Vale Charlie Thompson: “After the boys who played for him became men, CWT remained a hero”
THE bespectacled young man had been on the road for quite a while.
It was the early-1960s and 31-year-old Charles William Thompson was passing through Moree on his way to Mitchell in the Maranoa region.
There was work there, apparently, but before he continued northward to the Queensland border he needed to break up the journey with a hot cup of coffee and a quick look at the local paper.
It was only a small advertisement, tucked away in the classified pages, but it was enough to make this young journeyman realise that Moree could very well be his new home.
“I was passing through Moree and, over a cup of coffee, I saw an ad in the paper calling for a junior rugby league coach,” he recalled back in 2002.
It was one of those chance moments that can change a person’s life forever – and the town of Moree became so much richer for having this Westmead Boys’ Home old boy as its newest resident.
He soon became known as CWT – or just plain ‘Charlie’ – by the hundreds of kids that he coached, and he left a mark so indelible on local junior sport that his work on and off the paddock with the youth of Moree will never be forgotten.
It still shines ever so brightly today after more than 50 years.
CWT’s skills have been passed down through the generations and the kids of today are now being taught by the kids of the kids that he coached.
These kids are now adults and parents, and many of them still use bits and pieces of Charlie’s coaching methods – at times subconsciously – to nurture the sporting stars of tomorrow.
Sadly, CWT passed away early Friday morning after a brief illness.
He was 85 years of age and left a bottomless legacy to Moree, the town he decided to call home back in 1963.
There are not too many senior sportsmen in Moree that weren’t taught how to swing a cricket bat, bowl a cricket ball or pass the pigskin by CWT, a moniker coined by Stan Jurd who, under Charlie’s tutelage, went on to make a permanent dent on the rugby league paddock after more than 20 years of hard play.
Stan advanced from Saturday morning footie at Moree’s Taylor Oval to compete at the elite level when he inked a deal with the Parramatta Eels in the 1980s.
At the time, St George Dragons coach Roy Masters said in a regular column he penned for the now-defunct Sydney Sun that he didn’t know Charles William Thompson from a bar of soap.
“But there is one first-grade player in Sydney that believes CWT should be Coach of the Year this year, next year, and for that matter, for every year after,” Masters wrote.
That player was Stan Jurd, who related CWT’s unheralded achievements to Masters one balmy winter’s afternoon over an after-game cold one.
“In the summertime, Charlie would sift through the talents of 70 or so young cricketers and organise them into teams of equal ability,” Stan told Masters.
“The cricket matches always ended in a draw. Nobody ever lost and it didn’t seem all that important that nobody ever won, either.
“When wintertime came around, Charlie would organise the youth of Moree into a football competition and the same would apply,” he said.
Masters wrote that the most important measure of a rugby league coach was his contribution to – and influence on – the technique of the game.
“The quality of the man himself is revealed in the attitude of his former players after they outgrow the awed hero-worship of their schoolboy days,” Masters said.
“After the boys who played for him became men, CWT remained a hero.”
Masters went on to say that cardboard honours bestowed upon heroes by town elders miss much of a man’s achievements.
“They list the facts and miss the truth,” he said.
And, the truth is that CWT’s durability flowed from one generation to the next – and continues to flow.
Over a period spanning more than half a century, CWT nurtured hundreds of fledgling young sports stars.
And, after learning the rudimentary skills during their younger years, many reached the highest levels attainable in their chosen sport.
CWT, with the help of blokes like Rodney Skaines, Stuart Holland, Jock King, Ron Harborne, Danny Shearer and Peter McGregor, guided thousands of junior players through the ranks at Saturday morning junior rugby league.
CWT, a torch bearer when the iconic symbol made its way through Moree in 2000 for the Sydney Olympics, once said that one of his proudest coaching moments was watching many of his young protégés bring home the 1973 University Shield for Moree.
“Nearly every Shield team member was a product of our Saturday morning football comp,” Charlie said in 2003.
