The Albatross Rules, Chapter 15- Holding The Man

15. Round 7, Bye: Holding the Man

The Prof’s vision for a women’s footy carnival during the bye had stretched the resources of the town.

To accommodate it, Boof organised a quick ‘once over’ for the old miner’s quarters at the Pilkington 3 site. There’d been no ore dug there for over ten years but the camp still hosted occasional student groups. It was ramshackle but comfortable enough. He cleaned out the rooms at the pub too. Billets were organised around town and the caravans that catered to anglers during the fishing season were booked solid. Somehow accommodation was found for four teams and their officials. With the addition of teams from Albertville and Mt Logan there’d be six teams playing a ‘round robin’ comp—games comprising two 15 minute halves over two days.

Boof had extra barrels delivered along with a quantity of stickier alternatives. The Pedersons got busy making snags. Everyone pitched in.

While the boys were licking their wounds from the rugged Mt Logan encounter the local girls were licking their lips in anticipation of sweet revenge. There had been no shortage of volunteers for the team. There was genuine disappointment amongst those who couldn’t play. Edith declared her willingness to “take on those Mt Logan husseys—’scuse the French,” but her dodgy hip prevented her.

Even more frustrated was Caz Temple. Archie’s niece had been the subject of much derision in town when she married Cobra’s pretty-boy forward Mitch Temple. But, on football matters, her allegiance had not been altered by the union. “If I wasn’t up the duff,” she said, “I’d be in there like a shot.”

Now the thought of the town awash with footballing females was almost too much for poor Robbie Formosa to bear. The Kid was still living down his run in with Murchison’s bull during the loss to Gunundurra–Heathvale. Two things were generally agreed within the club—that a little companionship would do him good and that it was unlikely to take the form of Honey O’Reilly. Robbie had been tossing and turning each night for the past two weeks, tormented by a dream in which the gossamer clad Honey emerged before him from the undergrowth at the side of a bush track. She danced a few steps towards him then turned and, with that laugh she had, like a crook hyena, vanished back into the scrub.

On Friday the girls from out of town began arriving. By early Saturday morning barely a nook or corner existed in town that was not occupied by a girl packing a pair of studded boots, polished and ready to impress. The Kid, who was helping out at the breakfast sausage sizzle Boof had put on in the beer garden, felt paralysed by fear.

There were chattering lasses with tossed locks and friendly smiles, big girls with hearty laughs and loud voices, lithe and spritely whippets and boyish swaggerers with spiky haircuts. There were girls of all shapes and sizes. The Kid kept his bashful eyes on the hot-plate. The girls queuing for snags could have been forgiven for believing that the barbecue’s heat and steam was responsible for the lad’s ruddy complexion.

The first game kicked off at 10:30: Easts versus Barrawool. After that it was non-stop action; 15 minute halves, 5 minutes between halves, 10 minutes warm up and then the next game began. Though the games were played at a different pitch to men’s matches (more soprano than tenor) the competition was fierce and the skills considerable, particularly amongst the four experienced teams.

The grudge match between Mt Logan and Albertville would be the last of the round-robin matches on Sunday before a ‘grand final’ for the inaugural Albertville Cup (a nice little gobletty thing, turned on Rory’s lathe out of a lovely piece of local timber). After the ‘Tiger’ story the Mt Logan girls had made mince meat of Albertville’s netballers (who, without Rachmann to help out, were now lingering near the bottom of the ladder). The locals vowed to even the score on the larger field.

The morning was fine and, as game 1 kicked off, the sun’s rays caused steam to rise across the ground. Through the day Edie and the women of the Ladies Auxillary did a roaring trade in coffee, scones, pies, beer and gossip. At the end of the day Easts and North Central had a break on the field. The whole carnival decamped to the Grand to continue festivities.

The Albatross boys were there in force. Those who were unattached liked their chances. The rest just went along to be hospitable and to soak up the atmosphere of what had been a most successful day—a day of which the town could be proud.

As Maur and Con entered (she limping a little from a nasty corky) they could see Peter Potter, the Rivera boys, Marco Pirelli, Dwyer, Doohan and Henry with The Kid in tow, working the room. Typical, the coach’s wife observed—not so much hunting in packs as safety in numbers. Potter seemed to be doing most of the work, he was good with chat and had plenty of front. The packed bar was ringing with the mingled voices of circles of excited conversation.

