Almanac Memoir: Cold mornings, clearing torps and the limitations of lankiness
I remember playing footy until the age of about 13 or 14. I was always a tall, lanky kid with not much meat on the bone. I was the ruckman and full back for most of my footy years. I was always the tallest or second tallest player, and I had a great reach. It also helped that I would put my body on the line.
In the early days, it was always kick to kick with my Dad and my brother. We would play for at least an hour and run ourselves ragged. Eventually it came time to start playing and Auskick popped up.
I have fond memories of being in Auskick. My good mates in primary school played too and it made those early mornings so worth it. My brother also played alongside me too.
The early mornings on a Sunday were always tough, but I can only imagine how painful it must have been for my parents. The bitter cold was never fun, but it made sure you got moving and tried to get the ball. Although it wasn’t also easy if the ball stayed at the other end of the field.
The heavily diluted orange cordial was still better than nothing after a good twenty minutes of play. And the thought of Macca’s afterwards always made me and the rest of the gang excited. Boy, cheeseburgers were so tasty back then. Now I only get them if I am desperately hungry.
The biggest excitement to come out of Auskick besides playing with mates, so the opportunity to play on the holy land of Australian Football. The thrill of playing games at the MCG was unlike anything else. This was where my Kangas had won the ’96 Grand Final and would soon win the ’99. And here I am, a lanky 10 year-old with big hair just giving it a crack. Touching the grass was incredible in its own right. Playing on the same ground as my heroes was the best thing possible. Punching the ball away like SOS or Micky Martyn felt surreal.
At the end of the game, we would line up at the gates as the North Melbourne players would run past for the third quarter. Seeing McKernan, Carey, Martyn, Archer and the rest of the team up close and personal was electrifying. There they were, my team, my favourite players.
While our team didn’t always win, we had fun playing in front of 40,000 plus fans. Putting on the North Melbourne jumper was another bonus. Being in a game in my team’s colours was special.
Playing alongside my brother also brought a sense of joy. We were both tall defenders and it felt great to have him by my side. We were both confident in our abilities to stop the opposition scoring.
We have a couple of photos before games and they are some of my favourite photos.
Corey McKernan was my favourite footy player growing up. I loved his approach to the battle. At his best he was the best (equal highest votes in the 1996 Brownlow Medal, ineligible for a soft week suspension), but it was his effort and intent that I appreciated. I also loved McKernan’s torpedoes. I had a good punt but I loved to torp the ball towards the centre or wings as I cleared danger from defence.
In grade 6, I was specky’d by two players at the same time. The first bloke weighed at least 20 kilograms more than me, so he didn’t get much lift off. And the other bloke was a little bigger than me and had a mean leap on him. We all crumpled to the ground, me squashed by the big kids. I kept playing for another year or two at high school level, but I was always against it physically. In retrospect, I feel that moment was where I know was never going to have the physique for footy.
It didn’t stop me getting amongst the action. The highlight being defending against a half forward and a wingman. The two on one chase for the ball was tense and I knew I had to go in hard. Once again, I was disadvantaged in weight and height, but that never stopped me. We all converged on the ball at the same time, and one bigger bloke got his hands on the ball first. But I was quick to tackle him and keep the ball trapped in there. He tried to handball it off, and his teammate tried to rip it out of there, but I was relentless to at least get a ball up. The ump blew his whistle and gave holding the ball. I was rapt with my effort by my opponents were filthy and swore at the ump. The ump blew his whistle and called the game off. I had a mixed feeling of goodness to stop the opposition from going forward and scoring, but also bad that my tackle ended our game early. But we got the win and the big fellas on my team gave me high fives and pats on the back.
Once I turned about 15, I knew my body wasn’t growing anymore. I still played for fun, but I wouldn’t be playing again anytime soon. I still loved kick to kick and markers up with mates at school and after school.
The rest of my teen years and most of my twenties were all about watching North Melbourne play.
Nowadays, I have a kick of the footy every now and then. But I will happily watch the footy and have a chat about life with mates.