Cricket: Late debut proves memorable

By Paul Daffey

When George Georgiou, president of East Coburg Cricket Club, asked me to play a game in the fourths I was chuffed. I’d never played a game of senior competitive cricket. My one game of junior cricket was as a 16-year-old fill-in with St Bernard’s at the Overland Reserve in East Keilor, where I scored a rapid-fire 15 to be the second top-scorer. At 44, it was time I tested myself in open company.

The first match in which I was scheduled to play for Easts was a wash-out (it was the only Saturday of the season on which it rained). The next match was a heat-out (it was Black Saturday). When we missed out on the third attempt, George grew excited. “You won’t believe it,” he said. “It’s a walkover!”

On the morning of my fourth attempt, it seemed nothing could stop me. I even went up to High Street to buy my first pair of whites. They looked like sails rather than strides, but there were no mediums left and — hey! — I was playing cricket! At home, Jo said it was like the first time we saw our son in his new school hat. How grown-up I looked! I gave everyone a kiss, grabbed an extra bottle of cold water, and tripped over my cuffs as I got in the car for the long drive north.

Cook Reserve in Glenroy is surrounded by drab houses with no gardens and resentful guttering. The sun beat down. A hectic breeze blew in from the south. George greeted me with his sleeves buttoned at the wrist and the creases in his strides just so. He failed to notice my strides. “Mr Daffey,” he said. “We’re finally playing together! This is Jeff Gilmour. He barracks for Richmond like you.”

Jeff played district cricket with North Melbourne and Carlton before ruling the northern suburbs with his bat and his cussed ways. He was once the East Coburg coach, but he’d not played cricket for years. His gut hung over his strides. “I play tennis now,” he said. “I’ve gone soft.”

The others in our team included Darren Warway, the captain, who was the first grown man I’d seen wearing matching green board shorts and green thongs, and wicketkeeper Chris “Chinny” Dearnley, who showed us a dance he called “the Boris Yeltsin”. Chinny stuck his arms out at right angles to his body and wiggled his fingers. Then he jogged with his knees at a strange angle to his body. “My mate was doing it at a night club,” he said. “No one would talk to him.”

Under George, the East Coburg Cricket Club is like a media training school. The club gets in the papers every second week on account of its phone-toting president and its multi-cultural hue. On this day, our team include two Indians, an Irishman, a Greek president, one Italian, a Trimboli who looked more like a dressing-gown salesman than a drug dealer, and Boris Yeltsin. George smiled at me, his pencil-thin moustache as sharp as the creases on his trousers. “I’m in at 11,” he said. “It’s time for others to get a turn.”

The Glenroy team was full of teenagers. Some of their bowlers were deceptive, such as a big, podgy kid who almost tripped over himself during his run-up and then landed the ball on the spot. Our top order batted well enough without ever getting on top. Jeff went in at six, I came in at seven. “Take it easy,” Jeff said. “Have a look at them for a while.”

The first bowler I faced was a teenage slow-medium pacer, probably more slow than medium. I turned my first delivery to square leg. It sat up like a table-tennis ball in the breeze. “Nice shot,” said Jeff as we crossed for one, with strict orders never to turn for two unless there was a hole that would swallow up three Glenroy fieldsmen.

Next up was a young leggie. By young I mean he might have started secondary school but we can’t be sure. His first delivery was pitched just outside off stump. I let it go. “Well done,” said Jeff. The next delivery I despatched between mid-wicket and mid-on. Three fieldsmen fell in a hole, so we ran two. “You bastard,” said Jeff.

The next delivery pitched slightly full on middle and leg. I plonked my front foot down, swung like a hay-carter and pushed back on to my back foot as my bat completed its arc. It was a shot I call the skied swivel. The ball sailed towards the sun before falling to earth 10 metres beyond the plastic cones. I’d hit the first six of the match. “Gee, that’s all right,” I said. The ball bounced through the goals behind backward square. “Why couldn’t I do that when I was playing footy?”

The next ball was pitched in the same spot. Again I swung lustily but this time I top-edged. The ball ballooned up and back, just beyond the wicketkeeper. A fieldsman lurched in from a weird short fine-leg position (was he there just for me?) to take the catch. I’d made nine from five balls. I trudged back to the clubrooms, my one adult innings over almost before it had started. “Nice six,” said a teammate. George was more effusive. “Mate! I’ve only hit one six in my life — in 1990. And Collingwood won the premiership!”

Jeff played like a gourmet. He nibbled at the entrees early in his innings before biting off great chunks as the innings wore on. In the final two overs he belted a few sixes over mid-wicket, in doing so taking his tally past fifty and the Easts to a score of 203. Having looked likely to make 160 or so for most of the innings, it was a good result. And I’d hit a six!