There was a familiarity to much of the chatter. Who had played well and who needed to lift. Who was a hard bitch they’d need to watch. What the lousy umpire had done or not done. How hamstrings and ankles and knees had come through. But the tone and expression of this after-match talk were a little altered. It was as if the conversation after an Albatross game had been filtered somehow of its masculinity, its grunts and its excessive foulness, its unfinished sentences and its peculiar jumbled syntax into something just a little more refined, then raised the best part of an octave.

Of the Albatross boys it was the more worldly German who seemed to be having most fun. Rachmann had found a group of girls who had clearly decided that the evening should not be wasted entirely on idle chatter or idle men—there was serious imbibing to be done and they were up to the job. He joined them in their time-honoured pursuit.

Potter meanwhile had grown tired of chaperoning his team-mates. He was comparing tattoos with a girl with a flat-top haircut and a muscle t-shirt. “Nice dragon.” he liked the work on the scroll too ‘Tanya’ beautifully executed. “Who’s Tanya?” Billy, the muscle t-shirt girl introduced her to him.

In the course of their conversation Potter mentioned the Kid. “Yeah, that’s what we call ’im. He’s just a boy. He’s been spooked for weeks by the though of so many shielahs in town. But fair dinkum; he needs a bit of female company.”

“He needs to relax a bit I reckon—what is it with fellas?” Billy screwed up her nose. “Bring ‘im over and we’ll entertain ‘im a while.” Potter went in search of The Kid. The boy might not find love that night but he could at least learn a thing or two about life.

It was as fine a night at The Grand as Boof could remember. By ten thirty the crowd was starting to thin as those with serious intentions for the following day’s matches retired. Billy, of the short hair and tattoos, was deep in conversation with the big barman. “It’s a great town, mate. I can give it a write up, people ‘ll flock here.”

“D’ya reckon?”

“No worries. I’ll get ya some o’ them rainbow stickers for ya windas. Gay and lezo friendly—y’know?”

“Just friendly I reckon.” The businessman in Boof was starting to get the picture.

“Same dif’ mate. Same dif’. Wad’ya reckon?”

“Sounds fine to me. You really reckon they’ll come to Albertville?”

“They. We. Whatever. Friendly mate. That’s the point. You do a good sausage sizzle, too. I tell ya what, those gourmet snags are right on the money. And you make people feel welcome. That’s a pretty good start.”

Boof felt chuffed. Suddenly he was an entrepreneur. “Here,” said Billy, “I’ll give ya me card.”

“Thanks,” he responded, and thinking quickly he grabbed a clean coaster from under the bar and handed it across in return. ‘You’re always welcome at the Grand Hotel, Albertville.’

“Beautiful work, Boof. I’ll see ya at breakfast.”

The younger Albatross boys could have learnt a little from Boof’s easy conviviality. They’d shown themselves—most of them—adept at the time honoured male tradition of making the least out of their opportunities. While Potter was enjoying the company of the Barrawool back pocket and Rachmann was still downing pots with North Central’s formidable centre line their team-mates had retreated to the safety of the pool table, oblivious to inquiring glances from the remaining guests.

The early matches on the second day of the carnival suffered from the over exuberance of some of the players the night before. But by afternoon the standard had improved as heads cleared. The day was again fine and sunny with just a hint of breeze keeping things a little chilly. Amongst the locals and a growing crowd of Mt Logan supporters the anticipation of the big grudge match was growing. Neither side had notched a win, unsurprising given that they were against vastly more experienced opponents. But both had acquitted themselves admirably and had not been disgraced.

When the time finally came the boys from the Albatrosses unfurled a big banner, ‘Go Albertville: Tiger Town 1 – Crazy Town nil’. Caz was calling the shots for this game and Peter Potter, on a dare from Rachmann who new all about such things, had borrowed a netball uniform, bib and all, in which to act as runner. He looked quite fetching.

