General Footy Writing: Under the wing of Gull

by Paul Mitchell

There seemed no reason for our bit part ruck/forward to be nicknamed ‘Gull’. I attributed the moniker to the fact that his mullet stuck out ingloriously at the sides, made him look like a windblown seagull. I didn’t know his real name, but that didn’t matter – when I called out ‘Gull!’ he kicked it to me. I didn’t know much about him, but I thought he might be able to save my life.

When I was 16, I played with Gull in the seniors for Belmont. The club was in the dirty GDFL, before it merged with Barwon to become the mighty South Barwon that dominates the GFL today. I was part of a trio that had tried out at Geelong FC over summer, but hadn’t made the under 19s. So we came back to our home club, which was a punching bag for teams north of the Barwon River.

Gull, gangly, erratic and barely intelligible, was in and out of the firsts. One afternoon while we were still in our civvies watching the seconds, we enjoyed Gull’s work at centre-half-back, elbowing his tattooed, skin-headed North Geelong opponent. His nemesis bumped him back and then, to the roars of the Belmont crowd, Gull shouted, ‘Come on, tatts!!’, shaped up and hit him with the most poorly executed punch I’ve ever seen land. Gull sort of spread all his limbs on their axis’s, fired off the blow and miraculously hit the North Geelong Magpie on the temple with the side of his fist. This brought opponents from all over the ground (how dare Belmont fight back!), but Gull staved a few of them off, still mouthing, still swinging.

The bloke was a hero, a man who belonged on the other side of the river, but who had captured me and my mates’ hearts. We’d only recently seen a teammate’s face turned into a margarita pizza – and I’d been dragged along the turf in an all-in brawl, feeling the whole time the sense that there might be a boot with my head’s name on it. We needed Gull’s advice.

After our run in the firsts that day, we decided that night to follow Gull, try to get an audience with him. Some of the senior players weren’t sure about there being ‘kids’ in the team, not so much because we went out with them and got pissed – they couldn’t have given a stuff about that. It was more that we might tell our mums what went on away from the hot-dogged halls of the footy club.

Plenty happened: punch-ups, girlfriends of senior players’ wives on the prowl for the team’s teenagers, blokes houses and cars raided, married men ending up going home with women who, we were sure, weren’t their wives. But we were too pissed to really know, most of the time.

Gull had had a few the night we bailed him up in the Wool Exchange (‘Wooly’) nightclub. He was leaning on the bar, talking to two blonde women in tight dresses, but we bowled over to him in our Miami Vice jackets and Chinos.

‘G’day Gull,’ we chimed.

Grunt.

‘Wadda ya want?’

Gull stepped from the bar and began to sway, but I didn’t have the sense he’d fall. He was like one of those blow up toys with a weight at the bottom: he just kept spinning and returning to his centre of gravity.

‘We want some advice . . .’

‘Huh?’

We explained that we were young blokes; skinny, no tatts, no muscles, couldn’t fight, had no idea how to keep out of danger on a field that often resembled a war zone. Gull smiled and leant towards us, rocked back and forward. We waited in anticipation for his wisdom. We were under the wing of the Gull. Finally, he leant one more time and swung his right arm.

‘Yerrrrrr gotttaaaaa punch ummmm!’

Then he turned away and we knew our audience with Gull was complete. A few minutes later, he pissed on the bar, the two women walked away, and Gull was escorted, arms swinging in all directions, from the Wooly.

In the early part of this decade, I went to Kardinia Park to watch South Barwon in its first Grand Final appearance since the merger. The boys served it up physically to North Shore, with shoulder dislocating tackles, clips behind the ear, and, when called upon, jabs to the ribs and cheekbones.

Gull was nowhere to be seen, but everywhere. Twenty-two years later his advice got through and South Barwon comfortably took home its first flag. The new club had been given the nickname the Bulldogs, but I knew its real name: South Barwon will always be the ‘Gulls’ for me.

Leave a Comment

*