sunlight on leather

 by Rob Scott

 

first morning
a familiar scent
on the breeze

 

It should perhaps be the game at its purest. Everyone and everything is primed. Sun-tanned, tattooed and absurdly muscled players; feverish fans emerging on frenzied tenterhooks from a long summer of enforced detachment and other family commitments; pristinely manicured playing surfaces; even the freshly inked post-match manuscript in the coaches’ box that reads “we’re not even thinking about finals” which, for one week only, will be given more than conventional credence.

But, on the other hand, perhaps it’s not. Winning counts for little and losing perhaps less. There is little at stake. It is almost a burden-free zone. It is conceivably the most meaningless game of the year, NAB Cup Grand Final aside. The first game of the year is, in terms of importance, less a football match than…well, whatever you can think of that is less important than but not too dissimilar from the Moomba Parade. With teams neither brimming nor brooding, the weight of expectation is about as heavy as a dead autumn leaf. Players not only needn’t worry about making mistakes, they needn’t bother trying to learn anything from them either. It simply doesn’t matter. It is as if they are performing in an arena for the sinless. The mid-autumn sunshine, the proximity to the long footy winter ahead and the crowd’s happy delirium all come together to eradicate gravity in all its forms.

I can’t recall a single thing about any Round 1 games I have attended over the years. Except maybe the day Tony Francis kicked Murray Rance in the arse at Subi. I wasn’t actually there that day, but even so, how can you forget the sight of someone deliberately kicking someone else in the arse?

After the long (sometimes unthinkably long) summer of deprivation, and the cravings that come with it, you’d think we would be well groomed for an experience that would machete its way into our dulled consciousness – like the first bite into an ice-cold hot pie always did. But no. Rather than being a game with an ascertainable plot or even a worthy cause, the first game is, year after year, merely a series of images that we, in our stupefied, thank-christ-the-footy’s-here euphoria, simply let wash over us. From the first whiff of the footy record; the shimmer of rippling bodies; the first big grab and turn of pace; the spot of sunlight that clings to the Sherrin all over the park; to the tribal-like sight of throngs of polo-shirt clad supporters with their acrylic scarves draped over their shoulders, the day is not merely a gradual mass re-awakening to what truly matters in our lives. It is like an annual re-enactment of the happiest day of the year!

 

season opener
chasing a loose ball the two speedsters
overrun it

 

Footy players, like all of us, have their idiosyncratic ways. They all do things differently. It’s one of the things I enjoy about the game the most. For me, the sight of players parading their individual and natural prowess in the season opener has a reassuring as well as a wistful quality after such a long absence.

Like the difference between Scott Pendlebury and Alan Toovey.

Like the way Ricky Barham bounced the ball as if he were checking it for air; like how Mick MaGuane always ran with the ball, swiveling his head from side to side as if being pursued by a crazed mob of bayonet-weilding thugs; like the way Doug Barwick arched his back whenever he was anywhere near the 50 metre line and how Ray Shaw straightened his like a rod; like how Travis Cloke’s whole life seems to flash before his eyes when kicking for goal; the way Tazza can make a footy uniform look like pretty cool beachwear; and how Micky Gayfer would run about 20 yards in the direction of the bloke he was handballing to (even if he was standing right next to him) then launch himself into the handball as if he was throwing a giant frisbee.

 

first game of the year
reaching the footbridge, I cross
everything

 

Round 1 is easily the most eagerly awaited game the season. And while Ponting and co. meander through to the end of another summer of dispassionate frivolousness, none of us can wait for the first bounce. It’s this weekend. The day we’ve been looking forward to all summer. The game you would not miss for quids, but will probably not remember at all. But don’t be surprised if, a few years down the track you’re asked who we played and what happened, and the only response you can summon is “I’m not really sure, but I know I was there.” Remind yourself who was playing. Gaps may fill.

 

late March —
in the path of Rocca’s lead
sunlight on leather

 

 

 

About rob scott

Rob Scott (aka Haiku Bob) is a Melbourne-born resident of Sweden who spent his adolsecence in Queensland. He has also had stints in Japan and The Netherlands but calls Victoria Park home. He writes haiku in between teaching whisky and drinking English, or something like that.

Comments

  1. Good point, HB. Some round 1 games stick in my mind:

    * Essendon being 16.4 (100) at half-time against St Kilda in 1975. (They went on to win the first 4 under Tuddy before falling in a heap.)

    * Richo kicking 8 at the Western Oval in 1994. (The Dogs fell in by a few points but a standard 10-goal Kardinia Park flogging the next week was enough to see Wheeler sacked.)

    * And Johnno kicking 8 against Adelaide in 2008 – was it 2008? I think so. But in the end it was a meaningless round 1 game after all.

    The image of light from a weakening autumn sun on a footy is one of life’s true beauties.

  2. Ben Footner says:

    As an Adelaide fan I remember last years Round 1 game. 20 year anniversary and a stirring come from behind win. Little did I know that it would end up being the best game of the entire season. When a R1 game is the best of the season, you know things are in a sorry state.

  3. Good one, Ben. Reminds me of Round 1, 1989. Footscray had a 10-goal win over Carlton. John Georgiades kicked 8 on debut. He kicked another 19 goals in his next 14 games (over three seasons) and was never heard of again.

    The Dogs won only 5 more times in ’89. By the end of the year coach Malthouse was in Perth ready to build a dynasty and the club he left behind was on the verge of becoming the Fitzroy Bulldogs.

  4. Ben Footner says:

    It’s funny how what seems to be a wonderfully positive memory can end up with the passing of time to be a negative or bitter-sweet moment. Happens a lot in footy especially!

  5. Skip of Skipton says:

    Round 1 1990 was straight down to business with the Hawks vs. Cats at Waverley in a replay of the epic ’89 grand final. After leading by a couple of goals at 1/4 time, the Cats went on to lose by 115 points. This Round 1 clash did actually portend the season to come for the Cats. They had a shocking ‘almost-premiership’ hangover that year. Richmond also defeated them at Kardinia Park in Round 7.

  6. Richmond supporters will remember recent round one games against the Blues – for all the wrong reasons. The Tigers’ season has been all but dead and buried by the final siren of the first game.

    But this year might be different……………………………………

  7. @Skip – exactly the game that comes to my mind when Round 1 is mentioned.

    The second game is Round 1, 1984. With Greg Williams getting 38 possessions on debut, Gary Ablett also starring and also on debut, and Micky Turner turning it on, the Cats were electrifying.

    I think Round 1 this year means everything to the Tigers.

  8. Rick Kane says:

    HB, in the first round of 2012, the Hawks play a motley, flea-bitten pack of misfits mongrels (who, incidentally stole something of great value from us about 6 months ago) … but, as you say, the upcoming game is not that important. We’ll see. Otherwise, great piece.

  9. Rick,
    What do you mean stole? From what I’ve garnered from the media, Hawthorn won the flag last year, and are again favourites this year.

    Bob,
    great piece. Your control over this language of ours is good. I like it. Do you care for Philip Glass at all?

    Round 1 is a bit like round 24.

  10. The Hawks and the Saints,of last years finalists went down to Adelaide and the Cats,respectively in Round 1.My best round 1 – the Eagles beating Collingwood, Round 1 of the AFL, April 1,1990,after being forced to travel to Victoria 5 weeks in a row the previous season due to the teams drawing at Waverley.Like a grandmother’s kiss,a reminder of the real thing

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