By Ian Moore
Mike Gibson, an Australian sports journalist who died yesterday at his home on the NSW Central Coast, became a household name because of an ability to tell a story unlike anyone else
Gibbo, as his friends and readers knew him, was a fine writer, but a far better storyteller. His eye would always see the story, but it was written from the heart. He did not write to impress; his audience was the common man – and he was embraced by them like few others because of it.
Mike started on Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph like many in sport – supplying results for the unrelenting acres of agate detail that filled the back pages of sports sections. To many it was unrewarding drudge, but it taught young journalists the importance of getting it right.
It also sorted out those with passion for the game, from others who might have been it for the glory.
Mike’s passion stood out. By the mid-1960s he was one of the main rugby league writers on The Tele. A sports column followed that launched his career. He could write about sporting legends, or those that should have been, with a deft touch, and an equal dash of respect.
It was the small things that others would pass over would make his writing special. It gave insight into the personality of his subjects – and of Gibbo. It answered the questions the average person wanted to now. It could make them laugh, or at times make them cry.
The fact that Gibson shone through in an era of great Sydney sports writers such as Pat Farrell, Bert Lillye, E.E. Christensen and Phil Tressider was testament to his ability.
Gibbo broke through many barriers. He went from sport to news, becoming the page four columnist for the paper following the sale of the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs to News Limited in 1972.
He applied the same style to his news column as he did with sport – a mixture of wonderment and wisdom, where he told the story, without injecting himself into it – confining himself to the sidelines while his subjects took centre stage.
He also was a pioneer of what we call today a multi-platform personality. His Daily Telegraph column propelled him into radio where, with co-host George Moore, he became the top-rating morning announcer on Sydney’s 2SM. His popularity led to him co-hosting the ground-breaking program Wide World of Sports for Channel Nine.
How Gibson was offered the Nine job is almost ubiquitous, often told as much in tribute to Gibbo’s modesty as evidence of the bluster of the person making the offer.
Out of the blue, Gibson got a phone call, “Mike, Kerry here . . .’
“Kerry who,” asked Gibson. “How many #&5??!! Kerrys do you know . . .” James Packer’s father barked down the phone. It’s simple tale, but in Gibbo’s hands it was Runyonesque.
It did not stop him from getting the job, along with co-commentator Ian Chappell, and a visionary young director, David Hill – whose ground-breaking style of television coverage led to him becoming the driving force behind Fox Sports in the United States.
Later, as Gibson went into semi-retirement on the Central Coast, Hill writes that a goanna inhabited his backyard that he nick-named Kerry, an irreverent reference to unsubstantiated and malicious allegations against Packer arising from the Costigan Royal Commission in the 1980s.
Gibson returned to The Tele as an op-ed writer for The Tele in the 1990s and joined Foxtel as host of The Back Page sports panel show, recording 720 episodes over 16 years.
He started at The Tele, and in a way he finished there. This morning, the death of Gibson was its front page story. Many of Gibbo’s old colleagues, media and sport personalities turned to Twitter to post tributes.
R.I.P Mike Gibson. Icon. Always liked and respected his firm opinions, sense of humour and passion for sport. Absolute professional #legend
— James Hooper (@jimmyhooper) September 23, 2015
RIP Mike Gibson who passed away today at 75. TV presenter, radio host and newspaper columnist will be sorely missed. pic.twitter.com/gNM1AD0o5I
— Grill Team (@GrillTeam) September 23, 2015
Very sad. RIP Gibbo. A gentleman raconteur and lovely man. https://t.co/U3sABWdyQW
— Miranda Devine (@mirandadevine) September 23, 2015
The Swifts Family are saddened to hear of Mike Gibson’s passing. A generous man, supporter of netball and wonderful journalist #RIPGibbo
— NSW Swifts (@NSWSwifts) September 23, 2015
— Marshall Batteries (@holler4marshall) September 23, 2015
I watched and admired Mike Gibson as a boy,and had the privilege to work with him in recent years.A true gentleman and a TV great.#RIPGibbo
— Ryan Phelan (@ryanphelan_tv) September 23, 2015