The Albatross Rules- Chapter 2: Duck The Fish

The Albatross Rules

(a football chronicle)

(The story so far)

Club President, Barry (the Professor) Massey, is determined to turn around the fortunes of his beloved Albertville Football Club. If they can’t improve on the field they’ll never turn their ailing finances around. If they can’t do that the league will force a merger with hated neighbours, Mt Logan. A new coach is just part of The Prof’s plans.

2. Duck the Fish

“Albertville. Where the bloody hell is Albertville?” Maureen eyed her husband through the steam of her coffee.

“Buggered if I know? They want a coach, Love. I mean they want me to coach.”

“Albertville? You sure one of your mates isn’t having a go at you?”

Con checked the postmark. Mount Logan, a mountain timber town. He’d done a sportman’s night there a few years ago. Had a vague recollection of a turn-off just before the town. Albertville? He didn’t reckon there could be much there.

Perce Nightingale lived in the Valley up that way. Con had dropped in on him on the way back from Mt Logan. Maybe, he thought. But this wasn’t Perce’s style. The big man was too lazy to put together anything so elaborate.

“Well,” said Maur, “you might as well check it out.”

“What. You, move to the country! Remember our one and only camping trip. Weeks of planning. That tent was like the Taj Mahal. You lasted one night. Spent the rest of the week at that spa retreat place. You’d hate it. Nobody has thirty seven pairs of shoes in the bush…”

“Thirty nine,” she smiled guiltily.

“Any gumboots among that lot?”


“See what I…”

“No really, Con. I reckon you may as well check it out. We need a break.”

“Really?” Things had sure changed. It wasn’t so surprising. Con and Maur had had a rotten couple of years. Maur had been on the wrong end of a company restructure. Then there’d been the fire. It had gutted the back of the house. But those were small matters. Just as they were getting back on their feet, thinking their fortunes had brightened, Maur lost the baby she’d longed for.

A bloke could really learn a lot about himself at times like that. It got Con thinking. Who was he? Con Filipou, ex-footballer. Footy had been good enough to him but he felt like he was welded to the lead weight of his once ‘promising’ career. He’d done all the old player things since his knee went—part owned a pub that went OK for a while, shares in a horse that ate faster than it ran, lots of hours wasted around the fringes of the game and now he was coaching a bunch of rich kids. It was good PR for the school, which threw his name around like confetti. Con was starting to really want to be an ex-ex-footballer.

But footy was what he knew. He thought about something Perce had said. At least in the country the bullshit’s on the ground where you can see it.

Maureen, bless her, had been practical and stoic throughout their troubles. But then the specialist told her that that was it for her. ‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I guess you just weren’t meant to be a mum.’ Nothing could have been further from the truth. After that Con was just about ready to do whatever she wanted.

But Albertville!

“It might be good, Con. Really. Something different.” He searched her face for signs of irony. All he got was a soft sort of hopefulness. Albertville.

Decisiveness wasn’t always Con’s strong suit. He liked to procrastinate over things at times. It used to drive coaches crazy. ‘You’re a defender, Filipou. Don’t stand around debating in your head. Just move it out of trouble, long and quick. First option.’ That’s where Maur came in handy.

“I mean it, Con. It’d be good. Truly.”

“Righto, I’ll talk to them then, eh?”

Two days later, his much-travelled Torana struggled with the gradients as it lurched into the foothills. Barry Massey had asked him to come up to meet the boys and talk to the townsfolk.

With the turn-off sign obscured Con picked up the side road just in time, sending gravel into the roadside bracken as the car slid, back end wide, rally style, round the bend. Five kilometres further and the thick forest parted to reveal Albertville; a few shabby houses, a general store and servo’, the inappropriately named Grand Hotel and a welcoming sign, “Albertville: Home of the mighty Albatrosses.” Albatrosses! It might be a long night.