The two Glenroy openers were stocky, gritty types, ready for a scrap. One wore a sunhat; the other had a smile and tattoos. He looked like he’d find it highly amusing to drop a brick on your foot. He kept grinning as Adrian Trimboli, the dressing-gown salesman, rolled in with his fluid left-arm swingers. The ball dipped and darted. We needed an early breakthrough, but the opening pair kept us out for almost an hour.

I stood at first slip on account of the fact that I’ve never been able to throw. Sometimes I was forced to field the nicks over the slips, whereupon I bowled the ball in Thommo-style. Some of my non-darts even went in the direction of the keeper.

First slip makes you pensive. I became worried by the lack of penetration in the attack. I thought it might be time to send down a few chocky-armed lightning bolts. I raised my eyebrows to the captain to no avail. I called him Greeny, and he frowned.

Eventually the Brick Man was out, caught and bowled by our opening bowler Brendan Regos, whose stomach clutch replicated the dismissal by Nathan Hauritz in the Test a few days previously. The Easts felt smug as a skinny 14-year-old ambled out to the middle. The Sunhatted Opener met his new partner at the wicket and told him to put his front foot down the pitch at every delivery. The 14-year-old played the same forward defensive stroke for half an hour. The kid grew in confidence through his partner’s encouragement and his own resilience. We couldn’t get him out.

Tempers among my teammates began to fray. I’ve always believed that men with goatee beards are neatness freaks trying to let it all hang out a little bit, but when Anthony Rechichi, our vice-president and handy all-rounder, found himself unable to harness the wind during his bowling spell, he became a goatee-bearded firebrand. The Brick Man, who was now umpiring, repeatedly failed to signal leg byes off Anthony, so Anthony took to stomping around, raising one leg every few steps and tapping his thigh. The Brick Man told Anthony to shut up or he’d order him from the field. Then he invited our entire team to come forward and he’d take us all on. Anthony, peeved at the damage to his bowling figures, did circles around the wicket slapping his thigh.

When one of the Glenroy teenagers who was umpiring showed no idea where to position himself while the batsmen were running, Jeff Gilmour walked in from fine leg and demanded to know how the umpire was supposed to judge a run-out decision. The Sunhatted Opener told him to leave the kid alone. A slanging match developed. The words “stupid” and “dickhead” became confetti on the southerly. My bowling talents were still untapped.

After an unfortunate over from Anthony in which Chinny had to hurl himself around behind the wickets in an attempt to stop the ball flying off to Russia, Darren the Captain called us all in for a talking-to. The Sunhatted One was now plundering us with forearm jolts over cover and mid-on. George, fielding at long off, might as well have been wearing a homing device.

I, too, felt helpless. My throat was dry. My pants were too big. The batsmen were taking three runs on my throws. In an attempt to do something, anything, to change the course of events, I moved myself to backward square leg. In the second last over, a catch ballooned up to me. I stood beneath it. I stood to the side of it. I stood beneath it again. The ball fell into my cupped hands and I let my hands fall to my ankles, so eager was I to avoid a jolt. It was not a John Dyson snorter, but it was a catch and I was relieved. George was exhausted by the jog in from long off to join the celebrations.

The Sunhatted Opener guided his team past 203 for the loss of three wickets. I felt empty. Even little Lindsay, the team’s main supporter, who cackles like a hyena at the slightest provocation, was silent as we trudged into the clubrooms. Chinny sprayed on some deodorant, and pulled on his jeans and a Victory shirt for that night’s A-League game. He deserved a few vodkas.

I felt disappointed about playing in a loss that should have been a win, and I was exhausted after fielding on a hot and windy day, but mainly I was beaming after my first senior cricket experience. It felt right to pursue a goal with others. At 44, I realised all over again that I missed playing in a team.

The game must have left me in good spirits. Later that evening, Jo and I sat down to a glass of wine and a bowl of spaghetti. After dinner, I proposed. In my big pants, with my chocky arm and my inability to move to clear up the dishes, I asked her to marry me. My one game with the East Coburg Cricket Club was destined to stick in our minds forever.

This is an edited extract of a talk that Paul Daffey gave at the East Coburg Cricket Club on 9 February 2010.

Comments

  1. Daff – I played old blokes footy with a George Georgiou at Diamond Valley. A rather rotund, friendly chap, bald on top and grey/white hair all around. Sound like the same bloke? Not sure of his age but 50 plus I reckon.

  2. Dips,

    The East Coburg version turned 50 last month, but he’s not rotund and he couldn’t kick a footy to save himself.

    Friendly chap, though, and a great man for his cricket club.

    Apparently, George Georgiou is a not uncommon name in the Greek community.

  3. John Butler says:

    It’s the fate of all modestly talented 40+ flannelled fools to drop down the grades.

