Almanac (Country) Footy: Boyhood days watching Lemnos at Princess Park

 

 

In this extract from Loose Men Everywhere, John Harms remembers heading off to Princess Park in Shepparton to watch Lemnos:

 

 

Sometimes I’d go to the footy by myself. I’d ride the back way along the Goulburn River to Princess Park, where we did Little Athletics in the summer. It was a beautiful ground, set low in the flood flat and surrounded by imposing gum trees.

 

Sounds reverberated in the natural amphitheatre. I remember afternoons of footy there. The local community gathered to watch the match between Shepparton and Lemnos: plumbers and builders and dairy farmers in Stetsons drinking beers; accountants and auctioneers in tweed jackets; Italian fruit-block owners with hairy arms and shiny pates; mums and dads and grandpas and nannas; girlfriends with too much make-up and pregnant wives and kids with ten cents’ worth of mixed lollies and a footy under their arm.

 

Lots of people sit in their cars parked around the fence. I sit on one of the weathered forms along the wing. I hope I don’t get a splinter and that the rain stays away. The players run out: clean and neat and glistening and smelling of liniment, running together in a big pack, jogging and surging and then doing a few drills with the footballs. The captains toss: Shepparton have the breeze. The players rub turf between their hands as they walk to their positions. They find their opponents. Most shake hands. Some bump shoulders, some chest each other, some are angry. There is a bit of a blue. Other players run over wondering, as they are running over, whether to pull the fight apart or go the big haymaker. Then things settle and the umpire nods to the respective captains. He raises the ball aloft. The car horns sound and the siren goes and he thumps the ball into the cricket pitch. You can hear the thump all around the ground, even above the car horns. And the game is under way. The first ten minutes are furious, all whistles and voices and the smack of contesting bodies and cheers and horns, and then it becomes quieter as fewer people toot after a goal.

 

At quarter time I jump the fence and join all the men in the Shepparton huddle. Blokes use their football voices. ‘Come on fellas,’ they say. ‘We can beat this mob. They got nothin’. They’re gutless.’ Players mill around. They swig water and break from the huddle to spit it on the ground. After a while the coach calls them together.

 

He speaks calmly, ‘Look, fellas, we’re up. That’s fine. But we’re not thinking. We’re goin’ too short and too wide. Far too bloody wide. Fellas, we talked about this before the game. What did we say? Straight up the guts. Simmo’s the best centre half forward goin’ round. Their bloke can’t get near him. And whatta we do? We ignore him. Come on, fellas. Kick it long to him. We want it in there while he’s got a bitta space. Billy and Killer, stay outta there. Let him go one on one. Then hit the pack. Hit it late.’

 

He pauses to gather his thoughts and some Italian builder pipes up like Chico Marx, ‘Hey. Come onna Shep.’

 

The coach continues, ‘Robbo, yuh gotta get tighter mate. Don’t let him wander into their forward line. Macca, in front. We gotta be first to the ball. Show them yuh want it. Make them think they’re not gunna get an easy one all day. And Wes. Where’s Wes? No fuckin’ speccies.’ Only Wes isn’t there to hear him because he’s broken away from the huddle to catch the eye of the bird he’s picked up at the Criterion the night before, and he’s saying g’day. The coach builds them up and there are the appropriate urgings and voices affirming the commitment to effort in the second quarter, until they finish with the big ‘C’arn Shep!’ Then they break, and what was a tight, close group is all over the place. The coach takes one more player aside for a chat and other players have their own conversations as they walk to the back line. They may be talking about footy – they might also be talking about fruit fly.

 

I try to find someone with a radio so I can overhear a Geelong score. I walk around the ground watching the game. Shepparton dominate. They are all over the opposition. They pile on the goals.

 

At half time I follow the Lemnos players into the dressing room. I love the sound of their boots on the concrete. They are a few goals down. They have mud on them and grass and red marks. They smell of effort. They need more liniment. One has a trickle of blood on his eyebrow. They suck on pieces of orange and drink from old Cottees bottles. Some have towels. Each is self-absorbed partly because he’s buggered and partly because he’s thinking about what’s just happened out there and what his contribution has been. But they’re mostly buggered.

 

I sit between two huge blokes. I am about nine. Tiny. No one minds that I’m sitting there. They don’t even notice me. They are wet. A smoke gets passed around. They don’t say much. They sit with toothless grimaces looking like Kevin Murray: warhorses who’ve played footy for years. Fat trainers rub more liniment into fatigued muscles.

 

The captain-coach maintains an air of confidence. He talks with the runner and with a bloke in a coat and tie. He refuses to show any sign of physical strain even though he’s played on the ball for most of the first half and has kept Lemnos in it. I swing my legs like I do in church. The coach speaks to them again. I listen. He’s pleased that no one has stopped chasing. He says that there will be reward for effort.

 

Lemnos can win.

