John Brass ran on to the SCG in 1975 fearing for his life. He is finally ready to reveal how he received anonymous death threats.
John Brass ran on to the SCG in 1975 fearing for his life. He is finally ready to reveal how he received anonymous death threats.

‘If you play, you’re going to get shot’

This is the chilling story of a former rugby league star who played an NRL grand final under the fear of being shot dead.

After a 45-year silence, former Eastern Suburbs centre John Brass has come forward to reveal how three anonymous and terrifying death threats before the famous 1975 grand final gave him "cold sweats".

Plain clothes detectives were forced to form a protective barrier along each side of the players' race so Brass, a centre wearing jumper number three, could safely enter the Sydney Cricket Ground.

John Brass playing for Easts in the 1975 rugby league grand final.
John Brass playing for Easts in the 1975 rugby league grand final.

And the traditional pre-game team photo - historically taken behind the adjacent Ladies Stand - was moved inside the Roosters dressing room for fear of a "serious nutter loose in the Members' Stand area".

A dual international in rugby league and rugby union, Brass, then 28, now 73, can remember an anonymous voice from the milling crowd pre-game - as Easts players exited the team bus - which repeated the threat on his life.

"When I sat in that dressing room before the game, I was in a cold sweat," Brass said.

"I remember thinking there could be a serious nutter loose in the Members' Stand area. I was scared that my wife and family had been put in a situation like that."

Roosters teammates even made awkward jokes at training about not wanting to run out near Brass in case the potential shooter was "a bad shot".

The 1975 grand final - the first televised in colour - was remembered on-field for the then record-breaking score line - 38-0 to the Roosters - and the infamous white boots worn by an injured St George's Immortal fullback, Graeme Langlands.

Drained by the drama, Brass - despite scoring two tries - could not muster the excitement to join his teammates for their premiership celebrations.

 

THE PHONE RINGS

The Brass family lived in the north shore suburb of St Ives, their landline telephone number still appearing in the White Pages.

"It was the Monday night before the game and the team was in a video session at the old Sydney Sports Ground when this person rang my then wife, Kerry, at home. There were no mobiles then so he rang the home number," Brass recalled.

"He said to Kerry: 'If your husband doesn't pull out of Saturday's game then he's going to get shot'.

"When I got home, Kerry was very upset so I rang 'Gibbo' (legendary Roosters coach Jack Gibson) to let him know what had happened. We said: 'Shit, some nutter has bet $10 on the game or wants some notoriety or publicity by causing some angst this week'.

GET MORE CONNECTED:

What you get as a subscriber to The Daily Telegraph

Download our app and stay up to date anywhere, anytime

Sign up to our newsletter

"Jack rang his main contacts at the cops and on Tuesday night, from memory, the police came to training and we discussed it with them. We decided: 'It happened but let's keep it in-house'. No one outside the team knew.

"Boys being boys, they started focusing on running out on the field well away from me in case the guy was a bad shot. 'Let's keep 10 metres between us and Brassy because he might be a dud shot'.

"I think they spoke to Kerry from memory but she didn't come to the ground when they interviewed me."

John Brass has told the story about the death threat for the first time in 45 years. Picture: Nigel Hallett
John Brass has told the story about the death threat for the first time in 45 years. Picture: Nigel Hallett

THE NEXT NIGHT

The harassment and threats continued.

"So we're at training on Tuesday night and the bloke rang again when I wasn't there. Now it's getting serious, rather just being annoying and stupid," Brass said.

"He said the same thing: 'If he doesn't pull out on Saturday then he's going to get shot'. He then hung up.

"The police were called again and then we had patrol cars driving past the house at St Ives about three or four times each evening, just for reassurance.

"It didn't annoy me but I was pissed off that someone had attacked my wife. That's pretty ordinary. For sure, he knew when I was at training. In the old days, I was stupid enough to have my number in the phone book.

"I never found out what the neighbours thought. The police were terrific, they tried to hose it all down. Nothing more happened for the rest of the week."

 

GRAND FINAL DAY

September 20, 1975, was a glorious sunny Sydney day with 63,047 fans packing the SCG. But was there a potential murderer sitting in the crowd?

"We got together before the game and watched Rocky, the movie, at Easts Leagues Club in Bondi and then got a bus back down to the ground, the SCG," Brass said.

"As we were getting out of the bus, which pulled into the Member's area, we had our heads down, thinking about the game.

The Eastern Suburbs Roosters 1975 premiership-winning team members. John Brass is in the front row (second from left).
The Eastern Suburbs Roosters 1975 premiership-winning team members. John Brass is in the front row (second from left).

"Then, out of the blue, someone from the milling crowd said: 'Don't forget what I said on the phone to your wife during the week.' There were a lot of people around the bus. It didn't register at that moment, I just kept walking. People say different things like 'good luck'.

