| Tigers Number One Fan Laurie Nichols. Here is his story…|
In 1969, against all expectations, Balmain won the Grand Final against the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the Sydney Rugby League competition. For the past decade, the Tigers, and indeed every team, had been easy meat for the St George Dragons, so the win for the Tigers this year loomed as a proud and historic event, not just for the team, but for the entire Balmain community. After the win, the players were paraded up Darling Street, along Balmain Road and down Norton Street in to the heart of Leichhardt, on the backs of utes and flat top trucks no less, and along the way the team waved back to the cheers and applause of the throngs of fans who came to pay their respects.
At the same time, the Balmain Leagues Club presented 47 year old Laurie Nichols with a Balmain Jersey, scribed on the back with ‘Number One Fan’. This was the first recognition officially granted to the man who was not just a fan, as the title suggests, but was a true fanatic in the essential meaning of the word. In the week long build up to the BIG game, reserve graders Alan Fitzgibbon, Sid Williams and Greg Fryer were all names bandied about in The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Mirror as potentials for a call up in to the top grade to replace injured and suspended players Arthur Beetson, Peter Provan and Kevin Bowery. One can imagine the nervous anticipation of all four of these players during this week. One can also imagine Laurie, who was close friends with Sid Williams, sharing this tension with him. When the day came, and Sid Williams came off the bench to score Balmain’s winning (and only) try, both men were ecstatic. On the hill Laurie shadowboxed and jumped up and down. “Tigers Tigers Tigers” he chanted, and many around him saw the tears that were in his eyes.
This image of Laurie, singlet wearing and shadow boxing on the sidelines of all Balmain games, was to become an institution over the next thirty years. The 70’s and most of the eighties were to be lean times for the team, but Laurie was religiously frequent in supporting the team. Balmain hooker Benny Elias says “He’d be on the bus going to the games with the players and was at training as much as the players were. He was from Springwood and it’s a long trip and he’d make the journey just to see us train. You don’t get more fanatical than that”.
“He used to write letters to the players and we’d get our mail on Tuesdays. He’d be heartbroken because he had to go off and make himself a buck…He’d write and keep himself in tune with us to see what we were doing and make sure we were right. He’d listen over the radio for the match calls. He was a fanatical bloke and if he couldn’t be at the game physically he’d certainly be there in heart and soul.”
By the late eighties Balmain had become the form team of the competition, with several state and international players in the 1st Grade side. To the joy of all Tigers fans Balmain reached the grandfinals in both 1988 and 89. The progression through the finals is a month long journey and by the time the grandfinal day arrived the community and fans were whipped in to a frenzy. Benny says that at this time Laurie “was like the biggest kid in the candy store” and the Sydney Morning Herald reveals what he means: After winning the qualifying semi final “Balmain’s Laurie Nichols transcended the dressing room pandemonium. Laurie pulled Elias up on to the table, held aloft a blow up photograph of the two of them and began the chorus “Benny, Benny, Benny”. He danced around (Ellery) Hanley, singing Ellery eats celery; superman, superstar; Ellery eats celery, Ellery number three”. Laurie had a penchant for rhymes which he often focussed on the Tigers. “Gary Jack puts them on their back” he would announce; “Steve Roach doesn’t need a coach”; “Paul Sirro he’s our hero”; “David Brooks destroys good looks”; “Junior Pearce is so fierce”; “Benny Elias says come and try us”; Beetson eats em’.
Though occasionally through the years the Tigers Number one fan had his photo in the paper, in 1988 and 1989 the team’s increased exposure meant increased exposure for Laurie, and to a certain extent his face became the public face of the Tigers as much as the players faces did. The fan had acquired some celebrity…
Laurie was born on the 1st of January 1922 in to a family of 12 other siblings of which he was close to the middle. His father was a wood carter and Laurie would accompany him on the horse and sulky to other homes in the area. (I love this image of freezing, early morning Cooma air, and Laurie barefoot, maybe even in a singlet, bouncing up and dropping wood on people’s front doorsteps.) At an early age he developed both an interest in sport and primary produce, and aged 10 he was first introduced to boxing at the local Police Boys Club. Aged in his early teens he started working in the General Store, still in Cooma, working off and on tanning and selling rabbit skins. When World War II began, Laurie signed up and served with the 2nd Seventeenth Battalion in New Guinea before returning home and marrying Mary in 1943. At this time Laurie trained as a wool classer in Sydney, where he lived in Leichhardt for a year or two. This was the occupation he would keep for the rest of his life. The couple moved to Leura, in the Blue Mountains, where Mary worked in the General Store and Laurie helped out occasionally as well as continuing on with his wool classing, and in 1959 they moved to Springwood. Laurie at this time was commuting to Darling Harbour and Ultimo every day, and in 1962 their only daughter Julie came along. Laurie’s work would take him daily, by train, to Sydney, and occasionally he would, throughout the seventies, eighties and nineties, travel to rural areas of NSW, such as Nyngan for his wool classing duties. In the off-season, Laurie’s work would take him to Tasmania as well. In the 1970’s Mary died suddenly, and later Laurie was to marry Eva Tsang.
