by Roy Hay
We, my wife and two children, arrived in Australia in September 1977 just in time to see the drawn grand final between North Melbourne and Collingwood on television. For someone who had grown up with the round ball game it was my real introduction to the domestic activity in Victoria. Draws were common in soccer, even scoreless ones, and I was amused by what I thought was an over-reaction to the outcome of an exciting contest, given that a replay was to follow. Anyway this was just one of the weirdnesses I was going to have to understand. Grasping the philosophical underpinnings of the holding the man, holding the ball rule was another. Its practical application was totally opaque or random.
Our son, Ross, was at pre-school in Highton and quickly learned about these Cats who played the game, so Frances, being a shrewd and canny Scottish mother spotted some footy jumpers or jerseys (OK, guernseys, but she had not mastered the local lingo at that point) on special at Safeways. That will do for his Christmas she thought and came home proudly with one in which the black and white stripes ran vertically.
‘They all looked the same to me. I had no idea which was which,’ was her unconvincing explanation.
The look on the boy’s face was not pretty.
He survived, played footy with Barwon juniors on Saturday and soccer with Barwon City on Sunday. Later he might play footy in the morning and soccer in the afternoon, somehow managing a seamless transition between the codes where he was burrowing into packs as a tiny rover in one and spraying passes around with his feet from midfield in the other. It was a similar story in the summer. In cricket he had to be wicket-keeper and batsmen, constantly in the action, or he did not want to know about it.
Eventually the round ball game took over and he represented Victoria and Australia at indoor soccer as a junior, but could not force his way into the key Western Region representative side as a left-sided midfielder in the outdoor variety. Ahead of him were Sonny Sevin, playing two years below his real age on an altered passport, and a phenomenon called Ollie Pondeljak who went on to star with Melbourne Knights. He did play in the National Youth League with Geelong City and had a trial with Ayr United in Scotland, but when the door locked behind him after he’d gone to answer a caller on the doorstep on a snowy November morning leaving him wearing only a towel, he decided that the attractions of his girlfriend and warm weather in Australia would be preferable.
Several years later after a career in hospitality, he took over ‘Percy’ Jones’s pub, the Astor Hotel in Carlton, two weeks ago. So in the end he did manage to come to terms with footy in Australia despite the inauspicious start. And I have only mentioned Collingwood once in this story. No, that’s twice. Forgive me.