Geoff Sinclair’s Home and Away Games: Rd 12

ROUND 12

Essendon versus Geelong Cats

Saturday, June 12th., Etihad Stadium

The clock radio says 2:33.  I lie here in luxurious, Cleopatra-comfort, trying to identify what has woken me.  Not a sound from outside, not even swishing car-sounds from Huntleigh Road – but upstairs the toilet flushes and shortly after I hear Tommy pad-padding down the stairs.

“What’ s up?”

“Fire brigade,” he says, his voice sleep-muffled.  “I’ll be right.”

But I fling the doona off and slip into my Beaumont tracksuit and worn-out runners and follow the boss down to the courtyard.  It’s as cold as a witch’s tit, and already my face tingles and my feet are going numb.  Flickering red lights dance off the pale faces of the building and send pulses along the bare branches of the gleditzia trees.

By the time Tommy and me get to the bottom level of the carpark, three firemen in yellow and black gear are clustered around the cage which houses the carpark sprinkler control unit.  They carry chunky torches, and are silent, competent-looking blokes – the type you’d be really pleased to see if you were needing to be cut out of a car-wreck, or plucked from a burning building.  One is writing on a clipboard, and talking to Tommy.

“Your pressure’s down, I’m afraid,” he says, in a you’ve-got-terrminal-cancer tone of voice.

“Really?”  Tommy puts on his disappointed face.

“That’s the second time this year.  This visit’ll cost you.”

“I see.”

“You need to get the pump replaced.  The pressure drops, there’s not enough water to feed the system, and when that happens it automatically activates our alarm.”

Tommy accepts the paperwork from the main man with a defeated look, and we pad back upstairs.  We can hear the fire truck growling off up Huntleigh Road.

I boil the billy and brew a pot of tea.  Tommy is still hitting the green tea hard because he’s more certain than ever that it’s staving off Alzheimer’s.  (He can’t remember where he heard this.)  I ask him how much the visit from the fire brigade is going to cost.

“Over a thousand.”

“Ohmygawd.  You heard them coming yeah?”

“The siren woke me.”

I crank up the heater, and we settle into the leather monsters with our tea.  Naturally, being the middle of the night and burdened with having to tell his boss that the Body Corporate will get a bill for a thousand dollars, Tommy’s outlook on life is . . . bleak, verging on the morbid.  First the State of the Bombers is causing heartburn.  The loss to Sydney hurt more than just missing out on the four premiership points and being displaced in the eight by the dreaded, resurgent Hawks.  It hurt because our number one ruckman, David Hille, has a level one hamstring strain, which will keep him out of the side for at least three weeks.  Which means Patrick Ryder has to bear the burden of the ruck work, single-handedly.  Just like last season, only not for most of the year, which left him totally knackered.

“That Sydney guy, Mumford, he killed us in the ruck,” I say, but Tommy’s on a roll so he ignores this.  Now he’s into timing.  As usual, the Bombers have copped the rough end of the pineapple insofar as timing is concerned.  Our next game is against the dreaded Hoops of Geelong, last year’s premiers and still the best team in the competition by a country mile.  Then we are up against the aforementioned Hawks, white-hot, line-in-the-sand rivals who will be desperate to knock us off.  Then – and here Tommy takes a gigantic slurp of his tea to emphasise the point – and only then, do we get our mid-season break.

“The next two weeks will determine our season,” says the little chap, like it’s a benediction.  “It’s make or break time.”

I nod.  “Amen, Father Tom.  It is indeed.”

“It’s not a laughing matter, Peter.”

“No.  Speaking of laughing matters, would you mind if I hoiked out that bottle of whiskey?”

“Well, just as a night cap.  Why not.”

When I’ve set the whiskey glasses down, Tommy would like to know what the coaching staff are doing about Mark Williams.  (As if I am in charge of the coaching staff.)  The lad was recruited from Hawthorn to kick goals for us, but he hasn’t played since round 4.  What are they doing out there to build his confidence, to get his fitness levels up, so he can fulfil his promise.

The sub-text here – as Bulldog would say – is, I’m still a better coach than this lot, despite my abysmal record.

“Well, Tommy,” I say, as patient as Jobe (Watson).  “They’re not going to be sitting on their freckles, are they.  They have to deal with these cases gently, subtly.  You can’t just say, Look Mark Williams, mate, get fit, play fantastic footy, or piss off.  He’s probably earning two hundred grand a year, like that’s two hundred visits by the fire brigade Tommy.  Nor is he a machine, he’s a living, breathing . . . bloke.  He’s a bit, kind of, you know, slack in the way he looks, even when he’s playing . . .”

