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Steele, Raymond Charles (Ray) (1917–1993)

by Tom Heenan

This article was published online in 2018

Raymond Charles Steele (1917–1993), cricket administrator, was born on 19 May 1917 at Yarraville, Melbourne, second of three sons of Victorian-born parents Stanley Clifford Steele and his wife Ellen Anness, née Jack. His father was a former blacksmith and railway worker who prospered as a moneylender and investor. Ray attended Geelong Road State School, Footscray, and Mont Albert Central School, before moving to Scotch College, Hawthorn (1928–35), where he was captain of football and vice-captain of cricket in his final year. As a resident of Ormond College, he studied law at the University of Melbourne (LLB, 1940), captaining the university in both football (1938) and cricket (1940–41). On 22 July 1940 he married Western Australian–born Alison Mary Beatty at the Scotch College Chapel. The same year, he had joined the Richmond Football Club in the Victorian Football League. In a career interrupted by World War II, he played forty-three games and was vice-captain of the 1943 premiership team. He was admitted to practice as a barrister and solicitor in Victoria on 2 March 1942.

Mobilised in the Citizen Military Forces on 27 March 1942 and transferring to the Australian Imperial Force in September, Steele served with the artillery in Melbourne and briefly (July–August 1944) in New Guinea. He had been commissioned in July 1943 and promoted to captain twelve months later. In November 1944 he was appointed to the Australian Army Legal Corps and posted to the headquarters of the 16th Brigade, with which he again served in New Guinea (May 1945–February 1946). He transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 14 February 1946.

After the war Steele established a legal practice, Steele & Steele, with his elder brother Stan. In 1957, as Ray’s cricket commitments broadened, they sold the practice and established a finance company. Ray played cricket with Hawthorn-East Melbourne until 1949, when an old football injury forced his retirement. He joined the club’s committee in 1947 and later served (1958–73) as president. In 1954 he was elected as the club’s delegate to the Victorian Cricket Association (VCA). He joined the VCA’s executive committee two years later, subsequently serving as treasurer (1963–72), then president (1973–92).

In 1961 Steele was appointed assistant manager for the Australian cricket team’s Ashes tour of England, and in 1964 he managed the tour of England, India, and Pakistan. As a manager, he was popular among the players. When he was chosen again to manage Australia’s 1972 tour of England, a journalist observed that Steele had ‘that rare ability of getting respect without demanding it’ (Coleman 1993, 755). During that tour, Steele established a strong rapport with the captain, Ian Chappell, who presented him with a match stump in appreciation of his contribution to the team.

Steele was elected a VCA delegate to the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) in 1967, becoming treasurer in 1969. With players pushing for increased payments and a voice on the board, Steele lent his support, but cautioned in 1973 that their demands were limited by ‘what the game can afford’ (Australian Cricket 1973, 25). As VCA president he doubled Victorian player payments in 1974; he later insisted the Australian players were ‘the highest paid cricketers in the world’ (Butler 1979, 252).

In June 1976 Kerry Packer, proprietor of the National Nine Network, approached the ACB for exclusive television broadcast rights. He was rebuffed by the chairman Bob Parish, Steele, and board member Len Maddocks, who were not prepared to break a verbal agreement with the Australian Broadcasting Commission, nor guarantee Packer exclusive rights on its expiry. Offering more money than the ACB, Packer then contracted top Australian and international cricketers, including Chappell, to his private venture, World Series Cricket (WSC).

News of Packer’s coup broke during Australia’s 1977 tour of England and at what was otherwise a high point in Steele’s career. As VCA president he had successfully hosted the Centenary Test in March, and he was appointed OBE for services to cricket in June. Angered by the Packer players’ disloyalty, Steele wanted them banned from all establishment cricket. As he related, before joining Packer’s troupe, leading players had expressed satisfaction with the board’s conditions. In October he branded Packer the ‘private promoter,’ and told the VCA ‘there’s a place for that kind of cricket … some place like Siberia’ (Haigh 1993, 113).

The emergence of WSC diminished ACB revenues and embroiled the board in costly legal battles. With State associations and international boards also losing money, pressure mounted on the ACB to resolve the impasse. Initially, Steele was reluctant. He doubted that WSC, with its limited player pool and heavy financial losses, could outlast the board. But in March 1979 he met Packer at the Melbourne Test match between Australia and Pakistan and suggested a lunch with Parish. It was a watershed moment, as both sides wanted a settlement. On 30 May it was announced by Parish, with Steele looking on, that Packer would be granted exclusive broadcast and marketing rights, while the board would continue to administer cricket.

Steele resigned from the ACB in 1985, but continued as VCA president, championing Victoria’s Sheffield Shield team, and hosting the World Championship of Cricket (1985) and the Cricket World Cup final (1992). He retired on 31 August 1992. Survived by his wife, a son, and two daughters, he died on 22 November 1993 at East Melbourne and was cremated. From 1994 the Ray Steele trophy was awarded to the winner of the match between his former cricket teams, Melbourne University and Hawthorn-Waverley (later Hawthorn-Monash University).

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Cricket. ‘Steele in the Hot Seat.’ November 1973, 24-25
  • Butler, Keith. Howzat!: Sixteen Australia Cricketers Talk to Keith Butler. Sydney, London: Collins, 1979
  • Chappell, Ian. Tiger among the Lions. Leabrook, SA: Investigator Press, 1972
  • Coleman, Robert. Seasons in the Sun: The Story of the Victorian Cricket Association. North Melbourne: Hargreen Publishing Company, 1993
  • Haigh, Gideon. ‘Cricket’s Keeper: Often Tested but Seldom Bested.’ Australian, 10 December 1993, 13
  • Haigh, Gideon. The Cricket War: The Inside Story of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket. Melbourne: Text Publishing, 1993
  • Haigh, Gideon, and David Frith. Inside Story: Unlocking Australian Cricket Archives. Southbank, Vic.: News Custom Publishing, 2007
  • McFarline, Peter. ‘“Caster” Steele Admired and Respected by All in Cricket.’ Age (Melbourne), 24 November 1993, 33
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, VX100823

Additional Resources

Citation details

Tom Heenan, 'Steele, Raymond Charles (Ray) (1917–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/steele-raymond-charles-ray-27535/text34937, published online 2018, accessed online 16 December 2019.

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