Friday footy is a beautiful thing

Friday Footy is a Beautiful Thing.

 

I finished work not long after sunset, watching the moon wobble up from, then across, the mountains. It was almost full, but not, as if someone had dropped it on its head.

As I came down the logging tracks into the valley, towards the nearest farms, that lead to a road, that lead to other roads, and, eventually, down the road, street lights and anywhere, there were so many options.

Hawthorn and Geelong were on the telly. Everywhere. Across a nation.

At the bowls club, with their makeshift bar, built to snob the local tavern. At the tavern, 9/10s empty, where busy or not, they prove the bowls club right by kicking us out every Friday on 10, for no other reason than he’s sick of putting up with us, even though it’s always at the start of the last quarter.

At one I feel like an old salt. Staid. Planted. Grey. At the other I feel like a seedy drunk. But at each, the oval on the screen looks bright green. The brightest. The team colours are crisp, no greys.

The ruckmen charge.

All the mad-as-rattlesnakes, back-roads crew were at Grover’s. Lost Nowhere. Booze, bongs, loud music, in a mouse-filled tin shed of a home, stacked with torn sofas and empty cans and dog hair. Footy on the tube, surrounded by noise.

I always feel good at Grover’s. Saved. Because he’s wild and genuine, and things are simple there.

I could have gone into town, worn the bustle of the pub crowd, pretty girls dancing, a rocking band in a warm, cramped room, all worn on my back, like the warmth of fires, or life, as I watched the first bounce on a small monitor just above the shuffling bar staff and wine fridge.

Or at the sports bar, where everybody watches it, or pretends to, and talks too much about the local stuff, and betting. Winning spreads and Dreamteam points and odds.

A Statewide game was being played under lights in town, including a few kids I used to coach. They survived me, and my caveman head, and are doing great at a much higher level.

I always enjoy seeing Juniors I’ve coached playing football. Always. Even if it’s Div 3 Reserves. Watching them get a kick, enjoying life.

I could have taken in them and the Hawks and Cats in the stadium bar pretty much at the same time.

 

These things are important. How you watch, who with. They colour your view of the game.

 

I stopped in at the bowls club to sell my wood, mentioning to the footy boys I’d decided to go to Dusty’s, because he was a family man, and I wanted to take in the game. In the time it took me to piss, the boys had beaten there, stirred up his kids just before bed, put their takeaway drinks all over his lounge and settled in.

Dusty gave me a look.

“I didn’t invite them!” I protested, by way of hello.

The game was brilliant, I thought. Modern football at its best. Fast, hard. Johnson being a freak, Rioli being a freak. Mitchell being a Champion. A word I don’t use lightly. That not enough other people bestow on him because he doesn’t do flashy things like carry the ball.  Because he simply

gets it,

and gets it, and gets it.

Uses it,

turns chaos into order,

makes other players look good.

Hodge has the presence of a leader. He is a leader. That’s what he’s best at, beyond any marks or stats. Mitchell looks like football’s professional, its stocky little accountant. He does the job.

Geelong get a few lucky breaks early, confidence, and run so stupidly hard Hawthorn players can’t get close enough to put the squeeze on them. The forwards have nothing but time and space.

Yet you can’t run that hard forever. The sprint dies down, and the piss and poo start to grind their way back. When common sense and the laws of gravity are restored, Hawthorn look like a better-drilled kit, running after a rolling bus.

 

Meanwhile, in Dusty’s lounge room, the kids are stealing the show, dodging our empty stubbies, wrestling with big, hairy Fitz, cutting laps of table legs, chairs, feet, cutting the air with squeals and sooks and yickerty-yacks.

Dusty’s wife fights through us and their volume and finally beds them down and Hawthorn get another goal and hairy Fitz goes off and the kids wind up, leap out of beds and are away again. The dog sees my dog outside and starts marking its territory inside, Dusty’s wife screams blue murder, the boys laugh and carry on, and Dusty and I say nothing. We keep our heads lower than the moon. Watch the footy.

Between goals and his wife screaming he gives me a look.

“Old Dog…”

I give him one back.

“I didn’t invite them, I swear!”

 

I remember one game, a year ago, it was Dusty’s first back from I don’t know what. Holidays, retirement? Maybe work. He was in the Twos. A bloke of his ability, what a joke! All that talent and experience, but unfit.

I positioned for a boundary throw-in on the half-forward line, taking a quick look-around at who was where, leapt. The teams were mostly skinny and fat and gangly and short or tall and young. Everybody jostled and ran and called and went to where they through it was going and where they through they should run. The ball came down from the contest at my feet. I grabbed it, and handballed, blind, straight back over my head, to Dusty, well on his own, because he hadn’t moved a damn inch! I just knew he wouldn’t have. The lazy prick.

He snaffled it, and, off no steps, slapped the ball through from 40 on his left.

We laughed to each other, even though no-one else got the joke. Next week he was back up in the Ones, and I continued on my never-ending twilight.

