There has been a lot of talk about dark days in Australian sport recently. And today, as many of us in the sports media industry come to terms with the sudden death of one of our own, we can only ask ourselves what things we should take most seriously, and what things are not so important.
We sports reporters, editors, media managers and others take ourselves way too seriously at times. All that hyperbole, all that end-of-the-world stuff, was put firmly into context when the terrible news began filtering through that Rod ”Rocket” Allen had been found dead after a party at which many of us had been celebrating the birthday of another colleague, Fairfax sports reporter Rupert Guinness.
The awful rumour soon became fact. One stunned phone call followed another among Rod’s wide circle of friends. The reaction every time was the same: disbelief. How could this happen? We were with him last night. He’d been the life and soul of party. Then anger and tears – what a bloody waste.
Then the tributes began coming in – from the Australian Olympic Committee, the Football Federation of Australia, the Australian Turf Club, on Twitter, from journos at News Ltd and Fairfax, who all thought of him as their own.
Rod was found dead, having fallen from a cliff sometime in the small hours after the celebration on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour. He was 45 years old.
His future had seemed rich. He’d been talking all night in that animated way of his about the exciting future of horse racing in this city with the redevelopment of Randwick racecourse. He was still on a high after watching the Western Sydney Wanderers thump Newcastle 3-0 the night before, talking about the amazing success of the new Parramatta-based A-League club and how proud he was to be involved with it. It was typical Rod, really. Opinionated, excited, loud, laughing, optimistic, infectiously enthusiastic.
Those are the words that tell the real story of Rocket, the sort of man he was. But for the record, as Rod would have appreciated, here’s the background story.
Rod was brought up in Arcadia in Sydney’s hills district, the son of a newspaperman – his dad was a typesetter for News Ltd. From an early age Rod was a Parramatta tragic. A real Parramatta tragic. If you had a couple of spare hours, just mention the P word to Rocket and he would happily fill them for you, whether you liked it or not.
What little time wasn’t taken up by rugby league was given over to tennis. He was a talented player as a young man.
Rod’s other passion was journalism, a career he pursued with the same determination as he did sport. He joined News Ltd as a cadet in 1986 and went on to work in a variety of reporting roles, most notably as a gun business journalist and also as a political hack in Canberra.
He joined Fairfax in 1998, first as chief of staff on The Sun-Herald. Those who worked under him still speak of him in almost reverential tones. Rod, the reporters say, was the best boss they ever had.
He went on to become sports editor of The Sun-Herald and then, in 2004, took over as managing editor of sport for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun-Herald.
Rod brought with him an absolute commitment to being the best. He had an outstanding news sense and a clear vision of what he wanted his sports coverage to look like. His leadership was consistent: keep fighting for the best story, keep pushing for the best angle, keep chasing the exclusive picture. His four-year tenure as our boss still resonates today and the standards he set are the ones we abide by now.
Rod left Fairfax Media in 2008, taking a redundancy to pursue a career as a media consultant. His services were called upon by a number of sporting bodies, but he chiefly worked for the Football Federation Australia and the Australian Turf Club.
He managed the media for the Socceroos during the 2010 World Cup campaign and was also heavily involved in the FFA’s push to win the World Cup hosting rights for Australia. He was shattered when Qatar won the bid. But he stayed involved in football. Having embraced the sport with the enthusiasm of the newly converted, he grew ever more passionate about football.
Rod was also a key figure in horse racing, helping the ATC with much of its media strategy over the past few years. He shared his passion for the sport with his mum, Diane. All of which, of course, is mere detail. It means nothing today. What matters is that Rod’s mum and dad have lost their son, his sisters their brother, his wife her husband, and his friends a terrific bloke we were proud to call a mate.
This is indeed a dark day.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.