Des Hasler, it’s widely agreed, is a famously frugal fellow. Tales of his frugality are legion.
They’ll tell you when he was first signed for Manly in 1984, Hasler would travel by train from Penrith to Circular Quay and busk for change. He was a pretty good singer, sang in a country and western band. And after he’d earned the fare he’d catch the ferry to Manly.
They’ll tell you he once picked up .50c in the race at Brookvale and put it in his footy sock.
They’ll tell you his wife drove a Land Cruiser; he’d give her $5 for petrol.
They’ll tell you he was late for a function – and this in his mid-50s and a coach on mega-bucks – because he was driving around waiting until there was free parking.
And they’ll tell you about the old pair of Doc Marten’s boots.
For years the Sea Eagles players had teased Hasler about the boots. He’d won them in ’87 when he a man-of-the-match. He’d worn them all over the UK on the Kangaroo Tour of 1990. He wore them every day. He didn’t buy a pair of casual shoes for nearly 20 years. Why would he? Those things were tough. Did the job.
One day John Hopoate saw an opportunity too good to pass up. He noticed Hasler’s Doc Martens in a half-open sports bag. And he knew: comedy gold was on. It’s why Hoppa did the thing with the fingers in the bum. For a laugh at video night.
So he reached into the bag and took one of the boots. Then he zipped up the bag and thought, Now what do I do?
He needed co-conspirators. He sought out two men who’d know what to do: Steve Menzies and Nik Kosef. The pair, too, saw opportunity.
And they hatched a cunning plan.
Next training session, Des – who was strength and conditioning trainer at the club with Bob Fulton as coach – gathered the group in the middle of the park. And he addressed the group:
“Who’s got it? I know one of you blokes has my boot.”
Nobody ‘fessed up.
“Right. I’m gonna flog you until I find out,” Hasler said.
And there followed a serious session. Sprints. Four hundreds. Blokes vomiting, Des barking at them. Where’s the boot!
Next day, another training session, another huddle in the middle. This time a trainer ran out to the group with a letter for Des. Des opened it. It was a ransom note. Letters had been cut out of magazines and glued on. The note read: “Pay $200 for the players fund or the shoe gets it.”
Des did not get it. Indeed he was ropeable.
“They’re sentimental value!” he thundered. “Those shoes mean a lot to me!”
Still no-one spoke. No shoe came forth. And Des flogged the players again.
Next session, the trainer ran out with another envelope, another letter.
“Listen Hasler,” it read. “We make the rules, You want the shoe, cough up the money.”
This time in the envelope was another item: a shoe-lace.
Cut in half.
There followed, most sessions, another letter. Some contained Polaroid photos of the shoe under duress. Being dangled over the Spit Bridge. Masked men holding a lighter to the shoe.
Season after season – you want the boot back, cough up the coin.
Hasler was unlikely to cough up money. Did his players not know him?
So no boot, no money, no confession.
Ten years later, there was one.
Kosef was best man at Menzies’ wedding. At the end of Kosef’s speech, he declared that he had something to admit.
And from under the bridal table he produced the missing Doc Marten.
At the back of the reception came a plaintive howl.
“Nooooooo!” It was Des. “I only just threw the other one out last week!”
And the room erupted. Because it was true. He hadn’t bought another pair of shoes.
The team bought him a pair for his birthday.