Eighty-eight not out

Ken Piesse
Photo: Gary Sissons

With eighty-seven books on cricket and football, author and sports commentator Ken Piesse is the most published sports author in Australia – perhaps the world – although there is no official record for this. He’s about to publish his eighty-eighth, and this time, it’s all about Ken. It’s a memoir, ‘Living the Dream – 60 Years of Cricket’.

Ken started young, playing for Beaumaris in the under-fourteen team at only nine years of age. Ken demurs when called a prodigy and says: “I just loved it so much. If I were a prodigy, I would have played league footy and first-eleven premier league cricket (I only got to the seconds) but I was keener on writing. In year twelve, a lot of my friends wanted to be teachers, but that didn’t appeal to me. I liked writing, and my dad was friends with Creighton Burns, one of the associate editors at the Age, and he suggested I use him as a reference to try and get a cadetship.”

Ken was interviewed for the job by the great Australian journalist and editor-in-chief of The Age in the seventies, Graham Perkin. Ken says, “I asked Dad, ‘What should I say to Mr Perkin?’ He said, ‘Look him in the eye, smile, and give him a Teddy Whitten handshake.’ Teddy would grab your hand and really squeeze it, so you’d have to brace yourself; otherwise, you lose your hand,” Ken laughs. Ken gave the handshake and got the job. “Mum was very proud because four hundred and seven went for the cadetship, and six of us were successful.”

Ken’s dad nurtured his love of footy, taking him to Glenferrie Oval to watch Hawthorn play, and to the cricket. He would buy Ken a can of lemonade and a pie (both taboos at home). Ken still has all the scorebooks, still plays cricket as a spin bowler for Port Melbourne and has the distinction of getting out Bob Hawke. “He said that it was the first time he’s been caught out by a journalist in twenty-five years! I got David Hookes out at the MCG as well. There’s been some mighty moments along the way.”

So, how was it writing a book about himself? “It’s nostalgic because it makes you think back to various times and where you were. I’ve been so lucky to meet all these amazing people like Jack Nicklaus. They’ve all got a story, whether they’ve played bush football or played league football at the highest level.”

“There were lots of ups and downs. They called me Tolstoy at The Age because
I loved writing long stories. I spent four days writing a story, and the sports editor came back on a Thursday night after having a lot of wine at the Age’s watering hole and said, ‘Tolstoy, what’s this shit?’ and threw it up in the air. Message to Ken: don’t offer any stories to the sports editor on a Thursday night after he’s been to the pub.”

Message to Ken: don’t offer any stories to the sports editor on a Thursday night after he’s been to the pub.”

Ken also wrote for the Sunday Observer, was chief cricket and football writer for the Sporting Globe, and then ended up freelancing. This led him to do radio with 3MP and then Sport 927 (now RSN) for thirty-five years, then television reading the late-night sports news on Channel 7 and with World of Sport. He has worked with people like the immortal sportscaster Bill Collins. Ken has published forty-six cricket magazines, one every year since 1978.

In 2006, he was in Sydney collecting material for the magazine, and interviewing Sydney Swans player Darren Jolly (The Block), who was in the Grand Final that year.
Ken recalls, “I said, ‘You’re going to need a hundred tickets; all your mates from Ballarat will want to watch you play.’ He said, ‘That’s right, but I’m not sure about Deanne. She’s due to have our first next Saturday.’ I said, ‘Next Saturday, that’s Grand Final Day!’ He said, ‘That’s right, I’m going to be there at the birth.’
Ken asked Darren if Deanne was carrying the baby way out in front. He said she was, and Ken, who had had five children, said, “It’s sure to be a boy. Boys will hang on forever. You’ll be able to play on Saturday and have the kid on Sunday, no problem.

The punchline was little baby Maddison, a girl, was induced on Friday, and he got to play. They lost the Grand Final by only a couple of points, but everyone was a winner that weekend. That was an exclusive story that went in all the News Limited papers all around the country. I was pretty thrilled about that.”

Has anything ever brought Ken to tears in sport? “Trevor Barker dying. I cried then. Thirty-nine he was. One of my best mates. He was amazing. I’ve ghostwritten nearly everyone of note over the years in cricket and footie, including Trevor. Trevor was so young. Everybody loved him. He said to his dad, ‘I tried, Dad,’ but he couldn’t beat his cancer.”

Try and write human interest stories about the guy with one leg who’s still swimming every day and playing lawn bowls and put it into your local paper.

Ken’s advice to budding sports journalists? “Look after your contacts. Try and write human interest stories about the guy with one leg who’s still swimming every day and playing lawn bowls and put it into your local paper. Put it online. If you’re keen enough and you keep on banging on the door, someone of importance is going to say, ‘Hey, do you want to come and do this for me?’ You need to get that foot in the door, and away you go.”

Ken and his wife Susan bought their first house in Seaford and have always loved Mt Eliza. They raised their five children on the peninsula. Ken is now a sports commentator for P&O Cruises, entertaining passengers around the Asia/Pacific region. He says it’s a nice way to transition into retirement. Ken is sixty-eight. He might have a long way to go since his Mum, Patricia, recently turned a hundred! He loves New Zealand because “They’ve still got bookshops, and I love to do a book crawl, as you can see,’ he says, pointing to the thousands of books on sport adorning the bookshelves of his writing room. “There’s not a weight problem bringing them home when you’re on a ship.”

Ken’s memoir, ‘Living the Dream – 60 Years of Cricket’ will be released in September.

Peninsula Essence – June 2024