Adelaide is lying. Everything’s winter rain and hard blowing winds, but any small activity breaks the chill’s surface. This is not a cold place, even at its worst.
Footy training’s been called off, so I go for a run some time after 7pm, through the dark, thinking about all the lows, some of the highs. They bounce through me, in the silence of pounding feet.
I wonder if people realise how lucky they are? How superb our great game is? How it goes to the core of being alive? I never thought I’d play 560-odd games. I never thought at all. Just played. It has been an adventure, not of biblical proportions, but quieter things. Communities. Families, friends, seven years of coaching kids, trying to teach them about life, watching them spread and grow. An inward adventure of being local, of, really, going nowhere in the sweetest way.
I finish my lap of the parklands, suck in air, and go again, now warm, sweating, watching rugged up people pass in well heated cars.
The town is abuzz with the upcoming Showdown. It’s replaced interstate rivalry, now there’s no Big V, because it’s real. In a two-team city Port and Crows are so different, were built different. Will always be different. Twice a year, even if they don’t make the finals, they play a final. In a modern, often homogenised game, I’m jealous of the genuine emotion involved.
There’s bush footy in the Victorian ranges tomorrow if I want it. This heartbeat, this thing that drives. I think about stepping away from the game. Not retiring, just disappearing quietly. The thought’s pleasing. Let football roll on, let it roll, let it roll. We affect our teammates, their footy and life, but change nothing in the big picture. We play because we can, and/or must. At any and every level the game is bigger than us all.
At times like this, I think of Rollie. I coached him in kids, he was hopeless and wanted to be great, like his Dad, and was never going to be, but then, as he grew up, pushed his energy into his guitar. I travel hundreds of kms to watch him sometimes. His biggest fan, even if his music doesn’t grind my bones. It’s not about the guitar, or footy, really. It’s about doing. It’s about people. Always.
But I met him through football. He grew up and we became friends through football. It was our glue. I admire his work ethic, no matter the vocation, ambition, long hours and sweat are gold.
If I could, I’d stay in contact with them all.
Sucking in air, again, I stretch, then run into the dark for another loop. Through the trees, past the unlit oval, along the flood cannel, back through the boggy parks.
Soon, the Footy Show will be on. Or there will be AFL replays on Fox Sport. But if I watch too much AFL everything goes numb. My life passes by. Footy shoots it in the head, and, like that, I am old. To watch, to watch, to watch until it blurs. To not do.
Yet when I take it in once every week or two, the AFL is the most brilliant thing! I compare Harbrow’s speed to my lack of it. The way Lake punches the ball and Bob Murphy finds targets. How Hawthorn spitball handballs to each other in a pack until the ball is clear. My God! I define them all through the eyes of a slow country hack, and the game is better than it ever was, and always will be!
The 20 year olds say it was at it’s greatest in the 90s, the 40 year olds pang for the footy of the 80s, those older than that speak of Jezza and mud, and the 60s with pride. Maybe we miss our youth is all.
I am a backman at heart. The scrappiness of modern games just doesn’t bother me. As long as there’s work. As long as there’s a contest.
As long as there’s skill.
Maybe it is time to drift away? I don’t know. It’s late. The streets are now empty bar the sweep of hard winter rain. I’m sweating like a pig, keeping fit in a far away city out of routine. Tomorrow I’ll be all smiles for genuine legends, and corker blokes from Adelaide and Port, and an ex-Don from the 70s. There are times in my life I am empty. But in those times I have footy. We all do. Again, again and always, how lucky are we all?