I’m in Melbourne for work and just can’t be stuffed training with a club, meeting new blokes yet again, so Gianpi and I go for a kick at Princes Park, in the shadow of Carlton’s glory, like we have done for thirty years.
The weather’s shitful compared to Tassie, hot and muggy, there are 50 times more flies. It’s funny, I never minded the weather when working up North, loved it even. Up there they had anthills and open-aired pubs, and tropical fig trees and the Woolamoo bird, who’s call goes “Woo-la-moo…!” And Aboriginal communities and Islander communities full of corker blokes.
Up there muggy weather belongs.
A ripper wind picks up as we’re kicking, becoming nasty. I spare a thought for every fire-fighter ever, out there somewhere, kilometres from cities and city lives, and kick the ball…
We lob and lead, me more than my mate. This isn’t fitness, but it is sweat, and, as far as seasons 32 go, will do for a roll-start.
“Imagine us 25 years ago…” I call to Gianpi.
“Whadoo you mean?” he hunches and puffs.
“If we could squint, look over to that pocket, and see ourselves doing this when we were in our early twenties? Reckon we’d look like freaks?”
“I’d kick us in the ankle and run,” he says.
“Who knows, maybe we were always this unfit, it’s just that now we know it…” he adds.
We both laugh.
“Coco-pop!” I tell him, still our favourite insult, and we kick it some more, into the ripping wind, under it, around it, missing and hitting targets time and again.
I look across the ovals, it’s not just us. The wind is bringing the temperature, branches and skills down.
“What do you think of the Kingy thing?” Gianpi asks, even though he knows me enough to know.
It’s a bloody disgrace.
I don’t mind Andy, like him even. But he’s as wrong on this as a person can be. I believe in democracy. In freedom of choice. That a person is a person, not a faceless Brand. The bloke King is hanging with has served his time. That’s the way our society works. The law works. Who the hell are the AFL to put themselves above such stuff?
But who knows? Andy’s pretty savvy. Maybe he’s just saying what the sponsors want to hear, knowing it won’t change much?
Either way, he’s sent the wrong message, tainted the AFL more than some bikie thug, and made a rock solid anti-hero of a little tough nut.
“He can see anyone he damn well fucking likes.”
Eventually, knackered, I walk for a lead. Doing this means I can’t run onto the ball. Gianpi finds it almost impossible to nail me. We laugh and do a few walk leads and walk kicks.
“Imagine if they combined footy and Olympic walking…” I say.
We both picture it for a second, 36 bony blokes marching around the oval as if they have sticks up their arses. Craig Kelly trying to get up to ten kms per hour to knock Ben Doolan’s teeth out. Shirtbonks. Peter Matera shuffling like choo-choo trains along the wing. Stroppy Jack and Glass mega-waddling on a lead from the goal-square.
The wind’s really knocking everything about now. Trunks and light-posts buckle and sway, runners are walking into it on a stupid lean, hats and leaves and garbage shoot through the air.
Gianpi decides he’s had enough for that day and roosts the ball, with one last kick, with the wind, over the picnic area, towards the carpark. He’s hits the pill sweet! I’ve never seen anything like it! The ball rises and rises and just damn rises, carried by jetstreams.
I’ve only witnessed a couple of kicks that magnificent in my life.
Finally, the ball catches in the very, very top of a mighty white-gum, several hundred feet from earth. The tree’s crown, higher than I could even kick straight up, snaps and buckles with the wind, but, somehow, won’t let go of the ball, Its branches, thin and elastic at the top, seem to clasp the ball like a bony claw holds a marble, teasing us, waving it about.
Damn it felt good watching the pigskin rise like that! So mighty.
We laugh, and I slap the back of Gianpi’s head. “Coco-pop!”