Almanac (Footy) Memoir: Statute of Limitations

by Roger Lowrey

 

 

As a young lad my introduction to the statute of limitations was an old black and white episode of Superman.

 

A bad guy had holed up in a room for seven years and the next day he would walk free as a consequence of the statute of limitations since he hadn’t been charged. But this was no ordinary room. It had lead enforced walls so Superman couldn’t walk through them and generous quantities of kryptonite inside the room just on the off chance he did. This was one very thorough, well-prepared crook.

 

A few things worried me about the plot though even as a youngster. Apart from basic food, rent and sanitation issues there were other higher order matters unresolved. For instance, how did he get to Mass – let alone Confession – and how did he get his Christmas cards posted? Even bad guys would send their mums a Christmas card I thought.

 

What do the good guys do then huh?

 

Well the Metropolis police force revert to form and outsource the problem to Superman don’t they? So the great man flies out to meet the coastguard on his boat offshore and asks him to turn the clocks back an hour – I mean, as you do. (Author’s note: nup – didn’t get it then and still don’t get it now.)

 

“I would never do this for anyone Superman but just for you I consider it a pleasure to do as you ask.”

 

Unaware of the ruse, the hapless miscreant then walks out of the room at what he thinks is 1205 only to be told it is only 1105. Cops arrest him. George Reeves crosses his arms triumphantly with cape fluttering slightly in a zephyr somewhere deep inside the Warner Bros studios production set while offering fatuous comments about crime not paying as the credits start to roll.

 

Yet this was to become for me a lifelong quest to discover some intellectual rigour – not to mention definitive timelines – around the broad question of what could be told after the passing of time and what had to go to your grave with you. Confidential Cabinet papers were routinely released after 30 years. That sounded about right. But what about Sunraysia Football League best & fairest votes? Given this ambiguity I always felt some nervousness about recalling the following yarn.

 

It all started at the royal and ancient Riverside Park Robinvale (later to become John James Oval) on one of those sunny but chilly northern Victorian winter mornings in the early 1980s where the home side were hosting Red Cliffs. Rolling down the window I offer my umpire’s pass to the blue coated florid faced club volunteer at the gate. Without any close inspection he gestures me through with a benevolent smile and a generous wave of an enormously gnarled farmer’s hand that seemed to have somehow survived all orthopedic and dermatological challenges known to medicine at that time.

 

Closer to the rooms and I greet some of my umpiring colleagues while I warm to the all those mandatory background senses of a day at the country footy. The assorted Robinvale crowd are assembling keenly rather like William Langland’s “fair field full of folk” in Piers Plowman. I see many locals including favourite son and soon to become the eponymous John James. The 1961 Brownlow medallist is a lot smaller than I thought he would be. But the penny drops. Oh righto I get it. Good centreman so low centre of gravity to turn off either foot.

 

The unannounced blast of a sudden chilly shower hits my face and rudely reminds me the cricket gear is safely packed away but it can’t distract from my enjoyment of the smell of the gum trees and the warbling of the magpies. The inviting aromas of the pie warmer suggest trade is already going well. The smell of tomato sauce is undetectable in most other contexts but devotees can always smell it at country footy grounds and country race tracks. That unmistakable smell of hops from the niner at the licensed “booth” sends reassurance to early tipplers that the wet cupboard is open for business.

 

But wait, there is also the liniment. Yes liniment. That defining smell that pervades the fabric of Victorian country footy.

 

The sudden eruption of car horns confirms supporters are approving a goal in an earlier game. Not long after, a howl of disapproval at an umpiring decision makes me ruefully reflect upon what I am about to hear myself.

 

All I need do is get changed and perform my lawful business. And I do. In those days, everything white except the black socks .

 

Meanwhile my obsession with the statute of limitations is off the agenda just for the moment. But only for the moment though as I am about to find out.

 

My first bounce is straight. Phew! Actually the rest of them that day weren’t too bad either. The game goes smoothly except there is this outstanding onballer for Robinvale called Jamie Siddons who racks up more possessions than Peter Featherby on a busy day at Kardinia Park.

 

Siddons would later go on to make 11,587 runs at first class level at Sheffield Shield for both Victoria and South Australia with an average of 44.9 and highest score of 245 but this day he’s my football player and he is brilliant. Yeah I know, on ballers run around under the umpire’s nose all day but hey what the hell. They are the grunt engine room of every team. Jamie had a day out. Not only was he under my nose the whole time but he had the ball on a string and was clearly best afield.

 

Whistle. “Too high. Free kick Robinvale.”

