It’s a sunny Saturday morning in April. Gorgeous Autumn light. Theo and I get off the 112 at the Brunswick Street Oval in Fitzroy.
It is Theo’s first-ever Auskick.
Already kids and Mums and Dads and toddler brothers and sisters are swarming on the healthy covering of grass. There’s no mud yet. No smelly bare patch in the 10-metre square.
There are prams and dogs and the smell of coffee.
Blokes in red shirts are setting up. Posts go into the turf. Mini-cones are located. Little footies are placed about.
The place is alive.
Theo says g’day to some of his mates: Sam, a Tiger; Henry in his Geelong jumper with his big gummy grin; Docker Fin; the twins Ollie, another Cat, and Meg, a Blue; Bomber Iggy with his Michael Hurley hair. They’re all from the same prep class at school.
All the clubs are represented.
The older kids are getting ready on the other side of the oval. They’re old hands –at six, and seven. They know where to go and what to do, and so do their parents.
I look about. What a place to learn your footy! The great Fitzroy Oval with its grand Victorian stand and its view, beyond the red-brown leaves of the Freeman Street trees, over the terrace houses, to the high-rise of the modern city.
The trams clank by, dinging their old Melbourne-ness.
The kids are nervous, excited, apprehensive, cocky, innocent. They have begun their life-time of barracking, noiselessly herded towards the family team for reasons of logistics and love – even the Richmond ones.
Joe Phegan has the look of a man who is wondering about many things. He takes the kids for a warm-up and quickly we learn this Bell curve is well-stretched: at one end the kids who can kick a torp, at the other the ones who star jump like they’ve had McWilliams Cream Apera on their Nutri-grain; at one end the kid who will shirt-front the wheelie-bin, at the other the kid who is besotted with the perfect shape of a dandelion in seed.
The drills begin. Beautifully earnest faces take in the instructions and then brows crease as they try to remember what to do. And it’s nearly their turn, and now it is. And it’s not text book, but it is wonderful. And you find yourself wanting to laugh and clap and ring Nanna. Is there anything purer than a five year old’s fluked drop kick?
And now you are thinking about yourself and time passing; your first day at footy or school.
Kids. They make you remember. Cleaning their little faces with the washer you can feel your own mother’s hand, you recognise that resistant movement of the head as your own. Watching them mark a footy you hear your own father’s voice, “Watch the ball. Don’t watch me.”
We pass it on. Our love of the game. We want them to know the sheer joy of playing.
Many have. They’ve been playing footy here since 1883 when Collingwood was another world away. A few years later the Maroons were the glamour side of the early VFL.
But I’m not sure this great ground has seen some of the kicking styles on show.
We all survive the first morning, then head towards the barbecue for a well-earned sausage in bread.
Theo is happy, and so are his mates.
His Mum and little sisters arrive. They are proud of him. Like he has played his first game for Geelong. Anna has a kick.
We go home.
And wait for the week to pass.
The Fitzroy Auskick community is invited to the launch of Footy Town: Stories of Australia’s Game at the All Nations Hotel, Lennox Street, Richmond, from 6pm on Friday May 31. firstname.lastname@example.org
Books – Footy Town and all editions of The Footy Almanac (2007-2012) – are available (from the canteen on Saturdays) to Fitzroy Auskickers for $30. Half of the proceeds will go to help the running of Auskick at Brunswick Street. Books are also available at this website. Read Martin Flanagan’s review.