Almanac Short Story: The Dead Pocket


by Murray Walding



It’s always worse around this time of year. Maybe not worse, but that’s when I can feel it the most. It’s that strange sensation that some things are slowing down, and others are speeding up. At first I thought it was just the lingering effects of the concussion after that last game, but that gradually faded and even now, after all this time I’m still puzzled by it. It must be almost twenty years ago now, and it all started just after I made the move to Allansvale.


A hundred years ago Allansvale was a gold-rush boom town. At its peak, its main street boasted five pubs and fifty shops, but when the gold ran out Allansvale withered away, and by the end of the Second World War it was nothing more than a tiny settlement around an hour’s drive from the city. Despite that, the local footy club survived and prospered, and became the glue that held the rest of the town together.


Like all country football clubs, it had its ups and downs; its share of  momentous victories and painful defeats. And even during the war when other local clubs went into recess, the Allansvale Football Club survived and when some of its favourite sons returned from the battle grounds of Europe and the Pacific, the club climbed back up the ladder and played in consecutive grand finals in 1947 and 1948. But they lost both and interest fell away.


The club went into recess shortly after and by the early fifties it had folded altogether. A few years later, a bunch of young ruffians set fire to the old grandstand and burnt it to the ground. Others pulled down the goal posts and threw rocks through the windows of the scoreboard and for the next ten years the ground was nothing but weeds and bracken. The town didn’t even have enough kids to scrape together a junior football team. But all that began to change in the eighties.


Melbourne grew, and grew, until its urban fringe was just over the next ridge and the quiet town of Allansvale suddenly became a desirable tree-change address. Vacant shopfronts were tizzied up by young hipsters and sold a variety of local foods and produce. The school grew and new classrooms were added. Local politicians promised the world each election, and before long the Allansvale oval had a new set of clubrooms and a new fence and a new scoreboard. The town became a commuter suburb and the kids who finished high school were soon hurrying off to universities and tech schools in Melbourne. And through the work of some dedicated local people, the  defunct Allansvale Rovers Football Club emerged from its long hibernation. And late that same year some of the new committee came knocking at my door. They were looking for a coach.


I’d been drafted as a junior by one of the big league clubs in Melbourne and I played a handful of games as a marking forward, but I was never going to make it. They told me I was too slow for the big league, and they were right. They told me I was too short to hold down a key position and they were right about that too, and after a couple of unproductive seasons I was ‘let go’. So I played a few seasons in the VFA, then with the Ammos and then, when my left knee was just about shot, I retired and moved up here to Allansvale.


I suppose I should have said ‘No.’ to them straight out but the new committee told me they had some exciting juniors coming through – kids who were studying at uni in Melbourne but were committed to coming home each weekend to play. The committee had also signed some players from other clubs in the local Mitchell’s Bridge Football League. They told me that all they needed was an experienced coach; a former league player; a ‘marquee’ player. Well, that was how they described me, and the flattery worked.  I signed on for one year and hoped my knee would hold out.


The season got off to a slow start while we all got to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and the vagaries of the ground, but the kids were enthusiastic and some of them were top notch. I wondered how long it would take before clubs in the major country league up the highway took interest in them, or even the big league clubs in Melbourne.


We only won four games in the first half of the season, but there were a few close defeats with only a kick or so in it so the whole town embraced us. With a new crowd of tree-changers and their kids, and with rows of new four-wheel-drives parked around the edge of our newly grassed oval honking their horns after every goal, the reborn Rovers hit top form. We won every game in the second half of the season and after a fifty year wait we made the finals. We went into the finals with a full head of steam. Maybe things would have been a lot different for me if we hadn’t.


I used to think that ‘finals time’ was a great time of year. Especially if your team made the finals. The grounds are firm, the sun has a warm tinge and everything is green. We played the finals in Mitchells Landing, on the Landing Imperials’ homeground where they’d been played since the year dot. Mitchell’s Landing was a small town a half hour’s drive north to the north and was experiencing a tree-change boom of its own. New hobby farms and vineyards were taking over the valleys that once had been patchworks of market gardens and small dairy farms. Like Allansvale, there was new money in Mitchell’s Landing too, and some of it had been put to good use. A lot of it had been ploughed into the football ground and new social rooms now stretched down one flank. Their gorgeous old grandstand had been restored and was still used as change-rooms. The original scoreboard in the pocket had also been revived, and with its perimeter of cypresses, elms and eucalypts the ground looked a real treat. The ground had a beautiful surface with the kind of grass that made you want to run around on in bare-feet like you were still at kindergarten but for all that,  it was a tricky place to play. It was windy. It was always windy.