 

Whistle. “In his back. Free kick Robinvale.”

 

And so it went.

 

After the game, Jack one of my old goal umpiring colleagues confirms my views about Siddons. When I suggest that I give him all 3, 2 and 1 votes, Jack gruffly tells me to piss off and have a shower. I then feel the hot water cascading down my aching body as the milk of human kindness starts to flow through my veins. There is a minimal amount of soap but I don’t worry especially as I then subsequently find a cold can of beer near my clothes courtesy of a Robinvale committeeman. Oh well, no bribery there. Game is already done and dusted isn’t it? Jamie gets three, the Red Cliffs CHB who was the main reason Robinvale didn’t win by more gets two and Jamie’s ruckman gets the one.

 

But in telling the story to others over the years I always feared the heavy hand of some Sunraysia League official on my shoulder reminding me about confidentiality of B&F votes.

 

Some time after that episode of Superman but before the Robinvale game I had missed a golden opportunity to ask a very well qualified person to shed some light on the matter of the statute of limitations.

 

As a boarder during the 1960s at a Geelong Catholic school you sort of filled in your own time as best you could between study, sport, religion, masturbation, and – on all really good days — the whole package. You know, bonus points the lot!

 

And letter writing. Yes, letter writing. Different days then in the pre-computer world folks. Besides, apart from the above activities, letter writing with high quality well formed cursive script was much encouraged by the Catholic clergy. Thus it was that I took to same with a vengeance. As an aspiring young umpire the only way to connect with fellow colleagues was a well directed letter. For younger readers struggling with all this, welcome to the innocence of the 1960s when you could consult a telephone book and find pretty much anyone in Australia’s name address and phone number. Former Test bowlers Allan Connolly and Neil Hawke were recipients of my correspondence. Both were generous with their replies.

 

But on this occasion it was football umpiring I wanted to know about so off to the Melbourne telephone directory I went. As you can imagine, there were many Brewers, Jolleys, Perkins, Brophys, Sleeths, Schwabs and even a few J Crouches therein but there was only one Ray Schwennesen. I took a punt that he must have been the VFL goal umpire. In mid 1969 I wrote him a letter and, bingo, I’m in luck. He kindly responded and suggested I attend a forthcoming game at Kardinia Park where he had asked to be appointed so he could meet me after the game. Upon furnishing proof of Ray’s letter, my housemaster kindly approved my weekend leave.

 

After the game I duly present at the umpires’ rooms and Ray greets me as an old friend notwithstanding that as 16 year old Year 11 student I am probably about 20 or 30 years his junior.

 

Other umpires in the room look with some bemusement at this dorky young umpires’ fan. Despite Ray’s kindness that day though, my highlight was meeting a naked Jeff Crouch as he stepped out of the shower saying “g’day there young Roger, you’re Ray’s lad aren’t you?” In awe at meeting the VFL’s top field umpire of the day notwithstanding the state of his dress, I shook his hand and carried on a brief conversation with a naked celebrity as best I could. In subsequent years I had to mentally put clothes on this lasting image of him during his good work on Channel 7 with the Royal Children’s Hospital Appeal project.

 

But for goodness sake. Here I was with all my statute of limitations questions including the Brownlow votes Jeff was about to allocate for that game. I veritably itched to ask but discretion suggested I didn’t.

 

For curious readers at this point, Kevin Murray won the Brownlow that year and Crouch umpired the Grand Final where Richmond beat Carlton.

 

And why did all this occur to me recently? As Paul Keating was so fond of commencing… “well you see”… I was walking Cleo our Jack Russell along the foreshore by the Rippleside boat launch in North Geelong a few weeks ago when we passed the coastguard building. The main man himself was inside looking quite busy. The following day daylight saving stopped.

 

He had wound the clocks back an hour.

 

My thirst to get to the bottom of statutes of limitations, embargoes and the like therefore still continues. But maybe – just maybe – Superman knew what he was doing with his coastguard after all.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Great yarn, Roger! Something along the lines of degrees of separation, perhaps. Along similar lines, I know of a young bloke who dreamed of writing a sports book but didn’t know how to go about it so he wrote to a couple of well known published authors of the day to ask advice. One in particular took the time and made the effort to reply with ideas and encouragement. The lad wrote his book (actually, it’s several now) and eventually the older, encouraging writer became the keen youngster’s publisher!

  2. Wonderful yarn, Roger.

  3. great finish by completing the circle

  4. Anything further to divulge RDL – on this matter or any other. Great to have you in our pages at last. I know there are seams waiting to be mined in the quarry of your memory. Detail is your specialty.

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