Geoff Sinclair’s Home and Away Games: Round 4



Subiaco Oval, Friday, April 16th.

I’m walking.

I’m on my first big walk since I joined the staff at Huntleigh Mews.  I’ve been through the Carlton Gardens – the grass still scarred from the recent Garden Show – I’ve seen off the Catholic Cathedral and I’m on the downhill slope in the Fitzroy Gardens, heading for Wellington Parade and eventually Swan Street, Richmond.  The difference with this walk and most of the old Bundoora ramblings is, this one will end in a very exciting rendez-vous.  The time and the address are resting snugly in my wallet.

There are huge dramas in the football world as well as in my personal life.  It’s difficult to take it all in.  I half expect a sign to start flashing in front of my eyes: OVERLOAD.  The Bombers have opened their account, and as a consequence there has been a huge release of emotional pressure within the cosy confines of Unit 12.  It was like the stale air hissing out of a tube.  On Saturday night, after the final siren and aided by a dozen buckets of beer, Tommy turned expansive.  The head-dipping and the steam-train sighing ceased, to be replaced by a pinkish, creased beaming face which looked like it had been held under water for a couple of hours.

Life has turned from tense to tranquil.  The boss and I have lingered over meals and cups of tea, analysing Saturday night’s game and working on match-ups for the next game against the dreaded West Coast, while outside autumn leaves threaten to bury Huntleigh Mews.  (Tommy drinks green tea since he heard on the radio it reduces the risk of altziehmers disease.  He may die of tannin poisoning but he’ll keep his marbles.)  My guess is that this week’s email to the coach will be congratulatory in tone and content, and he may even offer to extend the coach’s contract.

I take a seat next to the path halfway across the Fitzroy Gardens.  I don’t want to arrive at my destination sweat-stained and smelling like an armpit.  A woman pushing a pram dawdles along the path, waiting for her toddler, who is doing Harry Kewell impersonations with his miniature soccer ball.  When it rolls my way, I flick it back to him.  He stands stock still, staring at me like I’m a gruffalo monster.  Idiot.  Mummy and I exchange smiles.

Fremantle beat Geelong, which is taking some getting used to, and Melbourne beat Adelaide, which wasn’t expected at Unit 12.  Tommy and I have discussed the implications of these results, the broader ones I mean, apart from shattering the old bloke’s dreams of becoming a football tipping legend.  (He picked four out of eight, and is in also-ran territory already.)  We have been outraged by the behaviour of the blokes who flung filthy language at each other during the St.Kilda – Collingwood game on Friday night.  Fairly frothing at the mouth with indignation we were.

Seriously though, we are outraged, Tommy especially seeing as it was a coach who abused an opposing player.  The little fella is not being sanctimonious here, because as a bush coach he always insisted on decent behaviour from his players – even if he didn’t always get it – and set high standards in his own performance.  He was respectful of the opposition and the umpires, and insisted we were, too.  He would would go into the opposition’s rooms after a game, important ones I mean, like finals – there weren’t many of those – and after the Balagundi games when we played for the Curtis-Mellington Trophy – and congratulate or commiserate.  He wasn’t a saint, because he swore like a trooper in the coach’s box, I know that from personal experience, but what I’m saying is, the idea of him yelling “rapist” at someone, or suggesting the other bloke was gay, is ridiculous.

It’s as low as you can go, if you want my opinion – and I know you do.  If you use words like that when you’re crazy with anger, and they’re the first thing that comes out, then that says to me you’ve got a problem in that area.  (The sexual attitude area if you want me to spell it out.)  As Bulldog would say in his school-teacherish way: There’s some unresolved issues there Peter, my friend.

Me, I was a hot-head, I’ll be the first to admit it.  But I tended to throw a punch which is a hell of a lot more respectful than making dirty insinuations about a bloke’s sexual activities.

Well, that little outburst of thought has made me more sweaty than if I had kept walking.