    And as if the ravages of middle age weren’t unkind enough, this process rarely provides much respite. There’s no harder day in the field than watching an ineffectual attack be backed up by even worse fielding, on a blazing summer afternoon.

    There’s always some opposition bloke with the vestiges of talent (or brute strength) to grind you into the dirt.

    On a related subject, any progress reports on Chicken Man?

  4. My younger brother had a basketball coach called George Georgiou a few years back. I can’t remember him very well, but he had short hair and big glasses and was quite stern with the kids.

  5. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Great piece Daff,

    never thought cricket could inspire such a romantic gesture. Might start playing again!

  6. omg Paul! i dont normally find cricket interesting by a proposal as a result is so cute!! :)
    im getting a bit better now that i know a ‘flipper’ is not a Dolphin.

    ps- if my future husband doesn’t propose to me at the footy (after a collingwood win) he better not expect me to say “yes” LOL

    Danni :)

  7. Damian Watson says:

    Great work Paul,

    It’s not often a batsman hits a six in his first innings for many years, even if the bowler is only a teenager, well done.

  8. Great piece, Daff. To add further complications to the George Georgiou discussion, I too knew a man of that name. But again it was not the East Coburg president. A photo of George can be seen in Chris Vasso’s article found at the Neos Kosmos website. See the link below:

    http://www.neoskosmos.com/news/en/10-years-frontline-suburban-cricket

  9. Peter Flynn says:

    Really enjoyed the read Daff.

    The dacks should be part of the wedding garb.

  10. Flynny,

    Might have to consider that.

  11. Great read Paul ,I play for East Coburg and have been for over 20years and was at the club when you gave this talk and all the characters you mentioned on the night just had me in tears it was like I was at that game … fantastic piece .
    Well done

  12. pauldaffey says:

    Good on you, Trimmers.

    Great to hear from you.

  13. Paul – where do East Coburg play their home matches? I remember from my early days that there used to be 3 turf wickets on McDonald Reserve in Bell St – I doubt they would have survived to this day given local council reluctance to maintain turf wickets. I played U16s footy on the ground and we used to have to cope with 3 wicket tables! Coburg Harriers also used to be based there before the aths track was built at Jackson Reserve.
    Alternatively there was DeChene Reserve further along Bell St where Coburg Amateurs used to play. It was always a bog in winter being in the creek valley, and in summer had cracks that would swallow up cricket balls. As a kid, I used to watch Coburg Amateurs play and sometimes when they needed a boundary umpire I would get the gig and a few dollars for my troubles.

  14. Tragic that you didn’t get into double figures Paul. You should have put your head down.

    Good excuse for getting out the washing up but…

  15. Hi Mark,

    East Coburg play at the Brearley Reserve, which is right up near the entrance to the freeway. That is, they play nowhere near East Coburg, but in West Coburg. Not sure why.

    I played at De Chene Reserve in 1984. It was a dry and really windy day, so I never got to experience one of the ground’s famous bogs.

    It was in B-grade. The match was eminently forgettable apart from the fact that Steve O’Dwyer had his eye poked out in a ruck duel. Steve was in hospital for a good few months after that, and never fully regained his sight in that eye.

    It was during his stay in hospital that Ron Barassi visited him and had him sign up for Melbourne.

    Steve (known to the footy world as Strawbs) was an unbelievable mark as a 17-year-old, stretching his 203-centimetre frame at all sorts of angles to drag the ball in. I always felt it was a tragedy for AFL fans that his eye injury at De Chene Reserve prevented him from regaining his marking prowess.

    At the end of 1984, Coburg Ammos disbanded. Looking back, it was kind of strange. It’s not as if they were terrible; they were in B-grade. I thought their jumpers were great, too: red and black hoops.

    As it happens, if they were still around now, I reckon they would be quite strong. There’s been a big influx of families into the East Brunswick/Coburg/West Preston areas.

    Apart from the Coburg VFL team, there is not one senior footy club in East Brunswick or Coburg, and the West Preston footy club is right up near Edwardes Lake. A real opportunity exists to reform the Coburg Ammos.

    Maybe Alan Salter could be persuaded out of retirement!

  16. Daff

    Just catching up with a few yarns, and read this for the first time.

    You do realise that you have ensured George’s unfailing love forever now.

    JTH

  17. Funny Paul that you mention Alan Salter but he is my assistant for the second year running at Uni Blues Under 19’s.

    He still leaves down the road from De Chene and remembers the A section flag he won at Coburg fondly.

    I think he would make a great interview for you and Finey on SEN. He would have some great insight into the Ammos in the 60’s right through to now.

  18. Yes, Matt, Alan has many tales from his Ammos days.

    It’s good that he’s still involved. He just loves the camaraderie of footy clubs.

  19. Very amusing

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