Geoff Sinclair’s Home and Away Games: The Finale, Rd 22

Round 22

Western Bulldogs versus Essendon

Saturday, August 28th., Etihad Stadium

We’re out of coffee beans.  I’ve scrounged and found a bottle of gold-label instant, carefully avoiding a confrontation with the ‘best-by’ date.  And because I have gifted the remaining few jars of cumquat jam to the deserving poor, we’re into Cottees’ marmalade.  As a breakfast, it lacks both class and grunt.

Tommy’s got the sports section of Monday’s newspaper, and he’s giving me a running commentary.  “Our coach is ‘very comfortable that this club’s going to push on and we’re going to be successful,’” he reads.  “’Knights said that critics of the club were probably ‘uneducated’ about his master plan.’”

“I’m uneducated about his plan,” I say, tersely, because I’m at the end of my personal penny section, vis-a-vis the Essendon Football Club and/or AFL football in general.  I just want the whole thing to finish, which is probably what the Essendon players are thinking at this very moment.  “Correct me if I’m wrong, oh wise one, but the game plan about which I am uneducated, seems to be to chip the ball around from the back-line, then when we get into what could vaguely be described as an attacking position, turn the ball over.  We turn it over because we fail to hit a target with a kick or handball – reminiscent of the Beaumont Bombers on an off day – or the other mob have us under huge pressure because our blokes aren’t working hard enough to provide options to kick to.  By this time the opposition forwards are either on their own, or they’re one-out with our backmen.  They kick a goal, you dutifully register the score in your Football Record Tommy, and the whole schemozzle starts again.”

I’m pretty pleased with my analysis.  It even prompts my companion to stop reading the paper aloud, so I press on, emboldened.  “Part two of the plan is to start playing better football in the second half of the game.  This is called ‘tantalising the fans’.  It includes running hard to space, tackling ferociously and cleanly, thus causing spillage of the ball.  Then we run the ball down the ground with quick, sure movement, giving the forwards a chance to lead and, starve the lizards and stone the crows, we kick a few goals.  Which is what we did yesterday.”  I wave my knife around for emphasis.  “Then Kyle Reimers, whom our coach describes as . . . read it out Thomas, the coach’s description of Master Reimers.  Please, if it’s not too much trouble.”

Thomas scans the columns, and finds it.  “’He’s a fire and brimstone young man and he’s got a lot of talent.  He hasn’t quite got the grasp, when opposition are trying to antagonise him, to just cool his heels and just go back and play football and win the next contest.’”

“Thank you Tommy.  Well read, that man.  So Reimers is an Old Testament kid, full of fire and brimstone, who concedes one goal, and not happy with that, pushes Michael Rischitelli in the face, probably because Rischitelli called him a purple-booted dickhead, or some such atrocity, and the Lions kick another goal.  So all of our good work done in the last 20 minutes to get back in the game is snuffed out.”

I persist, as Tommy loads up with another mouthful of toast and marmalade.  (I rarely speak at such length at breakfast.)  “How long has Kyle Reimers been paid a truckload of money in the service of the Essendon Football Club?”

Tommy looks towards the ceiling.  “Ahhh.  Would it be four years?”

“Yes.  I believe it would be four years.  Four years it is, going to the man with the tartan dressing-gown!”

“And what you’re going to say, Peter, if you ever get around to it is, he’s had enough time to learn to control himself . . . ”

“. . . TO STOP BEING A DICKHEAD!!!  WEAR NORMAL BLACK FOOTBALL BOOTS, IDIOT!!  GET A FEW KICKS!”

Tommy grins, possibly because he knows he’s not going to have me to entertain him at breakfast after this week.  We slump into silence while he reads the rest of the two-page spread devoted to Essendon’s catastrophic decline since we nearly beat Sydney way back in round whatever-it-was.  (It feels like last century.)

He sighs, I sigh.  I stroke my nose, he strokes his jaw.  He looks quizzical, I look quizzical.  He stifles a burp, I stifle a fart.

Synchronicity.  (It occurs to me that I’ve just witnessed an interesting phenomenon: women who live together, their menstrual cycles synchronise; with blokes, it’s their body language.)

“One final point, ancient one.  Reimers’ contract is currently under negotiation.  If he doesn’t get another two years at Essendon, I will personally strip the cumquat tree bare and whip up another batch of jam.  Before I leave for my rural fastness.”

