(A version of this yarn was published in The Age, August 2009)
OUR little bloke, Theo, 21 months old, is running around madly and chatting away (Jlong). He loves balloons. He plays balloon-footy, which is more like balloon soccer, until the balloon goes in the air. He puts both hands up, reaching, waiting for it to float down, and then double hands it away, like Brendon Lade. And laughs.
Theo is unlikely to be a ruckman. I blame The Handicapper for that. In fact, he is more likely to find a spot in the back pocket. Probably in the Fitzroy seconds. Or spend his life down a mine in the Rhonnda Valley.
I reckon he will play footy though. I think he likes it. He certainly likes his Geelong jumper. Most days.
When, on Friday mornings, I start the (very long) process of extracting The Handicapper’s footy tips from her, he goes to the shelf and picks up the plastic bag containing cards with the names of all 16 teams. He brings it to me, saying: Tips. Tips. Tips.
I spread the cards out. As Theo picks the cards up, they are his tips. (He is always given Geelong).
“Hawthorn-Adelaide?” I ask The Handicapper.
“Hawthorn…..Adelaide,” The Handicapper says, very slowly, as if she had a beard to stroke. I wait for her response.
“Where’s Hawthorn on the ladder?” she asks. Theo picks up the cards for Adelaide, Melbourne and Collingwood.
“And Adelaide?” Theo picks up West Coast and the Bulldogs.
“I’ll tip . . . where’s it being played?”
Theo picks up Port Adelaide. And Essendon. (Poor Theo,I think to myself.)
“I’ll tip . . . umm . . . did Hawthorn win last week?” she asks.
Theo’s finished his and is requesting avaganga (avocado on toast). The Handicapper has eight games to go. (She’s about four ahead of me at the North Fitzroy Arms, and only two off the lead.)
On Sunday afternoon, Theo has six from six. And Port should win. Maybe I should ring the pub and get them to change Theo’s last tip to St Kilda. He’ll get eight. Port turn to rabble, so I let it go.
I have no intention of watching the Essendon game. But the ABC radio call is on in the background, in the way that footy is on for the entire winter. And it sounds pretty interesting, as Theo jumps for the balloon again. (More. More.)
I sit down to watch the last quarter. The Saints kick a couple. The Bombers have got no bench. They are just hanging on. Jobe Watson is playing his heart out. He’s got no legs. But his determination: wow.
He reads the game well, but he has limitations. Things don’t come easily to him. Yet, he is still willing to take on the responsibility. That makes his leadership all the more courageous. That’s why I respect him all the more.
I remember sitting with Che Cockatoo-Collins once, high in the stand at the MCG. Richmond v Essendon. Jobe Watson was having a crook night, turning the ball over, and his side was down. Bomber fans around us were getting stuck into him. He looked so despondent, so deeply hurt. To the core of his being.
Che lent across to me and, in his very quiet way, said, “Imagine the burden that young man carries.”
He paused. I said nothing.
The Saints are just a couple down. Essendon use up the clock. It’s all they can do. If they run and run, and try to attack, their legs will be jelly by the 20-minute mark and St Kilda will run over the top of them.
Among the tired mistakes, there are moments of great character. Lovett-Murray on the boundary line. No. 22 making contact with Nick Riewoldt and taking a strong defensive mark. Who is No. 22? Andrew Lovett trying to get clear. Prismall busting his gut. McPhee marking.
Watson has done some very clever things. Some brilliant things. One handball out of the centre to a teammate running forward is as good as anything Greg Williams ever did.
But he is exhausted and Prismall has just missed and with seconds to go, Watson can’t catch his opponent. No. No. The pass goes to Riewoldt. Siren.
Foxtel go to Jobe Watson. He is an innocent. He makes no effort to hide his emotion. You just want to shake his hand.
You have a wonderful son, Tim Watson.
The Handicapper says the left-over Mexican is ready, but there aren’t many corn chips.
P.S. I did shake Jobe Watson’s hand when I met him yesterday, at a fully constituted meeting of the Carbine Club. He is as I expected him to be.