Brian Bevan was one of Australia's greatest sportsmen. Arguably, he was the most remarkable footballer ever to lace a boot. Between 1946 and 1964, Bevan scored almost 800 tries in British Rugby League, then the game's dominant competition. No other player has ever approached that record. Welsh great Billy Boston trails far behind in second place with 571.
Yet nearly 40 years after retirement and a decade since his death, there remains little public acknowledgement of his unrivalled achievements. Inexplicably, no authoritative record of his deeds has ever appeared - until now.
Prolific British sporting historian Robert Gate has at last tackled the daunting task of capturing this enigmatic, elusive player in print. It is no easy task. Gate begins by conceding that his book cannot do complete justice to its subject. He is right - Bevan was that sort of star, so absolutely unique that even the finest wordsmiths found him beyond their descriptive powers. But Gate makes a very good fist of trying.
He provides a painstakingly-researched chronicle of Bevan's entire career, from his 1941 reserve grade debut for Sydney's Eastern Suburbs to his last games as a 40-year old with second division English club Blackpool Borough in 1964. In between, his amazing record over 17 seasons with renowned English club Warrington formed the heart of the Bevan legend. Twice he scored seven tries in a game, four times he got six. Almost unbelievably, he bagged hat-tricks more than 100 times. Nine times he scored more than 50 tries in a season. In 1952/3 he crossed for a staggering 72 tries.
Gate fills out these fascinating details with splendid coverage of many epic games and unforgettable tries. Several colourful descriptions bring back treasured memories with almost painful clarity. At the same time, Gate's scholarship has re-located some of the apparent landmarks of Bevan's career. For example, I always believed I saw the great man's 600th and 700th tries and his 100th hat-trick. In fact, statisticians of the day had it wrong. All three milestones occurred earlier than was then assumed. But the loss of illusions is a small price to pay for a permanent record of this inimitable champion.
The book is rounded out by a splendid section in which contemporaries, both famous and unknown, give us their recollections and evaluations of Bevan in his pomp. It makes great reading. Clive Churchill names him the greatest-ever. Rex Mossop laments that 'before you could batter the little bastard, you had to catch him, and that was easier said than done'. And the great Australian player, captain and coach Harry Bath, who knew Bevan as well as anybody, says flatly 'Brian Bevan has never had any counterpart...no player ever provided sustained thrills for so many fans over such a long period'.
There is just one regret in this stellar career, as Gate reminds us. Residency rules in those days prevented players representing Australia unless they were living here. Bevan never played for Australia. He was unquestionably the greatest player never to do so.