Death produces deities. Rightly or wrongly it happens more often than not in this country particularly with our entertainers and sporting stars.
But a year ago this week the country was unified in proclaiming a deity in death.
Clinton Grybas’ passing was nothing short of tragic. A man - a broadcaster - at the peak of his career at just 32, fit as a fiddle, working harder than ever, died in non-suspicious circumstances.
The careful wording of “non-suspicious circumstances” arouses suspicion in itself. The fact that the coroner’s report was never published publicly adds further fuel to the rumour mill. But we shall leave the rumours to the Derryn Hinch(es) of this world.
How he died is irrelevant, his passing was a tragedy.
Australia quite possibly lost not only one of its greatest broadcasters but also one of its best men.
It is rare to be both in such an industry. Egos run wild in sports-casting. It is an industry full of smoke and mirrors. Far more often than not it is who you know, not what you know.
But for a man who was not an ex-player of any note he was carving a broadcasting career that knew no limits.
The reason – he was a prodigy. He had a passion and a drive that lifted him above all others.
Commentary is a career many dream of, lots attempt, some achieve, and few succeed at. Grybas wanted it from age four. Like Tiger Woods working on his golf game not long after he was standing upright, Grybas not long after he had commanded the basics of the English language was preparing to be a broadcaster.
Using an old tape recorder he called test matches like his heroes Norman May, Alan McGilvray, and Richie Benaud, and VFL games like Harry Beitzal. Unlike the Channel Nine commentators of today who rely on statistician Max Kruger to do everything bar move their lips, Grybas prepared meticulously keeping his own statistics from such an early age. It was the basis for which he built his career around.
Grybas’ mother still keeps old statistics scrap books and voice recordings from as early as age nine where he is describing a test match between the West Indies and Australia.
He started his career, as a teenager, at the now defunct South-East Melbourne Magic NBL club in their media department. It was clear in his early days of writing press releases and doing courtside announcing that he would blossom into something special.
His obvious talents were recognised and rewarded when he won a commentary competition with ABC Radio. Executive producer for sport Peter Booth made an amazing instinctive call on the 21-year-old, promoting him to commentate on the ABC’s Friday night football coverage alongside the redoubtable Tim Lane and the effervescent Drew Morphett.
From there Grybas became a full-time member of the ABC Grandstand team, heading west to their learning centre under the tutelage of Glenn Mitchell for a period before returning to Melbourne culminating in working at the Sydney Olympics.
Grybas’ call of the Australian women’s water polo gold medal was exceptional. To maintain such levels of excitement, as well as clarity and accuracy when working solo as he did showed how brilliant a broadcaster he was.
His career stocks rose further. Head-hunted by Melbourne’s 3AW radio network and Foxtel’s new Fox Footy Channel he became the face and voice of football in Melbourne.
By the time he died if he wasn’t already he was very close to being Australia’s premier sports broadcaster. There will be those who argue otherwise throwing up names such as Lane, Bruce McAvaney, and Dennis Cometti but you could argue Grybas was ahead of all of them particularly from a television perspective.
His pure commentary was a mix of the big three. He had McAvaney’s thirst for statistics and accuracy. You rarely if ever heard him miscall a player, and he would always deliver a stat of relevance and interest, undoubtedly dug up by his own meticulous research rather than that of his paid statistician. He had the humour and self-effacing nature of Cometti as well as the silky smooth delivery of the West Australian master. And he had the eloquence and economy of words of the extraordinary Tim Lane.
McAvaney spoke of Grybas after his death as the complete commentator, a man who young aspiring broadcasters should model themselves on.
What’s more though is that Grybas understood television. He understood his audience and used that to his advantage. He had a wonderful ability to meet the demands of the average punter, with humour, excitement and references to popular culture, whilst still attending to the needs of the purist for intimate knowledge of the inner workings and science of the game.
He seemed at his best hosting White Line Fever, Fox Footy’s nightly talkback television show. On the surface it seemed a nonsensical concept but it was a must for the footy tragics as well as those within the industry. It was a look inside the inner sanctum, an access point for the fans, and Grybas compèred it with unparalleled skill.
The loss of Fox Footy left a void unfulfilled for football fans everywhere but it was nothing compared to the loss of Grybas himself. The outpouring of emotion and collective mourning from the football world showed the measure of the man and his impact on the game. Rarely has a figure commanded such universal praise like Grybas did. He had the immeasurable respect of the players, coaches, administrators, colleagues and rivals within the sometimes soulless football world.
The way his friends and family spoke of him at his passing suggests that he was just a brilliant man in general.
A year on from his passing and we are a year poorer for it. Fox Sports have replaced him with ex-players in the play by play role continuing its theme of covering the inner sanctum, but the lack of a class of a professional caller, someone not bigger than the game, means their broadcasts lack a certain quality which could only be achieved in Grybas’ presence.
He demanded excellence from himself as well as those around him and that was the quality he brought to his commentary. We were better for it. We are poorer for having lost it.
Australia has not found another Clinton Grybas. It may never. It is a tragedy and sports coverage in this country will never be the same.