The Gladiators


At the end of each season for National Rugby League (NRL) in Australia, the winning team is given a trophy fashioned after one of Australia’s enduring sporting images. Two mud-soaked men embracing each other — a symbol of camaraderie and ‘mateship’ in rugby league.

Two men were Norm Provan (left) and Arthur Summons, after whom the current trophy has been named since 2013 (earlier versions of the trophy also featured them, but was named after the cigarette manufacturer Winfield, which was forced to withdraw their sponsorship of the Premiership, following the ban on cigarette advertising). Provan and Summons were respectively the captains for St. George and Western Suburbs, and despite the photo and its subsequent history welding two men together, the giant second-rower and the diminutive halfback initially did not get along. Summons noted that he had refused to swap jumpers with Provan amidst the rumors that the referee had bet £600 on a St George win, and that the photo captured the moment when he complained about the referee’s decision to Provan.

The photo, later known as The Gladiators, was taken by the Sun-Herald photographer John O’Gready on 24th August 1963 when St George beat Western Suburbs 8-3 for the eighth of their consecutive championships premierships. Another photographer Phil Merchant took a similar picture for the Daily Telegraph but his editors chose not to run it, because Merchant took the photo vertically, which didn’t fit the horizontal space available.

The O’Gready photo went on to win numerous international awards, including the British Sport Picture of the Year award (the only Australian photo to be so honored thus far) and was considered one of the greatest sporting images. In 2007, Provan and Summons reunited to cover themselves in vaseline and pigment instead of mud to reproduce the photo for a charity.


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Y.A. Tittle (1926-2017)


What a crazy and tumultuous year it was! Many arenas of public life were rocked, by storms political and literal, by recriminations and distrust, by escalating wars and ethnic conflicts, tarnished by sexual assault revealations, buffeted by the rising nationalist, racist, and toxic rhetoric. I thought we should end the year with a fitting image of exhaustion, resilience, and hope.

Y.A. Tittle, the quarterback for the New York Giants, who died earlier this year showed all those qualities in his last game as a pro footballer. 1964. It was Sept. 20, 1964, and ‘Big John’ Baker – 6-foot-7, 279-pound Pittsburgh Steelers lineman – had ploughed through him. Tittle, suffering from a concussion and bruised ribs, knelt in the end zone, his helmet gone and bleeding from two cuts on his forehead. He looked double his 37 years, many newspapers commented, and he soon retired.

The moment produced one of the most enduring images in sports, a photo which earned a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Adding to the humanity was the background: a handful of fans sitting on the lawn chairs at field level, and mostly empty end-zone bleachers. It encapsulated the agony of defeat so well that it was for the longest time one of only three pictures in the lobby of the National Press Photographers Association headquarters, alongside with the Iwo Jima and the Hindenburg photos.

The photo was above taken by Dozier Mobley covering the Steelers-Giants game for The Associated Press. Another photographer, Morris Berman, took an almost identical image for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but his editor refused to publish it ‘because of its lack of action’. Berman instead entered his photo in a contest later, and it won the 1964 National Headliner award for best sports photograph. Two versions of the photo are frequently mistaken for one another, not least by Tittle, who used the Berman photo and credited it to Mobley in his autobiography, Nothing Comes Easy: My Life in Football.

Mobley remembered that day inside the Pitt Stadium: “But I missed the best shot, we all did. After that picture, we put our cameras down. Then, there he was, looking up at the sky with a terrible grimace. And there was no time to get it.”


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It has been a few months since I started Patreon, and it has given me a few creative ideas,  encouragements, and good interactions with readers. I had tremendous fun researching and writing Iconic Photos, and the Patreon is a way for this blog to be more sustainable and growth-focused. Here is the link to my Patreon:

Old Timers’ Day, 1977


That was a historic year in American baseball as Yankees and Dodgers met at the World Series for the first time since 1963, but a more momentous event has occurred a few months earlier. On July 16th, 1977, Duke Snider, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, and Mickey Mantle made an appearance together at Old Timer’s day during All-Star Game weekend at Shea Stadium.

