Rabbitohs Radio Global Ambassador Jeff Jouffret from France has been hooked on rugby league since the age of 13. Jeff played the game & was an avid fan of the Winfield Cup – a competition played on the other side of the world in the land down under.
The story of how Jeff Jouffret & Steve Mavin became friends is an incredible one involving Jeffs’ love of footy, VHS tapes, the ‘Mavin Show’ & a chance meeting near Waverley Cemetery.
The following is Jeffs’ story in his own words..
My name is Jeff Jouffret & I am from Avignon in the south of France.
I started playing rugby league for my local club Sporting Olympique Avignon Bisons known as SOA13 as a 6 year old to follow my older brothers.
My rep honours were: France B vs Australia 1990 in Lyon. Presidents 13 vs PNG 1991 in Carpentras. France vs Russia 1991 in Paris France. World Sevens Sydney 92 & 93. I played for Wyong Roos lower grades in Australia 1992-93-94.
Steve Mavin is one of my oldest friends on Facebook, many years ago when I first got on Facebook on the section “do you know..” I saw Steve Mavin, we must have had a friend in common and I asked him, are you the former Rabbitoh Steve Mavin? He said yes I am and we became Facebook friends.
In 2016 I visited Australia with my family to see old friends from my Wyong days and former players who played for Avignon since the eighties, and on the Bondi walk by the cemetery I bumped into Steve whom I recognized but had never actually met before, that was quite a shock and I asked my question again, Steve? And he said yes! That was something special to bump into each other like that.
Back in the eighties we didn’t have any coverage of the then Winfield Cup in France and the only way we could watch games was on VHS tapes sent by air mail from Australia by some Australian import players’ families and friends and those tapes were hot properties. I remember passing them on at training like it was gold between each other, waiting for the next training session to in turn get hold of the treasure. Games were 2 or 3 months old but it didn’t matter, it was all new and exotic for us. New teams, new colors, mascots which was unheard of in France.
One of the games we got to watch and share was the infamous 1987 semi final where poor old Mavo got bombed out of the game by the Raiders at the SCG, so everyone in Avignon was sharing what we called the “Mavin Show” amongst other games of course, and that is how this great Rabbitoh man was sadly known in and around town. Sorry Mavo.
The famous Parramatta Eels were the most popular team in France back then, my first ever match was the 1981 grand final. I remember watching that game on a black and white small tv screen sitting on the floor during a rugby camp we used to go to during school holidays (the tv system back then in France was different to the one used in Australia PAL or SECAM and most of the first tapes came out in black & white) and I remember being one of the few staying until fulltime with the adults when all the others went to bed, I was 13. Must have been when I got hooked on the game.
Unlike nearly everyone I know in Australia I never really had a team I grew up supporting more than others, I was not brought up in any Sydney suburb, my family had never heard of rugby league in Sydney and I only found out about the game in Australia aged 13 in the eighties, and in the south of France. What I do know is that the first team I watched and liked because of that formidable backline was the Parramatta Eels.
I later did my studies on the game in Australia and discovered every other team, as well as the Brisbane competition. I started following the Winfield Cup. I actually liked all teams, I liked the game, the grounds and the competition, all this was new to me. Later I liked the obvious big teams of the 80’s, Manly, Balmain, never really liked the Dogs because they beat the Eels, then I liked Souths, Norths, Easts, Wests as it was very cardinal to me and made me discover Sydney geographically.
Penrith toured France in 1988 under Ron Willey & I remember swapping with MG in a Le Pontet dressing room, (I still have that PENRITH CITY t-shirt), and taking a photo with Col Bentley.
I like Cronulla and the beach suburb, St George and its history, and the out of town BHP Illawarra Steelers (who sadly disappeared for me since the merger) and Jim Woodger’s lime green Raiders. I studied all teams’ history, why each mascot, grounds, suburbs, famous players, stories…I used to draw a map of Sydney metropolitan area where I would pinpoint every team and suburb, I remember odd things like Balmain playing at Leichhardt Oval which was in fact in Lilyfield, Manly playing in Brookvale and not Manly, Canterbury and Bankstown forming the Bulldogs and playing in Belmore.
I made an excel with each team, mascots, grounds, major sponsors, and I used to draw jerseys on my school books during my time in school. I kept those to this day with famous sponsors of the eighties, Hardie’s, VICTA, Penfolds Wines, 100 Pipers, Smiths Crisps, Alpha Micro Computers, AVCO Finance to name a few.
Later I liked and followed the Rabbitohs because they were a foundation club, representing the historical inner Sydney suburb and I got behind the club when all the drama of 1999 happened.
I followed the Raiders when I first visited Australia in 1989 because my friend and host former Avignon prop Jim Antonakos was from the nations capital. We attended the GF at the SFS that year. In 1992 when I came to Sydney with the French side for the World Sevens we trained at Redfern Oval, and I met who was under the Reggie the Rabbit mascot, a lovely very small man who was the right size to fit into the mascot suit.
Later I moved to Wyong thanks to another former Avignon player Tony Keevill, who played for Balmain in 84, and later also was assistant coach to Ken Shine for the Rabbitohs so there is another Rabbitoh link. Later Dean Amos another former Avignon and Wyong legend also played for the Bunnies in the 1995 CANON jerseys.
Blake Solly is also a Rabbitoh connection, I met Central Coast boy Blake in England when he worked for the RFL when my brother Christophe was then CEO of the Catalans Dragons. Good to see old players like the Rabbitoh podcast team keeping the flame alive and linking the community of this great historical club. Like everything, the sport of Rugby League changes and it’s nice for us who experienced the old times to remember and commemorate, share stories and pay tribute to the greatest game of all. Congratulations to the team and long live the podcast and the Rabbitohs. Glory Glory.
By Jeff Jouffret