“Slack?”

“Well, nonchalant, laconic, casual.  Some blokes are like that.”  I give what I hope is a wicked grin.  “Like I was.”

“Ha!”  Tommy slaps his thigh.  “You.  God, you were a fart in a bottle.  Talk and move, talk and move – you never stopped.”

“Yeah, alright.  Mark Williams is at a new club, he was built up as a huge bonus before he arrived, and he started the season badly.  Then he had a good game, then he got injured, and he hasn’t got back.  Give him a go.”

“Okay, Peter, you’ve made your point.”  Tommy pauses, sips his whiskey.  “Speaking of Williams, you remember Poodle?”

“Do I remember Poodle Williams?  Is the Pope a German?”

Poodle was Beaumont born and bred, went to at least Year 8 at the high school and, with a bit of help from friends, set up an earth-moving company, consisting of a Hi-Mac digger and himself.  He loved his football and cricket, and was dreadfully bad at both.  Tommy’s heard all the stories before, but insists I remind him of the day Poodle kept the boundary umpire kickless.

“Against Lakes, wasn’t it?”

“Yes.  As you well know, Tommy, having been on the selection committee for years, most weeks we’d find a spot for Poodle in the seconds.  He was so damned enthusiastic, wasn’t he, about everything, the town, his work, his family – “Mouse” his wife and their two little mouse-like kids – and, of course, the Beaumont footy club.  This particular week he was reserve for the reserves.  At some point his services were required, so the coach, none other than my good self, Peter Schofield, yells for him to get on the ground in place of Blood Collins who’d rolled an ankle.”

“Oh, Blood Collins. . . ”

“Yes, okay, we’re not going there. . . I remember telling Poodle to go over to the opposite side of the ground and pick up their wingman.  Well, he went over the other side of the ground alright, and played shoulder-to-shoulder with this bloke, ran with him, never let him get more than a few metres away.  Talk about close checking.  Took him right out of the game. Someone on the coach’s bench twigged to what was going on, and we nearly pissed ourselves laughing when we realised he was playing on their boundary umpire.”

Tommy and I chuckle, and savour the memory for a few seconds.

“Poodle laughed as much as anyone,” I add.  “Reckons the kid looked like he was playing because he was wearing red-white-and-blue Lakes’ sox and had one of their training tops on.  Told me the penny dropped when his opponent jumped the fence, got the ball and threw it back in . . . ”

Tommy sighs.  “Poodle Williams.  You meet some characters, don’t you.”

. . . / / / . . .

To: hoodoo.lab@gaga.gk.com

Subject: This and That

My dear Labrini

Dear Labby

Hi there.

I’m typing this on Tommy Hubble’s laptop quite a long way from Huntleigh Mews, and I’ll tell you why.  (Excuse my poor English, esp. as it is my native tongue, not like yours.)

We – The Mob, the three blokes you refused to sit with when you stood me up at the Richmond game, but forgive and forget I say life’s too short to be holding grudges, well we have driven down to the wealthy bloke’s beach house (Geoffrey Jones) on Westernport Bay to watch the Bombers play the Geelong Cats.  (On the TV – they play at Isn’t-It-Hard Stadium – they have not shifted the venue for us.  Small joke.)  I was not too keen, because I thought the idea was we were to go to the actual games wherever possible, and in the last three weeks we have been in a corporate box, a pub (OK because the game was in Sydney and by the way I’m sorry for going to sleep so early on you that night and not being able to drive you to the airport because of the blood in my alcohol stream) and now we are at a beach house.  I feel it is watering down the football experience somewhat.

It is an extremely beautiful house I am currently in, a bit like my house in the country (which I’m hoping you might visit one day) because it has an excellent verandah and a large kitchen.  Come to think of it, that is all that’s the same.  Mine is stone and brick and small, this is all weatherboard and stained glass windows and humongous. First impressions can be deceptive.

Well as it has turned out it looks as though only me and the lady of the house (Mrs Jones) are going to watch the might of the Bombers overcome the undoubted superiority of the Cats – her first name is Thuy pronounced like TWEE I am told (by her) and I am about to tell you why we are the only two left standing.  So to speak.  Here goes.  We had lunch after we arrived at Jonesy’s beach house, Mrs Thuy is a beautiful cook and it (the lunch) had an Asian flavour, and Jonesy, being a purveyor of fine wines – wow, needed the spellcheek there – had heaps of wine on hand.  It turned into what is known throughout the globe as a long lunch.  (Which many Greek persons have been having for years, hence their present difficulties.  I say this with the uppermost respect.)  After this meal us blokes decided to go for a walk along the beach, and let me tell you we were quite mellow on account of the fine wines and Jonesy had a footy with him.  Which we kicked around somewhat.

