John Elias – Sin Bin

November 2, 2011

This fascinating book is the memoir of John Elias, a Sydney Rugby League footballer and hoodlum. It was written with Josh Massoud and published in 2010. I’m assuming that John Elias told his stories to Josh Massoud, who then crafted it into the written form. It reads well, as if Elias is speaking to us. Essentially, the book gives a vivid sense of life in Sydney in the 1980s and ’90s, as well as a glimpse into some of the connections between professional sport and the underworld. I knew the story of John Elias quite well before reading the book. I watched him play for the Balmain Tigers in the late 1980s and also read about him in the newspapers a few times when he was in legal trouble. The key theme of the book is that although he played sport at the top professional level, he feels that he never fulfilled his potential due to various problems arising from his criminal activities. At various times in his life he was involved in car theft, debt collection and standover activities, harness race fixing as well as attempting to fix a Rugby League game. He claims that his participation in such unlawful activities was motivated more by thrill seeking than financial considerations. Whatever, as a result he had several stints in prison and his football career suffered, particularly in later years when he was trying to move into a coaching career.

Overall, it’s a great read, with some outrageous stories of his various activities, mixed with certain amount of regret and self-awareness. It gives a good sense of League in the old days, before the big TV money, when players had regular jobs, (or sold stolen goods from their car boots). It’s also an interesting piece in the giant jigsaw puzzle of trying to understand how Sydney works.

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