As the quartet walked away from the Center Field, an iconic photo was made; the jersey numbers — 4, 5, 24, 7 — were sufficient to convey that this was the group who had staggering 1,964 homeruns among them. A few years later, Terry Cashman, that Balladeer of Baseball, recalled this iconic photo to write his famous song, “Talkin’ Baseball” (itself later immortalized by The Simpsons)

Cashman wrote the song during a bitter baseball strike, harkening back to a different America. That sunnier era for him was 1957, when New York had three great teams in the city — and three of the greatest center fielders in history. That was, according to Gallup, also the happiest year in American history, right amidst the Ike prosperity. Soon Edsel would disastrously debut, Sputnik went up — twin ignominies for American science and industry. That same year, the Giants and the Dodgers moved away to San Francisco and Los Angeles respectively.

Try as he might, Cashman couldn’t find a rhyme for DiMaggio’s name; the star was left out of the song and airbrushed from the record’s picture sleeve (below) — something that had disappointed both the singer and the player. Cashman later wrote, “Cooperstown, The Town Where Baseball Lives” where diMaggio featured prominently as an apology.

[I have no idea who the original photographer is. Any help?]


David Burnett on Mary Decker’s Fall

Olympics Games have their controversial moments (Personally I am going to be bitching about this year’s biking commissars for decades to come). Iconic Photos has looked back at one of them here before; now it’s time to let its photographer reflect: 


I don’t think there’s going to be many more. Not that there won’t be good pictures taken. But we are in an age of visual overload. I don’t think there’s going to be another Olympic picture that is going to get that kind of run.

I’d been shooting track for a whole week from a lot of different locations, up high and low, but a lot of it from the finish line. I was just so tired of standing next to these guys that had these big tripods with 11 cameras attached to them and remote wires going up to cameras with 400-millimeter lenses — I needed a breath of fresh air. I picked up my stuff and walked down the track. There were two photographers sitting at one bench, next to where the crowd was, and a spot for somebody else.

The 3,000 final came up. This was the big race of the week: Mary Decker would win the gold medal that had been denied her when the U.S. decided to skip [the previous] games. The other big story was Zola Budd, running barefoot, who couldn’t run for South Africa because it was banned from international competition.

The 3,000 is seven-and-a-half laps, and I had a really good shot of turn four with a 400-millimeter lens.

As Zola makes her move, around the fifth lap I shoot with the 400, then pick up the 85 as they start to go by me. Zola tries to pass Mary. Mary comes down hard, trips and falls over the edge.

Thing is, I couldn’t tell in detail what was going on, but I know what’s supposed to happen,  that they’re going to run through my frame and keep going. And I’m seeing that Mary is not doing that, and I look down after I’ve shot some frames with the 85. And I see her lying there, and I immediately grab the 400, brought that up to my eye and I honestly remember taking an extra millisecond saying to myself, “Make sure you’re sharp.” I kind of focused on her eye, and I made seven or eight frames.

The nurse came over, Mary was kind of laying down, and then there’s that one frame where she’s looking down the track. It’s one of those things that I just got lucky, and I didn’t screw up. It’s about being lucky and not screwing up, and trying to be ready for some moment if you happen to be the right place.

Since his debut in that 1984 Los Angeles Games, David Burnett has photographed eight summer Olympics, including London. Read the rest of his interview here.

Byun Jong-il | Seoul 1988

Last night’s events on the fencing piste and a cascade of NBC’s failures recall a particularly unsavory controversy 24 years earlier. 

People criticize the Olympic Games for being showy and expensive, and indeed, their legacies are often mixed. Sometimes, they bring some benefits: in 1987, faced with protests calling for democracy, South Korea’s ruling junta gave in, to prevent spoiling the upcoming 1988 Seoul Olympics.

When the games came, however, this euphoria was dampened — not least by the opening ceremony conducted in scotching summer midday heat when doves released were burnt to crisp by the Olympic flame (yes that happened). Soon, more devastatingly, allegations of match-fixing swirled, culminating with the Korean boxer Byun Jong-il setting the dubious of Olympic records for a sit-down protest.

The bantamweight boxer lost a close decision when he was penalized two points for head butts. After the match, several Korean boxing officials entered the ring, threw chairs at and punched the New Zealand referee. But that was just the beginning of a 67 minute sit-down protest by Byun. He stayed there for so long that officials eventually turned off the lights and left him in darkness.

