The Albatross Rules, Chapter 11 – Round 4, Mt Desperate Desperados (away): On a Hiding to Nothing

The climb up Mt Desperate was the first major obstacle the pioneering miners had encountered after two hundred miles of flat land as they headed into the gold bearing hills. Not so much a mountain as a steep rise to an elevated plateau it claimed numerous diggers who failed to heed the need for caution. The waterways in the area were unreliable and when they stopped running the brackish waters collected in the waterholes bred diseases to which a travel-weary miner might easily succumb.

The journey to Mt Desperate could prove no less perilous for incautious football teams today. Though they’d finished just one rung from the wooden spoon last season their reputation was of a team that liked to cause upsets against better credentialed opponents. They were classic spoilers, and if you were under-prepared or inclined to take it easy you could find yourselves humiliated on their tiny ground where weird crosswinds often blew up from the valley.

The Desperados’ captain was the local constable, Peter Clarke. ‘Plod’ had a connection with Albertville. His fiancée, Jill had been an Albertville girl and it had been her pleasure to support the footy club and the boys who played in it. She was remembered fondly around the club. Jill was a girl of natural generosity who never liked to miss an opportunity, if ever life presented one, and it was in this spirit that she settled down with Plod down in Mt Desperate because she figured a change of scene might be nice.

Albertville took an unchanged team down to Mt Desperate, with the exception of Rivera who came in for Harrison. By quarter time, on a gloomy, afternoon that seemed made for upsets Con’s worst fears had been justified. It had taken Strauss’s drop kick goal to get the boys switched on the previous week. That tactic wasn’t going to work two weeks in a row. Today they were as flat as a tack. Though he tried his best to rev them up he felt pessimistic. It was going to be a long day.

Now Tex Halpern, the team’s injured forward pocket, had been amorously involved with Plod’s girl, Jill for a few months not long before she made the move to Mt Desperate. It pained him to hear, above the general noise of the crowd, the unmistakable voice of the former Albertville lass cheering loudly for the Desperados. Loyalty, for a free spirit like Jill, was a relative thing. With this in mind, bored by the game and frustrated at not being able to get amongst it (his sprained wrist would keep him out another week or two) Tex wandered off in search of his ex.

The half time siren sounded with the Desperados 33 points up. Albertville’s kicking, a problem all year (maybe Strauss was onto something with last week’s drop kick) had been deplorable. They were displaying none of the free flowing football they were capable of.

After the break things failed to improve much. The Mt Desperate boys were handling the slick conditions much better and they knew how to cope with the fickle, swirling wind that came off the opposite wing, where the ground sloped away so steeply that even the tall groves of Alpine Ash beyond were barely visible across the ground.

Now it transpired that it was to this hidden territory that Tex had disappeared. Con had noticed his old panel van, which had been parked behind the stand, had gone. Given the state of the match it was no surprise. It had been a shocker so the coach didn’t expect to see Tex again that afternoon. Who could blame him?

But, as it turned out, he was still at the ground and Con would see a lot more of him than he thought. Tex had driven the old bomb down amongst the Alpine Ash below the outer wing, where he was renewing his acquaintance with young Jill.

If his team-mates were having trouble scoring that afternoon, at least Tex was a chance from the sidelines. That is until Rachmann, who had crumbed the ball nicely off a pack, slewed a kick as he was tackled on the half back line on the outer side. The wayward punt sailed far over the boundary line.

‘Bang!’ A sound like a firm fist on automotive panelling startled Tex who sat bolt upright. “What the hell.” He looked out of the lowered tailgate, expecting, perhaps, the face of some inquisitive teenager, grinning with the victory of delicate discovery. Instead he saw the mud spattered Sherrin bouncing nearby. He craned his head to check the situation through the windscreen using the headrests to maintain his cover. The picture could not have been more alarming. Scrambling over the fence to retrieve the errant pill was PC Plod himself. Typical bloody do-gooder, thought Tex. If Plod ventured down past the van where the ball had landed Tex and his paramour would surely be discovered. Unfortunately for Tex, however, he was in no position to collect the ball himself before Plod could get down there, as he had taken liberties with his trousers. Unless that is…

Not thinking too much about the consequences Tex leapt out of the van, throwing off his T-shirt as he did so. He grabbed the ball from the thicket into which it had settled and raced uphill towards the stunned policeman.