"But once I got into the dressing room, about 10 minutes later, I realised there could be some bloody nutter running around the Member's area with a gun. Someone had just repeated what was said on the phone.

"All of a sudden the joke is no longer a joke. He just said something that was really serious."

 

DRESSING ROOM FEAR

Brass sat inside the away dressing shed stunned. He could hear that voice in his head - but was frustrated he didn't look up to see and identify the culprit.

"When I sat in that dressing room before the game, I was in a cold sweat. I was scared that my wife and family had been put in a situation like that," Brass said.

"I then raised what just happened with Jack and the next thing there's plain clothes police all over the place and in the dressing rooms.

The death threats were not made public but Brass’ team knew.
The death threats were not made public but Brass’ team knew.

"They were the people who said we're not going to have the team photo taken outside the Ladies Stand, which was traditional. The photo had to be taken inside the dressing room.

"The next minute, I had a police escort on to the ground. You run down the walkway onto the SCG when you come out of the dressing rooms in the old Members' Stand.

"There were half a dozen plain-clothes cops lined up along there. Jack told me there were plain-clothes cops there.

"The other players knew about what happened during the week - but not what happened outside the ground. Jack was, typically, very good about it. He said: 'You'll be right kid, don't worry about it.' He was reassuring."

 

THE GAME

Easts led just 5-0 at halftime before scoring seven second half tries to embarrass the Dragons. Brass's stellar two-try performance was in conflict with his anxiety.

"What happened during the week didn't impact on the result but, I must admit, at the end of the game, it had drained me mentally. It didn't during the week, I thought it was some sort of joke, but then at the game, things changed," he said.

"I wasn't looking around the crowd during the game or thinking about it - I was only concentrating on what had to be done to win a grand final.

Brass still played the grand final and helped his team win the premiership.
Brass still played the grand final and helped his team win the premiership.

"But when the game finished, I went home. I didn't get mixed up in the celebrations. I didn't realise I was drained but I was. It got to me. Everyone went back to the Leagues Club to celebrate the victory after the game but I said to Jack: 'Do you mind if I go home? I just feel stuffed'.

"The next day, I didn't see the boys, I took the family to a restaurant down there at Balmoral Beach for breakfast. I remember it clearly, near the beach overlooking the water."

 

HE GOT AWAY WITH IT

Brass never did find out who did it or why.

"A few people have said it was a chilling story. It was weird but I didn't think of it that way. Someone said to me the other day: 'Shit did that really happen?' I said it did," he said.

"I have no idea why he did it. It is strange when you reflect on it. It was a laugh at the time but these days you'd probably have a national inquiry. It was probably some bloke who had $10 on the Dragons.

"I had three kids at that time. Kylie and Leanne, they are twins, they were four back then, and Nikki was one. They didn't know about it. I don't know when they found out about it - probably only recently, I've been divorced a long time, Kerry probably told them about it.

"It was part of the history of what I went through, the tales of footy.

"I haven't thought about much since. It never went any further. What could you do? You couldn't really do anything.

John Brass with his wife Pam and their dog Lucca. Picture: Nigel Hallett
John Brass with his wife Pam and their dog Lucca. Picture: Nigel Hallett

"I didn't talk about it much after that or think much about it. I was just annoyed more than anything else about the stress it had put on Kerry at the time. I probably had stress but I didn't realise it because you're concentrating so much on the job you have in front of you - that's winning a grand final."

Brass stayed at Easts in 1976 before he headed north to play with Tweed Heads Seagulls and start to manage shopping malls. He is still working part time in Burleigh Heads.

"I was contracted at Easts for another couple of years after that grand final and Arthur Beetson was appointed captain-coach. He wanted me to be his staunch lieutenant but I knew I had enough. Today I'm semi-retired. I still manage a few little shopping centres for a client," Brass said.

Brass served on the Super League board and then the NRL board between 1998 and 2006. He was chairman for one meeting. Chairing directors would appear uncomplicated compared to confronting multiple death threats in the biggest week of your sporting life.

"To this day, I still don't why the bloke did it," Brass said.

Originally published as Grand final death threat: 'If you play, you're going to get shot'


ELECTION: Nanango candidates outline their economic vision

Premium Content ELECTION: Nanango candidates outline their economic vision

This election, the economy has been one of the biggest issues in the minds of...

Nanango candidates present their plans to tackle crime

Premium Content Nanango candidates present their plans to tackle crime

This election, crime has been one of the biggest issues in the minds of voters –...

ELECTION: Nanango candidates views on euthanasia laws

Premium Content ELECTION: Nanango candidates views on euthanasia laws

A TOUGH topic in the lead up to the state election, the Times reached out to the...