The Hobart Reclink Community Cup: Looking back and forward

 

Photo by Mark Phillips

 

We’re at the Republic Bar near midnight.

 

Both teams – well, the stayers – are talking, dancing, lining our future hangovers with potato chips, wedges – anything spud derived. As long as the food’s as simple as we are.

 

Musician after band after musician have a go on stage. Most of us are still wearing our colours.

 

“Youse was okay today, Old Dog!” slurs the opposition captain.

“Geez, you were best on!” I breathe all over him.

 

This is a happy time.

 

**

 

The day is waning over Hobart. The final siren’s gone.

 

I grew up on the Hard-Ons – a gutsy three-piece punk band. Surf on My Face, Girl in the Sweater, Suck’n’Swallow. They start playing on the small stage above the forward pocket the second the awards are done.

 

It’s close to heaven to hear them echo through the bowels of the change rooms as I ice this and that, neck my beer slowly and shuffle up to the showers.

 

There’s an expression we throw around bush footy. “C’m’on boys! Earn your beers!” ACLs have been snapped, shoulders popped, a leg broken. I took a few grabs. We’ve all earned plenty.

 

Sliding under the hot water, more tinnies in hand, it feels sweet and bizarre to have a soundtrack.

 

More so that it’s of people who helped shape me.

 

**

 

We come back into the rooms victorious!

 

This is an annual game. Most of our side know very little about footy, but we’ve won so have to sing something. We swap the word ‘Saints’ for our name, and laughing, cheering, give the St Kilda club song everything!

 

There are only two lines in it, but we stuff it up anyway. Which is perfect, really.

 

**

 

Our mob are 20 points up.

 

The umpire keeps giving stupid frees against us. I get into position for the next bounce. “Hop out of the middle circle for a second, please Old Dog,” he politely insists. “Whu…?” I say, taking a step back. He blows his whistle and pays a free against me. The fix is in! He wants to make a close game of it.

“Nice one. Cheers for that…” he says, jogging by.

 

“No worries…?” my mouth says, while my competitive brain, still numb, processes.

 

A week later he’ll umpire my club footy final, almost unrecognisable, 100% serious.

 

##

 

The game is a determined thing, being played in good spirits.

 

Some are having a real crack. The Van Diemen Dogs are musicians. Their Luca Brasi boys can play footy and are smashing it. Chalky, from Mephistopheles holds down fullback well. The girl on the wing, I think, is from the Spazzies. It doesn’t matter, we’re not here for autographs, everybody’s laughing.

 

My mob, the Ramonas, are a mix of music press, Mona PR dudes, social workers and Tassie news media.

 

“I haven’t played for 13 years!”

 

“Which end of the ball do I kick!”

“Help, I’m hurting!”

 

Yet, there are some real footballers, too. It’s hard to get my head around.

 

Duck Pond is the best of us – a happy, white-haired, chubby forward pocket in tattered red straw hat and pyjamas. When he comes off the bench he brings a pie and sauce for his nearest teammates.

Soon, the footy bounces off and through the bloke who played 300 games for Hobart Old Boys and the ex-VFL monster, and the 6ft4” basketballer who has been marking everything, and lands, somehow, at Duck’s feet for a soccer tap goal. Everybody goes troppo!

 

I start a chant of his name and hope he’s sober enough to hear it.

 

Commentators are calling the match. Everyone they know is a champion. Everyone they don’t is “taking it a bit too serious.” But that’s okay, they’re funny, the noise adds to it.

 

##

 

We meander onto the oval to warm up.

 

I never look at the crowd when I run out. Not since ’87, playing in my first Grand Final. The Sandringham oval was a lock-out. “Take in the crowd,” they told me. My man pantsed me.

 

He’d been playing seniors for Richmond six months earlier, so maybe there was more than one factor. But it still gets under my skin. I’d do everything different. The victories you savour forever – they keep on giving. So do your bad decisions – oh, they linger!

 

I remind myself that this is social footy and look over the fence.

 

The rock community is well represented. People come and go and take it in and drift or hang around for the music. Kids are everywhere. Snow-capped Mount Wellington looms gloriously above us.

 

It’s the second year the event has travelled to Tassie, the numbers have doubled, but they still need that 20-something bracket; the music festival crew, the local footballers.

 

##

 

Before we run out we laugh at each other and get all serious.

 

Evo, comes into the rooms to give each team a chat. “You’re not musicians, or footballers, or media. You’re a product! Here to help us push a cause!” It’s funny, nicely sharp. He’s funny. This whole thing started years ago in Melbourne with him sewing Frankenstein’s monster together. Pushing an idea; radio DJs versus musicians, to raise money for the homeless.

 

The games grew and grew, until the Junction Oval, home of Neil Roberts, Verdun Howell, Brian Gleeson, Ian Stewart, where Grand Finals were played in the war years, and fog made hard-fought battles between tough sides famous, the most romantic of all the former VFL ovals, was no-longer big enough to house it. Now the Reclink Cup fills Victoria Park to the brim. The Peep Temple, Spiderbait, whoever, whatever, playing at half time, a crowd going off around the confused ghosts of Len Thompson, Bobby Rose and Pants Millane. Bob Murphy in the commentary box, Dermie, coaches like the music icon Paul Kelly.

