The Reverend remains faithful in Afghanistan

I lazily roll out of bed and wander down to the shops. “Salaam alaekum.” This isn’t Sydney Rd, Brunswick. This is Kabul, Afghanistan.

I grab the basics – bread, eggs, juice – and introduce a new (expat) neighbour to my bootleg booze dealer; a teenage shop assistant called Sadam Hussein. That’s his actual name. He sells plastic bottles of Tajik vodka for $20. When the bar sells Heineken for $10 a can that’s great value.

I cook brunch – French toast using Afghan bread – and flick through satellite television. It takes me 10 minutes to find it, but sure enough, there it is. Saturday Night Football, live in Kabul. It shocks me every time.

I haven’t felt the pulse of AFL like you only can in Melbourne. And the thrill of Kabul has distracted me from chasing its scent. But today is the last day of Ramazan. Most expats are out of town and the Afghans are tired, hungry and over it. Nothing is going on … except my boys from Arden St are playing Collingwood on live television. And apparently North are hot.

But it’s the modern Collingwood, the tattooed brigade drilled to military precision (with matching personality), who turn up to play. Within 10 minutes North have hardly sniffed the leather and find themselves 4 goals down. I remember that last Collingwood game, that bitter winter’s afternoon at the ‘G last year … it’s the only time in 20 years I’ve left the footy early.

Then the momentum shifts. North settles, and the heralded three-prong forward-line of Petrie, Tarrant and Hansen all goal. Thomas (our Thomas, the good one) puts a testy set shot straight through the middle and North are a point up at quarter time.

Play resumes, and North withstand 10 minutes of solid football from Collingwood, conceding a goal. Then Thomas nails a difficult set shot to undo Collingwood’s work.

Ball up. Cunnington-Ziebell-Hansen-goal. It’s the future.

So… hang on. Thomas can kick? Hansen is good? And Daisy Thomas has got a haircut?! This game has changed.

Ben Cunnington, the dairy farmer from Cobden, was always my boy. A natural centreman of old, he reminds me of Simon Atkins circa ’92: unfashionable, tenacious, creative; a footballer’s footballer. And he’s arrived. Several times in the first half he releases North with superb hands and vision. From a phone box. With 8 people in it.

I laugh at the people who branded North one-paced. They forgot that fast football doesn’t need fast runners. Geelong’s 2007 midfield was the quickest I’ve ever seen, but only Ablett had real toe. North’s speed hasn’t come from the legs (although Atley and Harper help), it’s from Ziebell, Swallow and Cunnington’s hands, creating play in-close. And finally they’re clicking.

The Collingwood is not clicking. It’s dysfunctional. ‘Car Keys’ Delaney has Dawes covered and Scotty Thompson is doing a number on Cloke. The $15m Collingwood coaching panel don’t have a plan B. Meanwhile, Brad Scott’s blue-collar brains trust is exploiting the Shaw-Hansen match-up in the goalsquare. Hansen has him done in the air, and Collingwood’s run off half-back is stifled.

Tarrant (our Tarrant, the good one) intercepts a Collingwood brainfade at the top of the square. Another pressure moment, another North goal – they’re beating Collingwood at their own game.  And all of a sudden North go into half time kicking 9 of the last 10.

The shape of the game remains largely unchanged in the second half as North control the tempo. North has an answer for everything Collingwood try. But pondering a possible win makes me feel unsettled. 10 weeks ago I was safe (at least as safe as you can be in this town) – North were not going to make finals, and I could enjoy September in Kabul. Now I have a real dilemma on my hands: bring peace to Afghanistan or watch North have a crack at the flag?

3 minutes left, 5 goals up and the power goes out. I resign myself to hearing the song on Facebook and head off to an expat barbeque down the road. Along with some of Sadam Hussein’s finest, a German connection has hooked up another premium contraband: pork sausages.