As tactful and considerate as ever, NBC followed the entire protest, even using split screens to show the boxer in the ring during other events. Their coverage, as well as those of American newspapers which termed Byun “petulant”, caused a huge uproar in South Korea, where relationships were already strained by the presence of American bases and by the US Olympians’ roudy partying. The Dong-A Ilbo, a leading daily, wrote “This is a bad omen for future Korean-American relations. The American press has to know that this kind of distorted reporting is hurting the dignity of Korean people”. Strong editorials denounced US and Japanese print media, while even the Korean government officials denounced the coverage as unfair and insensitive. Soon afterwards, the NBC staff ordered not to wear their logos lest they be attacked.

The Koreans insisted that Byun did the right thing by sitting down and protesting a decision he didn’t agree with, but it transpired that the protest had equally to do with surprise as with disappointment. He had been secretly promised a medal by the South Korean authorities who had many shady dealings in rigging boxing. In an equally shocking final of the light-middleweight division, Roy Jones Jr. lost to Park Si-Hun, even though Jones completely demolished the South Korean, who had arrived to the final with five(!) consecutive disputed victories.

(Seoul’s corruptions got an entire chapter in the go-to book on Olympic corruption, The New Lords of the Rings.)

Great Photographic Moments in Olympic History

Since our beginnings, Iconic Photos has covered some of the most memorable photos from different Olympiads throughout history. As the world’s greatest athletes gather in London for its 30th incarnation, we look back at nine of them. The photos are captioned clockwise from top left in the poll, and the links are below.

For detailed articles, go to: Black Power saluteWladyslaw KozakiewiczGreg LouganisDorando PietriAmerican basketball team’s controversial lossJesse Owens gets cheersAntonio Rebollo lights the flame; the bloody water-polo match; terrorism rears its ugly hooded head. Follow me on Twitter @aalholmes.

Pele and Bobby Moore

Iconic Photos looks back on one of the greatest moments of soccer and of sportsmanship. 

England and Brazil came into the 1970 world cup in Mexico with high hopes. England were the reigning champions; Brazil, the winners of 1958 and 1962, lost embarrassingly and were kicked out at the group stage in 1966. Now they were back, with a team of “five number 10s” – Pele, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Gerson and Tostao.

Many people predicted that the groupmatch between England and Brazil would be the dress rehearsal for the eventual inevitable final. It wasn’t, but the match in did not disappoint. Even today, even those who do not know much about football and its history (like your writer) would recognize the iconic moments from this match: Alan Ball’s and Jeff Astle’s misses, Bobby Moore’s tackle on Pele and, of course, Gordon Banks’s remarkable save from Pele’s header, which had been repeatedly called the best save ever.

Jairzinho’s memorable goal led to Brazil winning by 1 – 0, but this game still had one more iconic moment to offer: of Pele and Bobby Moore, the great striker and the great defender, exchanging their jerseys. What made this photo so timeless was that you can hardly tell who had won and who had lost based on their touch, their smiles, and their eyes. Both players considered it a defining moment of their careers.

The photo, which would later come to symbolize the World Cup passing from England to Brazil as the latter won the tournament that year, was taken by John Varley. After the final whistle, Varney stayed close to Bobby Moore, hoping that Pele would approach. He did, and the rest was photographic history.

Varney, one of a few photographers shooting in color, nearly didn’t make it to Mexico; his car had broken down, and he had to hitchhike. The Daily Mirror’s war and foreign correspondent, Varney was an avid football fan, and he requested in his contract that the newspaper give him a break every four years to cover the World Cup, which he did from 1966 to 1982.

(Correction: Originally, this photo was posted mirror-imaged; comments below and the New York Times point that Pelé should be on the left and Moore on the right. The Times also writes this picture broke down racial prejudices. That might be a little hyperbolic.)

Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi

The Giro d’Italia — more famously known as the Giro — is a long distance bicycle race in May or June. Inspired by the Tour de France, the race was started in 1909; to copy’s the Tour de France’s victorious yellow jersey, the winner of the Giro always gets a pink jersey (maglia rosa) – pink being the color of the event’s main sponsor, the newspaper La Gazella dello Sport.

The Giro is the sporting event for bikers, and the race has seen a fair share of intense rivalries. The most famous rivalry was perhaps between Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi, arguably the greatest feud in cycling history. Gino Bartali was the undisputed champion of Italian cycling until Fausto came along. The latter beat his older rival time and again, winning the race five times and le Tour de France twice. (Gino won the Giro thrice and Tour de France once). Italy took sides between the religious, rural Gino and the self-professed atheist from Italian north, Fausto. Even the Vatican took sides: Pope Pius XII naturally supported religious Gino Bartali and refused to bless one race because Coppi was riding in it.

