Merv

Chris Eldridge is my friend from Vets footy. He’s our 5’10 ½ ruckman, who more than made up for his height impediment with vigour and grunt…until his knee collapsed on him a couple of weeks ago. His absence in the centre bounce and around the packs will be sorely missed.

Chris has some great yarns from his childhood experiences growing up in the Wimmera and we share a love of quirky, off-beat sporting recollections. Like so many of us whose aspirations for higher sporting honours have long been doused, the footy flame still flickers through our fortnightly romp in the game that we love.

We have collaborated on this piece as a reflection of our shared interest, our country town backgrounds and to pay ironic homage to the recently passed Essendon/Edelsten champion , Merv Neagle:

Merv

A young boy’s first new Sherrin. That shining red symbol of the big league in Melbourne, but for which ownership by a county lad living in humble circumstance was a mere pipe-dream. An almost-round, nugget-shined air conveyance with a split seam framed up a Dimboola child’s view of what a footy looked like, until one fateful day when his long-ago-gone father returned from the Big Smoke –just for a day – armed with half a dozen long-necks and a shiny, red piece of the big league for junior.

Chris loved that Sherrin. The smell of new leather stimulated his senses, the shape like no other football he had held and with lacing that required cleaning after every use, as grass stains and grime were a blot on its perfection. Those of us who have been there know the drill: no bouncing the footy on anything other than grass, a cringe when a dropped mark caused a forceful landing on terra firma, footy cuddled at night and practice poses in front of the mirror for make-believe Scanlens footy card shots.

Returning to Dimboola Primary School after the holidays as the owner of a new Sherrin was a proud moment for Chris; somewhat akin to that first outing on a brand-new bike at Christmas. That Sherrin stayed close to him throughout that first morning back, in anticipation of its first official outing on the school oval at lunchtime.

Kick to kick at primary school involved a pecking order, mainly born of seniority. Kids in the lower years generally had their own game, removed from the towering bodies of the older boys. Ownership of a new Sherrin changed all of that. The new Sherrin was the school-day equivalent of the nightclub drinks card; a key to open any door.

Dimboola was fertile ground for future VFL footballers and in years to come the Dimboola Primary School honour roll would include the mighty Tim Watson and the flashy brilliance of Mervyn Neagle. Both of these future champs were amongst the senior boys in that kick-to-kick gathering that day, along with Tim’s lesser known but VFL –qualified brother Larry and the older Neagle, Sid.
Footy survival in the maelstrom that was kick-to-kick with a gathering of this class was possible only through embracing the notion of “waxing”. The new Sherrin opened the door to this opportunity for young Chris. Merv Neagle had taken him under his wing. No little kids game for the Sherrin owner that day! Waxing with Merv was footy heaven for the young fella and he was now playing in the main game, in the social acceptance stakes.

In contrast to childhood school holidays which seemed to go on for ever, lunchtimes as a kid seemed to go in a flash, despite the sacrifice of formal eating time in lieu of a few extra minutes kicking the footy. And so it was that day – as the bell rang it was Neagles kick in the formidable Eldridge/Neagle waxing duo and this was the opportunity for Merv to shine. Shine he did – he unleashed the most magnificent spiral that seemed destined for the clouds – and then bolted to the classroom. The younger waxing partner had no option but to wait for the rocket-launched Sherrin to come to ground because quite apart from class, there was footy cleaning duty to be undertaken to restore the shine.

In the days before eco-friendly waste disposal, every bush school had an open top incinerator with impressive capacity and someone with the responsibility to send the waste up in flames. Discarded butchers paper and a cardboard box collection made for quite a blaze……..

Finally starting on its downward journey, Chris’s Sherrin caught the same breeze that was fanning the incinerator flames. Time stood still as it fell from the sky, still in perfect spiral form. The yawning fiery chasm that was the incinerator and the trajectory of Merv’s spiral punt were in direct alignment. As if in slow motion, Chris’s symbol of social status went straight into the furnace without touching the sides. The equivalent of a perfect 10 in the World of Sport handball championship!

What to do? The flames were rising well above the incinerator lip, fuelled by another load of waste paper. The explosion that followed was not unexpected as the fate of the new Sherrin had been decided moments earlier. A young boy’s short life passed before his eyes – his rare and beautiful gift from his Dad was gone and his first real love had ended. He didn’t cry but just turned and walked away…his laboured steps re-tracing the route to class that Merv had charged along moments earlier. “Sorry champ, no more waxing”…..Merv’s conciliatory words were welcome, but the scar of an exploded new footy runs deep.

In time, our 5’10 ½ ruckman has come to love a long-neck just like his remote father all those years ago. However, his love for that Sherrin surpassed all.

About chris bracher

Known to stare longingly down Clarendon St still wondering how his red and white heroes ever left him, Chris Bracher's pining for his relocated team has been somewhat appeased by recent Bloods glory....but the pain never truly goes away!

Comments

  1. Brooksie says:

    Outstanding CB, well done, bugger about the footy Chriso

  2. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Classic tale Chris. I was genuinely sad to hear of Merv’s death. Have wonderful memories of his years at Essendon.

  3. Peter Gianfrancesco says:

    Hi Chris, this is great story that we can all related to, even those of us who grew up in the big smoke (Geelong!). It is really well written. Well done!

  4. What an inglorious end to the beloved new Sherrin. Rollicking tale as always, Chris.

    You still should have followed the Dons, though.

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