The Albatross Rules. Chapter 1: Barry’s Dream

The Albatross Rules

(a football chronicle)

by Richard Holt

1. Barry’s Dream

Boof McKenzie was cleaning glasses as usual, wondering if anyone would be in for lunch. For the moment he was his only customer. He wandered over to the jukebox with coins from the till. A doleful cowgirl voice crackled from the speakers, singing about the perils of love as he collected the last of the previous night’s glasses and put fresh coasters out on the bar and the tables.

With a sudden bang the heavy door from the street burst open. Peter Potter rushed in. “The Professor, Boof—he’s disappeared!”

“What d’ya mean, disappeared?”

“Disappeared! Gone! Vanished! Into thin air!”

“Don’t bullshit me Potter. What’re you up to?”

“He’s gone, Boof. I dunno. I was just muckin’ around—had him trapped in the lane. But something’s happened.”

Boof rolled his eyes. “Anyone would think there was nothin’ to do around ‘ere.” He followed Potter outside, grumbling.

Caz Temple was wandering past. “What’ve you done with The Prof, Potter?”

“It was just a joke…but he’s gone. He can’t have got out, there’s no room.” Potter was right. The ‘lane’ wasn’t a lane at all, just a narrow strip of land where Boof stored his bins and his empties. The Humber was squeezed in tight.

Sue-Anne poked her head out of the general-store door to see what the fuss was. This sort of distraction counted for excitement in Albertville these days. It had been different once. Long ago.

In the 1850s and 60s Albertville had been the centre of a gold-fuelled boom, with all the trappings that wealth and speculation bestow. Now it boasted just one hotel, a general store, a butchers shop, a mechanics institute hall, rows of boarded up shop fronts, three churches (one operating and two neglected), one mechanic and a population, including those on the small farms round about, of perhaps three hundred and fifty. There was a cricket team in summer and in the winter months a netball team and the struggling football team celebrated for its past glory by the pennants on the walls above the bar at the Grand. The town’s teams were all known, by tradition, as the ‘Albertville Albatrosses’. It was an alliteration the townsfolk bore with pride.

What should be said of this cumbersome nickname is that the Albatross is a noble bird. There are even those who will tell you that it can sleep on-the-wing as it crosses the world’s oceans. The truth is that its long hours of flying are punctuated by periods adrift on the waves. It must not rest too long. Lurking beneath the surface are unseen predators. Even if it avoids these it may find that the seas around about become so turbulent that it is swallowed by the waves themselves. But, most of all, it must guard against simply spending too long idly afloat, lest it can no longer raise the effort to return to the sky. The Albertville Football Club had been down for a long, long time.

In fact the struggle to remain afloat had nearly defeated it, which was why club president, Barry Massey—known to the townsfolk as ‘The Professor’—had been losing sleep. His search for the team’s salvation had consumed him. That morning it had brought him to Sue-Anne’s store to collect a book that had just come in for him.

Barry threw his new paperback—Dare to Dream—onto the passenger seat. Somewhere in its pages he hoped to find inspiration. He swung the old car deftly back into the narrow, dead-end lane next to the pub to turn for home. But curiosity intervened. When an image on the cover caught his eye he edged the Humber back off the footpath then turned the engine off again so that he could investigate.

He’d been flicking through for some time when the fatigue of his restless hours overwhelmed him. As he scanned the index the print began swimming on the pages before him. Hard and ugly American words like ‘Positivity’ and ‘up-skill’ turned soft and spongy. ‘Visioning’ blurred until it disappeared. As his weary eyelids drooped ‘Touch-down’ and ‘Closure’ jumbled into each other.

Touché: Close down!’ The Prof’s exhausted body slumped back and sideways onto the passenger seat. The book fell open across his face. Barry Massey began to dream.

So lucid were his dreams that when he woke, an hour later, the Prof felt suddenly as if he knew exactly what was required to save his beloved club, and nothing would get in his way—nothing, not even Potter’s ute, strategically positioned to imprison him, just for a cheap laugh.

Almost without thinking the Prof, who was nimble in spite of his years, scrambled over the front seat, removed the back-rest from the rear seat, (he’d done this many times to fashion a bed during his fishing trips in the nearby hills) and crawled into the car’s boot-space. Moments later the former rover had sprung the lock from the inside, clambered over the low wall at the end of the cul-de-sac using the closed boot as a step ladder, and headed home via the track along the creek. Just about the only sign that he’d been in the car at all was Dare to Dream splayed open on the driver’s seat next the old binoculars he used for watching birds and football matches.

“That book, Boof, there!! I’m telling ya, he had it on him. Heh, this is creepy.”

Boof thought for a moment then started to laugh heartily. “Nice one Potter. How’d you get it in there? You had me goin’ for a minute.”