Which is not a good idea because Tommy is in his early 70s, Jonesy and Bulldog are in their 50s and (as you know, Labby!) I am a young, fit 34 year old.  (OK make that 39!  I can’t fool you.)

Anyway, we start horsing around with the footy, kicking end-to-end (on the beach), and Jonesy lets go this huge, floating torpedo punt kick, showing off as usual and bullshitting skiting boasting about his powers, how he kicked heaps of goals for Beaumont and Tommy, whose full of premium wine and thinks he’s back playing for the Essendon seconds in 1946 runs after it at a rate of knots.  His little legs go like the clappers, he’s like one of the dwarves out of Snow White with a cracker up his arse backside, his eyes are on the ball, his arms are outstretched and jesus wept Lab, he hits a hole in the sand where some kids have dug (a hole).  Like it’s a deep enough hole and the little guy just goes splat! And he hits the sand – which is firm on account of the tide having been in and out – and down he goes and stays there writhing like a stuck pig in agony.

He’s in the bedroom now, with a huge icepack on his knee.  (His knee is bitter and twisted! Small Rabbit joke again.)  He must be in some pain because he has no interest in the football at this point in time.

Also on top of all this, Bulldog, also thanks to premium wine, was cutting some wood for the fire and he was wearing Jonesy’s slippers on account of his own shoes getting saturated at the beach chasing the ball into the water, and he got a severe slash on the lower calf from a bit of metal.  In fact it was one of those things that support the spouting on a house – a bracket – and it flipped up and hit him and he will need stitches and a tetanus injection.

Jonesy has driven him to the hospital, despite having drunk too much.  But he’s like that.

I will leave you now because myself and Thuy are going to watch the Essendon versus Geelong game, although I think Thuy will find other occupations because she loathes and detests football.  I suppose you wish you were here.  (Don’t answer that.)  I hope you are having a good time dancing, but not too good a time.  Look out for handsome Zorbas!  They worry me somewhat.

Everything is fine at your flat except for the earthquake, the flood and the terrorist attack.

Heaps of Love

Best wishes

Cheers,  Peter better known to you as Rabbit Schofield

PS: I will report on the Melbourne versus Collingwood game after it finishes on Monday. The inside story, so to speak.

. . . / / / . . .

Thuy and I are sitting on a couch, which I can tell has class and possibly cost as much as my farm.  It is so comfortable I could curl up and die on it, which I might do if Essendon get horribly flogged.  The television set in front of us flickers only, because I have muted it.  (Like they do to the cats.)  Thuy is incredibly elegant as usual in an ankle-length dark dress, and a simple lemon top.  She is the most elegant woman I have ever associated with.

It is freezing cold out, despite the proximity of Westernport Bay – my geography studies kicking in here – but the room is deliciously warm.  The open fire has central heating back-up which is a dead-set Jonesy trick.  As Bulldog remarked as we pulled up in front of the holiday shack, it was only a matter of time before Jonesy was farting through silk.

I personally am in my black, long-sleeved club shirt with the discreet red monogram over my left tit, an apres-five number Linda gifted me.  The fact that the other members of The Mob are either injured or tending to the injured gives me a sense of being a survivor.  I hope Thuy is picking up those vibes.

The football telecast is silently barking through its cluttered introductions, so I ensure that my companion has a beverage of her choice – lemon, lime and bitters – and I move the conversation to her gardens, the one here, and the East Melbourne one.  She’s in her element, rattling off the names of plants, and telling me she wants to get a decent vegetable garden going here.

“Your compost is fantastic,” I say.  “I could eat it.”

She laughs.  “Well, we grew lots of vegetables in Vietnam, and we had ducks and chickens and dogs, so many dogs . . . ”

“Yes, I can imagine.  My late wife and I, Linda, we went to Vietnam.  Only for two weeks, but it was lovely.  We travelled around on a motorbike, and ate at local restaurants and visited villages and farms.”

“Yes, it is a lovely place.”  She pauses and looks directly at me.  “You still a-miss your wife, Peter?”

I nod vigorously.  I feel a gut-bomb coming on, and tears well up in my eyes.  “I’ll always miss her.  All my life.”  I feel no shame, no embarrassment – in fact underneath the sadness that suddenly engulfs me, there’s a calmness.  So much so, I just let the surge of emotion run its course, and compose myself by wiping my eyes.

Thuy takes my hand.  “You loved her very deeply.  That is a-clear to me.”

