Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Date, Reginald Thomas (1921–1995)

by Philip Mosely

This article was published online in 2019

Reginald Thomas Date (1921–1995), footballer, was born on 26 July 1921 at Wallsend, New South Wales, second of three children of New South Wales-born parents John Thomas ‘Mick’ Date, coalmine wheeler and later fisherman, and his wife Nancy Annie, née Wilson, storekeeper at Lemon Tree Passage. Family life was marred by Mick’s drunken rages. Nance sent Reg to live with her parents in Wallsend when the boy was eight. He attended Plattsburg Public (later District Rural) School, leaving with the Intermediate certificate in 1936.

Moving proved pivotal. Coal-mining Wallsend had been a centre of soccer since the 1880s and Date’s grandparents encouraged him to play. Representing his school and Wallsend, as a junior he amassed an astonishing total of approximately one thousand goals over eight seasons. Making his senior debut in 1938, he began a goal-scoring feast unknown in Australia before or since. Appearing 336 times for Wallsend (1938–44, 1948–54) and Canterbury-Bankstown (1945–47), he also represented Northern Districts, New South Wales, and Australia (five caps), captaining the national team in three matches during South Africa’s tour in 1947. In seventeen seasons of senior football he scored 664 goals for his clubs. On 29 October 1947 at St Thomas Church of England, Cardiff, he married Ellen Millicent (Milcie) Wilson, a clothing machinist.

Fully grown, Date was physically imposing on the field: five feet eleven inches (180 cm) tall and weighing 176 pounds (80 kg). Playing centre or inside forward, he displayed ferocious and accurate goal shooting. He kicked with both feet and fearlessly shot from any angle. Bewildering acceleration and changes of pace carried him past defences: exceptional positioning denied close marking. Blessed with sporting nous, something innate but also trained by such mentors as fellow Wallsend great Alf Quill, he was an exemplary player and a target for British professional clubs, including Cardiff City, Manchester United, and Glasgow Celtic.

That Date chose not to go overseas was due to his attachment to home, the harshness of British winters, and the remuneration available in Sydney and Newcastle. In 1945 he had been paid an astounding £200 to sign for Canterbury-Bankstown and thereafter around £8 per match. In 1946 the club paid £300, and with annual match fees his salary exceeded £550. At that time the average weekly wage was £6/9/7. Football for £10 a week in Glasgow was resistible.

After leaving school, Date had been a foundry worker, coal miner, and mechanic. In World War II he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force but served for only five weeks (March-April 1942), being discharged as medically unfit when a piece of steel was found to be lodged in his right knee. Mining had kept him fit but when he took over the Queen’s Arms Hotel at West Maitland in late 1947 the move proved problematic. Genial, gregarious, and fond of a drink himself, he began an annual battle with weight. At the same time, the demands of business were distracting. National selectors doubted his fitness and commitment, even if he was still regularly scoring goals. The rise of his young rival Frank Parsons notwithstanding, petty politics by selectors, ruffled by Date’s larrikin manner, combined with interstate rivalries to ensure he was denied national selection between 1948 and 1950, including for the 1950 tour to South Africa. The unspoken ban haunted him and confounded contemporaries.

Having moved to the Ocean View Hotel at Dudley, Newcastle, in 1948, Date took over the Albion Hotel at Wickham in 1953. He had retired from football a number of times before finally finishing in 1954. He retained his love of the game but also had other passions, particularly punting and boxing. The Albion drew a clientele that reflected Date himself, colourful and sporty. Anyone was welcomed but his working-class loyalties never wavered. In 1980 he retired from the Albion; fishing and swimming were favourite activities in the following years. He died on 11 August 1995 at Waratah, survived by his wife and two sons; he was cremated. His funeral at St Andrew’s Anglican Church, Mayfield, attracted around two thousand people. In 1999 he was an inaugural inductee into Australian soccer’s national hall of fame. The legendary player Joe Marston rated his old friend as ‘the best Australian player he ever played with, or against’ (Cockerill 2012, Weekend Sport 10).

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Allen, Peter. Reg Date: The Don Bradman of Football. Mosman, NSW: Allen Media Services, 2011
  • Brooks, Bob. ‘Not Only a Soccer Hero, But Everyone’s Mate.’ Australian, 29 September 1995, 10
  • Cockerill, Michael. ‘Tough as Old Boots and Now He’s a Living Legend.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 6 April 2012, Weekend Sport 10
  • Davidson, John. ‘The Forgotten Story of … Reg Date, the Don Bradman of Football in Australia.’ Guardian (London), 3 April 2015. Accessed 30 October 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2015/apr/02/the-forgotten-story-of-reg-date. Copy held on ADB file
  • Grant, Sid, comp. Jack Pollard’s Soccer Records. North Sydney: Jack Pollard, 1974

Additional Resources

Citation details

Philip Mosely, 'Date, Reginald Thomas (1921–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/date-reginald-thomas-21631/text31841, published online 2019, accessed online 19 September 2019.

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