“Done,” says Tommy.  “Mind if I say something vaguely related to the work we’re employed to do?”

“Go for it, bro.”

“Okay if you show Ludmilla the ropes?”

“Wow!  Show the Czech lady the ropes.”  I let loose with a singing jag, in the gruff old lecher’s voice I’ve perfected over the years:  “Oh, the best times o’ me life, are showin’ young maidens the way . . .Oh I show’d ’em, I show’d ’em, ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, I show’d ’em the way.”

Tommy ignores my music-hall brilliance.  (We’ve had enough fun for one breakfast.)  “I’ll give you a work profile to give her.”

“Thenk you, shah!”  I salute, then lapse back into normalcy.  “Call her Liddy, mate.  Apparently Ludmilla sounds as weird in Czech as it does in Australian.”

“Thanks for the tip, Peter.”

. . . / / / . . .

Tommy’s making the most of my last week – I take the work mobile with me when I tuck myself into my Cleopatra-comfortable bed.  On Tuesday morning, at 12:12 it rings its infuriatingly pleasant, tinkling ring.  (The symmetry of 12:12 makes me wonder – fleetingly, in that moment between wakefulness and sleepfulness – whether there mightn’t be a divine being supervising the whole show, after all.)  It’s an apologetic chap called David, who has just driven into the Huntleigh Mews carpark – after spending the day in Adelaide at an incredible meeting of his company’s think tank, he informs me unnecessarily – and he wishes to draw my attention to the fact that there’s a parked car, in the carpark, completely stationary, with its motor running.  I thank him profusely for converting this thought into action, and climb into my Beaumont F.C. track suit.  (I’m sure it would come if I whistled.)

This is such good news.  Just what I need a few days before retiring to anonymity in my remote, farm-stay fastness – a suicide preceded by a triple murder.  Apologetic David of course, being a mere tenant, is a person paralysed by the mere whiff of getting involved, and has scuttled off to his cot and his Napoleonic fantasies.

There it is, a bright red late-model Mazda, purring its tits off.  There is no hose attached to the exhaust and extending to one of the windows, thus it is infusing its immediate surroundings with a cloud of carbon monoxide.  I open the door, check for corpses, turn the ignition off, lock the Mazda and head for Apartment 2, and Ms Serena Manela.

Serena’s flat is in darkness – pretty much consistent with her outlook on life in general, I muse (ungenerously) as I mount the stairs.  I tick off my dealings with Serena during my incumbency:  cleaning out her over-flowing letterbox several times because she doesn’t appear to like receiving mail; spraying to death, at her fervent request, six ants found rampaging on the bottom of the sink in the swimming pool; cleaning the top of the fire hose box which she found to be an eyesore; dealing with her complaint about receiving passive smoke from a balcony twenty metres south of her; and requesting she not park her boyfriend’s motor scooter in the foyer inside the stairwell.

Just your average, community-minded resident is Serena.

She responds to my knock within seconds.  She is seriously dishevelled; I may have missed a pillion ride with Mr Motor Scooter by seconds.  She flicks matted brown hair away from her eyes, and drags her night-robes closed across the perfumed garden.  “Good evenick.”

“Hi.  I’m Peter, the manager.”

“Yes, we have met before, several times.”

“Yes.  Good.  I need to tell you the motor of your car is running.  Or was running, I’ve turned it off.”

Serena looks confused, but not surprised.   I press on.  “In the carpark.  The red Mazda?”

“Yes, zis is right, my car.  My mechanic said for me to leave it running, all night if possible.”

“Oh.”  I’m sure I look stupefied – the mouth drops open, the eyes bulge at moments like these.  I’m cold and, I suspect, slightly envious that I’m not dishevelled for the same reason as Serena, so I suggest (curtly) that she gets a new mechanic and hand I her her keys.

“Zank you, Peter.”

Zank you, Serena.  I’ll miss you like a hole in the head, darling.

. . . / / / . . .