“Sometimes we’d have 600 kids weigh in, so no wonder it produced good players . . . Moree was a real rugby league town in those days.
“Bernie Briggs was an exceptional player and he and Stan Jurd had some memorable clashes when they were kids.
“I used to coach the Saints, which included the Peachey twins (Peter and Paul), John Brooks, Peter Butler, Stephen Jones, Harry Allen and Tony Dean – all Shield team players,” he said.
“When they won the Shield, I was especially proud of Stephen, Harry and Tony. I coached them for five years when they were kids and they were a good backline combination, and that showed at Gosford.
“That’s how good rugby league players are made,” Charlie explained.
“The more you put them on the field together the better they become, and that’s how it was with all those boys.”
Many of CWT’s junior rugby league players and cricket stars are now firmly etched in sporting history books.
Elite players the likes of Merv Muggleton (Balmain Tigers), Terry Quinn (Penrith Panthers and now NSW Country Rugby League CEO), Stan Jurd (Parramatta Eels), David Jurd (President’s Cup and Petersham first XI), Peter and Paul Peachey (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Dennis Kinsella (St George Dragons), Mark Ryan and Matthew Ryan (Canterbury Bulldogs), Mike Egan (Western Suburbs Magpies), Paul Roberts (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Phillip Duke (Western Suburbs Magpies and St George Dragons), Stephen Little (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Richard Rice (St George Dragons), Greg McElhone (Australian under-16s), Mark Wright (Newtown Jets), 1973 University Shield Man of the Match Tony Dean and representative cricketer Grahame O’Connor were all taught by CWT.
When CWT made that snap decision in 1963 to call Moree home, rugby league was at the top of every kid’s list of weekend activities.
This was an era when the game ruled Moree, and there wasn’t much interest in cricket during the summer months.
But it wasn’t long before CWT had scores of kids padding up every Saturday, playing in 16 teams.
Stan Jurd’s brother Robert, who played under-23s for Newtown Jets as well as third-grade cricket for Petersham-Marrickville Cricket Club, says the man credited with starting junior cricket in Moree was well ahead of his time.
“Charlie virtually invented sponsorship in Moree,” Robert said.
“He would go around the town and approach all the businesses and ask them to sponsor the teams. That made sure that all the kids had shirts and caps and all the equipment.”
The Jurd family invited Charlie to live with them when he arrived unheralded in Moree, and the ties that bind have never yielded.
Another brother David, who became a cricketing champion – some say legend – under the guidance of CWT, remained arguably his old coach’s best mate and most trusted confidante.
“Charlie came to live with the Jurd family when Robert was about nine or 10 and for the next eight or so years he was our mentor and our coach – our life coach,” David said.
“And, when it came to birthdays and Christmases, we never, ever got toys off Charlie – we only got sporting equipment.
“I remember taking Charlie down to Sydney once for a reunion with his mates from the boys’ home. “He’d just carried the torch and had been named Moree Citizen of the Year and when he got up and spoke all his mates were so proud of him – that’s one of the fondest memories I have of Charlie,” he said.
“Many children in Moree who were born in the late 1940s or 1950s owe a lot to Charlie. We weren’t all in poverty but were all from humble beginnings, and none of us had a great deal of money.
“Charlie arrived in Moree when junior league had just started and coached for nine years and won seven junior premierships.
“He started junior cricket off on his own bat and then he started up the chess club when he got too old to do all those other things,” David said.
And it seems the love of cricket that CWT instilled in David Jurd steadfastly refuses to fade – he is still playing the game that Charlie taught him so well.
“I’ve been in Armidale playing in an over-60s game and was doing the same thing at Quirindi a couple of weeks ago,” David chuckled.
“And, it’s all thanks to Charles William Thompson – I got 37 for him at Armidale,” he winked.
Like many of CWT’s protégés, former rep cricketer Grahame O’Connor also remained firm friends with his old coach and mentor.
