DEVOTED: Gavin Ford has been a great servant to rugby league. His love for the sport has never waned.
DEVOTED: Gavin Ford has been a great servant to rugby league. His love for the sport has never waned. Philippe Coquerand

Gavin Ford: 'It's looking very grim'

RUGBY LEAGUE: A split second was all it took. On a Sunday afternoon in Eidsvold 32 years ago, Gavin Ford's life changed forever.

It was July 20, 1986, and he was captaining his beloved Mundubbera Tigers.

A seemingly innocuous tackle left him prone, unable to move.

He was paralysed and has never walked again.

THE PROBLEM: State of the League

INTRODUCTION: The Decline

PART ONE: Mal Meninga Weighs In

PART TWO: Gavin Ford's Sacrifice

PART THREE: Richard Dugdale's Herculean Task

PART FOUR: Short End of the Stick

The incident would have left a man of weaker character bitter and resentful.

In the blink of an eye the game he loved had taken so much away.

But he holds no grudges and the freak accident did nothing to diminish his love for the game.

A successful business owner, Ford has moved on, but he remains a life member of the Mundubbera Tigers and a fixture on the sideline at every game.

He grew up playing against Mal Meninga and he too has fond memories of the hay-day of North Burnett rugby league.

He's been heavily involved in country footy at all levels and understands better than most what makes players, clubs and competitions tick.

Then president, Ford presents the 1989 Mundubbera Player of the Year award to Malcom Brown.
Then president, Ford presents the 1989 Mundubbera Player of the Year award to Malcom Brown. Picasa

Ford believes the inability to establish junior pathways could be the downfall of the Central Burnett competition.

"In the 1990s it was very strong,” he said.

"We had Under 9s, 11s, 13s, 15s, 17s, reserve grade and A grade.

"Every club had all of those age groups play on a Sunday.

"Now Gayndah are the only town in the Burnett that have a junior competition.

"What are all those kids doing if they aren't playing footy and having the discipline of training two times a week?

"It's looking very grim.

"Without the Tongan guys that are playing to support Mundubbera and Eidsvold we wouldn't have a competition this year.

"They're here to work and we can't wholly and solely rely on them.”

The Tongans have been a revelation and league fans in the region owe them a debt of gratitude.

While Ford has stepped back from formal responsibilities within the game, behind the scenes, people like him are doing all they can to keep the sport alive.

For a number of years they have tried to organise a local competition for Under 6s, 8s and 10s, with a draw that mirrors their senior team.

It would give local juniors from each town a chance to play at home in the North Burnett and make them feel a part of their club.

It makes sense. The infrastructure is already in place.

But to no avail.

Queensland greats Dale Shearer and PJ Marsh with Ford. His wheelchair was partially funded by the Men of League Foundation as thanks for his contribution to the game.
Queensland greats Dale Shearer and PJ Marsh with Ford. His wheelchair was partially funded by the Men of League Foundation as thanks for his contribution to the game. Annie Perets

Ford bemoaned the lack of assistance from the QRL but said ultimately the communities have to take responsibility.

"It's not looking good,” he said.

"Rugby league is the major sport in the region that brings the towns together.

"It bring money to local businesses and it's good for the community.

"A lack of volunteers helping out to get a junior competition up and running is a big contributing factor.

"We need more volunteers to come forward and stand up.”

Rugby league is a notoriously tribal game. It's the glue that binds communities together.

Some will say that it's just a game, there's more to life.

But to Ford and the other hard-working volunteers who have sacrificed so much, it's so much more.

The problem with rugby league is not that people like him aren't doing enough. The problem is there is not enough of them.

One of the most enduring sporting quotes comes from the late soccer manager Bill Shankly.

During the 1960s and 70s, Shankly transformed Liverpool from a second-rate club into the dominant force in English football.

He famously said: "Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it is much more serious than that.”

It goes a long way to describing what a simple game of football means to those who play and those who support.

Sometimes you don't appreciate what you've got until it's gone.


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