Written by Stuart McLennan
If you ask Brisbane based rugby league tragic and memorabilia curator Mike Simpson to describe his collection, prepare to be astonished by the enormity and diversity of his stash.
“I estimate I have around 2800 jerseys, about 4000 programmes, literally hundreds of signed balls, pennants, posters, autographs, photos, players medals and match tickets” Simpson revealed to Everything Rugby League
“I also own nearly the entire defunct South Queensland Crushers player kits from 1995 and 96, there’s Russian rugby league player issued airline boarding passes, a set of Moroccan drums signed by the Moroccan rugby league team, seat cushions from American rugby league, a tracksuit worn by Wally Lewis, hundreds of books and magazines and an original 1936 football signed by the 1936 Queensland side with original pump in wooden box.
“We have quite a large home so storage is no problem. My wife, believe it or not, supported my hobby and my love of collecting, she knows my love of the game means everything to me.”
Anyone that follows Mike on social media would be aware of his extraordinary knowledge and passion for the game in France. The French national team is the source of his most treasured memorabilia item..
“My love of French rugby league began way back in 1987 when I saw my first French game on TV vs Great Britain. I just loved the way the French played, hard and tough with a splash of finesse. My friend in Bradford used to send me club games that were aired on British TV with my very first game seeing Cannes vs Carcassonne. I was instantly attracted to the flair of Gilles Dumas, the mercurial Patrick Entat, the devastating late and great Didier Cabestany and the elusive Pascal Fages.
“What I did notice too was the sprinkling of Australians that washed up in France. My hero John Maguire at Le Pontet, Patrick Cowell at St Gaudens, Michael Glascock at Villefranche and later Jason Sands also at Villefranche and Johnny Elias at Pia.
“Once I started to read the heroics of such legends such as Puig Aubert, Jacques Merquey, Max Rousie, Gilbert Bennauuse, Jean Dop and Elie Brousse, I fell in love with the history of the tricolours. I believe I have one of the biggest French rugby league memorabilia collections in the world.
“My all time favourite piece of memorabilia is Jacques Merquey’s original 1951 test jersey vs Australia worn at the SCG. Merquey is the last surviving member of that 1951 test side that for the record was the last ever French test side to beat Australia on home soil. Jacques had no idea where his jersey ended up after he swapped it with Australian centre Johnny Hawke. The jersey somehow made its way into a collectors collection in Whitehaven in the UK and had been sitting in a box for over 30 years before I was able to purchase it last year. I believe only 6 of the 1951 test jerseys have survived. To me this is priceless and I would never part with it. At age 90 years I have offered it back to Jacques, but he has insisted I look after it and keep its legacy alive for others to see.”
In addition to hunting down memorabilia Simpson works as a rugby league writer, dividing his time between profiling the good work being done across the globe for Rugby League World magazine and collating reports for the Queensland Rugby League.
“From Nigeria to the Netherlands, from Scotland to Serbia, the myriad of nations that now play the game is not only fascinating but from an expansion point of view opening the game to the world. It’s as if now we have a kaleidoscope of teams that we can follow and encourage to give the supporters a chance to see a nation play in what would normally not be rugby league heartlands.
“It would be 10 years ago that I finally landed a dream job as Brisbane Second Division correspondent for the Queensland Rugby League. I have travelled all over Brisbane, Logan, Ipswich and everything in between on any given Saturday to collate match reports and I am also the photographer on game days.”
The passion for rugby league and collecting associated paraphernalia started at an early age for Mike.
“My love of memorabilia started as a kid collecting swap cards and my dad’s Rugby League Weeks. I had hundreds of cards, but it was Rugby League Week that really got me going. From time to time you would see jerseys from around the world and occasionally bits and pieces of memorabilia from collectors and thought I want to be just like them.
“So from cards and magazines, I would look for things at garage sales, flea markets and local charity shops, stuff that people had no more use for. From this I started to build quite a collection of rare artefacts and relics. As time went on and the internet provided collectors with a plethora of sites to source such relics, I was collecting even more memorabilia.
“In the early days of collecting however, I remember having to make a phone call to a policeman in PNG who had some test programmes and speaking with a fellow collector in Cumbria UK during a thunderstorm, about some signed footballs he was selling. I’ve literally wandered the earth to gather and collect these artefacts, sometimes the stuff nobody else wants or have been shoved under the bed.”
Simpson has ambitions to share his remarkable collection with a wider audience by opening a rugby league museum in Brisbane one day.
“For me it’s about salvaging the past for the future. Once these relics are gone, they are gone forever and to me history matters.
“I have been a ball boy, player, coach, manager, statistician, ground announcer, podcaster, historian and now a journalist for both the Queensland Rugby League and Rugby League World magazine in the UK. I’ve devoted my entire life to rugby league.”