 

They try hard after the break but Shep hold them out and at three-quarter time I join their huddle. There are sprig marks all over the oval. The huddle is much bigger and the situation more urgent. The players mill around: the reliable full back, a thirty-four-year-old dairy farmer with immaculate Californian Poppy hair; the Greek rover, socks down to reveal legs like Corinthian columns; the eccentric in a brand of boots never before seen in Shepparton; the stud – a Tom Selleck-Sam Newman hybrid – with the moustache and the Monaro and the denim shirt and tight jeans; the red-headed teacher on country service; the entomologist from the DPI who wears long sleeves and brings his gear to the ground in a Gladstone bag; the barrel-chested enforcer with the tattoo; the racehorse, a young skinny flanker whose white ankle supports make him look like a Hoysted two-year-old; the young fellow who’s just back from Vietnam; the flea-like Aboriginal forward pocket with bum-fluff on his chin whose jumper is too big and hangs under his armpits and who flies for huge marks over the top of the stud; his cousin who no one can tackle; two blokes in dressing gowns. This disparate lot had somehow came together in common purpose.

 

Lemnos are five goals down but they have shown plenty in the third quarter and they’ve got the wind in the last. There is a real feeling in the huddle that they can come back. A belief. Almost a knowledge. The players have gathered in tight. They are arm in arm. You could cover them all with a chenille bedspread. The coach times his last words: ‘We’ve gotta go out there and give everything. I don’t fuckin’ care if we walk off on the wrong side of the scoreboard. We’ve gotta get out there and give it a fair dinkum go.’

 

‘Yeah. C’mon. We can do this.’

 

‘We’ve gotta walk off with nothin’ left in the tank. We’ve gotta be able to walk off with a bitta pride. We’ve gotta be able to walk off with our heads up.’

 

‘C’mon Lemnos.’ The focus is intense.

 

‘We’re right in this fellas – if you believe we are. Five goals – so what? We kicked five goals in eight minutes at Euroa. I know we’ve got that in us. I fuckin’ know we have.’

 

‘Course, we have. C’arn fellas. C’arn Lemnos.’

 

‘We can win this fellas. We’ve worked for this. We’ve worked hard. Together. Fellas, ask yourself: what does the bloke standin’ next to you mean to you? Ask yourself: what does this jumper mean to you? What does the Lemnos footy club mean to you?’

 

‘Yeah!’

 

For a moment, this is a brotherhood.

 

‘Let’s get out there and show them what Lemnos is all about.’

 

The coach’s climax is supported by a great guttural affirmation; a liturgical response. Everyone is pumped. The tribe disperses: players stride purposefully to position and the drinkers purposefully to the bar.

 

I sit behind the goalposts at the Lemnos end. They start winning the footy in the middle. The full forward leads and marks. He puts it through. Then they get another one. Back in the centre, the Georgie Bisset rover breaks clear and bombs it in to full forward; a huge kick from a little man. The full forward and the full back wrestle. The ball is in the air forever. They wind up sprawled on the ground. The footy sails through. The car horns sound wildly. Lemnos clear from the backline. The ball is roosted high to centre half forward. The full forward decides early he can get to the contest. He sprints. He launches himself; knee on the shoulder. His momentum and the lift of the pack carry him impossibly high. He is way above the pack, so high that he can mark on his chest. He does. His feet bicycle kick on the way down in an attempt to keep his balance. He hits the ground. Players stop and shake their heads.

 

Horns toot. I cheer. The crowd senses it has seen something great. The full forward picks himself up. His face is blank. He goes back and thumps it through again. I find myself clapping, drawn in by the Lemnos spirit.

 

Lemnos win the ball in the centre again. The full forward leads straight up the middle. He’s too early and too quick. His opponent is with him. They fly for the footy together and it glances off their hands and bobbles around in the worn goal square. The little forward pocket player runs at it and throws out a boot. Off the ground. He connects brilliantly. The goal umpire pulls his bum back as it flies past. Goal. The footy smashes into a car. I am so close I am splattered with mud, the sour turf which has endured the season’s traffic. Lemnos have hit the front. They are unstoppable. They run away with the game.

 

I love footy.

 

I ride my bike home. It is just on dark. Mum says, ‘How was the football?’

 

I say, ‘Pretty good.’

 

 

Play On (includes Loose Men Everywhere)

 

Photo courtesy of SheppAdviser (Katelyn Morse)

 

 

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About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo12, Anna11, Evie9. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Brilliant piece Darky, you’ have captured the atmosphere and the players that was pure Lemnos.
    Played my first game for Rochy at the ground and somehow managed to kick four goals…
    But our team of farmers and labourers were beaten by “This disparate lot (that) had somehow came together in common purpose”. Always hard to beat at home.

  2. Terrific read JTH! I worked for Ardmona for 18 years and used to spend a lot of time in Shep over the summer months during the height of the fruit – canning season. Whenever I did overnight trips, usually with an entourage of Japanese businessmen in tow, I would nick down at days end to Princess Park and go for a run with members of the local Shep runners club. Quite a few of the umpiring fraternity would join the runners to do some of their own preseason training with a 10-15 km run in high humidity 30+ degree temperature. By the time we had finished the Swans were out on the park training, I loved their jumper from the start, as it immediately reminded me of the great Bobby Skilton, one of my all time favourite players as a kid. I then always kept an eye on the Lemnos results in the GVFL.
    Your story also reminds me of the Toyota adds and the Shep FC jumper worn by Dave Lawson.

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