 

It’s all rock’n’roll, in the best way. The glamour and grunt of a sub-culture in the sun. It’s more than any one band, so becomes about all bands. About the people who follow them.

 

A celebration of the live music culture!

 

The after-parties of these annual games are a zoo of the gloriously unwound! A land of seaweed swaying giants, where you dance alongside and rub shoulders and talk loud bullshit with your music heroes and are equal.

 

The Tassie version, though, is a satellite. Like the Brisbane one, and Perth and Adelaide… Bands leave here to go to Melbourne. They’re hoping for a crowd of 1,000.

 

##

 

A man comes in while we’re stripping down.  

 

He’s stocky and of the street and speaks like Yabby Jeans working undercover. He is a heart, raw and exposed, shaped like a fist, talking with no bullshit passion.

 

He tells us about the homeless. About how hard it is, how heartbreaking to be so lost, to have no centre. He talks about football. About footy teams for the homeless that provide a home, that give them contact with other human beings. That give light and hope and things to work towards.

 

How it’s a lifeline that saves so many.

 

He talks about the vitality, as a society, and as human beings, of the homeless league he is a part of, run by volunteer goddamn heroes! The unheralded, who roll up their sleeves time and again and just maybe, sometimes, get to save souls, and make us all safer and better people for it.

 

With grist and volume, he reminds us why we’re here; to raise money to help the abandoned help themselves through footy. And to thank us.

Really, it’s the best speech I’ve ever heard in football.

 

##

 

I arrive at the ground like a rank amateur – on time.

 

This is media versus music, on a Sunday! The only people here so far are the organizers.

 

The oval is beautiful, old. Food vans are being shuffled, the band stage is being wired, tv cameras are not far off ready. Streamers, banners are put in position. In the rooms jumpers and socks are being laid out.

 

Big Justice comes to greet me and my partner.

 

“Old Dog!” he says. “You ready?”

 

He’s a huge man, both in presence and of body. I used to take ruck coaching at his Div 1 club, and was in the world’s most dysfunctional band with him. We’ve both been handy bush footballers, horrible musicians and great friends. He’s one of the key organisers.

 

##

 

   Ready?

 

Years ago I wrote something both good and bad about the Community Cup, before it was Reclink. I’ve never written anything smaller. To make matters worse, the Age reprinted it – minus the positive paragraphs. Their version went viral. But still, I wrote what I wrote, and had to own it.

 

I have always believed in the day, and, especially the cause. Football as a community. All sorts of community. There to embrace everyone.

 

#

 

   Everyone!

 

My regret has always been more so the hurt a piece I once wrote gave good people. Maybe today I can make amends a little.

“Always ready,” I tell Justice. Even though I never am, ever. But play anyway.

 

##

 

The Community Cup is built and played for others.

 

A noisy, life-filled, music-lined social event, a cause, but within that, the day goes to the very, very heart of everything that’s good about football. Thanks and absolute worship to all those who make it happen.

 

I hope it spreads like that game 160 years ago, fought out on a muddy paddock somewhere near Jolimont. If it does, I’ll look back with pride at playing in its pioneer days, to a good half-crowd, under a snow-capped mountain.

 

These are the reasons we play football.

 

READ OTHER RECLINK COMMUNITY CUP STORIES HERE

 

Photo by Mark Phillips

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Coulda gone, shoulda gone. Lovely piece Matt. Next year for sure.

  2. Loved it when in Melbourne, must get to a game down here. Thanks Matt for the flavour of this year’s game.

  3. Peter Fuller says:

    Well done Matt for playing and writing such an evocative account of your experience as well as providing history and context of the Reclink matches.
    As I was reading I was thinking of the controversy aroused by your previous post about these games. While that critique of the concept was plausible, when considered in the context of the struggle to keep typical community football clubs afloat, you copped an undeserved kicking for expressing the unsayable.
    That you were prepared to revisit that experience – which I would guess was uncomfortable – and that you were willing to acknowledge that the tone of that earlier piece may have been questionable, suggests that you are a bigger person than most of us.
    Well played, big fella.

  4. Mark Duffett says:

    Thanks for this, Old Dog, would have been a great pity to go unrecorded. Had every intention of going, but a most unusual second umpiring appointment for the weekend intervened. At which I did a groin and wiped myself out of contention for three weeks – maybe the footy gods are telling me something about where I should have been instead on that afternoon.

  5. Well played, Old Dog. And an excellent report

  6. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    Future hangovers lined with chips … a sub culture in the sun … the zoo of the gloriously unwound … Duck Pond! So many ample ‘marks’ here. And I love the rewind effect.

  7. Malby Dangles says:

    Well done, Matty!

  8. Matt Zurbo says:

    Hey, thanks everyone! Yep, Duffett, shoulda been there. But going down in the line of duty is pretty sweet, too. On ya, Peter. Cheers. Mathilde, I hope you read the piece on women’s footy, too!

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