It was quiet in town—disturbingly quiet. Con parked outside a boarded up bakery, grabbed his sports bag and headed across the dusty main street to the pub. From inside he could hear a jukebox—Acca Dacca, Long Way to the Top. A sign on the public bar door warned ‘beware of the fish’. It was the sort of rye humour he’d come to expect in these isolated towns where B-list past footballers like him picked up beer money for cheap gags and reminiscence. A mangy heeler looked at him cock-eyed. Con pushed the door and stepped through slowly, letting his senses adjust to the familiar stale ale odour, the noise, the gloom, the smoke, and…

…thwack!! …the fish. A good size brown trout swung from the rafters collecting him clean across the nose. Then, before he could regather his thoughts, he was accosted by something just as shocking; a high-pitched natter that he would come to know well. “Heh, Heh, that’s why they call me the Professor, son. Welcome to Albertville. Can’t you read son? I don’t think you’ll do. Won’t do at all. We need someone who’s quick on his feet. Barry Massey mate, club president, we talked on the phone.” My eyes adjusted to a spritely old bloke with sharp eyes and, behind him, a room full of roughheads and beanpoles gleeful at my expense. Even the mangy mutt, who had come inside to sniff the fish, stopped to grin.

“No harm done mate. No harm done. Ladies and gentlemen, Con Filipou, though after that entrance I think we should call him Duck. Duck mate, duck. You gotta duck. Eighty five games and two goals off half-back for the mighty Panthers before his knees packed it in. Prodigious kick, strong mark, good footy brain and as slow as a brick. Conny, I saw Billy the Walrus run you down at the G one day, and Billy couldn’t catch a cold. He got such a shock he pushed you square in the back. But you still missed the shot for goal.”

Con remembered the day. Forced back on with concussion and the worst corky he ever had, propped in the pocket for nuisance value and an easy target for fat lugs like Bill Walls and smartarses like the Professor. He’d lined up for the free-kick seeing eight sticks and with his head ringing like St Pauls at night. Still he had no comeback. “Whadda ya want from me, Prof?”

“Whadda we want? Whadda we want? That’s what we want—another one of those.” He swung his arm in a great sweep that finished high behind his right shoulder. Con followed the gesture to the wall above the bar, aware that all the other eyes had followed it too, coming to rest on the group of battered old flags each emblazoned with the words ‘UDFL Premiers’. They suggested prouder times in the football club’s history. “Get us one of those and you’ll save this club. If not we’re stuffed I reckon. It’s up to you Conny. Hallelujah mate; you are the chosen one.”

“Wait on Barry,” Con protested. “This isn’t exactly the promised land. So far all you’ve done is insult me and whack me with a fish.”

“Country hospitality.”

Con groaned.

“Sorry, mate. No hard feelin’s, as I said. Albertville’s a small town. It seems to get a little smaller every year. We’ve invited you up here because we want to save our club. We want to save the club because without it this town’s a gonner. We’ve got a lot of pride up here, mate—you’d be surprised. But we need a change of luck.”

“I could do with one m’self, Prof,” mused Con, “Why don’t I tell you what I think I can do for you and then let’s hear what you’ve got for me.”

He talked for a while about his playing days and the coaching he’d done—overseeing the school sides. He’d taken them to five grand finals. Five for zip—the big one had eluded him. He’d assisted sometimes when the Panthers wanted to work on defensive structures. It wasn’t the most impressive resume and, in all his time in the game, the thing that had eluded him was exactly what this club wanted most—a premiership. Still he had a reputation, albeit a modest one, as a good tactical thinker and a reasonable communicator.

“So that’s about it, for me,” He concluded. “Suffice to say I wouldn’t have come up here tonight if I wasn’t interested in what you’ve got to offer. It’s over to you I guess—I’m happy to talk to anyone here tonight. The last thing I’ll say is that if I end up taking the job, I will give it my best shot.”

As Con stepped aside the Prof shook his hand. “Righto, everyone,” he shouted above a smattering of applause and rising chatter, “we don’t want to scare ‘im off so not all at once, eh. I’ll make sure you all get a chance.”