I shout Tommy dinner at a restaurant called Fabien, a place which has become accustomed to my dropping in for coffee, a quietly reading the paper and casually slaughtering the French language.  Gerard, our waiter, squeezes his face into a million tiny lines of delicious agony when I try out my bi-lingual expertise on the menu.  After much hilarity and face-creasing, we order in English to help preserve Gerard’s complexion, and now we’re waiting for our entrees.  Mine is the cream of artichoke with sumac prawn dumplings and lemon oil; Tommy would have ordered a mixed grill had I not talked him into home-made silky egg tofu with shimeji, enoki, shitake and baby green vegetables in konbu broth.

Tommy hasn’t eaten anything with shitake in it before, and he’s worried.  I explain that this place is a symbiosis of French and Japanese culinary expressions, and we work out an acceptable pronunciation for the substance in question.

“It’s a mushroom, which causes violent hallucinations and uncontrollable bouts of violence,” I say, jocularly.

“Just like being with you at the football?”

After a couple of Cobaw Ridge Estate shiraz viogniers, Tommy’s talking, big-time.  This comes after I’ve cleverly steered the conversation – er, soliloquy – towards the lovely Claudia Averling.  “After she bought her  apartment Peter, and she moved in with her lace curtains and chandeliers, we did little other than fight skirmishes.  I put her down as emotionally unstable, a rather vicious woman with too much money for her own good.”  Tommy sighs and kneads his cheeks with his fingers.  “And I put her dress sense down as . . . adventurous . . . or optimistic.”

“Blokes over sixty shouldn’t wear denim, women over sixty shouldn’t wear leather mini-skirts.  Right?”

“Correct.  And cantankerous.  She once got a bee in her bonnet about the noise of the pump in the swimming pool, reckoned it was keeping her awake.  We had noise experts come out with their audiometers, my boss came out, and no-one could hear a thing in her flat.  But she did a job on me, for months.  If I was sweeping the courtyard, she’d come up to me in her aforementioned leather mini-skirt and demand to know why I was wasting my time on that, when I should have been putting a silencer on the pump.

“And so on, it never seemed to end, if it wasn’t one thing it was another.  Then one day, completely out of the blue, she had a party for a grand-child, and she invited me.  I’m introduced to her estranged husband – whom she says abused her for years – her kids and friends, like I’m one of the family.  And so it goes . . .

“Then she heads off to Bali for a holiday, and I get hints and nudges about toy-boys, that sort of thing, but what happened was, she got knocked over by a taxi and broke her leg.  It took her nearly a year to recover, and I helped get her home . . . ”

“How come?”

“She rings me.  Asks me to help.  I get her to a hospital, and I virtually care for her.  Next thing I’m doing the books for her business, like I’m her accountant.”

Tommy sighs.  “We haven’t got one thing, one important thing, in common.  She hates all forms of football, takes no interest in current affairs, reads rubbish magazines, gets her knickers in a knot over nothing, smokes like a chimney which she knows I hate . . . ”

“. . . yet you two spend a lot of time together.”

“We’re in it for the company, Peter.  We somehow, in ways I don’t fully understand, enjoy each other’s company.”

“Nothing wrong with that, old timer.  You make the most of what’s available, yeah?”

“We’re good for each other, and I’m damned if I’m going to try to explain it.”

My dumplings are to die for; Tommy is pleasantly surprised by his tofu.  He says he’s waiting for the high to come from the shitake, and I tell him in might be in the lentils on which his lamb fillets will be resting.  Be patient, my man.

Seeing as this is the famous final scene, and seeing as how I’m paying, I say a few valedictory words of thanks to Tommy Hubble for the season we’ve spent together.  I’m a bit wordy – unusual for me – but I thank him for overcoming my initial scepticism for the mini-reunion idea.  I’ve got to know him better, and I’ve enjoyed the work at the Mews, and meeting all the weird and wonderful people and, of course, going regularly to the football.

“You know, Tommy, this brand of football is just so exciting to watch, I reckon.  The courage, skill and athleticism of the players, all the bullshit that surrounds the clubs, it’s marvellous.  I know I’m sounding like an AFL brochure, but it’s true, I reckon.”

“I agree Peter.  It’s simply theatre, a brilliant form of entertainment.”

We chew that over for a while, along with the lamb, which is also pretty damn entertaining.  (I pass this observation on to Gerard, and he wrinkles up in pleasure.)

“Bulldog is a worry,” I remark. “They think he’s in the early stages of Parky’s disease, you know, he’s got a bit of a tremor, he feels tired and slow . . . ”

“It might not be serious.”