Sometimes a dog is so old, it can’t remember ever being young.

 

Most of the boys had gone by the last. Two of them to watch it while playing cards all night at Gough’s. Win a bit, lose a bit, “Go Cats!”, “Go Hawks!”, “Royal Goddamn Flush! Eat shit!” To drink and blow dough and rock up to the most important game of the year hungover, in the pouring wet.

Lon, though, has simply said to his girlfriend

“Come and get me, or else I’ll be home at 5am.”

She did. Loves her footy. They watched the rest of it together at their dairy farm, lost under river mists.

Only Fitz stayed. He had a bet on the game with Grover for 14 slabs.

“Fourteen?!” protested Dusty.

“It started off as a six-pack three or four years ago,” said the Hawks man. “I keep having to go double or nothing. I ain’t heading to his place until I’m sure we’ve won!”

“Ah,” Dusty’s wife brushed it off. “Just make the next game 28 or nothing. 56. You’ll break even eventually.”

“No way,” Fitz insisted. “If he calls it in, I ain’t that rich!”

 

The last quarter, to me, was brilliant. Stuff you can’t drill or train out of the human condition. What footy is about. Ugly, sloppy, with patches of brilliance. Everything pressure, rushed mistakes you’d do different 9 times out of ten. The pill being slapped blindly onto boot. Each kick, each mark, unpredictable.

Sort of just like life.

Life sped up.

When the Hawks had all the play in the last seven minutes, yet got all those points, we knew they’d lose against their own tide, on the last kick of the day. That’s how fate works.

In the end, Hawthorn had the midfield, but not Buddy. All night they didn’t have and needed him. Be damned what stats and the too clever people think. There it was, in the fact he wasn’t. And neither was Roughead without him.

In the end, Geelong had a leader amongst men in Selwood. I have no idea of his stats, but he hit packs and bodies, time and time again, with incredible, fearless grunt. The other team had footballers. The Hawks had a man with pride.

And Tom Hawkins.

Cloke, Pod, Buddy, Tibbit, the Tomahawk. People often cry too soon. The game has an amazing way of rectifying itself. The big man is back.

The donk is back.

 

Dusty looked knackered when I left. Me, him and a couple other old dogs had kicked on drinking and talking footy after selection the previous night.

“Check your phone,” he said, now that we were alone.

I’d left it in the ute, missing a message from him when I was at the bowls club: I’m spent. No footy for me tonight, mate. Just gunna go to bed.
   “You’re shit at backing up,” I revved him up.

“You only had about two beers tonight!” he protested.

“Trying to get my leg right for finals,” I told him, and left.

 

The road had been empty since sunset. As I backed onto it, there was a car here, a car there. Jock and a few of the loggers leaving truckie Greg’s now the footy was done. The young crew heading back from watching it a Jesse’s because he’s the only one of them who has a dad that doesn’t give a fig.

A few cars I don’t recognise taking off from watching the footy at houses of people I don’t know.

Cutting onto my track, I could see a few utes still outside Bucket’s butchering shed, across from his farmhouse. He’s a mad Hawks supporter. I’m sure the potbelly would have been cranking, the barbie sizzling, cheers, swear words and blue murder being yelled between cutting and bagging of liver bits.

Down in the next valley, maybe 25kms away, I could just make out a pinprick of light weaving its way through the dark, and knew it was probably Timmy, or Fredrick, or both, leaving Grover’s because they were sick of him bragging about the Cats.

 

The moon looked as if it was feeling stronger. Was higher, whiter now, near midnight. I chased it up the mountain, towards home, and all roads and tracks and highways became still again.

Comments

  1. Andrew Starkie says:

    yep, Wintonesque.

  2. Matt Zurbo says:

    G’day Stark. Was told that once before, so read a page of his stuff and didn’t like it. This make me self-loathing? Maybe i chose the wrong page! Monaros now not coming to Tassie! Boo! Conflict with their kid’s sports finals. The nerve of them! Pulling family well-being before a footy piss-up! Haha!

  3. Matt,

    another big cat Friday night coming up.

    But all the Lilydale boys will be tucked up in bed for prior to the Qualification Final against the Zippidy Doo Daa’s.

    Will be watching WFC vs PFC down the coast and can’t make it. Would have loved to participate in constructive convers. with an ale or seven.

    Cheers, and good luck, Phant.

  4. Matt Zurbo says:

    Thanks yew Ghost Who Walks. And to your mob.

  5. Wintonesque.
    Try “The Turning”. Short stories that link in ways you don’t quite see coming. Country towns – people moving in, moving up, moving on. Looking forward; looking back.
    Zurboesque.

  6. Matt Zurbo says:

    Hahaha! Cheers, Peter. How you finding Oz?

  7. DBalassone says:

    I reckon I made that Winton connection with Zurbo once too. Peter is 100% right, start off with “The Turning”, and particularly the first story “Big World”.

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