Legend: Arthur Beetson leads the Roosters to the 1974 premiership. Photo: John O’GreadyFormer Queensland forward Dan Stains, his feet freshly blistered from trekking the 800-kilometre El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage through France and Spain, took time out from one of the most enriching experiences of his life to remember the man who gave State of Origin its soul – big-hearted Artie Beetson.
Stains, who represented the Maroons in 1989 and 1990, walked along goat tracks over mountains and trudged through ancient villages to complete his pilgrimage, which ended at the Cathedral Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of Saint James were believed to have been buried after he was martyred in AD44.
As the former Cronulla and Balmain prop recuperated on a beach in Italy he recalled the impact the footballer from Roma in the Queensland outback had on his life. He described Beetson as a man who worked miracles on the footy field and who lifted people by simply being himself.
“Arthur was such a generous man,” Stains said.
“He didn’t worship money. He didn’t worship goods. He respected all people. He could walk with the wealthy and he could walk with the commoner.”
Stains said he idolised Beetson when “Big Artie” starred for the Eastern Suburbs Roosters in the 1970s, and he wasn’t too proud to admit that he cried the day his hero left the red, white and blues for Parramatta.
However, all was forgiven when Stains watched Beetson, then aged 35 and carrying a spare tyre around his waist, spearhead the Maroons to a shock victory over NSW at the inaugural Origin match at Lang Park, in 1980.
“I’d just turned 16, it was 1980 and the first-ever game of Origin,” Stains said. “I can remember very clearly how back then Queensland would get pumped in every [interstate] series.
“What added to our pain was we were being beaten by our own players – blokes from Queensland were picked for NSW because they played in Sydney. In those days just to get close to the Blues was considered a Queensland triumph.
“As a boy Arthur Beetson was my hero and to be lucky enough to be in the crowd as the players were introduced one by one for the Origin match was an amazing experience. When the ground announcer read the number and name of Arthur Beetson, the roar of the crowd was deafening – and I added to it, screaming my lungs out.
“It was at that moment I felt so proud to be a Queenslander and I truly believed we could win. And win we did, through Arthur leading the way.”
The pair shared a common goal nine years later when Stains was selected to pack down for the Queenslanders.
Stains remembers how Beetson, the coach then, knew when to rescue him from an attack by a squadron of nerves as he sat in the dressing room before kick-off.
“I was fortunate to be selected for my Origin debut in game one of 1989 when Arthur had returned to coach the side,” he said. “The whole week was such an amazing experience for me.
“To be rubbing shoulders and sitting on the bus with some of the then modern-day greats of the game was surreal. However, for me to be sitting at the same table and eating with Arthur Beetson was another thing altogether … humbling. I pinched myself every day we were in camp.
“That all paled into insignificance when I was preparing myself for my first game. It was an hour before kick-off at Lang Park and I was going through my usual pre-match rituals. The nerves had really kicked in and the dreaded ‘doubt monster’ was taking over my thinking.
“It was at that point Arthur casually walked over, he gave me a hug and then handed me a note that he’d personally written for me. After reading it … realising the belief he had in me … those nerves and all the self doubt evaporated and a complete feeling of peace and calmness enveloped me.”
While Stains can now add “pilgrim” to his list of life achievements, he won’t go as far to say the late, great Arthur was a saint. However, he remembers Beetson as a special soul who never allowed for his legend as a giant of Australian sport to cast a shadow over those who sought to shake his hand or request an autograph.
“He was a great person, very genuine, and after all those years since that game back in ’89 the memory of what Arthur did [for me] has lived with me,” he said. “And I know that moment and the State of Origin memory will live with me forever.”