Looking back at the Knockout: Part One

DATELINE, 1989: do you remember where you were, or what you saw? God forbid, what you wore?

While it might not have the same ‘Orwellian’ ring to it as the seminal tome, ‘1984’, for those who can recall, and take it as read for those not yet born, it was one hell of a year!

Remembered as much for the trailblazers as it was the end of an incredible decade; on the inexorable march towards the next century and millennium.

A time of marginal films, music and fashion faux pas’. And a vastly different pre-internet, Google and social media world than we see today.

It can be a test to stretch the mind back to those times of yore some four decades prior; the images a bit blurry and the details always a bit hazy.

But they’re in there. In the dark recesses of the mind.

Memories in safe keeping and to draw on in a flash, or a face, a fact – something to spark the synapses and rekindle the pictures of the past.

While some of the current generation might eschew sporting pursuits and folklore, they might also assume the year was marked by nothing more than the fifth studio album by American singer- songwriter, Taylor Swift by the same name: make no mistake ‘1989’ was indeed a year of significant events and breakthroughs here and abroad.

Who and how could we ever forget the collapse of the East German government and symbolic dismantling of the Berlin Wall and opening of the Brandenburg Gate?

The Galileo Spacecraft was launched by NASA in the US and it was the Canberra Raiders that somehow emerged from 100-minute trench warfare as first-time premiership victors later in the year. Upsetting the fancied Balmain Tigers in arguably the greatest rugby league grand final of all time.

The Beach Boys’ Kokomo was top of the pops at the start of that year too.

And the fashion crises of the eighties was all about to come crashing down to a screaming halt alongside the Tokyo Stock Exchange and the Back to the Future trilogy.

The inaugural Touch World Cup had also just been run and won on the Gold Coast a month earlier to close out the bi-centenary year of 1988, with the Aussies starting their unprecedented and undefeated 30-year run.

All this consigned seemingly to the dustbin of history.

But for a little township south of Sydney and just a little north of the capital, ‘89 was something of a breakout year: on the brink of something very special that would open its own gates of this little heritage town to the country and the world.

All against the backdrop of this fine country’s national holiday and the promise of a great time away and had by all.

Not to mention that potent elixir of the round-robin Saturday and sudden death Sunday touch football carnival format; the heat of battle quite literally played out under the blazing summer sun.

Among other elixirs of course; potent and otherwise!

Just 15 years after the Yass Touch affiliate was formally established in 1975 as one of the early adopters to the new code, the knockout quickly emerged as the place to be each Australia Day holiday weekend.

While a modest 29 teams nominated for the inaugural year, it says something of the enduring appeal and interest that sees the numbers in 2018 approach almost 100 more from across the country and globe.

The ‘YTK’ bug certainly had some bite with many early victims and posed far more of a threat than the dreaded ‘Y2K’ strain could ever dream of inflicting in coming years, on millennium eve. And has so proven ever since.

It says something else of the impact the event has had on the township, on the cusp of its own bi-centenary celebrations in coming years.

The little SE-NSW enclave town of 7,000 will again swell to over 10,000 when the knockout comes a-knocking. Generating significant economic and ‘social’ capital and impact in the very literal sense.

The rich prize purse has been a constant and a gratefully accepted reward for finalists and title winners alike and over time; almost $500,000 in prize money has been distributed since its inception, which is a remarkable Australian sporting achievement at the grass roots.

But all this plays second fiddle to the bigger prize: the good times!

It all started back in the heady early-80’s when the seeds of the several claret ash trees were sown on the steep banks of the Walker Park complex fields; barely recognisable compared to the abundant canopy cover we see today.

The late Jim Beck, something of a local legend and councillor in the day had an idea. A nice big one.

Adorned with trademark King Gee overalls and a knockabout ‘can do’ approach to life, the saw-miller by trade set about galvanising the community and particularly the junior League club, the Yass Magpies.

He and some other hardy and community minded types figured this unused tract of the broader new sub-division needed a conversion to parkland. 

With those twenty or so seedlings spread across the various banks of the tiered playing fields, the idea of a touch footy knockout event, alongside the ample foliage to provide some sun protection and welcome relief for patrons, began to germinate.

Build it and they will come.

Enter, the like and civic-minded souls, event founders and knockout pioneers, Rod Wise and Dennis Grieves.

Just the men to get this thing off the ground with their hard-working committee and local Ngunnawal Elder, Kenny Bell who has been to every event alongside Rod’s daughter, Angela.

According to an upbeat and recently retired ‘Wise-man’, it is so rewarding and pleasing to see the repeat visitors’ year-on-year.

And to the new entrants who will all but guarantee a return to the 2582 postcode someday soon.

“It’s pretty amazing to think back how far we’ve come and all the great times we’ve all enjoyed over the years,” he recalled fondly amid preparations for the 2018 event.

“It’s almost unbelievable to think it’s been that long since we kicked it all off in the late-‘80’s, with a great committee, then as it is now.

And with around $3,000 prize money and only nine sponsors from year one across the men’s, women’s and mixed divisions and with everyone rallying around the cause and the getting the troops here for the first time – just very special, the memories.

“But geez, the time has flown. We’ve witnessed some great players and teams...and importantly some great moments and times over the years,” he added.