When Greg Met the Butcher

A Football Fable
(Colours and clubs have been changed to protect the colours and clubs)

I

Footballers up and back through the Wimmera
Knew well the name Greg Trotter
His number sixteen and his muscular arms
Strung tight like a horse’s hindquarter

They cowardly stepped away
When they saw that number they knew
But men who understood the play
Said, “I’d get out of his road, too.”

These men slurped beer, got pissed
Their women drank tea from thermoses
While Greg with leg and arm and fist
Cracked open bones and noses

Though you never heard them beg
The crowd’s heart was set on blood
And on more than one Saturday Greg
Spilled pints in the Wimmera mud

After the season of Seventy Three
Diggers in Horsham’s four front bars
Told long and synoptic stories
How Greg missed the Grand Final past

Tom Barnes a hefty farmer
Baited Greg with a whistling sound
On a day when the wind blew harder
Than the steel silos round the ground

Some say Greg knocked him down
With a right, some a sharp left hook
Whatever made that terrible sound
Barnes knew not either what he took

Opposition forwards fell on Trotter
And Greg punched fierce and long
Before central umpire Harper
Pried open the fighting throng

A boundary popped up like a diver for air
Wrote sixteen for striking on his pad
Greg gave the kid a homicidal glare
Said, “You’re lucky you’re only a lad.”

Greg played no more in ’73
After that game he entered the shed
Because it was the tribunal agreed
With what the little boundary said

Greg saw five games with his Dad
Drinking long cans of bitter beer
In one game Horsham’s flag was had
And the boundary skipped town in fear

But that was last season and seasons pass
And with them fitness and glory
New seasons come up upon us fast
And with them new hope and stories

Strangers come and unleash their power
Rouse passions of age and youth
Bush towns stand scarfed for hours
To witness not sport but truth

II

’74 brought Vincent O’Keefe
Into Dimboola’s first eighteen
A butcher and slicer of meat
His trade and his way of playing

It was told he hauled four sides of beef
From van to fridge out back
And rumour was turned to straight belief
When crowds saw him on the attack

Six games gone and the ladder told
That Dimboola was top of the list
The Butcher’d stabbed thirty six goals
And torn backlines with foot and fist

Dimboola had never known his like
The town was O’Keefe’s to own
Grandmas knitted scarves blue and white
And “The Butcher” upon them was sown

Dimboola eyed the flag with passion
But they knew one thing was sure
They’d have to get over Horsham
And Greg Trotter in Seventy Four

III

In Round Seven it was there and set
That Horsham would play Dimboola
Crowds from Minyip to Jeparit
Came to see Greg take on the Butcher

On match day Greg arrived
And marched fiercely toward the shed
No one who wanted to stay alive
Risked crossing him in his tread

As he reached the clubroom door
He was halted by someone though
The only person who was quite sure
He could stop and say hello

Greg’s old man Bill it was
Who stopped him as he came
Stopped him it seems because
He’d a thing to say about the game

Bill was known for his shot gun tongue
And fools he gave short thrift
His words they pierced and stung
His gab it was no gift

Bill talked to his son and stood and smoked
Greg was silent and staring down
As words flowed between these blokes
Greg’s faced crumpled and he frowned

They finished and Bill moved to grab
Greg’s shoulder in manly pride
Greg went to duck his father’s slap
Then thought again and sighed

IV

In the rooms officials saw Greg
Their eyes full of white-line fever
He hung his civvies upon a peg
The quiet but deadly achiever

He pulled on the jumper for which he played
And may even have wanted to die
Into double-hitch loops his laces he made
Banged mud from his boots that had dried

Two team mates then entered his space
Shot a ball past his fiery red hair
They thought to themselves it’s only God’s grace
He’s on our side today not theirs

That same God records names in a Book of Life
Footy clubs theirs on a Life Member list
Other names are held in a grey twilight
Brought out when the old timers are pissed

After this game when the Horsham Lions
Took on the Dimboola Roos
No one could say quite where to assign
That name Greg Trotter they knew

V

On warm-up laps the two teams passed
Chiding each other ’bout the game
Greg was silent, his mind on the task
And the Butcher was also the same

O’Keefe rubbed oil deep in his arms
His tattoos shining in the light
Across the ground his eyes scanned farms
And he tucked in his jumper skin-tight

Greg didn’t hear the car horns blare
Or the crowd chirping at the fence
He pushed down his socks, gave the umpy a stare
Then to centre-half-back he went

The umpire stood, cleaned up and white
Waiting for the siren to blow
He looked down towards those who would fight
And yelled, ‘I’m watching you both, you know.’

The umpire looked down at his toes
And the ball grounded between his legs
In that second it was The Butcher’s elbow
Nearly cannoned a hole into Greg

Trotter almost fell to the turf
And the crowd brought up a low hum
Greg righted himself and said not a word
As O’Keefe spoke of pain yet to come

VI

The umpire held the ball in the air
And Trotter watched his eyes under it
This was his chance, just waiting there
To miss it was history unwrit

The ball flew high, the umpire was hunched
And the Butcher for the centre he tore
As he ran off Greg fired a punch
Like a gunshot been waiting for war

The Dimboola boys fell upon Greg
With the Butcher asleep on the ground
And as he rested his unweary legs
Into each other combatants did pound

The Dimboola crowd stood at the race
As the Butcher from the ground was towed
Saw his jaw bone peeping from out of his face
And cursed the umpy who’d missed the blow

On the ground the fighting had stopped
A new Kangaroo stood beside Trotter
He found himself a comfortable spot
Where he might not become punch fodder

At the fence Greg’s dad nodded proudly
Pleased as he was with his son
The crowd maligned 16 now loudly
Cursing what Trotter had done

But Greg’s old man left the game
He’d known how the Butcher’d fall
Having seen the part he’d preordained
There was no need to watch it all

www.paul-mitchell.com.au

Comments

  1. DBalassone says:

    G’day Paul, sorry for the late comment, I must have missed this when it was posted, but being a lover of both footy and narrative poetry was very happy to stumble across it. Brilliant stuff. You took my senses for a ride & I can clearly see this whole country footy scene in my mind, particularly the old man’s look of satisfaction after his son had carried out the act.

    This is a very strange coincidence, but I was actually at the launch of the book that this poem appeared in. I reckon it was about April ’99 in a studio at the back end of town (somewhere near Spencer Street maybe, I could be wrong). A graphic-designer friend of mine dragged me along & I was rapt to find some footy content. I remember there was a beautiful poem about a cherry-picker and leaving Glenthompson, which has always stayed with me. Also one drawn from Ecclesiastes along the lines of “there is a time…”. And also I recall you reading a poem about a pub scene with the recurring line “no worries mate, you’re on” which has also stayed with me. Thoroughly enjoyed the night and am glad to have rediscovered you here.

  2. thanks for the great feedback mate. I only stumbled across your comment because I was hunting the site for a piece I wrote on Melbourne and tanking. Yep, you definitely came to the launch of my poetry chapbook, First Steps. I’ve written two poetry books since then, and a book of short fiction. I think they all have footy content in them somewhere!

    The uncle of mine who I based Greg met the butcher on died last month. An alcoholic with chronic emphysema. His estranged son read and re-read the poem on the day he died. He’d never seen it before. I told him it was fiction with some fact in it. And the stories about Greg and his sporting ability that I heard at his wake were better than anything I wrote about!

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