Andrew Ferguson – Dennis Manteit, John Raper And The Man In The Bowler Hat

Comparisons between players of the past with those currently playing the game have been an oft discussed topic.

But ultimately it is near impossible to know certifiably just how good players would have performed under the current rules, against different opposition and the tactics of the modern game. Player weight variances would be of the greatest difference. In the dominant French touring sides of the 1950’s and 1960’s, they were widely regarded as having one of the most dominant and powerful forward packs in World Rugby League at that time.

However, every single one of those tough French forwards was lighter and shorter than Israel Folau.

This fact alone causes the most conjecture as to how greats of the past would compete today, especially forwards. The other major aspect is that today’s players are full time professionals, whereas the players of the past had full time work outside of Rugby League.

Yet there is one aspect of this topic which has barely, if at all, ever been touched, which shows the differences between players of the past and the modern player.

The impact the media has on the game.

And the greatest example of all comes from one of the greatest players to ever play the game. He won 8 premierships, played over 20 games for his state and 39 tests for Australia, captained his state and country, a coach at club level, a test selector and went on to become one of the first four immortals of the game.

That man is Johnny Raper.

There is a well-known legend surrounding Raper while on the 1967-68 tour of Great Britain and France. He was later dubbed “The man in the bowler hat” after his actions. January 8, 1968, it was gleefully reported in English Newspapers that the Australian rugby league team had left “a trail of damage” at their hotel. Added to this was the revelation that one footballer paraded through the streets of Ilkley wearing nothing but a tie and a bowler hat.

It was assumed very quickly that the man in the bowler hat was Johnny Raper. At the time and for many years to follow, Raper never admitted, nor denied the rumour. Instead he milked it for all it’s worth, much to the chagrin of the public and fans alike.

He appeared in television commercials, at public functions and ceremonies wearing a bowler hat (as well as being fully clothed) for many years after the incident.

No one ever admitted or revealed who the actual player was for nearly 20 years. It wasn’t until Johnny Raper was standing for a position on the Australian selection panel in the late 1980’s, that the truth was revealed. Raper thought it would prevent him from becoming a selector, so he revealed that the man in the bowler hat was actually Dennis Manteit.

The whole saga was one of much frivolity and was regarded as a very amusing anecdote which fast became rugby league folklore. But if a high profile player today were to do the same thing, would it receive the same light-hearted response from the media and public?

Of course not.

Would it be funny if the games leading player joked about it, mocking the situation at public functions and was involved in advertising commercials making light of the controversy?

Definitely not!

If Johnny Raper and Dennis Manteit were playing today and repeated this incident, they’d be stood down, fined and most likely suspended. There’d be no folklore or jokes.

Raper would most likely never have been allowed to become a national selector and his opportunity to become an immortal may have been rescinded. Columnists and social commentators alike would be harping on the incident for months on end, forcing these men to retreat to their homes. They’d be made out to be animals, outraged fans would treat them accordingly and media personnel from other football codes would be prancing around and publicly gloating “well at least our players don’t expose themselves to the world and trash hotels,” even though they more than likely do.

While I believe Raper, the player, would have been just as dynamic and brilliant on the field in today’s game as he was back in his own playing days, off the field he would be tagged as one of league’s bad guys, his reputation over that one jovial incident would tarnish his career forever.

As for Manteit, he’d be discarded quicker than a bowel movement. And treated just the same.

Visit Andrews web sites at The Rugby League Project and My Random Rugby League Articles.

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