Their personal rivalry was more acidic. In an era when performance-enhancing drugs were not yet forbidden, Coppi admitted to using them almost all the time. Doping infuriated his older rival, who would often keep spies, ransack Coppi’s room or picked up Coppi’s bottles to figure out what special drug Coppi was using. In 1949 at the world championships, both quit the race rather than help each other win. They apparently reconciled for 1952 Tour de France, but unfortunately the above picture was taken which would alienate two again.

On the surface, it seemed like a simple symbol of brotherhood and sportsmanship, and it is. In Italy, it became an iconic image. It showed Coppi (right) holding a water bottle and reaching back to Bartali during the climb of the Col de l’Iseran. Or did it? There followed an extensive debate over who was giving the bottle to whom. Coppi said he was giving it to Bartali. Bartali insisted, “I did. He never gave me anything.” They argued about it for years until Coppi’s premature death from malaria in 1959.

So this week, I went to my dad’s place and played squash with him. Midgame, he brought up the blog I was writing (i.e., this one) and how he had been checking it recently. It is always flattering to hear something like this from one’s own dad and also more surprising to know that one’s dad can use internet! (jk dad). Anyhow, he said he was quite sad that I don’t cover that many photos from sports — although a lot of iconic stuff happens there. So I came back, sat down and wrote this. This one is for you, dad.

Roseanne Barr

“The fat lady sang. Actually, she screeched. Then she scratched her crotch and spat,” wrote Sports Illustrated. In 1990, comedian Roseanne Barr was booed by fans at San Diego Padres-Cincinnati Reds game at Jack Murphy Stadium. She later claimed that she was initially having trouble hearing herself over the public-address system, so her solution was to plug her ears with her fingers and sing as loudly as possible.

Her rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was not well-received, but her behavior following the song impounded her faux pas. Barr mimicked the often-seen actions of baseball players by spitting and grabbing her crotch as if adjusting a protective cup. Barr’s husband, Tom Arnold, later made a ceremonial pitch, but Barr got more boos as she waved to the crowd and left with him.

Barr had been encouraged by baseball officials to “bring humor to the song”, but the routine offended many, including the players on the field. The popular sit-com comedian was public enemy number one. President George H.W. Bush called it “disgusting” and “a disgrace”. Barr never apologized, and remained defiant. In her 1994 book, “My Lives”, she wrote “I think I did great and people wanted more” and “I’m not Anne Frank, gotta hide out because the PC police are gonna find me and kill me. I’m an American, and that is my song, too. What you gotta be – Pavarotti (who sometimes lip-syncs, by the way), or Liza or Barbra to sing the national anthem?”

Allahakbarries C.C.

The creator of Peter Pan, Sir James M. Barrie, was an enthusiastic cricketer and assembled the most extraordinary amateur cricket team ever to have taken the field. Some of the Edwardian England’s most famous authors including Arthur Conan Doyle, A. A. Milne, P. G. Wodehouse, and Jerome K. Jerome, regularly turned out for Barrie’s team from 1890 until 1913, when the team was brought to an end by the First World War.

The team was named Allahakbarries in the mistaken belief that ‘Allah akbar’ meant ‘Heaven help us’ in Arabic (rather than ‘God is great’). Team selection criteria was based more on celebrity status than talent, although in Conan Doyle, both converged. Barrie had to explain rules of the game including which side of the bat to wave at the ball to wooly author Augustine Birrell (later First Secretary for Ireland during the Easter Rising), en route to his first match! Yet, Barrie was extremely proud of (and also simultaneously amused by) his talentless team and wrote a book about it, titled Allahakbarries C.C., and dedicated it ‘To Our Dear Enemy Mary de Navarro’, the famous American stage actress Mary Anderson, who once bowled him out. Barrie himself — an unatheltic and frail Scot — was no better at the game, although he once bowled out Douglas Haig, later the commender of British Expeditionary Force in World War One.

Absent from the above picture taken in 1903 were big names like Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, Milne or Jerome (all were part of the group at times), but it was still a respectable collection of artists none the less. Back row from left to right: E.W. Hornung of Raffles fame, author and poet E. V. Lucas, P.G.Wodehouse, J.C. Smith, G. Charne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, big game hunter Hesketh-Hesketh Prichard, illustrator L. D. Luard, painter C. M. Q. Orchardson, landscape and flowers painter Leonard Charles Nightingale, A. Kinross.