“I’m tellin’ you Boof. I didn’t put it there!”

Boof, shrugged and returned to the bar.

Caz was unimpressed. “You’ve lost me, Potter—as usual.” She slunk off leaving him staring, in bewilderment, at the scene.

Potter’s confusion was absolute. In the whole town his was the sharpest tongue and, aside from the Prof himself he was the one most likely to be around whenever tomfoolery was at hand. But now, somehow, his mischief had backfired. Mystified, he slouched against the wall and stared at the silent sedan with the American self-help book open on the seat. Comprehension failed him. Potter climbed back into the cabin of his beaten up ute and moved it into a more appropriate parking spot before returning, on foot, to the abandoned Humber.

Meanwhile the Professor, back home, leaning back in his most comfortable chair, scribbled frantically in an old exercise book. Not since his playing days, back in the seventies, could he recall feeling so ready for a challenge. Nothing could distract him—neither his rumbling stomach nor the phone running hot could divert him from his task.

The ideas spilled forth onto the pages. On the first he’d written, ‘new team, new jumper, new structure, new attitude,’ and (underlined) ‘new coach’. Nugget had resigned and Barry saw that the coaching appointment could be a key to changing the way things were done at the club. In the ensuing pages were numerous lists—possible sponsors on one page, potential ground improvements on another, and others with headings like ‘recruitment’, ‘supporters’ and ‘winning a premiership???’.

…and ‘committee’. For the most part the administrative arm of the club was a rabble. The old players who filled its positions had long ago succumbed to despair as the club lurched towards oblivion. Only the Prof and Edie McKenzie, who ran the Social Club, had remained positive. The Prof had never seen himself as a natural leader. In his playing days he’d happily played second-fiddle—vice-captain to the great Jimmy Hyde. But his moment had come. At the last committee meeting he’d put it all on the line for the club.

“This town’ll just fade away if the footy club goes, and I’m not going to let that happen without a fight.”

“We’ve seen you fight before, Baz,” Bert Ironside had sneered, “that weed Henderson knocked you out with a love tap—nearly cost us a premiership.”

“Well any fight is better than just giving up. If you don’t want to help the club out of the mess it’s in, why are you here?”

“Alright, Baz,” Bert countered, “I’ll tell you what. You fix it. We’re goin’ bust anyway. If you want to steer the sinkin’ ship on the way down you can. And you can take the blame, too, when we do sink.”

“You’re on,” shouted the Prof, “only don’t get in the way. If I’m in charge, I’m in charge and I don’t want to be squabbling about details.”

That was it. By the end of the meeting, Baz had been handed the reins. He could do what he liked to try to save the Albatrosses. But failure would be on his head.

That had been the beginning of long hours of lonely pondering. But now, waking from his unscheduled nap, he could see a future for the club. And if the football team had a future then maybe there really was a future for the town he loved. It would all start with changing the team’s performance. ‘Bugger it,’ Barry muttered to himself, ‘we’ll win a flag or die trying.’ It seemed like a dream but Barry wanted to chase it. He wanted to run it down the way he’d once run down opponents so hard they didn’t known what hit them.

Having, at last, got down, in notes and sketches and diagrams, all the ideas that had come to him, he pulled out his bulging address book and an old typewriter and began a letter

‘TO: Con Filipou,

17 Ocean Crt,

Parktown,

RE: Senior Coaching Appointment, Albertville Football Club

Dear Con…’

All this time intrigue regarding the Prof’s marooned Humber was increasing around town. Most speculation revolved around just how long he and Potter could keep the act up. Many had come to the conclusion that they were in it together. But after a time Potter managed to convince a few of his townsfolk that something more sinister was afoot.

Boof, was not one of them. “I don’t know how you got it in there, and I don’t care. I’m trying Baz’s number again. And I want that car out of my lane.”

“Bu…”

“No buts, Potter. This has gone far enough.” He dialled the Prof’s number and waited. And waited. “He’s not there.”

“He’s disappeared I tell ya.”

“Disappeared! Get outta here.”

“I’m calling Plod, Boof. Give us the phone.”

Just at that moment Constable Peter ‘Plod’ Clarke marched through the door. “I heard there was a bit of a disturbance up here. Everything alright, Boof?”

It took some minutes for the story to be told with Boof and Potter trading different versions of events. Meanwhile the Prof, who had returned by the creek track to post his letter slipped back over the wall, opened his boot, scrambled back through into the front seat, tossed the now redundant book aside and quietly motored home.

“Right then,” said Plod, at last, “let’s go and take a look at the scene of this, err, mystery…”

Comments

  1. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Great Stuff Richard,

    love the nicknames. Enjoyed the line about how the town bore the Albatross alliteration with pride. Sets the story up nicely.

    Look forward to chapter 2!

Leave a Comment

*