Friday afternoon. One of my favourite times of the week.
When I was teaching it was beers after a flat-out week of Maths and History and organising rugby and basketball training (yes, I coached rugby, and at an accreditation clinic I even packed down with the Queensland scrum. I have had my head in Tony Darcy’s bum).
Then, when I was back at uni as a postgraduate student it was well-deserved beers after a week of research and golf, and I felt like I was making my way through books I wanted to read.
For years I used to meet with staffroom mates, for an afternoon which we felt we’d earned. And so the spirit was free, and the tongue loose. And then out for a bite and home (no Friday night footy then) to get organised for early-morning golf at Indooroopilly. In my St Peters years I drank with a brilliant teacher (and a great bloke) called Mike Selleck, a Melbournian, who had moved to Brisbane with his young family in 1974, and stayed. While he was a citizen of the world (although, like a Bronte, he was completely untravelled) he had a strong Melbourne sensibility. He loved footy. The Bloods. And he loved ideas. He really was trying to make sense of the world; a more genuine attempt I don’t think I have seen. He’d have received a kangaroo stamp from Fyodor Dostoyevsky for trying.
He was profoundly Catholic in an intellectual sense, and a student of History and Philosophy; a tremendous observer of people; a wonderful conversationalist; at once a judger and an acceptor for whom nothing was unexpected, knowing History and human beings so well.
Those Friday nights in the public bar at the RE in Toowong were memorable, even when it was just the two of us, which, after I’d left St Peters, it often was. He still went every week, committed to the ritual and the release of it all.
Mike’s gone now. Too sad.
I am reminded of these times every Friday afternoon when the spirit of the weekend descends and all is abuzz. I try not to miss the North Fitzroy Arms session, an hour of beers and footy tips, although I’ve hardly been this year.
I’m not there on this Friday evening, though. I’m in Cookie’s Bar in Swanston St. Upstairs. It was once the headquarters of the Australian Communist Party and it’s alive with Fridayness. A sort of RRR and Monthly crowd and quite a few folk who wouldn’t miss Q and A. (Q and A was not one for Mike Selleck: “That’s frog shit,” he’d say of the panel of self-servers and self-promoters gathered weekly, before returning to his Augustine or Walker Percy or Kirkegaard.)
I am sitting in Cookie’s with Joy Damousi, Collingwood fan and professor of History at Melbourne Uni and Father Kevin Dillon who wanted to ring the bells at St Mary’s, Geelong, a couple of Friday nights ago when Tom Hawkins kicked that goal. Even though it was almost 10.30. We are planning our attack for the forthcoming debate at St Paul’s Cathedral. Is football a religion? We have been asked to support the proposition that it is.
That done, I have time to stroll towards Etihad Stadium. Along bustling Swanston Street and then down the quiet and darkness of Little Collins. Duffel-coated and scarved. Pushing into the cold. Past laneways of lit merriment which look so English. Nooks and crannies of sort-out haunts. Clinking of glasses and the hubbub of four-drink conversation. And dancing, do-you-want-to-come-home-with-me playfulness.
I pass a lone flutist playing a Mozarty classic I recognise but can’t name. (Mike Selleck could.) There is no-one within coo-ee. But he plays all the same. I pass Gurner’s Lane, after which the Cup-winner is named. (I backed Kingston Town). Over the rise and towards the lights of Etihad flickering from Spencer Street through the winter branches.
I stop at the Saint and Rogue for a quiet ale with D. Downer, St Kilda’s finest, before we head to the ground. He is with workmates: the climax of Fridayness has passed for some as they are about to make their way home. But it hasn’t for others as women smoke and pints are drained.
Time gets away. We mount the Spencer Street stairs, and charge along the footbridge. In through the gates and at the very instant we reach the standing rail the Sherrin is bounced. It’s like the old start of The Flintstones.
Before we are properly camped on the docklands wing Taylor Hunt has kicked a couple of goals and the Cats are on. The Saints settle. Stephen Milne is being his normal self. As are the umpires who have the crowd puzzled in three reverberations of the pea.
It’s an even contest until the Geelong mid-fielders get on top and between their run and their use of the footy they have loose men everywhere. Swarming. Hawkins has a picnic for a few minutes, finding space on the lead. He spends the first half dobbing them from everywhere.
Joel Selwood and Leigh Montagna are in a mobile wrestle which must be annoying for both, but the Cats have other ball-winners. Johnno and Kelly are creative and the Saints have no answer. Trent West wanders forward and is too tall for the swatting defenders. He scores again when he receives a sweeping handball from Corey Enright and goals on the run from 50. The Cats fans smile a little more as he jogs back to the centre. Is it a sign?
The Saints toil away, and stay within reach – just. They are missing their two key forwards: Nick Riewoldt is in the coaches’ box nursing his knee, and Justin Koschitzke is plodding around centre half forward looking for yum-yum weed. But their two small forwards are damaging: Milne with three goals and young Ahmed Saad quick and clean-skilled. Saad’s set shot for goal is something to behold: ball held idiosyncratically, the approach about the length of Chairman Mao’s march, and the pendulous kicking action just perfect. Then he eludes Scarlett with dexterity and pace to dribble through another.
D. Downer is not thrilled about it all. Another season gone? He is watching it in that Glum-from-Gulliver’s-Travel sort of way. The umpires aren’t impressing him: the raft of 50 metre penalties creating confusion; and the smothering of Johnno’s set shot creating amusement. Add to that some bumbling from his own and he concludes, “This is Fawlty Towers stuff.”
At half-time the Saints fans are dejected. But their spirits are more than lifted after the break when they start to win contests and build momentum until they are on top all over the paddock. Goddard has an influence. Saad and Milne threaten to cut loose, but the run-on is slowed by a succession of bad misses. The Cats look wobblier than at any time in the past month (and that includes the Pies game), and when the onslaught continues to start the final stanza the pressure looks to be getting to them. Saad nails another set shot. The run-up is again magnificent. “Surely not,” think the Cats fans. “It can’t end like this.”
But the Cats click into gear again. Young Rupe Murdoch kicks a beauty from 50, at a time when the Cats most need it. Hawkins bombs another two. Both goals are introduced to the world by a D. Downer, “He won’t miss this.”
He’s a good judge: D. Downer.
Almost ridiculously the Cats win by seven goals. It’s the right result on the basis of the first half, but certainly not on the basis of the second.
It’s a solid win for the Cats and a disappointing loss for the Saints who had their chances (as they did against Collingwood).
D. Downer is resigned to his lot. He reminds me of the Geelong folk of yesteryear. When I was D. Downer I thought it was the gods, and I was waiting for the Cats to be chosen.
Now I have no idea what makes footy teams that little bit better (although I think having a really good ruckman helps). Whatever it is, I still think it must be the triumph of soul over ego.
And, as any Saints fan will tell you, the gods are still in the heavens where it is forever Friday afternoon.
I just hope they are not toying with Tom Hawkins, and I hope they have big plans for Trent West.
I finish the night in the most Melbourne of ways: I get the 112 up Collins Street and along Brunswick Street, past the Brunswick Street Oval, over the old Merri Creek Bridge and into Northcote where, where a little terrace house, is the warm sanctuary of a family.
I tuck the kids in, tip-toe past The Handicapper’s door, and fall asleep in front of the replay, well Fridayed.
Votes: 3. Hawkins 2. Milne 1. West