“I did.  We were friends at school, crazy, silly kids often, then we went separate ways for years and I assumed that was it for me and Linda.  Then we hooked up by chance, met by sheer coincidence, and gradually . . . just got deeper and deeper in love . . . ”

“I admire you for that.  And envy you, too.”

“I’ll bet you’ve had some tough times, Thuy?  Leaving home, and that . . . ?”

”Yes, that’s true.  I know something of how you feel, Peter.  As a young woman, I decided to leave my village and family and start a new life in a strange country.  I go back to visit them frequently, but that still doesn’t make up for the loss that sometimes overwhelms me.”

We let that hang there for a while, until Thuy says, “We are rather emotional, Peter.”

“We are.”

“We should check on Mr Tommy with his sore knee.  He will be disappointed if he misses the football.”

. . . / / / . . .

I help Tommy hobble to my luxurious couch and prop the little fellow’s leg up on silk cushions, and pour him a generous shot of one of Jonesy’s single malts.  His face is drawn and he’s not saying much – Thuy has pumped him full of pain-killers – so I decide not to describe how hilariously comical he looked, belting over the sands like a midget on steroids and crashing into a kiddy-hole.    I feel it would be inappropriate.

I think Thuy has taken herself off into one of the other 23 rooms of the shack.

Alwyn Davey soccers through the first goal of the game for the Bombers, which causes my sphincter to contract.  Could this be an indication that we are about to witness the upset of the decade? I ask myself.  I flick a meaningful glance Tommy’s way, but his face is pudgy, expressionless.  He’s in analgesic orbit.

If ever we are going to beat the Hoops, it’s got to be now.  They’ve got a heap of quality players out: Matthew Scarlett, Brad Ottens, Joel Corey, Cameron Mooney, Max Rooke and Tom Hawkins.  I mean, you could start up a new football club with that lot – like one in Sydney’s western suburbs.  Also, Essendon will have received Tommy’s weekly email, which possibly suggests – if I’m reading the green tea-leaves correctly – that the club should go into voluntary liquidation if we don’t win this one, and next week.

Geelong kick the next four goals, one after the other, uninterrupted, until Michael Hurley takes three steps and belts through a purler for us from outside 50.  Our endeavour and commitment at the ball and the opponent is fantastic.  It makes me proud, and I hope desperately that we don’t get blown out of the water.

James Podsiadly is a handful for Dustin Fletcher; Courtney Dempsey is getting stick from Travis Varcoe.  (Now I always thought that Varcoe, the 63-gamer, was one of Geelong’s more ordinary players, but tonight he’s decided to become a star.  Poor timing, pal.)

We’re getting smashed at the stoppages, and turning the pill over, as per usual.

We come alight at about the 20 minute mark.  Mackie trips Davey – REPORT HIM!! I say, loud-ish.  Tommy waves a limp wrist and tells me to keep the noise down, else I’ll disturb Mrs Jones.  I tell him she’s in the West Wing and won’t hear a thing.

“I’m here in the kitchen, Peter.  But don’t worry, make as much noise as you like.”

“Thanks, Thuy.”  And I give Tommy the bird.  “Fletcher got suspended for a week for exactly the same thing.  If they don’t give Mackie a week, you should dash off an angry email to the AFL, Thomas.”

He waves a weak hand again, draining him of all energy, and Davey gets the goal.  So does Hurley.  Clone him.

“We have scoreboard presence,” I remark, and we finish the quarter two goals down.

Tommy declines another malt, so I pour him one.  (Often no means yes with the injured.)  I get one for myself and one for Thuy, which I serve with a mischievous wink.  I replace the bottle at the back of the cupboard.

“I wonder how Bulldog and Jonesy are getting on,” Tommy says.

I’d forgotten about them.  “They’re probably sitting in an out-patients’ waiting room watching ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ while they deal with all the drunks.”

Geelong’s new star Varcoe gets a soft free kick to start the quarter, and kicks a goal.  I deliver a short diatribe on how the holding the ball rule is killing the game, based on Courtney Dempsey getting pinged simply because he was first to the ball and had no hope of getting rid of it.  I suggest players are standing around, not prepared to attack the ball because they’ll be penalised.

Tommy nods agreement.

Stanton goals for the Bombers, but it looks like we’re playing a school-yard full of clever, muscle-bound bullies – we just keep throwing ourselves at the ball, scrambling it forward.  Another goal to Davey.  It’s a wonderful, free-flowing game of footy.

“Remember that dreadfully boring game here between Footscray and St.Kilda, old chap.  Isn’t this how the game ought to be played?”

Tommy nods in agreement.