In 1990 Laurie was 68 years old and he became involved in charity work, going out to schools with players, or with boxing trainer Johnny Lewis, giving motivational talks and anti-drug messages to the kiddies. He also did a lot of fund raising for Careflight Helicopters, whom his own family had needed to depend on in 1992. On a birthday special for Steve Roach on ‘The Footy Show’ in the mid nineties, a huge cake was brought out. Expecting a girl in a bikini, Vautin was shocked when a shadow boxing Laurie jumped out. Laurie also had several appearances on popular SBS comedy ‘Pizza’, where he played a shadowboxing and gymnasium-using hero to one of the shows ‘stars’. And throughout this time his devotion to the Balmain team continued…
In 1996 the game of Rugby League was turned on its head with the coup on players by the News Ltd organisation. In 1997 and 1998 two separate rugby competitions ran side by side with the terms of difference clear – one group was paid by News Ltd, the other by the Australian Rugby League and the Packer lead PBL Corporation. In one large corporate swoop, the game changed forever. The sport and the teams were no longer merely personalities based in a suburb, but were economic commodities that served corporations and big money.
When the dust began to settle and a compromise between the two warring sides was established, the Balmain Tigers emerged bloody and bruised and fighting for survival. Although always loyal to the ARL, the new financial requirements of the competition meant Balmain couldn’t afford to go it alone. In 1999 talks of Balmain merging, first with the Parramatta Eels, and then with the Western Suburb Magpies, continued. At several public meetings (hopefully that were filmed!) Laurie cried openly, tears flooding his cheeks as he spoke passionately against any merge. He spoke of loyalty and tradition and of the heart and soul of the Tigers, this thing that should be revered above all other things.
However, after much anxiety and a vote, it was decided that Balmain would merge with Wests, becoming the new ‘Wests Tigers’ for the 2000 competition.
It is agreed that Laurie spoke to the team at their final training session before their first game the following week. Wayne Pearce, who was coach at the time, says that Laurie voiced his acceptance of the team, that he told the boys to keep the heart of the Tigers and that he wished them all the best. Benny Elias and close friend Johnny Lewis say that Laurie would never have said such a thing, and that he was always heartbroken about what happened to the team and to the club.
Whatever the case, the next day after the final training session, Laurie was eating a Chinese meal at the Marigold restaurant with Rotary club members. He was trying to raise money for a young amputee called Anna. All of a sudden he began coughing, then blood emerged from his mouth, and Laurie left the table and walked outside on to the footpath where he collapsed. An ulcer had ruptured in his stomach, and Laurie was to be dead before even reaching the hospital. It was February, and he was 79 years old.
When Laurie died, over a thousand people attended his funeral with good friend Alan Jones delivering a eulogy praised by both Laurie’s family and mates; his siblings (apparently) as a choir sang like angels; during the procession hundreds of men piled out of the pubs, beer in one hand with the other over their hearts, commemorating the man as the hearse passed by (these were people he’d never even met!); on the weekend following his death all Rugby League teams wore black armbands as a mark of respect; Kostya Tszyu dedicated his world title fight against Mexican Ahmed Santos to Laurie a week after his death; the Balmain club sold singlets after the match at Leichhardt oval, which sold well, the proceeds of which went to charity; all major television and print media outlets dedicated segments of their production’s to Laurie’s life, and many prominent Rugby League players spoke publicly of the admiration they felt for Laurie. For instance, Ben Elias stated, “In the 14 years I was with Balmain I never heard him say a bad word about anybody. And I never heard anyone criticise him. I was with him last Saturday night and he was as bouncy as ever.” Or Wayne Pearce: “He was very much a part of our family and it wont be the same to go into the dressing room”.