It takes me another half an hour to cross Wellington Parade, walk through more gardens with the M.C.G. looming beside me – silent as a tomb today – over Punt Road and around past the Corner Hotel .  I make my way along  Swan Street to the Palace Dance Studio.

The lady herself is there to meet me, flashing me a smile and that slash of silver hair.  “Pete the Plumber.  Hi.  I wasn’t sure you’d accept my invitation.”

For about five seconds I wasn’t sure either.  My reluctance as a dancer dissolved when the opportunity to advance my relationship with Labrini presented itself.  (I’m not an idiot.)

I follow Labrini into what she calls the main ballroom, mentally preparing to be humiliated in front of a huge crowd of leering dancers.  It is immense, a great sweep of parquetry floor, more than enough to intimidate a dancing drop-out, which is what I am.  Three huge glass chandeliers hang from the canopy of (occasionally) water stained tiles and directly across from where we stand there is a huge photo of Fred Astaire, with the lad arching his supple back, one hand nonchalantly on his hip, the other wrapped around Ginger Rogers’ waist.  The move has caused Ms Rogers to look incredibly excited.  I hate them both, but at least they aren’t life-sized Collingwood footballers.

Labrini is all brisk and business-like.  “I’ll get Adriana.  Take a seat,” she says, gesturing vaguely around the entire coliseum.


“She’s going to take you for this half-hour trial.”  She smiles and says quietly, “Relax you big chump.  It’ll be fun.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Go back to my office.”

“Will I see you afterwards?”

She nods.  “Of course.  I’ve timed it so we can have a bite to eat together.”

I wander up towards the stage and select a seat from the five hundred or so available to me.  As I sit – precisely at the moment I sit – a short, violent burst of music explodes across the immense room.  For a dreadful moment I think Labrini has been playing a huge practical joke on me, and having my chair wired to the sound system is part of it.  But nothing more happens, except that in the silence that follows, a yell of “Sorry!” comes from a very long way away.  Then soft latin-beat music starts up, and close by I hear a soft scraping sound, like something being dragged across a carpeted floor.  I look over the top of the chairs to the end of the row and see a body lying in the corner of the room, one of its feet resting on one of its shoulders next to a lot of curly silver hair.  The arms are splayed, a knee bends upwards.  From my angle I look gun-barrel straight into the pubic domain, and despite the purple tights – stretched to their limit – I quickly avert my eyes.

This place is really creepy.

Meanwhile, a short young man has begun the journey from the other end of the room, tap-tapping across the parquetry, presumably to do business with the body in the corner.  (I am almost certain he isn’t Adriana.)  He is waif-thin, elegant and dressed in dark, flared trousers and a tight-fitting faun shirt.  He makes walking look like an art form.  I feel grotesquely big, like a Brotherhood Bin.

“Sorry about the racket, I hit the wrong button.  I always do it . . . don’t I Louise,” he says, raising his voice towards the pubis.  He grins and extends a hand to me.  “Hi.  I’m Toby.”

The tangle of limbs says, in a muffled tone, “Yes, you do, you silly boy.”

“G’day.  Peter.  Peter Schofield”.

“Oh, so you’re the Peter we’ve been hearing about.  Nice to meet you.  And you’re waiting for Labrini . . . ”

“No. Adriana.”

“Oh, you’re doing a trial.  She’s on her way.”

Toby continues on, stoops and takes hold of a purple arm, which unravels effortlessly from the floor into a lithe young woman and the two of them skip onto the dance floor.  I hate them, too, but I watch as they effortlessly flow from walking into a fluid dance routine that involves a lot of hip and shoulder movement that blows away whatever tattered fragment of confidence was still pegged to my clothesline.  Then Adriana arrives.  Well, it has to be Adriana, because this young woman – early twenties I’d say – is vectoring my way bearing a booming, country-girl kind of smile and stretching a “Hellooooooooooo” over half-a-dozen steps before wondering aloud whether I might be Peter.

