A day in the life of the back pocket player

Coldest I’ve ever been? Try sitting up in the back pocket back in ’74 against an opponent that hasn’t had an inside 50 since the Gippy hills echoed with that first steam train on the newly opened Great Southern Railway. I’m 13 years old and my teeth are chattering. Rain is flourishing in off nearby Corner Inlet powered from the freeze off the Antarctic grid into the Toora magpies recreation reserve where our Demons are the visitors.  Weighed down by incessant rain, the red and blue woollen guernsey shrinks by the second against my blueing frame, I figure the call from the coach to shift upfield in relative “warmth” was soon to come at least for one of us from that final line of defence if only to thaw us out of sympathy. Would it be “Hora” the undersized bowl cut dead ringer for Ronald Weasely with an oversized mouthguard? Or Gary Gillette, full back with hair on his chest, and the only one of us whose voice has punched through into the next generation. Or me – an Adonis in reverse with a triple scoop of knobs on my knees, the next in a long line of not quite right back pocket players who dream of forward glory.


In contrast to the whiting and schnapper that fight for space in the inlet, Toora’s underage footy talent  during this era is just about fished out and our team is picking off goals akin to a gleeful rod-laden crew in the centre of a tuna school. We’re up by 20 goals at half time. In today’s flat earth world where every kid gets a go then a certificate of participation, Hora, Gillette and I would have gone forward where we’d stay until the Toora boys inevitably reverse the stats differential and finally become competitive.

I had one kick that day, mostly because the ball was an itinerant visitor to my back pocket and only because Swampy Thomas, our madman courageous centre half back, went against team rules and kicked it backwards, purely to give us a touch. The ball came into our area a couple of times but I even lost those contests amongst ourselves to get a possession, a touch anything that might kindle warmth. I’d be no good fighting for a loaf of bread off the back of an aid truck when the earthquake comes to town. Our immediate opponents had long since deserted us, hoofing upfield in a futile bid to initiate a flood to cauterise our free scoring. I could always read the ball pretty well in the air and off the deck. But watching our (warmer) forward’s shots hover and sway in the air, I knew I had to be ready if the ball came our way. Decisive, assertive, team focussed. However, being a bit of a “home and put the heaters on” man from age 8 where I practiced ball handling skills with a sock footy mum had knocked together on the Singer in an optimistic encouragement of the development of my skills, I was aware of the propensity of the ball to behave in even more mysterious ways when the ball comes in unpredictably from a variety of angles and trajectories onto a sodden sheep paddock camouflaged as a recreation reserve.

Years earlier, an era ended when that sock footy sizzled and popped before bursting into irretrievable flames atop glowing embers after an ill fated butchered snap through the lounge room door had hit the back of the open fireplace. I later went onto to break our porch window with it’s less than satisfactory replacement –  a paper thin plastic brown football manufactured by the pre Richard Nixon visit Peoples Republic of China. My Penalty? Lugging a knapsack full of pesticide eliminating nascent scotch thistles one by one over the course of the 90 acre family farm. You can build dignity for work, but I still pined for the heater. These are the kind of memories that drift downstream upon the flotsam of boredom we were hanging onto for dear life in that frozen wasteland of the Toora back line.

The first pride about face starts with a low flat ball there to be taken out stretched that slides easily through my Raynaud phenomenon like fingers straight onto my conk. Theres no hit in the face like a wet cold footy hit. Later despite my best efforts a truant ball skids in hard at pace to land on a flat wet oasis of compressed dirt in a desert of mud just a metre in front of me. I’ve read the situation beautifully but I’m out thought by the Toora mud shamelessly when that pigskin reacts lower with accelerated momentum to it’s host striking me low and hard with the cold heavy wet pointy end right into the heartland of my emerging testes.

And the camera noses in to the tears on my face.

There’s no call from the coach, an old school structures man who refuses to flirt with form or established position. Our guernseys sag longer into frigid despair. In that ice stalactitised world of our back line, blood vessels simply begin to say “No”.

You love to win but someone in the Toora hierachy forgot to light the kerosene hot water service.

First published at Mick’s Footy Blog

Photo Credit – Toora Scoreboard photo first published at http://www.foxsportspulse.com/club_info.cgi?client=1-6141-80304-0-0&sID=266153&&news_task=DETAIL&articleID=24530192 

About Mick Gwyther

Greying slowing wannabe tragic player/writer/raconteur whose only claim to footy cred is a goal from the dot at the death in a final 35 years ago. Down hill from there but with passion. Hawk jester. Author of @micksfootyblog


  1. Peter Fuller says

    The way we were, Mick.
    Congrats on a clever piece of writing which will resonate powerfully for plenty of coodabeens. Like you, I had plenty of experience of being a back-pocket, where the less-skilled could be discreetly hidden. Alas, my cold day experiences seem to have found me in weak sides in the forward pocket, waiting for the forward thrust which never seemed to arrive, when I didn’t even have the consolation on being in the winning team.

  2. Mick Jeffrey says

    Takes me back to a day in 2007, when on a non-typical Central Queensland afternoon I was stationed in the forward line when we had no bench….or other forwards. The ball never ventured past the centre too often, which may have been a good thing given I had cramped up (7th quarter for the day). Worse, I was last in the shower with the hot water long gone.

  3. Thanks Mick. I enjoyed your tale and its splendid, tragic imagery.

    Does the authentic back pocket position still exist in 2014?

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