“I don’t think there is anyone in Moree that has done more for junior cricket and league than Charlie,” O’Connor said.
“It was his whole life and, really, it was all he lived for.
“Everyone I know grew up with Charlie and everybody knew him; from the early days down at St Philomena’s doing football drills and learning how to tackle, learning when to tackle and learning how to run – and then in summer we had cricket,” he said.
“If you didn’t listen, Charlie would soon tell you that if you didn’t want to be there you could go.
“But you didn’t have to be a special cricketer or footballer; you just had to be there and listen and learn – and if you did listen, then you learned.
“Charlie also had a lot to do with all those kids who played University Shield and would take them along to carnivals – they were just about unbeatable.”
CWT was also just as good a cricketer as he was a coach, O’Connor said.
“He asked me one day – I was only 11 at the time – to come down and do some fielding at Bloomfield Oval, and I had the honour of watching him score his first century,” O’Connor said.
“He told me that he had a good feeling that he might get 100 runs that day. I doubted him, and told him, but that’s exactly what he did – and he was 42 at the time,” he said.
In later years, when the old bones just couldn’t cope with a football or cricket bat any more, CWT continued helping the kids of Moree – using a humble chess board and years of wisdom.
About 15 years ago CWT formed the Moree Junior Chess Club and his new group of budding champions had no need for a bat or ball – just a chess set and the willingness to open their minds and discover the thought-provoking moves of one of the world’s oldest and most intriguing games.
Under CWT’s guidance the club began making opening gambits at Moree’s Catholic Parish Hall back in 2001.
The club came about after St Philomena’s Catholic School principal at the time, the now member for Barwon Kevin Humphries, and teacher Jason Lincoln, approached CWT with the idea of teaching Year 6 students the basics of chess.
To use a term befitting Moree’s most revered junior sports coach, CWT took the ball and ran with it. And only a bloke like CWT could get nearly 100 schoolkids together on a Saturday afternoon for a game of chess.
“About 90 percent of the kids had never laid eyes on a chess board until they joined the club,” CWT said in 2002 when I penned a feature article about Moree’s newest Chairman of the Board.
And at the club’s inaugural presentation night, CWT’s awards format didn’t differ much from his days at Taylor Oval, either.
Every kid involved received some form of recognition for their achievements.
Again, it wasn’t a case of who won or who lost.
“Trophies for encouragement and improvement are just as vital as those for winning,” CWT said at the time.
CWT was born at Walgett in 1932, but from the age of four spent his childhood and most of his youth at Westmead Boys’ Home in Sydney.
It was this sometimes sad and lonely upbringing that many say was the reason he wanted to help so many kids for so many years.
CWT simply wanted the kids of Moree to enjoy their childhood, and he reckoned the best way to do that was on a cricket field or rugby league paddock.
Winning wasn’t everything, Charlie reasoned, but just being there and having one heck of a good time was.
Grahame O’Connor said CWT’s good will at Christmas time reflected his old coach’s tough childhood.
“Charlie loved Christmas and each year he would approach store-owners for small things that he could wrap up and give to the kids – there could be 20 or 30 or 40 kids at a time,” he said.
As Roy Masters said: “After the boys who played for him became men, CWT remained a hero”.
There is not one single sentence that could better define the incredible life of Charles William Thompson, or the lasting legacy he bestowed on Moree.
Charlie was a true hero to so many people – children as well as adults – who were involved in junior and senior sport across the vast black-soil plains.
Moree owes so much to the man who defined sportsmanship and goodwill on and off the paddock.
He was a humble champion who helped so many people in so many ways.
May he rest in peace.
Words: Bill Poulos
The funeral for Charles William Thompson will be held at St Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Moree at 10am on Friday, November 3.
Afterwards, guests are invited to celebrate Charlie’s life at the Moree Golf Club before heading to the Moree races, just where Charlie would’ve wanted everyone to be.