I confirm that I am, she says “Hi, I’m Adriana” and we shake hands.  Hers is pleasantly warm, slightly moist and smelling of . . . antiseptic I guess.  (They must get all kinds in places like this.)

Her body – ample is the word that springs to mind – is almost totally sheathed in the regulation tights (black in this case) which are overlaid with a miniscule pleated skirt (purple swirls, possible borrowed from Labrini or they have bought a job lot), a polo-neck top (continuing black) and coat/jacket arrangement (finalising the black theme).  By contrast, Adriana wears yellow ankle warmers, little puffy yellow fabric bracelets on her wrists and a yellow ribbon in her hair.  She would not have looked out of place in a circus.

The whole rig makes me feel clunkish in my jeans and Bomber shirt.

Adriana takes my hand – the other one – and leads me into the middle of the parquetry desert.  (Toby and the purple girl are at the far end, thank goodness, virtually out of sight.)  “Let’s see.  Labrini says you’re keen to do your bronze medallion.”


“No?  Am I mixing you up with someone?”

“You must be.  I said I’d like to see where she works.  I’m dyslexic, like my brother is, only his is reading.  Mine is moving . . . in time.”

Adriana thinks this is hilarious, and hoots with laughter.

“How dyslexic are you Peter?”


“Oh, now, now.  I doubt it.  We’ll start with the social foxtrot.  Can you foxtrot?”

“No.  I doubt it.”

“Okay.  Come over here and face the wall.”

Still hand in hand, we make it to the other side of the room and stand in front of a wall mirror, which I avoid looking at.

“Relax.”  She gives my hand a tiny squeeze.  “You feel as tight as a drum.  I can feel it through your hand.”


“We’re going to have fun.”

“Right.”  I laugh to prove it.  “Let’s have fun.”

“I love your shirt, by the way.  I’m a Bomber supporter, too.”


“Labrini gets totally dark, because practically everyone else here barracks for Essendon.”

“She told me.”

We begin.  I watch carefully as Adriana demonstrates the basic social foxtrot, section one, part one, introduction.  Forward on the left, one, two, back on the right, one, two, side-together-change, side-together-change.  (Something one of my sheep could do.)  I do that a few times on my own, only stuffing up once or twice, start again, Adriana holding my hand and staying nice and close, saying encouraging things.  I do two in a row, gain confidence, then stuff it up completely.  We leave the mirror – thank god, I look like I should be in a shearing shed – and I repeat it a few times with the comfort of my teacher’s hand in mine in the middle of the 10 hectare floor.  In this case, my performance is flawless.  I am totally absorbed, and not even the fact that Adriana seems to be having trouble with her bra strap underneath the black sheath – tug, tug, stoop and tug, ahhh, that’s it – can distract me.

Now it is time for the real thing.  It is time to assume the dance position which I thought would be simple enough, just like wrapping my arms around Linda and shuffling, like I used to.  Put the right hand on the woman’s back, grab the other hand.  However, Adriana has to make some adjustments – to me this time.  My right hand she raises from where I put it to a position close to her shoulder blade; she pushes my shoulders down with her palm, politely but firmly; tells me to raise my elbows, which I do, but that causes my shoulders to rise again, so that means more shoulder palming while I raise elbows; she lifts my chin and tells me to keep my head up; she pushes my stomach in with the palm of her hand; she reaches around behind me – hmm, that’s okay – and pulls my bum in; we play handies until she is satisfied I am holding her right hand correctly.

The idea that I can keep all this together and do the steps I learnt three hours ago seems impossible.  But people do it, Adriana assures me in answer to my question.

“Ready for take-off,” I say.

She giggles, takes a final tug of the problem bra strap and counts me in.  “And . . . one, two, three, four . . . ooops.”


“Always lead with the left foot, Peter.”

“Sorry.  You okay?  It seems so long since I learnt the steps.”

“It’s okay, don’t be sorry.  I’m not hurt.  Let’s get a glass of water.”

. . . / / / . . .

