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  • Geoff Cordner

A Race for All Time

Updated: Jan 5, 2021

(The precursor to this tale can be found at

On the evening of Valentines Day 2019, as the tour to Australia by our lifelong friends from the Norton Oakes Cricket Club approached its conclusion, the visitors extended invitations to various locals to attend a traditional event that has become known over the years as Billets Night. The invitees to a Billets Night are, first and foremost, those people/families who have hosted tourists in Sydney (or Sheffield, as the case may be, during our reciprocal tours to the UK), along with others who have made significant contributions to the tour and its success.

Linda and I were initially more than a little sheepish when advised the Norton Oakes visitors had extended the list of invitees for the 2019 Billets Night to include the two of us. Far from hosting tourists (as we had originally committed to do), our intended guests, and close friends, the Davidsons, had been accommodated elsewhere by a magnanimous, but otherwise completely unprepared family. All of this arising, of course, as a consequence of the tragic events that had unfolded in Sydney between the time the touring party departed the UK, and their touchdown here on 27 January 2019. Having been assured however that the decision to include us was one supported by the entire tour group, we agreed to accept the invitation, albeit with some lingering reservation.

In the hours leading up to the event I could not help but remind myself of the Billets Night that had been hosted by the North Ryde RSL Cricket Club tourists on the other side of the world back in 2016. Our tour party had decided, in preparation for that evening, that we would attempt to create a new tradition - whereby each of the tourists would deliver a personal tribute, in front of the entire assembled group, to the individual or family that had hosted them during their stay.

The speeches delivered on that night back in July 2016 had been, in equal parts, hilarious and heart-wrenching. And in my (undoubtedly biased) opinion Ben’s was the most memorable and moving of them all. Having thanked the Denton family – consisting of Mum and Dad, Lesley and David (a similar age to Linda and I), their teenage daughter, Lydia, and son, Tom (the same age as Ben) – in generous and entertaining fashion, Ben went on to give a spontaneous personal commitment to everyone in the room. So much had the tour in general, and his experience living with the Denton family in particular, meant to him that he assured us all, with compelling sincerity, he would do everything in his power to ensure these tours continued into the future for as long as he was around to make that happen.

Who could possibly have guessed as he delivered those stirring words that this would be the last Billets Night Ben would ever attend?

The 2019 Billets Night was, like so many before it, a great success; although, like a number of events throughout the course of the 2019 tour, a little more subdued than many of its predecessors.

But the highlight of the night was, without doubt, a series of eight man-on-man 100 metre sprints conducted after dinner on the main oval at T G Millner Field, home of the Eastwood Rugby Club, between hand-picked “adversaries”. Three of the races involved pairs of brothers from the local hosting families, and these, not surprisingly, were the most entertaining and competitive races of all. After all, bragging rights around the dinner table are the sort of things young male siblings dream about!

As I watched these races unfold, to the sound of good‑natured-barracking and gentle banter, I could not help but let my mind wander to an ethereal Field of Dreams upon which our own two boys had miraculously found themselves pitted against one another in a match race for the ages: a fixture the outcome of which I defy anyone who knows them to have predicted with confidence.

Ben would have led Tim out of the blocks I’m pretty sure, and enjoyed a clear margin by the halfway mark. But Tim’s long strides, the miles in his legs accumulated from pre-season AFL training, and his fierce determination, would have ensured he remained in the contest right to the very finish.

Though I have, and always will, love my extraordinary boys equally, I could not resist the smile that formed at the thought of Ben, as he and Tim breasted the finishing line, outlasting his elder brother, in whose shadow he had lived his entire sporting life, by the barest of margins ‑ to record what I am sure he would have forever regarded as his greatest sporting triumph.

It rarely pays these days to reflect on what might have been, but that – oh that would have been, in my mind's eye at least, a contest to set Olympus itself alight.

After drafting this piece I was reviewing the events of Billets Night 2019 with Tim. I confessed to him that I had idly speculated a number of times during the intervening period about who would have won a 100m sprint race between he and Ben. To his credit Tim was willing to concede that he thought his younger brother would have had him covered – if only just.

So there you have it Ben. Victory is yours my friend. Though, of course, not quite as sweet as it might have been.


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