The telegram was simple.
“Come quick. Team missing. Require assistance.”
It was the spring of ’13 and my old colleague Sherlock Holmes was grappling with a dangerous Enemy.
Mrs Hudson ushered me into the comfortable sitting room of 221B where Holmes and I had shared many a pipe and adventure. Holmes, dressed head to foot in Swans red and white, was leaning against the mantle deep in thought. He looked as he’d not slept in several days.
“Watson!” he exclaimed looking up. “Two teams went down the race at half time yet only one emerged. What do you make of that?”
“It is disturbing news indeed. As disquieting as a when a Huntsman spider disappears from one’s bathroom after days of inactivity.”
“Little is as disturbing as a missing Huntsman Watson but this one may be a case for the annuals and, dare I say, a compelling tale for your loyal readers at the Footy Almanac. Now you know my methods.”
He clapped his hands. “You know that last week’s game was a minor cause for celebration. We may have lost but the effort was certainly there. And it was there again for the entire first half.” He looked momentarily wistful. “Watson you should have seen it. The boys matched them point for point. Pyke and Tippett combined beautifully. Richards and Grundy were holding their own. Rohan, oh Rohan, with that sliding mark. Scores level and every damn chance that our fitness would hold and we’d emerge the victor.”
“But nothing.” He cried. “There’s no obvious singular reason why a team of that calibre should simply capitulate in that manner. None.”
“Money?” I asked.
He waved dismissively. “Need I remind you of Kurt Tippett?”
“Well then, knowing their season one would have to speculate that they’re cooked.”
Holmes picked up his bow, scraping tunelessly across the strings. “The amateur may think that.” He flung the bow away and picked up the Telegraph glancing at it scornfully. “Indeed every third rate hack in the country has latched onto that idea like nits to a schoolchild. They seem to think the Swans have been running on the smell of an oily rag for the last month or so.”
“You can hardly blame them.” I retorted. “Hannebury was in doubt. Jetta’s inclusion was more an act of sheer desperation. Bolton’s reached the end of the line. My God man, when McVeigh went down in the forth and spent the rest of the match shambling around with his leg strapped up like that everyone knew the jig was up.”
Holmes slumped into his armchair smiling grimly. “All true Watson. Yet all these are not the reason we lost.”
I lit a cigarette. “Pray tell me what was?”
“It was not the Swans who took to the field in the second half.”
The words hung between us for a long while.
“Now I see, old friend, you think I’ve taken leave of my senses but consider the facts. We barely got our hands on the ball in the second half. Turnovers, while an existing problem, were at exasperating levels last night. Players were mindlessly blazing away from any position on the field to no-one and nothing. No Watson, these were curious characteristics from a team whose finals pedigree is almost unsurpassed.”
“My God what was it then?”
“Sabotage, Watson, pure and simple sabotage.” He held up a silencing finger. “I need to get to the ‘G but I know what I’ll find. That crafty crook Clarkson is behind this mark my words. Like a spider at the centre of a web he sent his minions out to commit the foulest of sins, impersonation.”
“What do you hope to find?
“The team Watson, the damned team. No doubt stashed in a broom closet trussed up like hogs.” He leapt to look out at the street below. “Yes, I see it now. The boys coming into the dressing rooms to regroup only they startled a group of mercenary impersonators getting into the team strip.” He whirled to look at me. “We must hail a carriage and be off. To rescue the team for next week’s clash.”
“But Holmes,” I protested. “I support Carlton.”
“No-one’s perfect Watson, no-one.”