Labrini takes me to Turkish cafe around the corner from the Dance Palace after my trial, and we tuck into a plate of dips and bread.  Naturally, she is anxious for me to sign up for six months of dance lessons, which I suspect is the whole purpose of the exercise.  She tells me Adriana’s opinion: I have a great deal of talent waiting to be released.  I tell her I’ll think about it.

“In six months I should have mastered the social foxtrot, and Adriana will have her bra strap sorted.”

“In six months you’ll be dancing on television.”

We clean up the dips and bread – dancing, even pretend dancing, builds an appetite.  We sit staring at each other across the empty platter.  Her white skunk slash of hair is still brilliant; her complexion is olive, with low-key make-up.

“Well?” she says, a bit terse.

“Well what?”

“I know what you’re thinking, and I agree.  I think they’ve shown themselves to be little boys.  There’s part of them that hasn’t grown up.  It’s like they’ve got one leg shorter than another, or a withered arm, except it’s in their heads.”

“I get it.  I know what you’re referring to.”

“Of course you do.  Don’t be coy.  You’re privately gloating.”  Then she’s off again.  “They’re still like, living in the past.  None of my friends would ever think of calling anyone a rapist or a poof or whatever they said, and they’re some pretty tough blokes in my family.”

“I’ll bear that in mind.”

“Don’t be silly.  I’m being serious.  There’s this one girl I went to school with, her husband has been in the clink for pinching cars and, you know, altering them in some way.  God, I don’t know exactly what he was supposed to have done, but whatever it was he got in trouble, yeah.  Well, he wouldn’t call his worst enemies what those creeps said on Friday night.  He doesn’t even call the police pigs.”


“It’s embarrassing for me as a Collingwood supporter.  I’m ashamed Peter.  I don’t expect the coach of my club to . . . well, you know, go on with the crap he went on with after Friday.”

“I can understand that.  Change over to Essendon – we’re clean.”

“Shut up.  It’s a lot worse than being beaten by St. Kilda.”

I reach across and give her hand a squeeze.  “Thank you,” she says.  “Now get me a skinny flat white.”  As I get up she adds, “They’ve had to put a new toilet in my flat.  Don’t feel bad about it or anything.  You did your best.”

. . . / / / . . .

It’s been arranged that we go to Geoffrey Jones’ East Melbourne residence to watch the West Coast game.  The stroll across the eastern side of the city and through the Fitzroy Gardens in time for the bounce is a treat.  It’s been a 24 degree day, as sunny as, and the air is still warm enough for me and Tommy to have the short-sleeved club shirts on, but with the Outwear jackets over our arms.  There are starlings getting settled in the palm trees and every damn one of them is screeching a complaint about something.  Possums occasionally surprise us: they are hopping about in the dim light, checking out the rubbish bins for apple cores and half-eaten foccacias.  On our right, the city ‘scrapers loom in dark silhouettes.  I’m a country boy, but right now I feel excited, because I reckon I’m coming to terms with this city.

I don’t feel like a stranger any more.

I have no reason to be too excited.  We have just beaten Carlton, sure, but they’re a long way from being contenders.  Plus Essendon has won only two of their last thirteen games at Subiaco Oval, Perth, which is less than impressive.  In the pre-season competition, we led the Eagles by 5 goals at one stage, but we lost by 35 points.  I take heart from Tommy’s philosophy: history is bunk, every game is a new game.

Jonesy has the M.C.G. as his neighbour.  It’s a terrace house, built a hundred and something years ago.  As we walk up the brick-paved path to the front door, a mass of purple or blue anemones, illuminated by lights set in the side of the garden bed, look to be nodding a welcome to us.  Jonesy is at the door, almost before the bell stops chiming, with a lord-of-the-manor grin and a “Gentlemen” by way of greeting.  He leads us down a passage to a dining room, which looks out onto a small neat backyard.