It was a light touch in a game that was deadly serious. The crowd, knowing well the significance of the match found full voice with the Albertville support swelled by the visitors who had warmed, so much, to the town’s humble hospitality. On the outer wing, alongside Billy and Tanya and a mob of their friends was the Kid, barely recognisable as the same bashful lad who had spent the past fortnight in love-lorn palpitation. And though Honey, whose image had tormented him, was starring on the half forward line his attention was to the game itself.

“Come on, Albertville,” he yelled, then seeing three Mt Logan girls running into space on the wing he added desperately, “Get on your women, Albertville.” An approving cheer went up from the girls around him.

Mt Logan scored from the subsequent attack. Albertville would need to answer quickly. Honey received the ball from the restart. “Go, Honey, go,” yelled The Kid. “Oh, honey, yeah” sniggered a tom-boy behind him. Honey sent a wobbly kick forward to big Beth Henderson who was dealt with harshly by her opponent. “Holding the man, er um, woman.” yelled The Kid and when that still didn’t sound right he added “In the back!” for good measure. The umpire agreed. Beth, who really hadn’t mastered kicking yet, handballed to Maureen who slotted it through. The crowd erupted.

At half time it was one goal three a piece. The locals opened the second half with two rushed behinds. They had the best of the play but couldn’t convert. From a kick in Mt Logan players again found themselves in space. The Kid looked up the ground where unchecked Cobra girls were everywhere.

“Come on, Albertville,” he implored, “there’s too many loose women out there!” The spiky-haired crowd around him went wild. The Kid blushed just a little, but he was too engrossed in the game to care much.

Mt Logan bustled the ball forward and when it spilled to the back of a pack in the goal-square Bindi McPherson, their captain, slammed it through off the ground.

The Cobra fans found voice. That’s where scores remained, with Mt Logan up by four points, until, with only minutes remaining Albertville’s half forward, Linda Parry, who was proving a handful, took a grab. Her kick from forty out slewed into the pocket where Honey swooped then spotted Henderson on the goal line by herself (her opponent, having ‘fallen’ in a clash up-field; Henderson had the sharp and wayward elbows of a veteran of Goal Defence). Honey squeezed the handball out and the big lass, who couldn’t kick, dribbled the goal from point blank range. The Albatross girls were in front.

Caz sent the beskirted Potter out to tell the girls to go one on one. The Kid was of the same mind. “Just pick up a woman,” he shouted. “Stay on your women, Albertville.” (To loud approval, again, from the surrounding crowd). He’s learning fast, thought Billy as she let rip with a big, fingers-in-the-mouth style, whistle. The last couple of minutes were played in that defensive vein, with contests at either end of the ground but no clear scoring opportunities.

The siren sounded with the home team up by two points. As the crowd celebrated wildly Billy patted The Kid on the shoulder. “There’s nothing like a bit of good old fashioned woman on woman footy is there, son?”

“Nup. And there’s nothing like winning,” he replied.

The Albertville girls were elated. Despite their exhaustion they responded to the crowd with an impromptu lap of honour. As they jogged the outer wing Honey spotted The Kid on the boundary, still cheering loudly. She ran across towards him. “What’d ya think, Robbie?”

“Fan-bloody-tastic.” Then, as there was a lot of it going on and it seemed the obvious way to share his happiness for the team and what it had done, he leant across the fence and wrapped her in an impromptu hug. Honey jiggled free and jogged off with her team-mates, still with the joy of victory radiating from her perfect, dirt-splattered face. When she turned back to flash the suburban boy a quick smile she left upon his formative memory an imprint of the inaugural Albertville Country Women’s Football Carnival. It was a day he would never forget.

For the record North Central won the wooden cup. The Prof, who had suffered the scepticism of some in town for his grand plan was now bathing in the glory of the weekend’s success. There was a heightened sense of optimism about the place, a pride in what the town could achieve and a new-found self belief. There were ideas about attracting visitors: maybe a whole emerging industry, no-one had ever thought of Albertville as a tourist town before. And there was the warm glow of victory over the Cobras. The cruel loss the previous week was forgotten. You had to hand it to the president. He had been bold enough to dream and the town was much the better for it. The main focus of his dream, that elusive pennant, now seemed far more achievable than the team’s modest tally of three wins suggested. They would enter the second half of the season with reason to think that a finals spot at least was attainable. And after that…well they’d give it a shot.

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