IT IS fair to say barely a trip to these shores by the Australian national team passes off without some sort of colourful off-the-field incident, although few have perhaps been more surreal than the clash between the Kangaroos and The Jam in 1978.
The story of Paul Weller and his fellow band members brawling in a bar with the rugby league tourists from Down Under in a Leeds hotel bar could almost be up there with Bob Holness playing the saxophone on Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker Street’ as one of music’s great urban myths.
Except, of course, that it did actually happen.
This rather strange meeting of cultures occurred in the Queens Hotel in the week leading up the third and final Test of the 1978 Ashes series at Headingley, with the series level at 1-1 after an 18-14 victory for Great Britain in the second match at Odsal.
Surrey rockers The Jam, meanwhile, were on tour and had recently seen their fifth single ‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’ – a song about someone being attacked, ironically – peak at number 15 in the UK Top 40.
The exact details of what happened are lost in the mists of time, although the Sydney Morning Herald at the time reported the brawl between The Jam and the Australians erupted when Kanagaroos team manager Jim Caldwell was moving a table and accidentally bumped into one of the band members.
Angry words were then exchanged and the generally accepted version of events is that Weller then smashed a glass over Caldwell’s head, causing cuts to his face and narrowly missing blinding him in his right eye.
Balmain Tigers winger Larry Corowa then jumped in to defend Caldwell and was attacked himself before going to locate some of his team-mates to provide reinforcements – some of whom had to be roused from their beds.
“There were a couple of players shouting about how our manager, Jimmy Caldwell, had just been glassed in the downstairs bar by these punk rockers; The Jam,” hooker Max Krilich told Australia’s Daily Telegraph in 2013.
“So a couple of the fellas, who shall remain nameless, were gathering troops for revenge.
“I stayed in bed, but certainly someone must’ve gone down because those tough, little musicians, they had the shit belted out of them.”
Jam bassist Bruce Foxton, who ended up in hospital with rib injuries following the ruckus, remembers the incident slightly differently.
“We were standing up to get some drinks and some words were exchanged,” recalled Foxton. “The next minute Paul was in a bit of a ruck and I tried to help him out. He just finished up being like a rugby ball.
“They went berserk. They went mad. It was really frightening. They were after our blood, literally, and we had to leave about three in the morning and check into another hotel. It fucked the rest of the tour because I had badly bruised ribs.”
Unsurprisingly, the police were called to calm things down, with their official report clearing the tourists of any wrongdoing. Weller, meanwhile, had to make an appearance at Leeds Crown Court, only be discharged straight away.
Whether the incident served to fire up the Kangaroos even more ahead of the Ashes decider is up for debate, but the fact remains they went on to trounce the Lions 23-6 and head to the French leg of the tour with a 2-1 series win in the bag.
Nevertheless, this remains a fascinating and bizarre footnote in the history of the Australian team visiting the UK. Let us just hope next year’s Rugby League World Cup Down Under does not produce any stories of England’s players getting into a barroom brawl with DMAs as well…