Bulldog has already arrived.  He has lifted his game in the wardrobe department, and is in a neat pair of slacks and a long-sleeved white shirt with a clerical-looking collar.  He is in the dining room, standing next to a massive red gum table that could seat an entire football team plus trainers, and he smirks like he’s just bought the place.  He hasn’t though – Jonesy’s well in control.  He pours us a Yarra Valley pinot which he wants our opinion on, while we chat away about how beautiful his house is.  We do that until Mrs Jones makes her entry, presumably from the kitchen, because she is removing an apron from around her waist.  There is an immediate pause in the blokey chit-chat.  Tommy has told me she is Vietnamese, but he hasn’t said anything about her being beautiful.  She is dressed in a blouse and ankle-length dress, both uncomplicated and classy.  Her short dark hair has that healthy-looking sheen characteristic of Asian women and which has nothing to do with shampoo, and her skin is the softest, lightest brown.  Her eyes are almond-shaped, and black.  I am fascinated by her presence, the serene way she moves and the open, natural way she greets us.

I try not to stare.

She tells us her name is Thuy, and says she finds all codes of football equally boring.  I don’t find this remark at all offensive.  She gestures to an elderly, stooped woman who has followed her into the room.  “This is my friend Huong is a-helping me in the kitchen tonight.”

We exchange smiles and nods with the elderly, tiny woman, who hasn’t removed her apron.  She must be a-staying ready for further action.

Thuy has taken over.  “Why don’t you take the boys into the television room, Geoffrey.  I’m sure that’s what you’ll want to do.  Huong and I will a-bring you some  to help you through the game.”  She smiles, mischievously.  “You use up a lot of energy watching football.”

Her tone changes when she addresses her husband.  “Are Huong and I a-going to get a drink Geoffrey, or should I send out?”

It’s a killer line, and gets Geoffrey jumping.  Well, smirking at his mates without much conviction, and getting two drinks in pretty quick time.

The television screen is about the size of that of a small cinema.  There seems to be a number of bits of very old furniture in the media room, including four lounge chairs arranged in a semi-circle.  We’re barely settled into these when the smiling Huong shuffles in laden with a tray from which she delivers food to our personal occasional tables.  It’s like a very classy, homely Yum Cha.  Spring rolls have been arranged for the first quarter, and despite Tommy and me having eaten a hearty dinner, we hoe into the rolls.

The Mob is rigid with anticipation as the game starts.  The umpire bounces the ball in wide screen surround sound.  West Coast’s dreadlocked, athletic ruckman Nic Naitanui gets the tap, collects the pill himself, handballs to himself, runs thirty metres without an Essendon player laying a finger on him and belts the ball into the forward line for Mark LeCras to mark and kick a goal.

“That took 20 seconds,” mutters Bulldog.

“How many 20 seconds are there in a game?” asks Jonesy.  “They could kick a big score if they keep this up.”

West Coast kill us at the stoppages but they make a few blunders and we capitalise.  We’re cleaner up forward, and Patrick Ryder, Zaharakis, Williams and Hurley have scored for us.  We’re four points and a plate of spring rolls down at the first change.

But we’re hanging in, although there’s an ominous feeling that if their ruck dominance continues – which it will unless there’s an unexpected tsunami – they’ll run over us.

Huong brings in a pork dish and rice to get us through the second quarter, and distributes little plates and chopsticks.  Jonesy keeps the pinot flowing.  On the other side of the continent, Naitanui does a repeat performance  at the beginning of the second quarter, just in case we missed the first quarter heroics.  (“That one took 30 seconds”, remarks Jonesy.  “He’s tiring.”)  The quarter quickly becomes a slaughter, beginning with West Coast’s dominance at stoppages.  At some point Jonesy stops swearing at what’s going on on the screen – possibly when they stretcher Bradd Dalziell off after a dreadful head-clash with our boy David Zaharakis – and starts pointing out some of the finer detail of the antiques in the room to Bulldog, who’s the only one likely to listen.