 Interview with Ben Elias,
 Interview with Ben Elias
 John Macdonald, SMH, 5th September, 1988 Pg 60.
 ibid. Pg 60
 Surprisingly, this is Laurie’s only tangible link to the Balmain area.
 ?! I am relying on my Maths here so this date is definitely open to dispute.
 Sydney Morning Herald, February 4th 2000, Pg 18
 The Daily Telegraph, February 11th 2000, Pg 127
 The Daily Telegraph, February 4th 2000, Pg 10
 Ibid, Pg 10
 Ibid, Pg 5
|Tribute to the Late Laurie Nichols|
Years ago at Leichhardt
Whilst standing on the hill
He floated by right past me
I thought he was a dill
A left, a right, he punched the air
His opponent? Well, I know not where
“Tigers! Tigers!” sparring about
I knew for sure he’d win the bout
We’ll send him up, this crazy man
He’s either mad or a die hard fan
He advanced on me and took the bait
I shook with fear but he said “G’day, mate”
He smiled at me and shook my hand
I knew I’d met a top notch man
No more would we call him a fool
He loved the South’s boys on the hill
Over in the “Old Dart”, covered in snow
In his singlet our Laurie is taking on the foe
Years went by, the Nineties came
They set about to change the game
The man known as Balmain’s greatest fan
Ended up a shattered man
He backed South’s at our rally and cried
“The greatest game of all has died”
Grey clouds roll in, a very sad day
I’m told dear Laurie has passed away
People came from far and wide
Even big, brawny men openly cried
There was Sirro, Blocker and our Dawn
For Laurie, they all came to mourn
In Old Leichhardt back on that hill
An old man I am - but I hear him still:
“Tigers! Tigers! Tigers!”
|QUOTE (ThrillMeTiger @ 14 Sep 2006, 01:42 PM)|
|Great article and great pics of a great man.|
|QUOTE (TIGERIZED @ 14 Sep 2006, 01:47 PM)|
Ana a very clue'y man too
|QUOTE (toohey @ 15 Sep 2006, 03:23 PM)|
|Its a shame they didn't name the supporter shop after him.|
|AFTRS students seeking memorabilia of a footy fan legend|
AFTRS students are compiling a documentary on Laurie Nichols, the Number One Balmain Tigers Fan.
AFTRS Documentary Producing student Reid Palmer said the filmmaking team was seeking contact from people who knew the late Laurie Nichols or may have photos or footage of him at games.
"Basically, what we are after is contact from people who have any photographs or film/video footage of the man, and also contact from people who perhaps have stories of interesting encounters with him, or personal tales of what they remember about him," he said.
To contact the students, ring Reid Palmer on (02) 9805 6574 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
|QUOTE (Siro & Skando @ 19 Sep 2006, 10:20 PM)|
|QUOTE (tigerted @ 4 Aug 2007, 05:44 PM)|
| Feel like throwing in my 2 Bobs worth ,I knew Laurie for many years [since 66'] as |
a close neighbour & Tiger supporter, he was one of the funniest & nicest blokes
one could ever meet, I never knew him to say a bad word about anybody or
any team , I am privliaged to have been his friend , I was one of the many that
supplied storys & photos to Reid Palmer. Laurie not only supported Balmain
he supported all Aussie sport & was a big Boxing fan.
Good on ya cobber !
|QUOTE (Sincas @ 15 Aug 2007, 07:55 PM)|
any news on the doco Ted?
|QUOTE (HappyTiger @ 17 Aug 2007, 05:42 PM)|
| Alot of great reading in here.I heard a caller ring Alan Jones this morning on 2gb talking about Laurie Nicholls and the great man he was.To the privalaged few who got to know the real Laurie they must have all been truly blessed by him.|
They mentioned the fact that they werent impressed that Wests Tigers had sold singlets in his honour at the cowboys game.I have to say i agree that in a way it wasnt a very fitting way to remember Laurie.I can only hope that the money raised was given to charity or the local clubs that Laurie was involved with.Otherwise it looks like just a cheap money making grab that used a great mans name.