A Magic Moment

It was 1979, early Spring. A skinny little kid stood on the half forward flank waiting for the opposition’s full back to kick the ball back in. The mud grabbed at his boots but wasn’t so wet that it made him feel grounded. The early Spring sun was ridding the ground of the rank smelling, stagnant water that had been stranded there since last May. New grass was pushing up through the clumpy turf.

 

He was 15 years old.

 

The game had been a pulsating one. The kid’s mongrel team from Montmorency, which wore the Collingwood guernsy and sang the club song “the boys from Magpie land” was in front, but only just. Surely Templestowe would lift. Surely they would pull away as most expected and win the grand final comfortably. But they were running out of time.

 

Templestowe had a mighty team. They had players who were good enough to have blonde tips in their hair and sweat bands on their wrists. One kid even wore white boots with high, white ankle guards. He was training with the Fitzroy under 19s. The rumour was that he also had a steady girl friend and that she had arrived at the grand final with HIS parents. That’s how good he was. He kicked the footy and held hands with girls like a man; with intent and purpose and technique. He knew what he was doing.

 

The skinny kid standing on the half forward flank had his big brother’s footy boots and shorts on. Both were too big. He’d stuffed some old socks in the toe of the boots so they wouldn’t flop around. His mum still cut his hair whilst he was propped up on a kitchen stool, and the closest he’d come to a girl friend was when he’d kissed Johanna Warden behind the shelter shed in grade 6. After the kiss she told him it wasn’t about friendship or love; it was simply a curiosity thing.

 

So after that empty kissing experience he dedicated his waking hours to mastering the left foot kick on the run, and by trying to hit the street light using only a spiral punt like Twiggy Dunne’s last kick in the 1977 VFL grand final draw. He kicked at lamp posts, trees, rubbish bins, anything. He and his brothers kicked the footy relentlessly. Hour after hour after hour. They had marking competitions, goal kicking contests, full on games on the street with kids from surrounding houses, and even a mock tribunal if things got heated during those games (the tribunal hearings included slow motion replays of what had happened, though no suspensions ever stuck past breakfast the next day).

 

His footy was the neighbourhood footy. He nuggeted it, put Vaseline around the stitches to protect them from moisture, and stored it off the ground in the shed. He never let it go flat, even when he was practicing to be Greg Chappell in summer. He loved that footy.

 

Templestowe had the breeze and the skinny kid knew the full back could kick like a mule. He positioned himself about 45 metres out from the goal mouth, a few metres behind a big pack of players. The pack was expecting the full back to kick it in its direction; the scoring side of the ground. The Templestowe celebrity with blonde tips jogged across. He was setting himself to take a big, game changing, morale boosting grab; the sort of grab that gets the attention of footy scouts, the sort of grab that the hairdresser would hear about, the sort of grab that would make a voluptuous girl friend squeal.

 

The skinny kid had a little rover’s voice in his head. “Get front and centre” it was saying, “You’re a rover, get front and centre.” But he didn’t, he stayed at the back of the pack. It was instinct, it was inexplicable.

 

The full back roosted the ball. It was sweetly timed. As it travelled through the heavy, footy grey, late afternoon sky, the big pack of kids waiting for it immediately realized something; it was sailing over their heads.

 

The pack hit reverse. Kids staggered backwards, eyes on the ball, bustling for position. The blonde tipped Templestowe super star was in the box seat. All he had to do was time his jump. It wouldn’t be a spectacular jump because he too was backing up, but it would show his class, his ability to read the play. It might even change the game.

 

The skinny kid saw what was happening and was drawn to the approaching pack as it backed into his space; drawn like a baby to colour and movement.

 

“Stay down and take the crumbs” the rover’s voice in his head was saying, “Let Chunky Woodward or Dave McColl go for it.” But he didn’t. The contest was coming at him like the Pamplona bulls. The footy sat up in the sky as if it were waiting for something, like it had forgotten to fall. And as the pack closed in the skinny kid defied his own intuition and ignored his place in the football world. He jumped.

 

With his knee bent and planted between the shoulder blades of an opponent, he rose into the sky; higher, higher, higher. He was propelled by the force of ten bodies all leaping pointlessly underneath him. As they thrust upwards so he was thrust further into the stratosphere. The physics of heavy mass driving skyward against a light frame was his engine. They were leaping at nothing, he was leaping at heaven. He thought he might touch the moon which still sat low on a brooding horizon.

 

And when he flew he knew he was leaping against his brothers like he’d done a thousand times before, leaping onto the poor kid across the street they all called “the step-ladder”, leaping through the plant on the nature strip that acted as Ray Biffen against his Royce Hart, leaping across the beds during an indoor game of sock footy played on wet days. Those leaps were just a rehearsal for this.

 

Clunk. The ball stuck in his mitts at the peak of his upward trajectory. It was perfect; Michelangelo perfect. Nothing would move it. Opposition fists couldn’t get near it and self doubt had been expelled by the sheer beauty of the moment. God may have put the ball there but an infinite love for the game made it stay.

