I have World of Sport winners on both sides of my bloodlines. For those who remember HSV7’s shambolic, Sunday morning yab fest that ran for nearly three decades, the possibilities are tantalising. Was Mum a woodchopper and Dad a roller cyclist? Was Grandpa a sand shoveller and Granny a sheaf tosser?
The truth is more glamorous even than sheaf tossing. My father, Ray Wilson, a Hawthorn footballer at the time, won the handball competition. Seven bullseyes and five sevens brought home enough Monte Carlo biscuits to see us through the International Oil Crisis of 1973.
But the real story relates to my mother, Margaret. During Easter 1969, she was snapped in the stands by The Sporting Globe. The following Wednesday, her picture appeared, head encircled,
Mum called the Globe to identify herself. Her reward was $5, some Dr Scholls’ orthopaedic sandals, a Volutis perm styled by Lillian and Antonio, and dinner at the Southern Cross Hotel. It also placed her among 40 contenders for ‘Miss Football 1969’, a World of Sport footy quiz to be conducted over the four weeks of the VFL finals.
‘The year before the prize had been a trip to Mildura. Terry Gay’s wife, Barbara had just missed out, and she said to me, ‘You can learn this stuff! Just memorise all the coaches, presidents, captains, leading goalkickers, Brownlow Medallists, match day scores …” – the list went on and on. I wasn’t going to bother, being from a family of five girls, and knowing nothing about footy.’
But when the prize for Miss Football was announced, her attitude changed. Instead of Mildura, the trip was to Japan and Hong Kong, with two weeks all expenses paid in Hong Kong’s Mandarin and Tokyo’s Okura Hotel.
‘It was worth far more than my year’s salary,’ Dad recalls. ‘We’d never been overseas and there was no real prospect of going overseas.’
‘So we decided to study,’ Mum laughs. ‘By “we” I mean Ray and I, and in our marriage, arguably we’ve never been closer. We had lists all over the house. Leading goalkickers on the mirror, Brownlow Medallists on the toilet wall, presidents in the pantry, captains stuck to the kitchen table. Ray turned every car ride into an inquisition. I fell asleep reading the Speedy Book of Footy Facts.
The test to qualify the last four was held in the dingy confines of the old Herald Sun building. The questions were published, and now it seems inconceivable that my NGV Gallery guiding, arts-inclined mother answered them. ‘Who won the last five Bunton Medals? Name the ten field umpires who officiated this season?’ Who came fifth in last year’s Brownlow? Name the four new club captains for 1969?’ But the swotting paid off. When answers were tallied, Mrs Margaret Wilson of Mitcham was ranked first with a score of 17 out of 20.
Ranked second (14/20) was a ‘Balwyn matriculant’ named Lyn Grinlington. If Mum was to become the Mohammed Ali of Miss Football 1969, Lyn was its Joe Frasier. ‘Lyn actually knew about football,’ Mum says. ‘It wasn’t rote learned. She was a genuinely passionate Hawthorn supporter.’
As if to underscore this, Lyn, a retired scientist, now volunteers at the Hawks Nest merchandise shop. ‘When The Sun photographer came to our house, he snapped me in my school uniform in front of the Peter Hudson poster in my room. We were a footy family.’
The quiz finals were scheduled to coincide with the VFL finals, and so Lyn and Mum first played off Second Semi Final weekend. But it became a three week classic.
‘They couldn’t separate us, even with extra questions, so we were back the next week,’ Mum explains. ‘The next week, we tied again and so we were back in Grand Final week – but still contesting our Second Semi.’ I ask Mum why they didn’t they just ask more questions until they had a winner. ‘It’s best not to think too hard about the logic of World of Sport. In any event, every Sunday we’d come home with fresh supplies of after dinner chocolates and hams.’
Miss Football became the novelty story of the 1969 finals. ‘Quiz Cuties At it Again!’ gawked the Globe on 27th September 1969. ‘Beauty, and Brains Too” beamed The Sun. Amazingly, Mum’s and Lyn’s addresses were published under their photos. For Lyn, it proved disastrous.
‘I started receiving obscene phone calls. This guy would pretend he was from the Channel 7, but then this filth would come out. Then he’d ring again. He’d even say he was Margaret, but then it obviously wasn’t Margaret because when I called him on it, he’d start ranting in a man’s voice. It went on and on.’
The police eventually tracked down the offender. ‘It was years later. They set a trap and arrested him under a railway bridge. He’d been hassling a Miss Teenager winner or a Miss Moomba and had done that sort of thing for years. When they went to his house he had filed newspapers and a record of every girl he’d called.’
Meanwhile, Mum’s swotting only increased. ‘She mastered the printed lists so I made her more obscure hand written lists,’ Dad says. ‘We’d drive to the MCG at 9.00am to get the Footy Record so she could devour it at home. On the way to the studio, she’d memorise the quarter by quarter scores.’
It led to strange, out-of-the-blue requests. ‘Ray’s old neighbours, the ones he played kick-to-kick with as a kid, asked us over, because they wanted to take me on with footy trivia. It was a common thing – blokes wanting to test themselves against me. It was weird.’
Quizmaster Ron Casey prepared 36 questions for Mum and Lyn’s third and final encounter. ‘The mood on set was quite raucous,’ Dad remembers. ‘After every correct answer you’d hear cheers coming from the World of Sport panellists led by racing journalists Jack Elliott and Rollo Roylance. Naturally, they had bet on the outcome.’
Mum eventually triumphed. ‘I was falling behind in Pure Maths,’ Lyn says. ‘I missed a question that Mum says I’d answered easily on the way in. Then I lost the next week.’
Lyn’s husband, Ian, remembers ‘Billy Barrett’ was the answer that cost her the Preliminary Final. He told her as much when they met the following year at university. He also eventually confessed that while he was watching the competition, he’d turned to his cousin and said, ‘I’m going to marry that bird.’ So even in defeat, Miss Football 1969 did provide Lyn with a fairytale ending. Strangely, she became another Mrs Wilson.
‘Checker Hughes,’ Dad grins when I ask him the answer to Mum’s winning question in the Grand Final. ‘“Which Richmond premiership player before the war coached a different team to a premiership after the war?” We were pretty pleased. Second prize was fifty dollars worth of hair care products.’
Mum also remembers her ‘Checker Hughes’ moment. It signalled her crowning as Miss Football and also the uncorking of her football knowledge, which had already seeped out of by the time her head hit the pillow at the Mandarin Hotel that December. To illustrate this, I presented Mum with a current day footy quiz. Apparently there are sixteen teams, the reigning premier is Collingwood, some guy called ‘Adam Goode’ won the 2011 Brownlow, the Carlton captain is ‘the one married to Jo’ and the Hawthorn skipper is ‘not the one with three kids under three’.
Mum has no plans to defend her title.