Chris Rattue: Gentle Kiwi giant always ready for the battle

By Chris Rattue

Auckland league has lost one of its legends.

Doug Gailey, a gentle giant as his death notice put it, didn't just epitomise the sport in its notoriously toughest days. He helped make it that way.

The 59-year-old Gailey, the 19-test Kiwi prop from Auckland, who played for the Ellerslie, Manukau and Illawarra clubs, died over the weekend, following complications from a fall.

The fine prop is the third member of the incredible 1971 Kiwi side - which claimed the first series win in Britain - to die. The others are fellow frontrowers Henry Tatana and Bill Burgoyne.

One mystery was solved through Gailey's untimely death. Many in the game had been left to wonder what his middle initial J stood for. It was Jane. Gailey was definitely more Tarzan though, and famously so. A tougher footballer never lived.

First among many footballing memories of Gailey surround tours here by the British team in the 1970s. In 1974, Gailey laid out opposing forward Jim Thompson and the British hadn't forgotten when they returned five years later. In a brutal game against Auckland at Carlaw Park, a pack of Brits exacted revenge.

Gailey stood up to it, as he always did, but according to legend he was still being stitched back together an hour after the game.

He was always ready for the battle.

An Australian team are said to have looked askance as a fired-up Gailey boxed the walls as the test teams made their way to the field once.

They were very different times compared to the sanitised, although still very tough, version of the game today. Character filled the game.

After recently bumping into Jim Fisher, Canterbury's Kiwi hooker of the 1960s and '70s, I reminded him that Burgoyne never seemed to get over missing out to Fisher in those momentous tests of 1971.

Fisher remembered that Burgoyne offered him £200 to feign an injury on the 1971 tour, so Burgoyne might play a test.

"I said: 'Bill I can't do that. I might get injured anyway'," recalled Fisher.

Gailey's reputation never had trouble travelling far. A blocklayer, Gailey was building the Carlaw Park offices when bricks mysteriously found their way to the headquarters of one of the most notorious motorcycle gangs in the city. Gailey visited the gang, and requested their return. The bricks made a hurried Carlaw Park comeback.

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