Leather fish bonding

by Margaret McCarthy

The silence that follows the thud of the ball shouts ‘Run!’ I jog backwards, staring high into the dark tree backdrop, one hand raised to shield the glare from my eyes. The ball is a speck, a bird, a comet hurtling to earth. The mighty football seeks its target: me.

I position myself, guessing its trajectory. Run head up, arms open and upward, and wait for it to land in my beginner’s trap. I count. Three! A caught ball is a mark. Two! A mark earns the praise of the gang. One! Praise beats running after a dropped ball. Zero!

The football crashes though my arms and hits the ground.

I bend to pick it up, it bounces away. I run after it for ten metres. It leaps all over the place with the unpredictability of lotto balls in a barrel.

It is raining. The ball has doubled its weight and is like kicking a basket of wet washing. And it’s slippery, like grappling a live fish. But the other players — Vin, Steve, John, Bruno, Andrew and the rest — seem to catch and kick with purpose.

A ball hurtling towards me from on-high raises a new set of fears: bent fingers, sprained wrist, broken nose. No wonder I drop so many. But then, the way to avoid running around like a grasshopper in a plague is to take successful marks.

Many of these guys have played footy for a long time. I watch with admiration and jealously as Steve takes a mark with ease.

As I continue to fumble the leather fish, Steve calls out an instruction for better catching. He demonstrates an open-armed approach, offering an opportunity for the ball. Then closes his arms around the ball, holding it ‘like a loaf of bread’. I’ve never held bread like this before, but figure the ball won’t slip when it knows you are looking at it thinking: ‘sliced or toast?’

Steve kicks to me. Despite his expertise, the kick is a dud. The ball bounces between us. We shrug and smile. No-one’s perfect.

We play with an original kick-to-kick Sherrin — a mud coloured, leather Aussie Rules football, shaped somewhere between a soccer ball and a blimp. It’s kicked by foot from player to player. In a good moment, a leg will lift towards the heavens and the ball will torpedo in an arc to the next-in-line. The players give a couple of loud hand claps in appreciation.

The nature of the kick can be known by the sound. When kicked with the point of the toe, the footy is quiet, and the pain in your foot is loud. Early in my kick-to-kick career, I learned to face the laces of the ball up, to connect the footy with the laces of my runners. When I collect the ball, I position it in front of me and kick, hoping to hear the right thud. It’s more of a thigsh, but it will do.

Our leader, Vin, has kept our bayside game going many years, but I’ve only rocked up in the past couple. Kick-to-kick costs no money. We don’t need special clothes. Around us, people walk their dogs or jog. Once, we were invaded by a real football team.

While we’re here, talk fades. Keep the footy moving, strive to mark, aim to the next in line. Celebrate good marks or kicks with a single cry.

Andrew, who knows less about footy than I do, kicks a reverse chainsaw to Bruno. Bruno, who gets us here on Sunday mornings with his text message bugle call, jumps with both feet into the air to mark, then drop kicks to John. John’s a giant who doesn’t like to run. Instead, he marks by reaching into the sky and plucking the ball with a single hand.

The ball is sent into the air with a mighty ‘thud’. It seems to stall at its peak before deciding to return to the earth. I stand under it. My elbows kiss, my fingers spread. The ball is headed toward my lily-white triceps. I see the lace, the fading Sherrin logo branded on its side.

My knees bend and my pride grows. I hold the ball steady. Not the squashing I once gave a loaf coming home from the supermarket. Not afraid of it slipping through like giving a baby it’s first bath. But with the sureness of one who holds the wet, leather ball in her grip and will only release it when she’s ready. The guys cheer me with a couple of hearty claps.

I return the ball from my arms to my hands. My head has emptied. I size up the distance to the next player. Twenty-five metres or so. Further than I’ve ever kicked. I face the ball laces up, jog into motion, kick the ball with a thud and watch while the next-in-line runs backwards.

First published in Eureka Street on March 29, 2011



  1. Andrew Fithall says:

    I am inspired. This Sunday. No lacrosse. No junior football. I will be joining Vin and Phil at Brunswick St at 2.00pm. C.mon knees. Monday is a day off. You can do it!

  2. smokie88 says:

    Yes, Andrew, at least the Queen is good for something.

  3. Love to see more kick-to-kickers at Fearon Reserve, Williamstown on Sundays @ 9.30am…We are friendly…Vinnie Maskell was the creator/instigator of this relaxing Sunday morning “ritual”…If Margaret’s piece doesn’t entice you, nothing will.
    Go the almanac…
    Bruno Lettieri

  4. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Wonderful to read Margaret, I love the way the simplicity of kick -to – kick connects us all to the real game, no matter what out standard or age is.

  5. Barry Garner says:

    “It’s like kicking a basket of wet washing,” I remember being a kid in Carlton and that’s exactly what the footy felt like! Good on you Margret for having a kick. Good on you for painting the picture! I’m barracking for you. Regards, Barry

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