The Godfather takes his leave
By Peter Peters - the Manly Daily, 30 Oct 2004
AT age 75 Ken Arthurson said goodbye to public life this week with a typical Arko performance laced with humour, honesty and a never-ending passion for his beloved Sea Eagles. The Godfather of the Manly club had the media in awe of his dignity and willingness to answer any question they threw his way. Experienced journalists like Clinton Fletcher from Channel Nine, Tony Peters from Channel 10, Dean Ritchie from the Telegraph and veteran columnist Ray Chesterton came to farewell a man who refused to buckle and hide during the explosion that ripped the game of rugby league apart almost 10 years ago.
At a time when many were running for cover and cowering behind closed doors there was the always immaculately dressed Arthurson fighting for the game he loved against an all-powerful outside force. His phone was never off the hook, his office door never closed to a salivating media. I watched defeated Labor leader Mark Latham goose himself when confronting a media scrum this week with a bumbling, inept performance and thought how much he could have learned from Ken Arthurson and the way he embraced the media throughout his long and distinguished career. It was classical Kipling: "If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with kings nor lose the common touch..."
One of Ken Arthurson's greatest attributes was that he rarely forgets a name. And if he did he would make a subtle inquiry and then go out of his way to make the person feel special. In his 40 years as a director of the Manly League Club the last 31 as chairman he would make the staff feel 10 feet tall. The front entrance staff loved him, the door staff likewise. Ken Arthurson made people doing their jobs feel good. If Arko befriended you he was by your side through thick and thin. I can never thank him enough for the loyalty and friendship he has shown me over 35 years particularly when my job was advertised in the national media, I suspect because of my friendship and closeness to Arko.
The exercise was futile in the end and the 250 applicants simply got a message that the position had been filled .. by the person in the job. In the end the cowards didn't have the courage to stand up to Arko. "Never go in a race you can't win," is one of his favourite sayings. Rugby league in Sydney in the '60s, '70s and early '80s was run by powerful men Frank Facer at St George, Peter Moore at Canterbury, Kevin Humphreys at Balmain and Ken Arthurson at Manly. Indeed their respective clubs were perceived by many to be virtual dictatorships. It was harsh but close to the truth. They were all hands-on and capable administrators but Arko had the edge through his accountancy background and that incredible common touch.
Premierships for Manly under his control in 1972,1973,1976 and 1978 transformed Manly into a league juggernaut. Arthurson thrived on the "us v them" mentality and Brookvale Oval was a fortress. And while he crossed the bridge every day from 1984 to go to work as boss of the Australian Rugby League, his heart never wavered one bit from Brookvale and the Sea Eagles. That classic photo of the 1996 grand final with Arko leaping into the air to celebrate a Manly try with a disconsolate Paramatta boss Denis Fitzgerald by his side was classic Ken Arthurson.
DIGNITY: Ken Arthurson ponders a question at his farewell this week.
While he was the most powerful figure in international rugby league, he always wore maroon and white on his sleeve and in his heart. To sit alongside Ken Arthurson at a Manly match is an experience. He dies a thousand deaths and rides the game like a runaway roller coaster. Manly has been his life from the time he graduated from the Freshwater Surf Club side to the Sea Eagles.
I remember watching an Australian schoolboys match in the early '80s and spotted a young kid from Taree called Mal Cochrane. I mentioned his name to Ken and without hesitating he said: "We'll go to Taree tomorrow and sign him." As we walked out of a sports store where Mal worked part-time, Canterbury boss "Bullfrog" Moore was walking in. "Too late, mate," Arko said with a smile. Cochrane won a Rothmans Medal and a premiership with Manly in later years.
The NSW country town of Parkes was nearly the last place on this earth Ken Arthurson visited. As a young captain coach in 1953 he fractured his skull in a game there and almost died. The town would have become a nightmare for most young men who had a full stop imposed on their playing careers. Not so with Arthurson, who was embraced by the people in his hour of need and Arko never forgot their hospitality. Years later he repaid his debt for the TLC by awarding a Test match to the town and every year he attends a function in his honour in Parkes. They have never forgotten their little captain-coach from 1953 and he hasn't forgotten them.
There are a million Arko stories; enough to fill a dozen books-
His greatest legacy is that a lot of players who came under his care have modelled their lives on his ideals and principles. People like Bob Fulton, who came to Manly with a fragmented education but a skill at football and a street smart brain that made him a highly successful businessman. He honed both attributes under the watchful eye of his mentor. There have been lots of others.
I phone Ken Arthurson most days of the week. We discuss a lot of things but mostly Manly and football. He has taken the ball up enough for Manly it is time for others to play the part. And the bar has been set at a standard few can jump.
On behalf of the thousands who have got enjoyment out of the Sea Eagles for many years, a big "thank-you", old mate.
You will always be the Godfather of Manly.