A bus ride home

Wynyard players celebrate the club’s first Northern Tasmanian Football League flag in 33 years after defeating Latrobe by 13 points.

‘Finish your drinks lads’ is Shannon’s final instruction for the day ‘no piss on the bus – it’s the law’

‘What, no gas, we’ve just won a fuck’n premiership for Christ’s sake’ retorts Sharmo.

‘The driver could lose his licence – think of what it means to him’ is Shannon’s response.

With very little individual or collective fight remaining, in the still disciplined group, there is full compliance. Bags are placed in the hatch and twenty two tired and battered bodies climb the steps towards the solace of a soft seat. I am the only interloper. I have managed to miss the last car home so it is the player’s only bus. Good timing is a wonderful thing. There is no apparent complaint.

I drift quietly up to the back seat next to George. Still no complaint.

‘Geez I’m rooted’ he says with a smile as bright and wide as Bass Strait.

Ipods and smart phones out, fingers tap and quiet conversations to near and far evolve.

Relief and satisfaction is a slow settling shroud.

The boys have done the business. After 33 barren, and disappointing years, the Cats have come from the wilderness and done the business.

. . . . . . .

Living on the north-west coast of Tasmania you are never far away from the sea. The drive west is the mirror image of heading in the same direction along the Great Ocean Road in that other State. It is on your right and at this time of a clear, calm, equinox day the sun turns your evening view into a citrus swirl as it hisses unseen into the Great Southern Ocean, somewhere beyond the ancient Tarkine.

I have done this trip on so many previous occasions; hauling grumpy children home after a weekend with their grand parents,  returning after rushing away to hear and feel the final soft, pathetic breaths of parents in hospital beds, work meetings, bowls games and after footy games with broken faced and broken spirited boys sitting silently in the car.

All occasions remain vivid and poignant.

This one is perfect.

. . . . . . . .

The light fades enveloping my mind into a soft multi sensed surreal (real surreal – not the trendy street talk description of mother’s chocolate pudding) trance as we hit the coast past Devonport. The first post match beers are usurping the strength of a decade of stress and disappointment. Conversation is a soft hum along the bus. Sporadic hoots and blokey touches volatilise and disappear. Contests are re-fought. Memories are made.

This is a quiet bus. This is a happy bus. This is a winner’s bus.

The boys are coming to terms with the small matter of an epic last quarter that would later be described by a reporter in the regional Advocate Newspaper as ‘more akin to a pitched battle than a free flowing shootout in perfect conditions’ where they had defended a modest three quarter time lead against the hard hitting, highly skilled and determined two time defending champions, on their home ground and kicking with a considerable wind advantage.

They were considered too soft, inexperienced and had been given little chance to win by the local experts. They had carried debilitating injuries into and through their first finals campaign in 13 years. Key players were often targeted, viciously. There had been little discouragement made to repeat offenders by League tribunals in recent times. With a couple of enforcers included in what was possibly our strongest available team for months the usual behind play or opportunistic in pack hits did not happen early in the game.

Specifically identified opposition players were quietly verbally, not physically, delivered messages as required in the first few minutes. Bullies, it is said, are usually the biggest cowards. This enabled our play makers, as well as those in the opposition, to be running hard when the game was up for grabs, where in the past cracked ribs, noses and jaw bones had had a restricting effect.

. . . . . . . .

We unobtrusively glide past towns and grounds where recently we had copped some hidings. The pain now numbed to insignificance.

Woody, the runner, brings George his phone and he chats to his landlord and surfing mate who is in Western Australia. Only a week before, he had gone to and pulled another severely lacerated and bloodied board rider from the water. The talk today was about footy.

After a pit stop there is talk of dropping into the Burnie ‘Gentlemen’s Club for one, only one, beer. The leadership group meets to discuss the constant ‘where are you’ message barrage from the footy club rooms’ and set an appropriate game plan. It is now eight o’clock. The game finished over three hours ago.

‘They’ve got beer, we haven’t’ comes one response.

‘We won, we can do what we want’ is another.

‘They’ve waited 33 years, another bloody half an hour won’t hurt them’ yet another.

Beers it is. Shannon rings both clubs. To one he says we are dropping in soon. To the other he says we are well back behind where we actually are.

The conversation with George has been limited. I feel that he is comfortable with me there and that is fine by me. We don’t need to talk to fully embrace what is a wonderful moment. He is happy to listen to music and chill with his eyes closed.

As we round the hill that leads into Burnie the synthetic light that now dominates the town and port precinct take over from the last natural mushroom aura above the black escarpment beyond.

George slips me an ear plug. ‘You like this don’t you Dad’. Pink Floyd, Time.

The lyrics are profound. ‘………..so you run and you run to catch up to the sun but it’s sinking, racing around to come up behind you again, the sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older, shorter of breath and one day closer to death…….’.

He smiles at me and closes his eyes. If there is a better way for a son to thank his father for what he has sacrificed as a parent to give him life and education, then I doubt it could be better than what my son had given me today.

I start to cry and am still wiping tears from my eyes as we walk in for the (one) beer. Players see, but say nothing. They understand. It will not be the only tears they see from grumpy old men in the next few days.

Comments

  1. Beautiful bit of work Phanto. Nuff said.

  2. Congrats Phanto….no ‘quiet desperation’ here. Beautiful stuff.

  3. Goosebumps. Inspirational.

  4. Great piece and a great song. Being from the Western Districts I have many fond memories of trips along the Great Ocean Road. Now I want to come down to Tassie and make a trip along the road you are describing.

  5. Neil Belford says:

    Well Phantom – that sounds like a pretty good Cats flag. I think better than the other one that didn’t happen. Congrats

  6. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Fantastic win- especially away from home. Beautiful piece of writing. Enjoy enjoy – for a whole year.

  7. Such a cute story, one to tell the grandkids ey Phantom?
    Does it get story rights over the Geelong granny wins though? lol

  8. Any Cats premiership is a thing of great justice, creativity and beauty to behold, Danni. Surely you know that.

  9. Are you in any way related to the curmudgeonly old Phantom that used to contribute to this website?

  10. Hahaha this is brilliant. Nice work Phanto… Back to back?

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