A Beaut Old Ute.
Guy drives a faded cream WB Holden ute, with a motor that sounds like knuckles and oil. It’s been used, abused, for work, for fun, yet has a shiny steel skull for a gearshift, and little shiny skulls for door locks. He maintains the thing. Hard work and function, the construction first, and, if you search for it inside, cool cat style. There aren’t many of them on the road anymore.
Guy is is a big man, a big personality. He played a lot of Div One footy for Hillwood as a ruckman a lot of basketball everywhere. I like him. He’s something out of the box, his own man. I visit the bloke when in Hobart. He’s late thirties, still full of life, still has that great smile.
“Off the grog, forty days, forty nights,” he tells me.
“You can hold my hand at the pub,” I tell him.
“Gunna have one last serious crack at footy. Figure I’ve got two do-able years,” he says.
I’m surprised, laugh, thought he was done three years ago.
“Addicted,” I smile.
He grins back. There’s nothing to argue.
“I’ve got to train all year around, but,” Guy says. He’s one of those blokes, always looks a bit overweight, always will. Yet strong, impossible to push off the ball. “It’s the only way I’m gunna do it at this age. Work harder.”
“I’s November, you’re old,” I laugh again.
“If I want to make it my fitness has got to be a habit,” he says. “I need to be able to keep working when the others hit a wall.”
Personable, self-mocking, sociable, you wouldn’t pick Guy as a footy player but for the fact he plays it, when you know him, but for his pride. Or maybe it’s ego. The same thing sometimes.
“I’ll be at basketball tonight,” he says.
“I’m there,” I tell him.
“Okay, but you won’t be called Old Dog around my team,” he warns.
We thunder out in his beautiful old basher to a shed, buried in a rolling sea of suburban backstreets, under the shadow of Mt Wellington. When we hit the carpark I see what he means. He’s the second youngest in his team. They seem to range in shape and size into their 50s. One of them says: “You know those blokes who run up walls and flip…?” taking two big steps towards the side of the building.
The blokes all laugh and make ambulance jokes.
“How you boys fairing?” I ask.
“Dunno,” Guy says. “I think we’re in the four?”
A few of the blokes nod.
Inside, Guy lines up for the tip off. His opponent looks like a bruiser, but Guy’s already been talking to him, making him laugh, and another two blokes from the other team, and the umpire. He’s just a likeable bastard playing for fun.
“If you’re here to watch him don’t expect too much,” one of his mates grins.
“Don’t expect too much, full stop,” another says, and they’re away. The liars.
They can play, most of them, must have been handy in their day. State reps and the like. They still know where to run, when to go, they defend damn well.
As any one-eyed footy fan, it was my duty to go in sceptical of this non-contact sport, but both teams work, lowering their heads to run hard into defend, then dropping their heads to run hard and attack.
The game has a relentless flow to it. End to end to end. I wonder what the hell the middle part of the court is for? It’s never used, just passed through. But after Guy drags himself across it for the fiftieth time, I realise it’s to break up the game, give it air. The boys are having fun, getting or staying fit, sinking three pointers. Sweating, earning their beers.
I can’t help thinking one thing, though, I work in the bush, play on ovals and keep noticing the sky is missing. Even when it rains I like weather. For me there’s something less about sport indoors.
The game is played in four stanzas. The other team dominate the first five minutes of each, but only have one bloke on the bench, and keep getting overrun. Guy’s mob don’t seem to push them enough on the rebound. They stroll the ball up at times, when, with their rotations, a harder attack would exhaust the opposition.
“Hey, Guy! I think I’m getting it!” I call, but he’s focused, being the big donk inside the key, double-teamed, doing the muscle work, and doesn’t hear me.
Guy’s mob hangs on to win by four points. There are no fans there, no girlfriends. Nobody cares, or even knows, but for the players.
That’s the beauty of pride.
Guy is all smiles, last to leave, talking to the timekeepers, the other ump, his opponents some more, everybody. When we make it into the carpark, the rest of his team are gathered in a circle, around the eskie, beering it.
“So how do you reckon he played?” one of them asks.
The group waits on my reply, smirking…
“How should I know? I was watching porn on my phone,” I tell them.
They all laugh, Guy most of all, and we’re gone, Beerless, which I’m sure is tugging at his gut. The bloke is really trying.
I watch the blokes in the carpark as we go. None of the other, younger teams hang around like that. They get what they want, the game, and are outta there. Old dogs know something, though. That the game isn’t over until they’re in their cars, or home. That soaking up its afterglow is both golden and precious. What it’s about. A gift of sport.
For some it lingers even longer.
In the ute and at his house Guy stays silent, brooding for a few hours until I’m out the door, hitting the grog he won’t. Before I go I ask why he’s so stroppy, even though I know. Even though it was Div Z, lost in suburbia and no-one was watching.
“I should have played better,” he tells me.
He waits until he’s alone to let his pride show. I feel privileged to see it. Next year, eternally young, perpetually happy, amiable Guy will be the Old Dog of the footy oval, pushed by gears and disciplines not many will be aware of. That few will see beyond his easy smile.
I look forward to keeping track of it.
I take in his ute as I leave. He needs something bigger for his job, and is wrestling with the thought of selling it after all these years. I’m sure wherever it ends up, it will be a good workhorse. Timeless, dependable. Not the best vehicle on the block, but unique in its old school way, always pushing forward.