The league had decided to let teams in the finals use the Imperial’s home ground for training so we trained there on that Thursday night. I got to the ground early but even so, a couple of our juniors were already out on the ground having a kick in the spring twilight. I lugged a canvas bag full of balls into the change rooms then dumped them in the passage while I opened the closet and made sure the hot-water service was turned on. As I did, I looked down the passage into our rooms and saw a guy getting into his gear. I reached into the closet and switched the flood lights on and through the gap between the closet door and the door jamb I got half a look at the player getting changed.


He was tall and rangy with the build of a country forward. He wore white shorts and was pulling a Rovers jumper over his head. Even from behind I could see him wince as he eased it down over his chest- not surprising really, because there was a broad bandage stretched across his chest and around his back. He pulled the jumper down and tucked it into his shorts and on the back was the number – a big, white twenty-six. There was something about that jumper that puzzled me though. It was a Rovers jumper for sure, our jumpers were unique – dark green with red cuffs and collar and a white ARFC emblem on the chest. Then I realized it was the collar on his jumper, or rather that his jumper had any collar at all – because ours didn’t, and his had a big floppy red collar. So it was obvious that this guy was training in an old jumper. He was probably a pal of the other kids we had coming back from Melbourne to play, just having a training run with his mates and using his dad’s jumper. Maybe his uncle’s. But no, that couldn’t be right. No-one had worn a Rovers jumper with a big floppy collar since the club went into recess fifty years back. I was intrigued, so I shut the closet door, picked up the bag of balls and headed into the change rooms to ask him about it, but by the time I took those three or four steps he’d gone and the rooms were empty.


So I stripped down and got into my training gear. I figured I’d ask him all about it out on the field between a bit of kick-to-kick. It was always great to have guys like this turn up to train, especially if they had a connection to the old club and especially if they looked like they might be interested in turning out for us in the future. But he wasn’t out on the track either, so I put it down to him having a run along the local roads to warm up before training started. Finals time is always frantically busy and the fact that he never showed up for the rest of training and didn’t shower in the rooms afterwards never even crossed my mind.


The Rovers were on a roll. We stormed by the Westmore Eagles, our neighbouring club, and earned ourselves a two week break, which suited us just fine. My knee was holding up and the week off would freshen everybody up. Win that next final and we would make the Grand Final – Allansvale’s first since 1948.


The weather stayed balmy until the Thursday morning before the game but some wild weather was forecast. As usual, it was blowing a gale across the ground and there was a slight drizzle as I trotted out onto the oval late that Thursday afternoon but I wasn’t worried. I knew it would clear for Saturday’s big match. I jogged past the goals to the far flank when I heard the familiar thump of someone at the scoreboard end of the ground having a shot for goal. I looked around just as a ball sailed through the goals, post-high. In those conditions and at that end of the ground this was considered a minor miracle, especially from that scoreboard pocket. Everyone in the league, from the oldest senior players to the young kids in the juniors knew that you couldn’t kick goals from that pocket in this wind. It was almost an urban myth. There was something about the way the wind swirled between the old grandstand and the scoreboard that made it nigh on impossible. It wasn’t called the ‘dead pocket’ for nothing. Of course some of the younger players occasionally threaded a ball through and became minor legends in the change rooms afterwards – we’d all seen that happen. But no-one ever did it twice, especially from a long way out. I laughed. This would be a good story to joke about with the rest of the squad before training – something to settle their nerves, and I looked over to see who the lucky guy was who had fluked it. I slowed to a trot and watched him go back and line up in the gloom for another shot. Now, from where I was I couldn’t be sure if he’d dobbed it or not, but if he didn’t, it must have been bloody close. Real bloody close.


Then the night at training a fortnight before came back to me, because even from the far wing I could see that the guy who had that long shot was wearing a Rovers jumper with a big floppy collar. He trotted down to the goal square and vaulted the boundary fence and headed into the shadow of the elms to get the ball. I kept jogging. But I sped up just a little when I got near the goals so that this new comer wouldn’t think the coach was just an old slow hack. He obviously knew his way around a football ground and he might just come in handy next season.


I got to the goal square and looked into the elms. There was no sign of him, so I stuck my left foot up on the oval fence, leant forward, and gave my hamstrings a good stretch. That would impress him. I stretched both hammies, both my quads too, but he never appeared from the shadows. I stood there puzzled. I thought about going over the fence to see if he’d twisted his ankle or something and fallen over under the trees, but I figured he might be standing behind a tree having a piss, and having the coach perving at you while you were having a piss might not be a good look. But if he was having a piss, it was a mighty long one, so I kept jogging until I got to the old scoreboard flank. Leaning against the fence near the scoreboard was a figure in white overalls with a towel draped over his shoulders. It was Macca – our unofficial trainer. Macca was an old Rovers stalwart. He was more of a fixture than a trainer and hadn’t missed a night’s training or a match all season.  He was also the oldest member the club had and some of the younger players used to rib him, and tell him that he was probably the oldest guy in Allansvale. He was far too old to do anything more than patrol the forward pockets; always there to wipe the blood from a splattered nose or offer advice to a young kid having trouble with the pace of the game, or pat some kid on the back after a good goal. We had professional trainers to look after the serious injuries but Macca was always a great help. I trotted over to him and leant on the fence.