About Reverend Shinboner

Reverend Shinboner grew up in Wangaratta, North-East Victoria, to a football accepting, but not obsessing family. Nevertheless, North Melbourne-supporting lineage dictated the choice in VFL club, who at the time, spent most of their days fighting out the middle-to-lower rungs of the ladder. The brilliance of the Krakouers and regular Friday night coverage ensured interest in the game was maintained. This all changed in 1993, when Rev. Shinboner was sent to boarding school in Melbourne. An introverted and somewhat nerdy Townie, weighing in at 34 kgs, was sent to the wolves. Surrounded by teenage posturing from somewhat over-entitled boys meant fitting in was a day-to-day proposition. At this critical junction two things happened: North Melbourne became contenders and Rev. Shinboner saw his team play at the ‘G for the first time. 25 Friday nights, 3 Preliminary Finals and about 25 kgs later and he could mix it with the best of them. Reverend Shinboner has been connecting with people through football ever since. While the Reverend’s love of North Melbourne has waxed and waned over the years, one incident transformed his relationship with the club forever. In 2002, the North Melbourne players decided they could no longer play alongside the greatest player the club had ever seen. The North officials agreed. Wayne Carey was sacked. Never before had such a statement of principle and character been made by a football club. Anthony Stevens led the team to an inspired victory over a much more fancied Port Adelaide a few days later. For Rev. Shinboner it meant more than the 1999 Premiership. While North Melbourne’s fortunes have since been mired in relocation speculation and a middling team, Rev. Shinboner knows two constants: North Melbourne Football Club will be written off and North Melbourne Football Club will survive. Just as they always have. His love of the club remains at an all time high.

Comments

  1. Beachcrave says:

    Dear Rev,

    Your peacemaking skills may soon be required in a pending domestic dispute – Scott Bros Showdown in September?

    Your man, Mr Cunnington, was awesome and the vision of your coach vigorously shaking hands in the box at the siren well worth a Facebook view or two.

    A few folks may just have hopped aboard the Roo bandwagon.

    Hope the illicit celebratory snags went down well, Lou.

  2. What would have been safer Rev. Central Kabul on Saturday night or on the Collingwood train in a Roos top on the way home from the game?

  3. Phantom, much safer in Kabul than the South Morang line Saturday night, me thinks

  4. Andrew Starkie says:

    I wrote a few years ago: “Hell is the Epping Line after a Collingwood win’, or something like that. It’s the Sth Morang Line now is it? Whatever, it would’ve been a heavenly ride home on Saty night.

    Rev, keep up the good work over there. Mutual friends keep me up to date with your progress. Sounds like your making a real difference.

    Trying to keep a lid on things over here in regards to the Roos. I’m liking the club’s ‘one game at a time’ approach. There’s still much to do. A meek surrender in September will undo the good work.

    Having said that………….. your line ‘North has an answer for everything Collingwood try’ sums Saty night’s game up very well. We’re showing poise and steel under pressure and are able to control the tempo of games. And the improvement of Cunners is such a bonus. Given a chance with Jack’s suspension, he’s taken it with both hands.

    Go you Rooboys!!

  5. Andrew, Reverend,
    Looks like the Roos will face the Cats in week one. Confident? (Even quietly so?)

  6. Andrew Starkie says:

    Cookie, if that happens – and I’m trying to keep a lid on it here – the winner may go deep in Sept. At least a final four. Stop it, Andrew!! Slam the lid shut!!

  7. Andrew Starkie says:

    I know what you’re doing Cookie. MInd games. I’m on to you.

  8. Roos premiers for sure.

    They would have to start favourites against the Cats.

    Younger, smarter, fitter and the big winner is their coach is mum’s favourite.

    Roos for sure. Dead cert. No worries.

  9. Stephen Cooke says:

    You’ll be right against the Cats, AS. The Cats are gone! Too old, too slow. Their reign is over etc

  10. Stephen Cooke says:

    Funny thing is, Phantom and I typed those comments at the same time.

  11. There isa rumour going around that Geelong and North have swapped coaches – but no one can be sure.

  12. Carringbush says:

    We were done like a dinner by a better side on the night. But we had a hell of a game against the Swans so will reserve judgement on my Pies until the WC game. If we return to the winners list, this loss may be an aberation. Still, several deficiencies were exposed..

  13. Cookie,
    I’m not buying into your confusing mind games. All I will say is that if my team was lining up against North right now, I’d be seriously concerned.

    With respect to the duel of the Scott brothers …. yawn. Leave that for the media. I wanna see the match – what a cracker it would be!

  14. Dear Rev, your team IS North. It can’t line up against North right now. You’re not concerned, you’re confused.

    Cookie

  15. Andrew Starkie says:

    Rev, don’t be sucked in by them. Ignore their minds games.

  16. Mind games Andrew, you’re talking ‘Scrabble’.

    Cats are gorn and everyone knows that.

    Well almost everyone – someone had better tell the players; dear old geriatrics and young activities carers that they are.

  17. Andrew Starkie says:

    I know what you’re doing, Phanto. Wicked.

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