Front row from left to right: C. Gascoyne, author Shan F. Bullock, painter G. Hillyard Swinstead, architect Reginald Blomfield, the Hon. W. J. James, American illustrator and painter Edwin Austin Abbey, painter Albert Chevalier Taylor, J. M. Barrie, German-English poet, criminologist George Cecil Ives and painter George Spencer Watson.

Sitting on ground: author and politician A. E. W. Mason, best remembered for his novel Four Feathers. Mason introduced Barrie to Hesketh-Hesketh Prichard and Robert Falcon Scott, two greatest explorers of the day. Barrie, seemingly forever lost in fantasy, had deep fascination with explorers.

Snaps of the team playing were recently unearthed and will be published in the book next week, Peter Pan’s First XI.

The 1992 Barcelona Olympics

They say modern Olympics began in 1896 with Pierre de Coubertin. In fact, the Olympics as we know it today began in 1992 Barcelona. Before Barcelona, the public interest in the games had been pretty low. For instance, Los Angeles had been the only bidder for the 1984 Games. However, LA’s commercial success made the next bidding process, in 1986, hotly contested. Barcelona beat Paris, Belgrade, Brisbane, Amsterdam and Birmingham (?!)  to host the Games. With the fall of the Soviet Union, its athletic hegemony too was gone, with many newly independent states from the former USSR and Yugoslavia participating as independent states. (Many CIS states participated under the banner of the United Team.) With the Iron Curtain and the Apartheid gone, Germany and South Africa returned to the games.

Also, the 1992 Games mark the beginning of the flamboyant opening torch ignitions that has been the Olympic norm since. An archer who competed in the Paralympic Games, Antonio Rebollo lit the flame by firing a burning arrow towards the cauldron. Well, actually he didn’t, but it seemed he did. Rebollo was instructed to overshoot the cauldron for safety measures (although shooting a flaming arrow into the Barcelona night sky isn’t probably that much safer), and the cauldron was gradually releasing fuel into the air, so when the flaming arrow passed over it, it ignited itself, tricking the eye.

Some 200 archers were initially chosen based on three criteria: they must have no fear of fire; must be able to use an ancient-style wooden bow (without modern sighting devices); and they must already be precise enough to shoot from a distance of about 100 steps. To keep the ceremony a secret, they could not practice in the main Olympic stadium, and trained secretly on a hillside nearby in the early hours when no one was around. For ten months, there were sunrise practices with actually flaming arrows which singed fingers and machines that simulated various weather conditions and crowds. Four finalists were kept until just two hours prior to the ignition, lest an accident would occur (with flaming arrows, they usually do). But Rebollo was not appreciated: he later complained to a Spanish newspaper that he received no official accreditation or tickets to see any of the events, not even the archery!

The Tennis Girl

If a single picture ever conveyed the sexual liberation, permissive society and hostility towards norms and authorities of the 1970s, it would be the iconic poster of “The Tennis Girl”. Taken at the end of the long hot summer in September 1976, the photo was not an accidental shot. Martin Elliot, then a photography student in Birmingham, asked his then girlfriend, 18-year old Fiona Butler to borrow a tennis dress, a racket and balls and to pose for him.

Martin’s photo of Fiona lifting her dress and revealing that she was not wearing underwear is perhaps tame by today’s standards, but when he sold it to poster chain Athena, which published as part of the calendar for the Queen’s 1977 Silver Jubilee, it caused a sensation. Critics dismissed it a “schoolboy’s fantasy”, while Elliott himself said, “it is not a picture I would buy”, for it had only the appeal of a voyeuristic postcard. But it didn’t deter hundreds of thousands of schoolboys to grace their bedroom walls with it. It sold 2 million copies.

It was parodied in advertisements, served as the background of Spitting Image and various celebrities (including Alan Carr and Kylie Minogue) reenacted it. Martin Elliott who died last week at the age of 63 made a fortune out of the poster, but it hindered his career: no one would commission him as they feared he would be too expensive. Fiona Butler was never paid a penny, she eventually married a millionaire and said that she was not embarrassed about posing nor bitter that she didn’t receive any royalties from the photo.