‘You look a bit puffed Laurie.’


‘Nope, not at all Macca, not at all. Say Mac, who was the guy having shots for goal here just now?


‘Who? Nope, no idea Laurie. There’s been no-one having shots from here. You’re puffed out. Lack of oxygen to the brain. Can do weird things to your brain you know.’


‘Yeah right. You’re the only one with the weird brain Mac…it’s called senility.’ I joked back. ‘But seriously, who was he? That guy in the old jumper? Having a few shots from out here?’


‘Seriously Laurie. There’s been no-one having shots from this end of the ground since I’ve been out here. Have you been on the wacky tobaccy?’


‘How long have you been out here?’


‘About half an hour. Saw you run out and start your warm up.’




‘No bullshit!’


I knew Macca well enough to know that this time he wasn’t bullshitting.


‘Well, fuck me,’ I said to myself, as much as Macca, ‘I must be going bonkers. Could have sworn I saw a guy having shots at goal from over here.’


I looked at Macca and held my hand level with the top of my head.


‘He was about my size. He looked like he was wearing an old Rovers jumper.’


Macca went weird. He pushed himself back from the fence then leant forward and grabbed the fence rail again. He leant forward. He leant right down with his head between his arms and let out a big breath. When he straightened back up he was pale. Now, Macca was always pale. He’d been cursed with a shock of blond hair when he was a kid. Hair that was now thinning and greying, but his fair complexion was now almost white. He mumbled to himself. I waited for him to say something. For the moment, training would have to wait.


‘Bloody strange Macca. It looked like he dobbed a few from out here, then he went after the ball in the trees behind the goals. And he didn’t come out.’


‘Are you sure it wasn’t one of the new kids, or one of those guys from Melbourne, Laurie?


‘No. Tell you what though. He must know his way around. I think he must have local connections.’


‘What makes you say that?’


‘Well, he was wearing an old style jumper. He must have got it from a relative maybe. I wonder where in hell he got too though.’


Macca turned away, then took a cigarette from the pocket of his overalls and lit it up.


‘Is it some local guy Macca? Like the local weirdo nutjob?’


‘Local weirdo’s bloody well right.’ Macca muttered  as he took a drag on his fag.


‘Fuck Mac, he’s not a bloody axe murderer or anything is he?’


He took a big deep breath.


‘No Laurie. I think it was Doc Andrews.’


‘Doc Andrews?’


‘Yep. I think so.’


I was about to ask him who the hell was Doc Andrews when Jacko waved me over to start the training drills, so I had to leave Macca leaning against the oval fence. I could tell he was all shook up by something. I told him I’d catch up after training, but when we were all done he’d gone home, so I rang him and he came down the following night – the Friday night before the Preliminary Final. And I do remember what he told me then, even though by the time he’d finished telling me he was pissed as a newt, and I couldn’t blame him.


We took a seat on the timber benches at the front of the old stand. A few security lights shone from the back of the stand and lights from the netball courts at the other end of the ground spread a faint glow across the ground. The weather had cleared but it was still a little chilly. I pulled my Rovers track-top up under my chin. We both sat silently, looking out over the ground. In twenty four hours time we would know if we’d made the Grand Final and I wanted to make sure that everything, and everyone was focussed on the job the next day. That included Macca, and I think it included myself.


‘I’ve never seen you worked up like that before Macca.’


He’d brought a brown paper bag full of stubbies. He took one out, twisted it open and took a long gulp. He offered me one as well knowing that I’d say no.


‘Yeah, well it’s this business about Norm Andrews; Doc Andrews I mean. I seen him too – when I was a kid. It’s a long time back.’


‘You saw him too? When you were a kid? But that’s yonks ago Macca. The guy I saw couldn’t have been that old. It’s just not possible.’


‘Yeah, I hear you.’ Macca took another swig. ‘You didn’t notice what number was he wearing did you?’


‘Actually, I couldn’t tell tonight out here, but I reckon I saw the very same guy in the rooms here last week and he was wearing number twenty six.’


‘Number twenty-six and you mean you saw him in the rooms too? My god! Did he say anything? Did you talk to him? My good god!’