“I’m going to invite him up to Tallerack. He’s on sick leave from his school, so he just might like to spend some time in the bush.”

“Good idea.  And Jonesy was a disappointment to you?”

I shrug.  “You could say that.  It just seems to me that he’s got so much money, he’s lost his sense of perspective.  Thinks he can do anything.  I hate the way he treats his wife.”

Tommy shakes his head, folds his serviette to perfection.  “Nothing we can do about it.”

“No.”  I fill our glasses with shiraz viognier, and call Gerard to our table.

“Share a toast, Gerard, if you please,” I say.

Certainment, monsieur Pierre.  Merci, merci . . .

“To the Mob,” I say.  We all click glasses and drink.  “To the Mob,” mutters Tommy.

Gerard’s eyebrows shoot north, fissures appear in his cheeks.  “What is this, mes amis, The Mob?”

Tommy and me lock eyes, but we don’t trust ourselves to speak, and Gerard – sensitive, kind Gerard – whisks away to find us a dessert menu.

Tommy and I stroll home, hands in our pockets, coat collars up, hunched against another bitterly cold night.  “This is the Red-and-Blacks’ worst season for I don’t know how long,” he says.  “Forty years I think I read somewhere.  Ironical I invite you blokes in a year like this.”

“Well, can’t be helped.”  I feel the disappointment differently than if I was on my own; it’s less intense, more easily dealt with.  “It would have been good if we’d been more successful, but . . . The Mob was a good idea, Tommy.  If we’d organised a one-off, big weekend with more people, that would have been okay, but having only the four of us has been interesting.  I wonder whether Bulldog and Jonesy appreciate it as much as I do . . . we do?”

“Be interesting to see whether Bulldog goes to Tallerack for a while.  I  reckon he will.”

“Hope so.  It’ll cushion the blow for me.”

When we get back to the Mews, we check the gates, lock the swimming pool, turn the fountain off, all a matter of routine for me.  I wonder, you know, when they do the review of the football department out at Essendon, I wonder if they’ll call for submissions from supporters.”

“Why?”

“Well, you could collect up your season’s supply of emails to Matthew Knights.  It would be as good a place to start as anywhere else.”

. . . / / / . . .

I’ve got two games of footy left in my season.

I’m at the ‘G’ on Saturday afternoon with Labrini to watch her Magpies play the Hawks, who are being called the finals’ ‘wild-card’.  Fair enough, they’ve been playing pretty good football in recent times, and are capable of beating anyone on their day.  Quite deep-down, in the dark recesses of my cerebral thingamabob, within the very core of my conscious being, down where the biggest burps come from, I hope they stitch up Collingwood today.

But not a word of this heresy do I breathe, because I am a man torn between love and loathing.  I clasp my lover’s arm, bury my face into the shoulder of her long-sleeved football jumper, both as a gesture of affection and also to block out the view of the Collingwood banner.  (Her jumper features No.18, the ruckman, Darren Jolly.  There are worse choices.)

And the Goddess is gorgeous.  Try as I might, I can’t find it in me to be offended by her Total Collingwood look.  I whisper a risque remark about the possibilities of magpies being embroidered on her lingerie, and she gives me an affectionate shoulder-shove in response.  (I apologise to the gentleman seated on my right.)

Then she turns her doe-eyes on me.  “You can’t possibly go back to your rural vastness, Peter.”

“Fastness.  My rural fastness, which is only 300 hectares.  I have to do something with it, Labrini, either get it operating again, get the farm-stay up and running, or sell it and do something else.”

“Good.  Well, do that.  Something else has great possibilities for us.”

The Hawthorn crowd roars as their team enters the arena.  Her doe-eyes meet my slitty, watery pale blue ones, and this times she wrenches me close to her.  “We’ll talk about it when the season’s over,” she mutters into my shell-pink.

“Tomorrow?”

“The real season, idiot.  The end of September.”

I nod, and tell her today I’m going to barrack for the Pies.  She tells me I’m a hopeless liar, and the game starts.

