The Albatross Rules: Chapter 17- Brothers In Arms

17. Round 8, Dwights Mill-Barcaroo Demons (home): Brothers in Arms

After a glimmer of promise in the early rounds Dwights Mill-Barcaroo had once again taken their place at the bottom of the ladder. They were too proud to be dispirited and suffered a series of thrashings with stoic resolve. By comparison Albertville went into the return match with a full list to choose from, improved form and with the town still buzzing from the resounding success of the previous weekend’s carnival. Although they needed to build percentage Con decided to rest some of the older blokes by starting them on the bench. He’d play Boof, Murfett and Pierce sparingly. Cotto insisted on starting—he felt like a new man and wanted to see how his back stood up to match conditions.

Con stressed the importance of percentage and the need to help each other out. Against weak teams it was easy to fall back into bad habits.

On the ground, before the game, the boys warmed up with a bit of kick-to-kick in front of the goals at the bridge end. The coach was hoping for a special effort from Juan and Bobby Rivera, who had come across from Dwights Mill-Barcaroo during the pre-season. He could see in their eyes a desire to show the old team what they could really do. The brothers talked animatedly as balls criss-crossed from the players in the goal-square to the group on the 50-metre line. Bobby marked strongly and immediately handballed to his brother who dobbed an effortless drop punt through the sticks.

Con liked to take the players up the ground a bit before home games because the hill in front of the rooms was the favourite roost for the old guys—the proud members of the Albertville Football Club Past Players Association. Some of them had grudges and some had stories they wanted to tell (and tell and tell) of the great days—their days. They all had opinions. Opinions on who should be in or out. Opinions about training. Opinions about everything from the style of play to the style of the players’ hair. They were a formidable brotherhood of boorishness and an unnecessary distraction to the players before a game.

But today they seemed somewhat subdued. Something was afoot. Peter Inglis, Vice Captain in the ’72 premiership, was drinking tea. Inglis never drank tea. He’d drink cold beer in the Arctic. A group of players from the same era were scuffing around in a disconsolate manner, mumbling to each other occasionally. They were normally the loud ones, back slappers, chin waggers, characters. Any other Saturday these were the kings of the hill. Right now they were behaving like chastened schoolboys.

Well if they wanted to be miserable that was their problem. Con would find out what was up soon enough. Meanwhile, he had a team to get ready.

In the huddle before the siren he told the boys that, to make the most of the opportunity a game against a struggling club offered, they should be prepared to work hard for each other. “When we’ve got the ball I don’t want to see players just waiting for contests. Forwards, you need to create the options. And backmen, be prepared to back yourselves and carry the ball. Run, run, run… that’s how we need to start playing. I want this team to be a tough, attacking, creative unit. That’s how we’ll win a flag. No more kick and hope stuff. We’ve got to work together. And remember, keep on the move.”

“Shouldn’t be too hard, Potter,” Cotto looked across to his team-mate jigging around at the edge of the pack, “you haven’t stopped hopping like that for three days.” He received just a snarl for a response. The area of Potter’s bogus groin treatment was burning something shocking.

Boof won the toss and decided to kick to the Southern end, knowing that the light breeze in the other direction looked set to strengthen through the afternoon. As the Rivera boys took up their spots on the left and right forward flanks they were greeted by former team-mates with shows of strength. The two youngsters from the Rogerson clan made a beeline, for them. They confronted them in the manner of the feral billy goats whose fierce, head-clashing, battles for turf were often heard echoing across the valleys. The Rivera boys weren’t big, but they were strong. It took more than a little push and shove to up-end Juan, and by the time Col’ Rogerson managed to do it the umpire’s attention had been drawn to the stoush.

“Take a rest, Rogerson.” The ump’ trotted in and indicated the mark. Rivera, faced a relatively easy shot at goal. But he spotted his brother sprinting into the hole, dead in front. He slotted a half distance pass through traffic that Bobby juggled before spinning onto his left foot for the opening goal.

The crowd cheered and a chorus of horns greeted the two flags. The Albatrosses were off and flying. But still the former players seemed uncharacteristically subdued.

With a player down the combine struggled to get possession. Con was delighted with the endeavour his boys were showing. The Riveras were having a field day, sharing it around, scoring at will. Bobby to Juan and goal. Rachmann to Potter to Juan on the run, handball back to Bobby in the goal-square and goal. Their satisfaction only incensed their opponents further. Bobby got dragged down in a marking contest. From the free he hand-balled to Juan who goaled again. By quarter time they had five between them.

In the second quarter the pattern continued. Albertville kept scoring at will. Their happless opponents struggled to move the ball past half forward and when they did Albertville’s defenders swept it forward with ease where the brothers were still having a field day. On the ‘grandstand’ hill the past players remained decidedly underwhelmed by it all. Con’s curiosity finally got the better of him. “Eh, Prof, what’s the story with the old blokes?”

An extra sparkle in the Prof’s eyes betrayed a sadistic pleasure. “Poor buggers. Haven’t you heard mate. Edie’s put the wind up ’em.”

“Oooh.” Their chastened demeanour began to make sense. Edie was not a lady you’d want to cross. It seemed some of the old boys had made fair gooses of themselves in the early hours of Sunday morning during the carnival the week before. Edith’s intelligence networks were formidable. Muriel Watson, the maker of the worst scones in the district, was a nervous type and prone to sleeplessness. While taking a bit of fresh air late on the night in question she’d heard a commotion coming from the public bar of the Grand. As Sergeant Sam (Snortin’) Naughton, full back from the days when the mine was still operating, was involved in the post closing-time revelry the locals had deemed it unnecessary to draw the barroom blinds. They hadn’t reckoned on Muriel. Or Edith. Or the combined wrath of the matriarchs of Albertville.