“Tex! What on earth?” As he rushed past Tex slammed the ball into Plod’s ample stomach.

“STREAKER!” he hollered, as he vaulted the fence and charged onto the ground.

Momentarily disoriented, the thought occurred to Plod, as he looked upon the bare backside descending over the edge of the scrubby slope, that the cops were never around when you really needed them. Recovering his self-awareness, he took off in frantic pursuit of the nimble offender. As the pursuer scrambled over the boundary fence he tossed the ball to a startled umpire. Meanwhile to the cheers and jeers of the crowd and the amazement of his teammates Tex, who had assumed the arms outstretched manner of a small boy being an aeroplane, ran a spiralling route across the ground, took a series of high fives with his good hand as he sprinted the grandstand boundary then disappeared down the muddy track behind the Southern goalposts. As he had had no time to fashion a plan of any sort he just kept running.

Plod pursued him stoically but, having already expended a great deal of energy during two and a half quarters of football on the heavy ground, he could make up no ground on his naked prey. For his part Tex, having capitalised on the short, sweet infamy that is the streaker’s reward, thought better than to look back, unsure just how much the constable might have ascertained about his sudden naked ambition. Like a homing pigeon he wheeled round, doubled back onto the verge of the main road and headed for Albertville, fifteen kilometres or so down the road.

After some moments equilibrium was restored and the game restarted. Albertville’s sub-standard performance continued and with tails between their legs they marched from the ground, losers by forty-five points. Con had avoided giving the team a decent pasting ’til now but the time had come. Home truths were revealed and ultimatums issued. A recovery session was called for the following day—only genuine excuses would be tolerated for missing it. A paddle in the icy waters of the creek would surely be disincentive enough to make repeat performances unlikely. After laying down the law Con suggested they reconvene at the pub, wind down a little bit tonight and get ready for a hard week on the track.

That night, as players gathered in the bar, reports came in of Tex’s cross country progress. Boof had spotted him delicately straddling a barbed wire fence out the back of the old Smythe place. Eagle reported seeing him, away in the distance, as he crossed the road back onto the creek bank near the Five-Ways bridge. “In that get-up he could come and hang out with my mob—he’d fit right in,” he observed, dryly.

Then Peter Potter reported seeing poor Tex negotiating a fence into the bottom paddock of the Murchison stud, looking most uncomfortable. “Now that fence, I know—cause I helped ’em put it up—is an electric fence. Boy you shoulda seen old Tex jump. But that’s not the best of it. The reason that fence packs such a punch is that there’s one mean bull that lives down there with a punch to pack ‘imself. I reckon Tex might never ‘ve run so quick as when that nasty old bull caught a sight of ‘im. Poor bugger.” Potter laughed, “Yep, ol’ Tex got ‘imself in one mighty mess today.”

Talk of the game seemed futile. No topic could trump Tex’s naked dash. Everyone retold the story as they had seen it. Everyone had an idea or two about why Tex had done it and what might have happened to him during his perilous journey home. And most had a word or two for Plod who had managed to look like a bit of a goose himself, returning empty handed from his determined pursuit.

Then, around nine o’clock, the door opened and sheepishly, stiffly, worse-for-wear, Tex toddled in. “Well,” he asked, “d’ya win?”

As one the room, hushed by his sudden entrance, erupted.

Con liked to be home before stumps and there was nothing to celebrate that night anyway. But before leaving he took the chance, during a lull in the bar-room cacophony, to remind the players about the recovery session. “11:30 in the beer garden. Bring your togs. I want to see everyone.

“Everyone,” he added “except Tex. Tex, you’ve earned yourself a day off. Try to stay out of trouble.”

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