This is a corker of a game, despite the low scoring.  It’s tough and intense, and again it gets me thinking of how quick it is, this wonderful game of ours, how little time players have to make decisions.  Collingwood is woefully inaccurate – it’s becoming a real problem for them.  At one stage they are showing one goal and seven behinds on the scoreboard, which causes Labrini and the Pie supporters to have spasms of groaning, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Collingwood might be flag favourites, but today they have one thing in common with the Bombers – they can’t contain the Hawk super-stars.  ‘Buddy’ Franklin just keeps getting the pill and kicking goals, and Cyril Rioli is totally amazing.

At the fifteen-minute mark of the last quarter, Leon Davis kicks a typically brilliant goal for the Pies, and the Goddess takes my left arm and nearly wretches it out of its socket, just to show her relief.

“Nineteen points up,” she purrs.  “We’re home.”

“No you’re not, baby-kins,” I purr back.  “The fat lady can’t find her music.”

Jarryd Roughead catches Harry O’Brien in a tackle and goals; Hooper soccers one through; Clinton Young kicks truly; WE HAVE A ONE-POINT BALL-GAME; and – guess who? – Rioli snaps a snag and the Hawks are ahead.  Labrini Houdini has gone very quiet.  Her scarf is her worry-beads, and I worry for its future.

At some point when the game should have been over – after the thirty minute mark – Beams gets a free-kick for Collingwood.  From thirty-five metres out, his grand-mother could kick it, but her grand-son misses.  Incredible.  I do my best not to rise up in my seat and shout loud hallelujahs.

Hawthorn wins by three points.

Labrini is surly and uncommunicative as we bob along amongst the exiting crowd.  She mellows closer to home, and tells me she wishes she didn’t have competition night at the Dance Palace.

“I wish you didn’t, too,” I say.  “But I’ll see you after, yeah.”

“Yeah.”

“You’ve still got Tommy Hubble’s spare key to my apartment?”

“I have.  I haven’t got another one cut.”

“Are you going to?”

“Just in case, I think I should.”

. . . / / / . . .

The Bombers at Etihad Stadium, with The Mob, for the last time.  Jonesy’s as chirpy as a chipmunk, but the rest of us are subdued.

Resigned, too, about the outcome of the game.  We’ll lose, but please, please, Bomber boys, put up a good show.  For the most part, the Essendon faithful have either been unfaithful and stayed away from the games, or they’ve sat in their seats like puddings, resigned.  I haven’t noticed any ugly incidents, like the team being booed, or the coach spat on, or scarves or season’s tickets being burned.  No families have immolated themselves outside Gate 3.  We’ve all just sunk into a state of resignation.

One step up from comatose.

It all starts pretty much as you’d expect – we kick the first two goals through Patrick Ryder – the second an amazing back-heel job, the first of its kind in AFL history.  Then – as you’d expect – the Bulldogs, older and more experienced and more skilful and more poised and more alert and stronger and much higher up the ladder – find their star for the night in Jarrad Grant, who returns the compliment with two goals and we have an even ball-game.

Then – pretty much as you’d expect – the Bulldogs find another contributor in nude-nut Eagleton who keeps the symmetry going by kicking another two.  Barry Hall breaks the pattern with a goal, followed by one from Daniel Giansiracusa.

Nearly four goals down at quarter time when, if young Carlisle had nailed his two chances it might have been different.

Ho hum.  But we’re HAVING A GO.  The Mob is unanimous – nod, nod, serious looks on the faces of the awesome foursome, solemn, severe declarations: WE ARE HAVING A GO.

Tonight we are not going to go home humiliated, gutted, head-bowed.  Beaten, yes, but not flogged.

When Barry Hall kicks the first goal of the second quarter, that means the Bulldogs have kicked seven goals in a row.  Someone staunch the flow.  Coach!!  Wake up – do something.

But the Bombers won’t go away.  We get panicked out of the ball, we turn it over, we fall over, but we hang in there (while Jarrad Grant keeps kicking goals for the Dogs.)  They get five goals ahead and stay there for the rest of the game.