“Look at that table behind us, Bulldog.”  He intones in true guidebook style, just below the level of the football commentary, and I can’t help but hear him.  “It’s got five extra leaves which, if we got them out, wouldn’t fit into this room.  It’s Honduran mahogany, very thick, so I’ve – sorry, we’ve – had it resurfaced.  Check out the carved legs.”

Bulldog does.  I glance at him squatting, leaning, squinting and peering at the  curves.  “Jesus,” he says.  “What elegance.”

“We’re chasing tail,” says Tommy.  “We’re in trouble.”

Jonesy keeps prattling on: “We bought this at a place called Teddington, just out of London.  The story the bloke who sold it to us told was that it was used by the BBC as a prop, and someone danced on the top.  I don’t know who – take your pick.”

“Kylie for me,” says Bulldog.  “She fits my fantasies.”

“Gumbleton and Hurley are quiet, Tommy,” I say.

“Anyway, as I said, the top has been resurfaced which wasn’t a problem because it’s so thick.”

“David Hille is trying his guts out.”

“It’s utterly beautiful,” mutters Bulldog.

Jonesy won’t be stopped.  They’re out of their chairs now, gawking at something on the table.  “It’s a gilded brass centrepiece with winged griffin sides and base, and a cherub figure.”

Bulldog has the thing in his hands.  “My god, look at the cherub.”

“I’ve never seen us fumble so badly,” I say.  “We can’t pick the bloody thing up . . . .”

“Put it back, Bulldog,” Jonesy suggests.  “It’s rather fragile.”

West Coast kick six goals, the Bombers nil.  The pork dish is gone, and so has the game.  We’re 39 points down.

When the second half begins, Jonesy and Bulldog are in their seats.  But when LeCras and Brown each kick a goal for the opposition in the opening few minutes, not even the fish dish Huong brings in can keep them.  They’re off on an antique tour.

“That’s eight in a row to the West Coast,” mutters Tommy.  “We’re insipid.”

The rest of the quarter is a tragedy, and we finish 45 points down.

I hate myself for it, but when they start the last quarter, I join the tour, leaving Tommy to bear the burden of Essendon’s humiliation on his own.  Bulldog is keen to show off his newly-acquired knowledge, so he does most of the commentary.  In the front room, I’m shown a 19th century Beidermeier settee with cream damask upholstery.  It has a wave-shaped back and is on cabriole legs.  There’s an upright piano, one of the very first iron-framed pianos ever made, which has gilded brass wind lion candle holders, and a painting of cherubs on the front and the most exquisite carved legs.  There’s a pair of Asian temple doors with foliage and birds, done in red lacquer and gold.

I mean, they are really beautiful.

We go upstairs – there’s Persian carpets everywhere – and there are chests of drawers with fluted and carved pillar sides, a rosewood wardrobe with a carved wreath quiver and flowers, and that much other stuff that is totally impressive.  Jonesy has just shown us the 19th Century mahogany banjo-shaped barometer and thermometer – which work, of course – when we hear Tommy calling out from the bottom of the stairs.

“Where are you?  It’s over.”

Just before we head down, I ask Jonesy if I can take an ornament down to show Tommy, something that has taken my eye.  He nods, and gives me his thin smile.

The old bloke is back in his chair, and is making notes when we return to the media room.  He looks up and says, “We had a lot of possession in the last quarter, and kicked a few, thanks to Jobe Watson.”

“How much?”

“Lost by 23 points.”

“Could have been worse.  Look at this Tommy.”  I hold out the figure I’ve brought with me.  “It’s an ancient Thai Buddha figure, mate.  Check it out.  It’s terracotta, and it is Buddha after he’s fasted for 40 days.  He’s really thin, and he’s got red eyes.  There’s a gold emblem around the neck . . . ”

Tommy looks at it, then gives me the stare.  “Our team was pathetic, Peter.  This performance is what we’re taking into Anzac Day, against Collingwood.  Maybe your mate Buddha could inspire us, because we sure as hell need it.”

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