The tides of March

 

by Jeff Dowsing

After a glorious last hurrah, the summer of 2012 evaporated quicker than Sean Marsh’s batting average.

Hard to believe it’s already March. It must be a loathsome month for emo-goths, artistes and like minded hipsters with serious sport allergies. NRL, Super Rugby, A-League, AFL in-embryo, and cricket’s tail end all scramble for airtime as a critical mass of couch potatoes strap themselves in.

At the best of times there’s an element of guilt associated with dispensing withering critiques at the flatscreen from one’s climate controlled lounge. So with the weekend’s exertions generally taking place in circumstances not dissimilar to the putrid swamps of the Everglades, a little empathy was in order. Even for Brett Lee and Harry Kewell.

I for one enjoyed the throw back to another time and place which demanded a whole other skill set, and a mental strength to push through environmental challenges that even Bear Grylls might baulk at. Weather that Bill Nettlefold and Leigh Carlson revelled in (to paraphrase Abbott & Costello, ‘their father was a mudder, their mother was a mudda’).

Before today’s world’s best practice all-weather stadiums, games of yesteryear took on a character of their own, instantly recognisable by the prevailing conditions. The big wet of ’77 starring Malcolm Blight’s match losing shank at Arden Street, Harmes’ aqua planing knock-in from the Hilton Hotel foyer in ’79, and the MCG’s 90 yard beach in ’89 to name a few. More recently the 2002 decider fittingly had as much drama happening in the sky as on the ground.

Then there’s John O’Gready’s photo of Norm Provan and Arthur Summons taken after the 1963 NSWRL Grand Final between St George and Western Suburbs – so famous it inspired one of the most distinctive major sporting trophies in the world. Whilst ‘sportsmanship’ is erroneously labelled the hero (the players were actually discussing the allegedly crooked ref), it’s the mud and gladiator romanticism which is the image’s artistic conceit. If ever there’s such a trophy cast for the NRL’s March champion (not out of the question), surely Billy Slater would provide the mould with his soaring matchwinning try out of Canberra Stadium’s sodden gloom on Saturday night. In AFL terms it was mark and goal of the year in one.

Who said wet weather mitigates the skilled?

Too bad the so-called Biblical conditions afflicting so much of the continent slipped under the Bomber’s radar until they found themselves praying for a safe landing, somewhere. Going by the Saints’ hastily arranged intraclub, football as water polo might have added some fun to this year’s somewhat invisible NAB Cup.

At least the ODI tri-series final was bullishly played out to a thrilling conclusion in driving rain. What a relief Professors Duckworth & Lewis weren’t called upon to put the kybosh on Sri Lanka’s ominous flurry (aided to some degree by the slippery pill and Australia’s slip shod bowling). What we could deduce from the late night tomfoolery is Shane Watson’s our most skilful, if not only wet weather cricketer.

Flannelled fools are expected to be fair weather athletes though, they’d rather be drinking and throwing darts anyway. But nowadays our once muddied and bloodied pigskin warriors are so sensitive about the state of their sod. That Professional Footballers Australia has instituted an ongoing award for the A-League competition’s best pitch is symptomatic of an era where most football codes can barely purport to be outdoor sports anymore. Forget about the horrid 1-3 shellacking, behold our beautiful Bermuda! Or FieldTurfTM, as is the trend in other parts of the world.

“In any weather you will see us with a grin, risking head and shin”.

I reckon Richmond’s much lauded theme song espouses a sentiment the cider drinking, bubble wrapped generation of today would do well to take on board.

A fan at one venue on the weekend tweeted his disbelief that a modern stadium could be built where not every single patron was covered! Fans are just as appalled by a receding grass line, if a ball fails to bounce at the anticipated parabolic trajectory, or heaven forbid a player unexpectedly SLIPS OVER! The sight of mud is almost grounds for an OH & S inquiry.

Adrian Black is a leading professional in the field. From the more rudimentary expectations of the old Victoria Park, to the award winning, state-of-the-art AAMI Park, he’s noticed the changes over the course of his horticultural career.

“Coach, player and media scrutiny on turf surfaces has intensified over the last 20 years where it is now unacceptable for players to lose their footing due to poor turf or to come off the field with mud on their uniforms. This focus has driven the advancement in drainage technology, maintenance practices and improved grass varieties leading to major improvements in surface conditions. It’s now possible to produce a perfect surface regardless of weather conditions.”

This determined quest for excellence raises some philosophical questions. Learning how to excel whatever the weather was once a given part of football. Even at the premier level of English soccer you can find post Jurassic era colour footage of short shorted mud-spattered players coping without complaint. What’s more, spectators were accepting of the now unacceptable concept known as winter.

On the very rare occasion the conditions do turn irretrievably nasty, I for one can’t help but look forward to a different kind of spectacle, one that takes me back to suburban digs and sometime bogs of my youth. One which included a Little League adventure on and in Moorabbin’s glue pot c1984.

Hell, only three boys had to be winched to safety that day.

 

About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.

Comments

  1. The poor NRL grand-finalists seem like the only ones who missed out. Ricky Ponting at the SCG in January proved your point, Jeff, after he ditched his dirty tee even with it’s gritty symbolism (a dive to snatch that elusive ton).

  2. Phantom says:

    I think you are exagertating with that Harmes pull back Jeff.

    I was at that game and had a good view.

    It was nowhere near the Hilton, not even the road.

    In fact it was on the otherside of the railway line towards the carpark.

  3. AndrewG says:

    Nominative determinism strikes again. If your name sounds like “dousing”, this is the piece you’ve waited all your life to write. And it reads like it, Jeff – enjoyed it very much. It’s a topic to, um, w(h)et the appetite.

    This might be as good a time as any for almanackers to nominate their team’s favourite mud-runner.

    Jimmy Bartel.

  4. Peter Baulderstone says:

    What’s rain? What are clouds? Mud is what you get when you overdo the 10 minutes of dripper on the roses twice a week.
    We could play all AFL games in Perth so that the conditions are never a problem. Only trouble is that Collingwood players complain about travel sickness when they venture as far as Etihad. Tullamarine isn’t on their maps. And Essendon will have to take the train as they are now so flight phobic.

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