Heath Hocking gets an accidental boot in the face, and goes off, bloodied.  He’ll be back – he’s a tough Eastern Ranges boy.  We’re playing better footy now, and are 7 points down.  The ferociousness at the ball from both sides is awesome.  (I wonder if I ever played like this.)

A goal to Stokes relives the pressure for Geelong.  I say shit under my breath.  It feels good.

I have to keep saying it from about the 20 minute mark of the quarter, because Geelong assert themselves, and finish the half three goals up.

The second half begins disastrously, when Jonesy and Bulldog return and I’m caught holding the whiskey bottle.  (Also Geelong kick two goals from decisive entries into their forward 50, which puts us 5 goals down.)  Bulldog looks as pale as Banquo’s ghost, not a surprise because he’s had seven stitches in his wound.  It seems to take hours to get him comfortable at the opposite end of the couch to Tommy, but with Thuy’s help we succeed.

“Bookends,” says Thuy, smiling, and we all chuckle.

“And I got booked for speeding,” announces Jonesy.

At three quarter time the game is over, metaphorically speaking.  (There is no mercy rule in the AFL.)  The Cats have kicked 8 goals to 2 since half time.

Jonesy has poured himself a whiskey without even looking at the level of the bottle.  Why was I worried?  We watch Geelong kick seven goals in the last quarter with the sound down.  At some point – between goals 4 and 5 I think – he flicks across to the World Cup to discover South Korea is one goal up against Greece.

“Your girlfriend’s going to be sad,” said Jonesy.

“Probably.”

The Bombers lose a must-win game by 71 points.  That’s just shy of 12 goals.  That’s a shellacking in anyone’s language.

. . . / / / . . .

To: hoodoo.lab@gaga.gk.com

Subject: Despair

My dear Labrini

My dear friend

Hi.  Peter speaking

First, I apologise for my use of the nickname ‘Lab’ and ‘Labby’ for you.  I agree, they are not very flattering.  I’m happy with ‘Bri’ (sounding the same as the cheese) if that’s what you’re used to.

I’ve got the radio on while I’m sitting in front of the computer writing this.  Collingwood dominated the first quarter against Melbourne, but they’re only 12 points up.  (4 goals 8 behinds is poor football.)  I’m completely neutral – all I want is a good, close game.  (Joke – Go ‘Pies!)

Naturally, I am not at my most ebullious at this point in time.  You’ve probably checked the footy scores and seen that Essendon got a 71 point flogging by Geelong.  We did okay for the first half, but they gave us an awful pizzling thrashing in the second.  It was awful, Brie.

By the way, upstairs, Mrs Averling is giving Tommy’s knee a massage, plus I don’t know what else because there’s an ominous quiet coming down the stairs.

I’m very sympathetic for you regarding Greece’s defeat by South Korea, 2-0.  Your blokes looked unimaginative and slow.  I suppose you must be twice as sympathetic for me following the Socceroos’ 4-0 defeat by Germany.  (I want – I demand – 2 goals’ more sympathy from you.)  I got up at 4:00 a.m. and watched until we were 3 goal down, when I returned to my cold and empty cot.  (Sympathy for that, too, please.)  Our blokes looked hopelessly outclassed.

Football insight to Greek travelling dancing troupe member, Labrini Houdalakis, from Peter ‘Mr Football’ Schofield:  Melbourne have come right back at your mob, and are a point down at half time.  Scott Pendlebury is playing a blinder for you.

Third:  21 minutes gone, a dreadful free-kick against Aaron Davey for holding the ball, the first goal of the quarter to Collingwood.  Melbourne get a goal, and it’s a five point ball game.  (Collingwood kicked 1-9 this quarter, Melbourne 1-5.  Glad you’re not here?)

It’s a titanic tussle.

Speaking of which, Mrs Averling has descended from the casualty room.  I choose not to engage with her.

It’s obviously a magnificent game of footy, Brie.  Melbourne are now 5 points up.  Suffer.  A point to Melbourne – Green hit the post.

Jolly kicks a goal!!  Scores even.

Goal to Dick – off the ground.  You are a goal up.

Goal to Jamar – scores level again, 70 points each.  Oh my giddy aunt – 20 minutes gone.

Long goal to Bates.  Melbourne a goal up.

26 minutes gone and Lockyer goals from 45 metres.  Scores level.

“The pressure in unbelievable,” yell the commentators.

“Can I use the computer?” yells Tommy from the casualty room.

“No way!” I reply.

29 ½ minutes . . . SIREN.

IT’S A DRAW, LABBY!!!!

Lots of love

Heaps of love,

Peter, better known to you as your friend Rabbit

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