The sergeant, Muriel reported, was standing atop a table, his check shirt unbuttoned to the waist, gyrating above an upturned broom in the manner of Elvis Presley.

Fuelled by various colourful concoctions, the die-hard members of the visiting women’s football teams were egging on the aging would-be lotharios.  Worse still, Muriel reported, young Lucy McKenzie, Boof’s neice, Edith’s favourite grand-daughter, was pawing at the jelly-bellied policeman, mimicking the teeny bopping girls in the old Elvis movies.

Muriel’s observations hadn’t stopped there. Pete Inglis—Speakidda, to his former team-mates—had been trying a little twisting of his own. For a man of his vintage and his girth it had been an unbecoming sight. Enough beer had been consumed by the old boys that they could no longer distinguish between being laughed with and laughed at. Doubtless they were in no condition to care. Muriel watched, astonished, as Hanny Porteus rode around the pool table on Gaz Murnane’s dodgy back, apparently in a reconstruction, for the enlightenment of the visitors, of some legendary incident from their playing days.

As if all of this weren’t enough for poor Muriel, Col Baker selected a sleazy disco hit from the juke box, cranked up the volume then leapt onto Snortin’s impromptu stage. He shoved the sergeant unceremoniously from his perch than proceeded to slowly disrobe, grinding and shaking to the beat while mouthing lyrics only a testosterone charged teenager could live up to. As the music reached its final chorus it seemed he would, at least, stop before his billowing shorts came off. In any case Muriel was not about to hang around to find out. She’d seen more than enough.

The next morning when the past players reconvened on their favourite spot on the grandstand wing their heads pounded like jungle drums and their masculine pride, so indomitable during those early hours, was diminishing as each cloudy memory of the night’s events returned to haunt them. They were in a sorry condition. Not half as sorry as the were about to be.

“Stupid bloody old fools!!” Oh, god, they thought as one, not Edith. Please not Edith.

“Well, well, well. Elvis Presley and the Chippendales and Jim Pike and Phar Lap. Here. In Albertville. Hard to believe.”

A few of the memories became, suddenly, less cloudy.

“H…h…how…” Though his mental capacity was severely hampered the policeman knew he’d made a fatal mistake.

“Never you mind how, Samuel Naughton.”

‘Samuel’, he thought, ‘this is gonna be bad’.

“I knew your good mother. I can only imagine how disappointed she would be today.”

Edith was good. Dead mothers and disappointment. Nice work!

“As for you, Baker…”

Masterful! From the formal to the dismissive without missing a beat. The perfect switch-up. Edith left the sentence hanging like a guillotine blade.

“Inglis, you haven’t got the body for proper dancing let alone that teenage stuff. Next time you want to go-go, do everyone a favour and just go instead.

“And as for you, Murnane. Every woman in town has heard how bad your back’s supposed to be. Don’t you think we talk? How do you reckon Betty’s going to feel when she hears you’ve been carrying a big clown like him around all night?”

Ouch! Right where it hurts. Game, set, match, Edith.

A week had passed now, but the humiliation remained. It was a castigated bunch who moped around the hill. Even the pleasure of a dominating performance from the team failed to lift them from their lethargy. The Prof couldn’t hide a chuckle as he recounted these events.

“What about you, Baz,” said Con. “How’s it goin?” The coach had his own reasons for asking. Maur and Caz had been acting very strangely lately. There’d been lots of little meetings and a fair few giggles between them. It suggested one thing—they were preparing to ramp up their campaign to ensnare the Prof. The joker was going to get a taste of his own medicine…but where and when? Maur was playing her cards close to her chest.

Baz scratched his head. “Things are fine, Duck. Fine. Team’s back on track.” He waved a grizzled hand in the direction of the game. “No injuries. Can’t complain… Why, anything up?”

“Er, no, Prof…no” Con muttered unconvincingly.

Back on the park the rout was continuing. Through the third quarter the boys banged on five goals to one. The Riveras were still toying with the opposition. The team was playing, as Con had urged, an attacking, accountable style of football. They hadn’t let the big margin cloud their resolve. He knew that if they could maintain that style against the top teams they’d be able to match it with them. They were supporting each other, doing all the little things that make good teams great. Sure it was easy against a weak opponent but he saw something in them that afternoon that pleased him immensely. He sensed a willingness to sacrifice individual performance for the good of the team.

Coming home with the wind the players began to really enjoy themselves. None more so than the Riveras. It was freakish. Juan to Bobby. Goal. Bobby to Juan for another. They had it on a string. It was getting monotonous, predictable even.

“Get those, Riveras will ya.” The Prof sidled up to Con, grinning broadly.

“Uncanny, isn’t it?”

“You haven’t worked it out yet, have you?”

“Worked out what?”

“Their waxing, you duffer. Have been all game. I bet they’re on a nice earner for it, too.”

Con remembered Straussy’s drop kick earlier in the season. What the hell—he was just the coach. Why should he have to know everything that was happening on the ground?

Bobby Rivera, who’d kicked the last goal, took the ball on the boundary, turned and sent a searching handpass looping over a big pack of players to his brother, Juan who slammed it goalwards. As the umpire signalled all clear the boys came together to celebrate. Soon after the restart the siren sounded and the players celebrated a thumping win. It had been another interesting afternoon in Albertville. An afternoon that honoured the brotherhood of footballers.

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