THERE HAVE BEEN few more popular sports broadcasters over the past 50 years than Drew Morphett, who died on Friday night at 69. Chief writer RON REED pays tribute:
DREW MORPHETT did just about everything anyone could want to do as a sports broadcaster except, perhaps, host The Footy Show. He never worked for Channel 9, his half-century in the caper being divided between the ABC, mostly, and Channel 7. But you know what, that might have been 9’s loss. It just so happened that I learned of Drew’s sudden death at 69 just as I had been perusing the latest ratings figures for The Footy Show, which are not good reading for Eddie McGuire and his crew, and the thought immediately occurred that he would have been a near-perfect choice for a job that has challenged everybody who has attempted it since McGuire first filled the hot seat two decades ago.
Morphett had all of the requisite assets – he combined on-air professionalism and enthusiasm with a deep knowledge of sport and, importantly, a warm and engaging personality that made people enjoy listening to what he had to say. For those of us who spent time in his convivial company – and I knew him well from the four Olympic Games that he worked on, many cricket tours, footy press boxes and racecourses – you could multiply that manyfold. He was a terrific bloke to know, always the life of any party that might be happening – or if there wasn’t one planned, he would start one. As 7 colleague Sandy Roberts said in a tribute: “He was very good at combining work and pleasure – and excelled at both.”
It’s a toss-up whether he was better known for his footy or cricket work, while he was also heavily involved in racing in recent years, with cycling, golf, basketball and even diving among the other sports in which his versatility proved to be so valuable. His mastery of footy was a bit of a mystery – especially to his close mate, former Carlton captain Mark Maclure – because he grew up in Sydney and never played a game of Australian Rules at any level, not even at school. “But he had an understanding of the game – I don’t know how he did that,” Maclure marvelled from the ABC radio box at the MCG, where they worked together countless times.
There was a positivity about Morphett’s approach to his work and his life that ensured he had no trouble earning the respect of people in the business, the players, coaches and administrators. Test cricketer Kerry O’Keeffe, who worked alongside him as a commentator, hit the nail on the head when he said: “He saw sports broadcasting as a privilege, not an earner.”
Morphett died at home while watching the Hawks beat the Bulldogs on Friday night. As Maclure put it: “He died … watching footy with a glass of red in his hand. What other way would you want him to go?” He would especially have loved watching the farewells to a few of the giants of the game, Luke Hodge, Bob Murphy, Josh Gibson and Matthew Boyd because he admired the great warriors of this and any other game. Perhaps this is not quite the right time to make the point, but he would – like the vast majority of people – have cringed at Sam Newman’s disrespectful suggestion on the Footy Show that Murphy should have removed himself from the Bulldogs’ premiership celebrations last year because he had not actually played for most of the season. You do wonder sometimes if Sam makes some of this stuff up for no other reason than to keep him, and the show, in the headlines.
Perhaps he needs to. In the three weeks since ex-host Craig Hutchison was replaced by McGuire, the show has gone from 381,000 viewers to 299,000 to 237,000 on average. This seems to suggest that McGuire’s return attracted a lot of people keen to see if he could work a bit of magic, and they have decided the answer is no and tuned out again. Meanwhile, 7’s The Front Bar was again nipping at TFS’s heels at key points of last Thursday night. Come to think of it, The Front Bar would have suited Morphett’s style to a tee, too. He was never available for it, of course, having retired a year or so ago, with intentions to travel in Europe with his wife Kaz in the next few weeks. Sadly, those plans have been replaced by funeral arrangements, which seem sure to involve the MCG in the next few days and, according to Roberts, will probably include a roast. With so many stories that can be told (and a good few that probably can’t) that should be, to employ one of the recipient’s favourite expressions, “MAG-nificent!!”
Author: Ron Reed
RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.