My town is a dot town, but damn with footy we’ve had some success! Flag after flag in Div 3. In seniors, reserves, in juniors by the bucket load.
The kids won seven in a row at one stage. Missed out on an 8th by a dirty, stinking point!
Stuff like that forged bonds that go beyond money. Ambition changes. The lure of the city and big dollars becomes wanting to play well in front of your mates. To party and stay friends forever.
Eventually, the better ones go anyway. Right now there are about seven ex-players of ours floating around Statewide, the highest comp in Tasmania. Winning awards, winning flags. One is about to be drafted in the AFL.
There’d be six or seven in Div 1. Three of them took home a Premiership there, when everyone else wondered if they’d make the grade. Junior levels are flooded with our boys.
Trouble is, we went up a division. Within just two years we won the Premiership in Div 2, as well. Without much population, with no money. A victory because 14 of that Grand Final team played alongside each other in juniors. Our club was built on it. Our seniors built on it.
But Div 2 is city based. College based. Saint this, Old that, Uni whatever. They mostly have schools feeding their senior teams, not communities. This means Div 2 has no junior comp, which is devastating for a small club like ours.
Three years in and already the club is hurting from it. The numbers through the gate feel like they’ve halved without the kids and their families. So many of the volunteers were junior player’s mums and dads. The lack of depth in the ressies is blatantly exposed without three or four kids doubling up. The next jets are not getting a taste of senior footy, because there’s no junior team for next jets to work up from. But, more than anything else, the town is suffering for it. The kids are.
Those that want to play are driven to various teams in various comps outside our region. They lose a feel for the place. And we lose a feel for them. So far we can still track them. Count the ex-local boys. But soon there will be a whole generation that never played for us. That will be known as this town’s boys, or that town’s boys. Not our boys. That have no reason to be loyal to our club, or town, or to return.
Used to be I’d walk down the main drag and hear “G’day Old Dog!” and give a smile, a wave, a shitstir. Always a shitstir! Try and get a few of them summer jobs, talk brief shit over the servo counter where the club’s main sponsor puts them on. Help them out with a days work here or there, a reference, whatever. But, even better, through coaching kids I’d know their parents, their parents neighbours, the various jobs and ways of the local land. The history and mechanics of community and bush.
The town still has kids, but I don’t know them, and they don’t know me. And have no reason to wave, to smile or shitstir. We ignore each other like passing dust. It’s a damn shame.
It’s not the stars that break my heart. They’ll be accepted anywhere, any time. But there were kids I coached that had no interest in footy other than their friends played the game. That were never going to be jets but joined in because that’s what you do in a small town.
And learned how to train hard. And team values. And interaction skills. And about character and competing and having a go. About sharing something, about doing something, and having a place to belong.
These days I see the next generation of them killing time outside the town’s two shops every day, even on what were once training days, looking surly and bored.
I dunno. Life goes on. It’s not the end of the earth, but, to me, it’s not nothing either.
Yesterday I tried to say g’day to the new kid at the servo. A real g’day. He looked at me like I was a stranger, a freak. I would have known him two years ago. And his folks.
I miss juniors for the youth and energy they gave the club. For their noise and life. I miss them for the hole it has left in many kids lives. For the hole it has left in our town and in me.
The mountain town I live in is still brilliant and cold, its views superb, the bush still solid, worth more than gold. Without a junior footy team though, the place I live in has changed for all time.