Back at the Gilbert Hotel we reckon Travis Colyer, Jake Melksham, Leroy Jetta, Jake Carlisle and David Myers did well, and will turn into champions next season.  Bulldog says to me that he most probably will accept my kind invitation to stay at Tallerack for a while because he’s feeling like a sick dog, and quite possibly looking like one.  Jonesy makes a rambling speech about the Essendon Football Club, its history, its current dilemma and its future.  (Somewhere in the speech he mentions he’s been wooed by the Liberal Party to stand for pre-selection.  Just barely relevant to his theme.) Then he announces, in dramatic tones and with dramatic gestures – including a hand on Frances’ shoulder, the sleaze-bucket – that his coterie group are sick and tired of the Board’s inaction regarding the coach, and, in a you-heard-it-here-first tone, states categorically, that the coach will get his marching orders tomorrow.

We look at each other.  In fact, we pass looks around the table, like pass-the-parcel.

“Highly unlikely, Jonesy.  Your coterie doesn’t run the Club,” says Bulldog, solemnly.

Tommy rocks on his chair.  “There’s a review to take place . . . ”

“Bullshit,” I say, authoritatively.  “Utter bullshit.”

“Don’t say I didn’t tell you,” Jonesy says, shaking his head at the depth and breadth of our ignorance.

“That’s not the Essendon way of doing things,” adds Tommy.

We let the matter lapse.  The others possibly feel like me – it’s an outrageous idea but, despite what we say, it keeps wriggling around in our minds.

Jonesy hasn’t finished.  He then gets all emotional about The Mob and concludes (I hope) by saying Tommy should get us organised again next year.  We have a group hug – Frances fortunately coming between me and Jonesy – and we have one for the road about five times.

Then we leave The Gilbert.  Me and Tommy, Bulldog and Frances, and Jonesy to meet . . . who knows?

Tommy and me catch a rollicking tram home.  We don’t say much.  We push through the main gate at Huntleigh Mews and go through the lock-up routine together again.  At the bottom of the stairs to Unit 12, I hand him my bunch of work keys, and tell him I’m spending my last night with Labrini.  He gives a wan smile, we shake hands and have a hug that doesn’t quite work, and nod at each other a few times like a couple of chooks.  Then I turn and go.

At the end of the path I glance around and see he’s still watching me.  He’s standing in exactly the same spot as when I saw him for the first time after twenty years, on the day of Round 1 of the home and away games: he’s still short, rotund, like Michelin Man.  Only this time he’s not beaming from ear to ear.

He holds his hand up in a half-wave, and by the time I’m at the fountain I’m balling by eyes out.

. . . / / / . . .

I must have slept, because grey is seeping from behind the outline of the buildings I can see through the window.  Sure enough, I can make out the ‘6’ on the clock radio, but not the minutes.  An early start makes a lot of sense – I could be at Tallerack in a couple of hours and pay a surprise visit to the Carters, cadge a Sunday breakfast of bacon and eggs.  I ease myself out of the bed, stoop and try to make sense out of my mess of clothes.

Labrini stirs, moans softly in her sleep.

It takes me ages to find nearly everything and turn pants and shirt right-side-out, trying to be quiet as a mouse, because I don’t want to wake the Goddess, who’s had a late, late night at the Dance Palace.  Plus, now the actual moment of departure has arrived, a goodbye would kill me.  I’m still short of my jocks, so I stand there, undecided, shivering my tits off, probably looking like a great albino walrus.

Labrini’s silver slash of hair is as clear as.  I can see the line of her neck, and a bit of her back, so I reach and pull the doona up around her shoulders.  Then I grovel and grope in the half-light for the missing link in my wardrobe, and she stirs again.

“Rabbit?”

“Shhhh.  Stay asleep.  I’m . . . ”  There’s a tightness in my chest, and a thumping starts up in my head.  I feel like I’m about to be run over by a fucking steam train, and I have to get the hell out.  I grope madly, blindly around for my jocks, shove my hand under the bed and discover the bastard things.  I step into them, inside out, grab the rest of my clothes, hug the bundle to my belly.

I take a last look at sleeping Labrini.  I’m terrified of what I’m doing.

“I’m . . . ”

I pad to the door.

Going.

THE END

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    Fabulous Geoff

    I’m sure I speak for many in thanking you for entertaining us through the season. Hopefully it provided some diversion for you from what became a pretty unhappy season for the Bombers.

    Can we expect a comeback for next season? If so, the Almanac would be proud to provide a home once again.

    All the best.

  2. Dave Nadel says:

    Great story Geoff. I almost wish Essendon had made the finals so we could have a couple of weeks more of the story.

Leave a Comment

*