Tina Turner’s iconic song The Best which transformed rugby league could have belonged to the AFL
Tina Turner’s (Simply) The Best rugby league song was originally destined for the AFL, Daily Mail Australia can exclusively reveal.
As the world mourns Turner’s passing, her 1990s campaign featuring shirtless footy stars and the iconic American singer exclaiming ‘you are simply the best’ from the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge was celebrated.
But it only became the code’s unofficial anthem after a sprint across the Pacific by then-CEO John Quayle to secure the rights from Turner’s Australian-born manager Roger Davies before handing it over to the AFL.
In an exclusive conversation with Daily Mail Australia, Quayle made the stunning revelation that Davies was an AFL fan and that the national anthem was already in preparation for the rival code.
“The moment he heard ‘The Best,’ he knew there was a theme song for a footy code all over it,” Quayle said. “Especially the AFL.”
Turner, pictured with Jimmy Barnes, became the unofficial voice of the NRL, though her national anthem could very well have gone to the AFL instead
Roger Davies (pictured), the man who brought Tina Turner’s iconic anthem The Best to rugby league, is an ardent AFL fan and the song could have gone to them
The unofficial queen of rock and roll, Tina Turner (pictured) was also the queen of rugby league, but she could have ruled the AFL so easily
Fortunately for rugby league fans, Quayle had already developed a relationship with Davies that would eventually bring Turner and her hit to the NRL.
“I’d befriended Roger a year before,” Quayle said.
“Roger then introduced us to Tina (Turner) and we used her other hit What you get is what you see to launch a rugby league advertising campaign that was very successful, so we had that connection, that relationship with him.
“And that’s why, after hearing Tina sing Best he told us to go to Los Angeles and buy the rights to use it in Australia because it was such a strong sports theme song.
‘So we did. And of course I’m very happy because it has become an iconic anthem for our sport. But Roger loved the AFL more than our game.
“The closest he’d come to rugby league before Tina came along was kicking a rugby league ball while on the beach, he told me.”
Davies was born and raised in Melbourne under Aussie rules. He became the manager of Pink, Sherbet, Janet Jackson, Joe Cocker, Olivia Newton-John and Turner.
He reasoned that if the rugby league code saw no value in it, the AFL would. AFL would eventually roll out Angry Anderson’s Bound for Glory as the unofficial national anthem in 1991.
Quayle faced opposition in rugby league circles at the time, including from the leading commentator the late Rex Mossop, who infamously asked if he was ‘serious for an American grandmother to sing a national anthem for our game?’
Quayle was adamant about hearing the song and when he did he persuaded his board to buy the commercial rights to the song in Australia.
John Quayle (pictured left) told the Daily Mail exclusively that Tina Turner’s anthem The Best was almost offered to the AFL – only a trip to meet her in LA saved it from the clutches of the rival code
Ross Oakley (pictured), former CEO of the AFL, was at the helm when AFL fan Roger Davies first offered the song The Best to rugby league. He has often asked ‘why, why, why?’
Turner surrounded by rugby league stars Mathew Ridge (to her left) and Ian Roberts (right) during a commercial shoot for the ad campaign that brought rugby league back to the top
As for the song itself, it had quite a journey.
The song had previously been recorded by Bonnie Tyler a few years prior, but received little acclaim, reaching none. 55 in the UK charts.
Tina changed the song’s bridge and tempo and when it was released it zoomed into charts around the world – after the Rugby League Brains Trust launched it across Australia through a stunningly successful advertising campaign.
“The ad was so well made then, so professionally put together, that it can still be used today,” said Quayle.
“A million people claim the song’s success, but it was all Roger. And he was constantly asked after that [former AFL chairman] Ross Oakley – ‘why, why did you give it to them?’.
Oakley was appointed chairman and CEO of the then troubled Victorian Football League [VFL] in 1986, remained chairman until role change in 1993 and remained CEO until the end of the 1996 season.
He watched in amazement as the rugby league world blossomed alongside the song.
He later oversaw the transformation of the VFL into the Australian Football League (AFL), and under his leadership five new clubs from outside Victoria: Brisbane and the West Coast Eagles (1986), Adelaide (1990), Fremantle (1994) and Port Adelaide (1996) all joined the more professional, national league.
But many believe expansion would have come sooner if ‘The Best’ had been theirs.
“I had a great relationship with Ross and I don’t think he ever forgave Roger for sending us to the song,” Quayle added.