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After the Harbour Bridge was opened on 31 May 1959, Stafford Park became the venue for the first of many fundraising schemes. We erected a stage and surrounded the field with tents. On stage, we had an electric Wurlitzer organ and the Broadway pie-eating contest (a boy consumed 18 pieces, then was very sick).
One night we staged a donkey derby with Olympians Peter Snell and Murray Halberg, jockeys Grenville Hughes and Norm Holland (Norm had the ability to become an All Black) riding donkeys! Over in the main tent, Arthur Jennings (who would become an All Black in 1967) was cooking hot chips which we ate when the show was finished for the night. It took him six hours to perfect his chip frying technique!
We also ran general raffles which had to be drawn under police supervision. We had a real mix of prizes. A yard of shingle, sand and cement was one of the more unusual ones. Vince Paltridge donated a beautiful silver service tea set and some other 'stuff' unwanted by suppliers. Problem was we sold desperately few tickets, so before the police arrived many of the members present wrote their names on the unsold raffle butts. None of them paid, of course.
The police drew the winners. Jim Pope won the shingle, which was duly laid at the entrance to the old Nelson Street clubrooms. The tea set was won by Owen Taylor, which he kept, much to everyone's disgust! However, many years later when Owen was leaving the district, he presented the club with the silver tea set to raffle. We did, and raised a good amount of money this time. Incredibly, Owen Taylor's ticket came out again . This time he was a legitimate winner!
In the early 1970s, when I was the club captain, it was apparent we needed to lift our profile as a club. To help achieve this we tied in our 1973 prizegiving with the launch of blockbusting book, Colin Meads All Black. We sold 280 books and had that many at the dinner at the North Shore Training College where we marketed ourselves, inviting important celebrities from the media and put across our story.
Pinetree did not get to the lectern until 11 p.m. and complained about the lateness. We had sold his books and our message, and the launch was complete. I bought a rugby rule book and studied it. There it was: The only acknowledgment that can be made by a club or player for any monetary reward is a simple expression of thanks.
As a committee, we discussed the idea of getting 30 Canterbury tracksuits and printing on the back of them 'Northcote Birkenhead thanks Gulf Mazda'. Through Roy Williams at the Auckland Star, I argued with Ces Blazey - chairman of the NZRFU - for a week, about what could be more simple than that.
The ARU approved it. We changed our shorts from white to maroon and obtained gold numbers. All of a sudden, we were ready and smart for the TV cameras. On the first Saturday of the season we went out with our cheerleaders at Stafford Park. Unfortunately, it was something of an anti-climax when the seniors lost to Marist 16-3, but we made the news and we were on the way.
Commercially, we received $3000, quite a fortune in those days. Gulf Mazda, in turn, sold our members $168,000 worth of cars. Kim Corbett, Gulf Mazda's general sales manager, joined the club and has since held office and become a life member.
This was a world first and launched what was to become the game of today: multi-millions of dollars' worth of sponsorship.
Chum Arblaster built some shelves at the offices of Bacardi Rum and could not resist getting them on board as a product sponsor for the senior player of the day. The wearing of the Bacardi Mexican hat was part of the weekly after-match function.
Chum was the finest man I have ever known. A carpenter by trade, he taught me so much about club values and honour. Chum always dressed in the No 1 club uniform to watch his club play. This is something that has been in and out with the senior team attitude over the years. They have a uniform and wear it with pride, which they then carry to the field. The Rum Runners - what a bunch of bastards they were. As time went by, they turned out to be good bastards. These boys were the social side of the club, a fraternity of their own with a great following of wives and girlfriends. They operated more from a cottage behind Bob Anderson's house next door. At one stage, they had a bigger booze bill with Biss and Thew than the club itself! As club captain, I had immense trouble keeping them in line. They had their own sponsor, too- Coruba Rum - that was in direct opposition to the club's sponsor, Bacardi.
Mike Leahy, who later became club captain, and Don Cameron held control. Mike was a good club man who often poured oil on the troubled waters. They will tell their own story, but I would like to record that though troublesome at times, they matured, and with Mike Leahy's help, they became great members and a valuable part of the club.
In the 1980s they supplied officer bearers of the club. They answered the referee problems for junior boys and, in hindsight, did a lot of good things for the club and community. Don Cameron went on to become the club manager and others today have their company names on the sponsorship lists. In 2004, Tony Irwin became the first Rum Runner to take office as club president.