A group of current players was gathered around the bar. The Prof introduced them—’Tex’, ‘Potter’, ‘Straussy’, ‘Archie’, ‘Cotto’. They seemed like solid blokes. “They’ll be the back-bone of your side.”

Behind the bar was a thick-set man of perhaps thirty-six tough years.

“Con, Boof McKenzie. Boof’s your general in defence. He may be a hard man on the ground but he’s got a soft heart.”

“Soft head, too.” Boof pointed over his shoulder to a sign that read ‘Grand Hotel—proud sponsors of the Albertville Football Club.’

“Boof was vice captain last year. His family have lived round here for donkeys.” A big man with the wide round shoulders of his rural stock, Boof offered Con a firm hand.

“Hope you can join us. This team’s not short on talent, you know. With a couple more players and a bit of luck—and a steady hand at the wheel—we can do OK.”

The players chatted about where the side was at until the Prof returned. “Have a rest, you blokes and let him meet someone who really matters.” He dragged me aside to introduce Boof’s mother, Edith. “Ede really runs the joint. She’s on the committee—my strongest ally. And she runs the social side of things.”

“Pleased to meet you Con.” Ede was a stocky woman with a no-nonsense, big-jawed face full of experience. She was well on the setting side of sixty but there was strength about the way she carried herself—upright and spreading, altogether formidable. “Now tell us about your missus.”

“Wha?..” Con gawked back at her blankly.

“I already know you can coach. I’ve read your CV. I saw you play. But you’ll be no good to us if you’re not happy up here. And you won’t be happy if Maureen…” She looked to him for confirmation.

“Maur’, yeah. That’s right.”

“…you won’t be happy unless Maureen is.”

“Truth is Edie, we’re after a change of pace and Maureen reckons this might be just the ticket.”

“Good, good. It seems like a sleepy place but there’s really plenty going on. Is she interested in baking, at all?”

“A little,” Con lied.

“Never mind,” smiled Edie.

Maree White, the local historian, gave him the club’s potted history. The glory days in the 1970’s when the great Jimmy Hyde led the Albatrosses to a string of finals. The rivalry with Mt Logan and the current perilous position in which the club found itself. There was no lily to gild. Albertville was deep in debt and on the brink. The Upper Downs League had put the club on notice and fear of the consequences of another wasted season ran deep. But they weren’t giving up without a fight. It was “heritage,” Maree said, “and you can’t just throw that away. It stays with you. You’ll really be part of something, Con, if you come up to help us out.”

By 11:30 the crowd began to disperse. He’d had enough for one night. Tomorrow he’d be able to talk to more of the townsfolk, have a look around and call Maureen. He knew he had nothing to lose now and the significance of the coming season to the town appealed to him.

“Right fellas, I’m gonna call it a day. I’m dead tired. The Prof said you’d put me up tonight, Boof.”

“Sure, Con. Bring your car round the back, mate. I’ll get the room key. Good to have you on board.” Boof slapped the coach hard on the back.

As Con opened the door, The Professor called his attention. “Heh, Duck.”

Con paused, mid step, to respond, “What Ba…?”

He’d been had for a dill…again. He just had time to become momentarily aware of many eyes, again, in his direction.

As he braced for a second impact the only thing that broke the silence was the Prof’s gleeful proclamation. “The fish, mate! Duck the bloody fish!”

So it was, with the room dissolving in mirth and Barry Massey gleefully proclaiming his downfall, that Con Filipou became known to the players and townsfolk of Albertville as Duck-the-Fish (‘Duck’ for short). And to the whole of the Upper Downs League and in time to the entire football world until people imagined—remembered even—that he had always answered to it. And so it was, also, that he took the first tentative step on a remarkable football quest: the resurrection of a once proud club in a town that’s pride was feeling the strain. The quest to save the Albatross.

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