runner called Jack Hayes, who went on to win the Gift final.
Len’s best time for the 100 yards was 9.7 seconds!
He played a season in the tough Newcastle league comp, and lined up against a visiting St George team which included the likes of Norm Provan (‘the best forward I played against’), Harry Bath and Poppa Clay.
“Harry Bath told me that they’d brought a young kid along and they’d give him a run in the second half. Harry said the kid would play for Australia,” Len said.
‘The young kid’ was none other than Reg Gasnier.
Other guests at the race day included Errol Leeson, of Wardell, Bob Delaney, of Lismore, former Group One referee Darryl James, and former Lismore Marist Brothers star Gary Sampson.
The main race of the day was the Conange and Associates Men of League Cup over 1410m.
The winner was Ballina-trained River Street, and trainer Andrew Pilling was thrilled to meet former league star John Peard after the race.
‘Peardie’ spoke at the Cup presentation and praised the way Andrew turned out River Street for the Cup.
Men of League Northern Rivers are planning a race day for Lismore next year, proably in May.
PICTURES (from top):
Men of League welfare officer Phil Loader, Len Cook, Gary Sampson, Errol Leeson, Darryl James and Men of League Northern Rivers president Phil Chesham.
Michael Woods, Bob Delaney and Kim Evans.
Men of League national vice-chairman Jim Hall (left) and Northern Rivers patron Bob Abbott (right) with the Tweed Districts Men of League crew, Gary Ward, Keith Campbell, Terry Sayer, Neil Sams, Jeff Smith, John Strong (president) and Tony McCarthy.
Tony Durheim (ex Gold Coast and Lismore Brothers) with Greg Fletcher, representing the Evans Head Bombers.
Adding some glamour to the day were (from left) Nic Morris, Lyn Aubusson, Fiona McQueen, Danielle Iverson, Janelle Colman and Debbie Crawford.