Voulez-vous footy avec moi?

Forty years on, Vin Maskell recalls the dedication of a classmate during French lessons

 

In 1973 we had French before footy. We had masculine and feminine nouns before running around on the Frere Jacques Hamilton Oval. We had singular and plural verbs before scratch matches amongst the boys of Form Three at le college de le Saint Joseph, dans Geelong.

Of course, no-one in the class really cared for French. It wasn’t Bridgette Bardot French. It wasn’t Audrey Tatou French. It wasn’t Julia Zemiro French.  And it certainly wasn’t Patti La Belle French (Remember the hit song ‘Voulez-vouz couchez avec moi, c’est soir?’ ?).

Non, it was French from the nicotine-stained teeth and lips of Mr Mullaney, a man who wheezed his way through French vocabulary and grammar, alternately hitching up his shiny strides, buttoning his bleu cardigan and brushing back his greying hair with brune Capstan fingers.

Thirty boys knew that the bounce of the ball and the touch of the Sherrin was only 45 minutes away and one boy in particular was doing something about it toute de suite. Mark Sczcesny, or Skeeter, used the French lesson as his change-room. He wanted to be first out the door and first onto le terrain d’Australie de les regles as soon as the Pattie La Belle rang. So, quietly, methodically, surreptitiously, Skeeter would change into his footy gear while Mr Mullaney wheezed and coughed his way through the day’s French lesson.

Skeeter sat a few seats in from the back row, and well clear from the window, where a passing principal with a sharper eye than Mr Mullaney might detect something was up.

As the class progressed, for want of a better word, Skeeter undressed and dressed, all the while being seated and being sure to keep his eyes on le professeur de le Francais.

Firstly he would reach into his SJC schoolbag and take out le jersey de le ballon d’Australie de les regles, a light bleu cotton jumper with yellow collar and wrists. (We wore ‘house’ jumpers. Mine was rouge with jaune trimming.)

Skeeter would manage to leave on le jersey de le college while removing his rouge, noir et jaune cravate and his grey shirt. He would then bend over and pretend to be looking for un stylo or a rubber or la regle while whipping off his school jumper, tossing on his footy top and pulling his school jumper back on.

Then, of course, he would sit upright, a model etudiant. If Monsieur Mullaney had noticed anything, he didn’t let on. Or didn’t care. There would be a wheeze or a cough. Or a hitching up of the shiney pantalons. As much as we were champing at the bit to play some footy, Monsieur Mullaney was wishing he could fumer un cigarette sooner rather than later.

Skeeter knew when to play it straight, when to sit still and feign interest. The clock was ticking but he still had plenty of time.

Next came les bleu et jaune chausettes, a simple task after the manipulation of the jumpers. From a few seats away it looked like Skeeter was just adjusting his laces. He would nimbly slip off his school-shoes and school-socks, pull on the footy socks – easily hidden under his long school pantalons – and then slip his shoes back on, the laces left undone.

Admiring classmates sneaked glimpses of Skeeter’s efforts, working harder on stifling laughter than on French pronunciation.

The switch from long grey school pants to blanc footy shorts and the swap from Bata shoes to les bottes d’adidas had to wait til time-on in the French quarter.

For about dix  minutes we actually did some schoolwork. Skeeter might have written in his French exercise book or even volunteered an answer to a question from Monsieur M.

With deux minutes to go to the end-of-period bell le professuer de le Francais would begin his wrap up of the lesson and list the day’s homework. With restless students all around him – loose men everywhere, you could say –  Skeeter slipped off his school shoes, swapped the long pants for the footy shorts, pulled on les bottes d’adidas and tied the laces.

The coup-de-grace was when Monsieur Mullaney bid au-revoir, already reaching for his Capstan cigarettes, and Skeeter sprung from his desk, fully attired, arms raised in triumph, boot stops clacking on the floor and called out: “Voulez-vouz jouez le ballon d’Australie de les regles avec moi?”

As we cheered Skeeter, le professuer de le Francais continued out the door, tapped a cigarette on his Capstan packet and reached inside la poche de le cardigan for his lighter, keen fumer un cigarette before the next class.

On le terrain de Frere Jacques Hamilton we chased le Sherrin, no-one keener than Skeeter. He was a good player, Skeeter. Tres bon.

About Vin Maskell

Founder and editor of Stereo Stories, a partner site of The Footy Almanac. Likes a gentle kick of the footy on a Sunday morning, when his back's not playing up. Been known to take a more than keen interest in scoreboards - the older the better.

Comments

  1. Very magnifique Vin.

  2. Andrew Fithall says:

    That is just wonderful Vin. Thank-you. One point of order. Did your classmate really put on les bottes d’adidas? Impressive. Any friend of mine would have been putting on bottes de Jenkins or bottes de Barassi.

  3. Andre,

    The original draft said that Skeeter pulled on les bottes de Puma but then I thought les bottes d’adidas looked and sounded a whole lot better. But you’re right: they were probably les bottes de Jenkins. Maybe les bottes de Barassi, though my memories of Barassi boots are that they were plastique.

  4. chris Bracher says:

    Oh Vin
    Little did you now that Skeeters antics were being mirrored just a stones throw down Aphrasia St Newtown At “le College de Geelong”!!
    Just a ripper yarn that wound back the years.

  5. Jeff Dowsing says:

    Sensational read, thanks Vin. Skeeter c’est le lygende!

    I know a Frenchy who’s supported the Pies for 30 years. I’ve been to the footy a couple times with him and it’s hysterical to hear a thick French accent shouting ‘c’mon oompire, thees ees boolsheet!’ in the outer.

    French & Aussie Rules is an odd yet compelling combination.

  6. Andrew Fithall says:

    I can’t believe I missed the first opportunity to say Vin, like a good wine, you are getting better with age.

    Try the veal.

  7. Andrew,
    Though I’m a teetotaller I very much appreciate the comment about wine or ‘vin’ getting better with age. But as a vegetarian I’m a little lost with ‘Try the veal’. My son’s Year Nine French-English dictionary talks about the French word veau/x meaning veal and also calfskin. (As in pigskin? )

    Chris,
    Isn’t Geelong College a co-ed school? Were there Skeeter equivalents getting changed into footy gear in French classes, amongst the girls? (At St Joeys the only girls we glimpsed were the brave senior Sacred Heart science students making their way through the busy hand-ball/hand-tennis quadrangle at lunch-time. Many a player lost a point or two when they caught sight of the gorgeoius girls in navy blue)

    Jeff,
    French and footy: Gabriel Gate first arrived in Australia on Grand Final Day 1977. The drawn Grand Final. He went out to a barbecue in Melton with his Australian girlfriend and watched the big game on the telly, all the while asking ‘Qui est Colin Wood?’

  8. chris bracher says:

    Vin – carbon-dating reveals that when I was at The College there was (for the first couple of years) boys only. Co-ed came along in about 1975 when 2 of the fairere sex arrived in my year. The previous 90 nyears or so gave rise to the saying “If you cant get a girl, get a Grammar Boy!!)

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