 

He returned to earth amongst a collection of grunts and groans. The ground was soft. The ball had melted into his hands. The pack landed on its collective backside; ungainly, pathetic. The skinny kid landed on his feet like Keith Grieg or Robbie Flower. For that instant he was a master of the universe, standing triumphant over the fallen.

 

The kid with blonde tips in his hair and the burden of enormous talent glanced around to see who had out marked him. He searched for a ruckman. He saw a skinny kid.

 

“You!” he blurted out incredulous.

 

If the skinny kid didn’t love footy before his leap into the sky, he certainly did when he hit the ground.

 

#

 

Montmorency’s U16, 1979 Premiers

 

W Derbyshire – coach

L Mullenger – Manager

N Lock – Trainer (holder of the magic spray)

B Dennis – Runner

Players:

M Anderson

P Bishop

G Brockman

C Buckley

M Derbyshire

L Dickson

S Hunt

T Jewell

P Kirby (v. capt)

S Leighton

S Lock

D McColl

G McShane

D Mitchell (d.v. capt)

D Morris

I Nice (capt.)

P O’Brien

D O’Donnell

G Pearson

M Shaddock

M Smith

C Smyth

C Tsaparis

M Ward

P Woodward.

 

 

 

 

About Damian O'Donnell

OK - which is the odd one out: Love the Cats and flannelette shirts, especially in winter. I get on extremely well with red wine. We just seem to hit it off. Love horse racing in Spring. Used to love cricket. Go to Stawell every Easter and contemplate life around the fire. Love water skiing, especially in summer. Get meaning from catching a beautiful curling wave. Love a great oil painting. Will read most things put in front of me. Thought 'The Sopranos' was the best TV show ever made - by miles. Run an accounting practice in Melbourne's suburbs.

Comments

  1. johnharms says:

    Where is Johanna Warden now?

  2. Dips,

    without wishing to steal your thunder I did the same at Old Scotch ‘B” Grade. Got the run up and sat on a bloke’s shoulders and the ball stuck. The crowd groaned as did the bloke when he saw who dunnit. Not you.

  3. Second Bit.

    I was obviously effected by hitting the rarified air that I tried to handball while still on the ground. The execution was up to my usual standard and was subsequently intercepted took off with a couple of bounces and kicked a goal.

    Not even fifteen seconds of fame.

  4. JTH – Johanna is a dentist – does my mother’s teeth.

    I haven’t seen her for years but I knew back then she had good quality dental hygiene.

  5. Further I realised I loved football when I was listening to “that” Bill Ryan goal against you know who after the siren in the first round of 1967.

    It was you know who’s second one point loss in a row if I remember correctly.

    A typo in the second bit left out the fact that the step ladder was the bloke who intercepted and kicked the goal.

  6. Obviously not a Komodo Dragon Dips.

  7. Phantom – so many big grabs in the history of football have been immediately followed by a brain fade. Why is it so?

  8. It was due to shock on my behalf Dips.

  9. Phantom – after my big grab, which should have gone down in history alongside Jezza’s and a few of Gazza senior’s, I unleashed a 28.5 metre long bomb to the hot spot. Very sensible I thought.

  10. Phantom says:

    28.5 metre long bomb to the hot spot?

    Did Johanna mark it?

  11. Phantom says:

    Good thing you stopped barracking for the Pies Dips or your mother would have no need for Johanna’s services.

  12. Phantom – she dropped a sitter.

  13. Andrew Fithall says:

    You mean Dips, she let a prized one slip through her fingers. Wonderful read Dips. Enjoyed it immensely. Especially the use of that old biological metaphor, the “shelter shed”.

  14. Cheers AF. Ahh yes, the shelter shed. It belongs in the same era as “glugs” and “5 cents worth of savoury shapes please”.

  15. smokie88 says:

    Enjoyed it immensely, Dips.

    It brought back memories of neighbourhood footy matches in my youth which continued on
    under the street-lights until our parents called us inside. I regret that my sons will never
    experience those type of matches. I laughed aloud at the image of a bunch of kids conducting
    a mock tribunal, with the protagonists pleading their cases in slow motion. Brilliant!!

    The premiership team list was also revealing, in that there is probably only one non-Anglo-Saxon
    name there (Tsaparis). It’s hard to believe that, only 30-odd years ago, the name Catoggio was
    regarded as a curiosity.

  16. Smokie – excellent point you make about the names. I hadn’t even noticed. I supose Montmorency was your classic Anglo Saxon breeding ground in the sixties. Catholic families with 8 plus kids were plentiful, but as yet the Italian/Greek influences hadn’t made their way out to the suburbs.

    I still see a few of the boys from those days. Gerard McShane is a great mate, as is Dominic Mitchell who I don’t see often enough.

    Peter Woodward actually played at Collingwood for a while in the 2s. Couldn’t quite crack the ones.

  17. smokie88 says:

    I am always enthralled by the photos which ocassionally accompany stories
    in the newspaper: you know, “the Teal Cup team of 1983′ or somesuch.
    With explanations of what became of the members of the team, it always
    makes for fascinating reading.

  18. David Downer says:

    This is great Dips – lovely rhythm to it also

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