Melbourne band The Sports grew out of the ashes of cult rockabilly outfit The Pelaco Brothers. With the members' backgrounds in roots music so prevalent, The Sports swiftly earned a reputation as the hottest R&B;/soul/rockabilly group on the Melbourne inner-city pub circuit. The band's early live set was peppered with punchy covers like `Route 66' (Chuck Berry), `Red Hot' (Billy Emerson), `Chain of Fools' (Don Covay), `Now I'm Together' (Company Caine) and `White Honey' (Graham Parker), filled out by feisty Cummings–Bates originals like `Twist Senorita', `Cruisin' in a Citröen' and `Put the Light On'.
In early 1977, The Sports issued the four-track Fair Game EP (`Right Thru Her Heart', `Twist Senorita', `In Trouble with the Girls' and `Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache') on the independent Zak label. UK music paper the New Musical Express (NME) ran a rave review of the EP, comparing Cummings favourably with The Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger and praising Bates' Little Feat-styled slide guitar. The band contributed three Ross Wilson-penned tracks, `Twist Senorita', `Cruisin' in a Citröen' and `In Trouble with the Girls', to the Various Artists album Debutantes on Wilson's Oz label (1977). Andrew Pendlebury (guitar; ex-Carrl Myriad Band) joined as lead guitarist in August 1977, and The Sports signed to the Mushroom label. Mushroom issued the band's modestly successful first single, `Boys! (What Did the Detective Say?)'/`Modern Don Juan' (March 1978), which made #33 on the national chart.
The Joe Camilleri-produced debut album Reckless displayed plenty of charm, but failed to capture the atmosphere of the band's sweaty live shows. The album's second single, a cover of the Jackie De Shannon/The Searchers' song `When You Walk in the Room'/`True Stories', `Taxi Rank' (July 1978), reached #23 in July. A month later, Ed Bates had been ousted to make way for Martin Armiger (guitar, vocals; ex-Bleeding Hearts, High Rise Bombers). Cummings had wanted to move the band on musically, and Armiger had a more commercial outlook. In September, The Sports supported UK visitors Graham Parker and the Rumour on their Australian tour. Parker arranged for the band to tour the UK as his support in February 1979, which also led to The Sports signing a deal with the independent Stiff label (home to Elvis Costello, Wreckless Eric and Ian Dury).
Stiff issued the four-track EP `Who Listens to the Radio?', `Step by Step'/`So Obvious', `Suspicious Minds'. While in the UK, The Sports recorded the four-track, 12-inch O.K.U.K. EP which contained a frantic reworking of The Easybeats' `Wedding Ring'. Mushroom issued the EP locally in August 1979. By that stage, the band's second album, Don't Throw Stones (produced by Englishman Pete Solley), had come out. The album reached the national Top 10 (#9) and yielded the classic singles `Who Listens to the Radio?'/`So Obvious' (#25 in November 1978), `Don't Throw Stones'/`Terror Hits' (#26 in March 1979) and `Suspicious Minds'/`Bruises' (April). Stiff issued Don't Throw Stones (a compilation of the first two Australian albums) in the UK during October 1979.
Arista also issued the Don't Throw Stones album and `Who Listens to the Radio?' single in the USA and Japan, as did Ariola in Europe. Cummings flew to the US for a promotional tour. The band's third album, Suddenly, featured an even slicker, more commercial pop sound. As well as the delightful ballad `Blue Hearts', the album included the radio-friendly singles `Strangers on a Train'/`Can't Ever Decide' (#22 in March 1980) and `Perhaps'/`Regular', `Daddy's Little Thief' (April). Suddenly peaked at #13 in March 1980. By that stage, both Niven and Hitchins had been ousted from the band. Iain McLennan (ex-Ariel, Mondo Rock) took Hitchins' place, while Red Symons (ex-Skyhooks) filled in temporarily on keyboards for the band's national tour of March/April with Mushroom stablemates Split Enz (Sporting True Colours). In May 1980, McLennan came down with a recurring bout of hepatitis and was forced to leave the band. Freddy Strauks (ex-Skyhooks) came in as his replacement.
The band's fourth album, Sondra (named in honour of American actress Sondra Locke), came out in May 1981 (#20 in June). It yielded the singles `Stop the Baby Talking'/`Big City Lights' (October 1980), `How Come?'/`Drug Sluts' (#21 in May 1981) and `When We Go Out Tonight'/`Some Brass Thing' (July). The album also included one of Cummings and Armiger's most affecting ballads, the sublime `Black Stockings (for Chelsea)'. In October 1981, The Sports issued a new single, a cover of Donovan's `Sunshine Superman'/`Cargo Cult', followed by the 10-inch mini-album The Sports Play Dylan (and Donovan) in November. By the end of the year, The Sports had gone their separate ways. Pendlebury joined The Dugites, Stephen Cummings launched a solo career, Armiger went into production and session work, Strauks joined Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons and Glover joined Wilbur Wilde's Big Kombi.
A year later, Mushroom issued the anthology album All Sports, and `Black Stockings (for Chelsea)'/`Last House on the Left' as a farewell single. In 1988, reissue specialists Raven issued the album Missin' Your Kissin'. It combined live material (recorded in June 1978 at Storey Hall, Melbourne) with a selection of studio rarities including previously unissued cuts of the Cummings/Bates/Joe Camilleri-penned `Missin' Your Kissin'' and Company Caine's `Don't Hold Back that Feeling'.
As well as taking part in the Telstra Concert of the Century/Mushroom 25th anniversary (November 1998), The Sports had their classic track ‘Who Listens to the Radio?’ reissued on CD single (June) as part of the Mushroom celebrations.