These things come to the fore in the off season. The little, vital stuff beyond the scores.
The back story’s important.
In 31 years of senior footy I’ve met a lot, kicked with more. Faces of all shapes, sizes, class backgrounds, nationalities, ages. In the beginning I was a loner, with a Dad with a busted hip, hopeless. Could not hit a target from ten meters. None of my teammates would have warm-up kicks with me.
But footy was my bug. I always stayed after training. And kicked some more. Nobody coached me on at in the tatts and knuckles league I was in. But shit, I tried. I kicked and kicked.
By my mid-20s I had it figured. Still couldn’t kick much over 40, but I can hit a target, now. Goals are a thrill, marking what I’m best at, but it’s a team game – there is nothing more satisfying than hitting a target. Hitting it sweet.
My skill doesn’t linger, though. Some blokes were born with lazers up their arse and on their boot. Not me. I still, at 46, do extra each night. Just kick and lead after training, two, three nights a week.
A part of it is if I have even a week off, my skills drop, a part is I like to come off the track with heavy legs. That’s what footy’s about, spending the lot. But, also, there’s something so right about it. A good kick. And, better, getting into a rhythm of good kicks. It’s even simpler, more basic, than training, or a game. To run, to kick, to hit a target. Nothing gets you fitter, each one is a victory, no strings attached.
Remember blokes like Bewick, like Buckenara, Billy Barrott, Glen Hawker? I wonder if, in their playing days, players like that knew how lucky they were? If they ever just kicked for the sake of kicking?
I wonder if they have that one Perfect Kick memory. Probably not. They did so many.
Me, I’ve done one truly great, and one Perfect Kick. The first was playing on the coast, against our arch rivals. I marked between CHB and FB. Gilly was one of those small men who knew I liked to keep the game moving, and played to it. He ran hard from the wing to HBF for the switch. I put the ball up, looping it, so he could run onto the thing. It spun and spun and spun. Anyone else wouldn’t have got there, but he was our fastest, put the burners on, full stride, and finger-tipped it as he powered through, curving back towards a now open wing.
Whoever he kicked it to goaled from fifty. Gilly came up to me and smiled.
“Tested the hammies, Old Dog.”
It felt good. Great. Not the goal, that we knew each other so well. At the time we were great mates. The kick was an extension of that.
The best kick I ever did, though, in all those hours, of all those months, 11 a year, every year for three decades, I was, what, – shit, I can’t even remember – somewhere in my 20s. Me and Goldy, a happy young bloke with curly blond hair from the Twos, were having a kick after training. The coach didn’t like me much, at all. He never trained us hard enough, and sorta resented the extra I always did. It put the pressure on him and his hate. Too bad.
We’d stayed out for a good 45, leading hard, kicking out in front, earning the night. Having fun.
The coach walked out to tell Goldy something. He listened, we kept kicking. Then, a few kicks later, as the coach was going, Goldy lead, and I aimed to put it out front. The ball hit my boot, and I knew.
It spun beautifully, rising just right – no bullet, no lob. Neither short nor far. 35 metres, tops. He ran onto it without breaking a stride. It hit his hands perfect.
We both knew it, and smiled dopy “Fuck yeah,” smiles at each other. Gold goggled his eyes a bit, nodding like cartoons, and, without having to say a damn thing, went in for the night, grinning the whole, longest walk back to the rooms.
I can’t explain it. I’ve done plenty of other kicks that seemed that good, in games even, but this one was, just, p.e.r.f.e.c.t. It’s a millimetres and motion and moment thing.
There are a group of mostly musos and journos who gather every Sunday of the year in South Melbourne somewhere to find the perfect kick. What a great, simple goal! They’re sharing something. My friend, who takes part, says they haven’t achieved it yet.
That makes me feel lucky. I’ve found it, once.
God! How much have I forgotten over three decades of kicking leather until dark? How many great teammates do I no-longer remember, or legends of blokes, games, finals, victory shags or biff? But I remember Goldy. Not how he played, or if we shared a drink, but on that night. I never saw him after that year, what, 20 season’s ago? But will always be grateful to him for being there, for kicking with me. He knew. That’s enough.
His grin was the best.