Macca was flabbergasted, and I know that’s a really old word to use, but it’s the only word that describes the look on his face.


‘Nope he didn’t say anything to me. He vanished before I could talk to him.’


‘Good god!’


‘Mac, how can a guy who must be seventy years old kick like that? It’s just not possible.’


Mac didn’t even pause before opening another stubby.


‘Yeah, well I don’t know how meself! I know he wasn’t really a doctor, but he was studying medicine before he went away so everyone called him Doc, but his real name was Norm. He wasn’t the same when he came back. Caught some shrapnel flying a Hurricane in the RAAF.’


‘So he is a bit of a weirdo? With a fried brain from the yanks spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam… hey, I didn’t know the RAAF flew Hurricanes in Vietnam!’


‘No no, no Laurie, of course they didn’t. But they did in the Second World War! I’m talking about when I was a kid – just after the war, not bloody Vietnam! And when I saw him last, it was the week of the Grand Final – so that’s fifty years ago.’ Macca took another gulp and looked up at the stars.


‘It was just before the ’48 grand final. I was a junior – just a raw kid but I’d had few games with the seniors that season. I seen him alright, and I told some of the others I’d seen him out here having shots at goal but they just laughed and said it was just my imagination. And I think I’m the last guy left from that team from back then. I suppose there’s always someone who has to be the last guy left. Yep, I guess it’s me.’ He took another swig.


‘Hang on Mac. You’re saying that this guy… Doc Andrews, flew Hurricanes in the Second World War? Nah that just couldn’t be right.’


‘Honestly Laurie, I still think that’s who it is, or was.’ Macca took out another cigarette and took a long drag. It was hard to imagine that this conversation could get any weirder, but it did.


‘I have to tell you that this guy –  Norm Andrews, he was a dead-eye shot for goal. He never missed; even here, with a force nine gale blowing, and we would have won the flag that year with him at full forward if it wasn’t for that accident.’


‘Accident? I don’t know what you’re getting at here Macca, honestly I don’t.’


‘Yep. Really sad. It was just before the `47 grand final. He was coming into the rooms to get changed just as a dray turned up beside the grandstand all loaded up with crates of soft drink and beer. One of the front wheels of the dray caught in the gutters and up she tipped, and all the crates fell off the back! Made a hell of a noise and spooked the draught horse.’


‘You’re not saying they landed on him are you?’


‘No…that wouldn’t have been half as bad. No. But the crash spooked the horse and it reared up, then fell when its shoes slipped on the bluestone gutter. One of the shafts caught in the guttering and snapped and bounced back just as the Doc walked past. And the broken end speared him just under the armpit. They dragged him into the clubrooms and tried to stem the bleeding by wrapping  bandages around his chest. And that seemed to work – at first. He still wanted to get ready to play but the trainers  convinced him to see a doctor, and told him if he was okay he could come back and play the second half . But they were kidding. Someone called for an ambulance.’


Macca paused. And he took a big breath and an even bigger slug of beer before going on.


‘But what no-one knew was that a piece of that bloody shaft was still there stuck inside his chest and somewhere in there with it was an old piece of shrapnel.’


Mac was struggling to keep going. He took another swig from his stubby.


‘He collapsed and died at the hospital. They told us at half time that he was badly hurt and wouldn’t be playing the rest of the game, but not that he’d died. None of us knew. But by three quarter time we sensed that something was wrong, really wrong. We were five goals up at that stage. In the end we lost by four. Everyone the town was shattered – you know how these small towns feel grief like this. Doesn’t matter how many kids get blown up in wars, does it? It’s the grief. It eats away at the town. Some things you just never get over.’


‘The club rallied round at the start of the next season and we played well enough, and I played another half dozen games that year but I was still just a junior. But I did enough to get picked for the final. It was Thursday at training before that grand final when I saw the Doc out here having shots for goal, in that damned wind. I’m sure I seen him. From that dead pocket. And he never missed a one. Others must have seen him too but no-one would admit it. That really shook me up. I was only a kid, remember. I did alright in the grand final but we never really got going and went down by fifteen points. I’ve always wondered if any of the other players saw him that night at training too, but no-one said anything.


Well, the night of that grand final, after we’d all had a few too many, I mentioned it again. Most of the guys laughed it off  but there were some who didn’t say anything and  I think they’d seen him too and didn’t want to let on. And after losing that grand final everyone lost interest and the club went into recess the very next season. It just faded away. I went over to play with Mitchell Souths. Played a few seasons there. And that was it.’


‘Fucking hell Mac. What do you think it means?’


Macca laughed briefly. ‘Well, I hope it means that I’m not crazy, because I used to think I was. Thought that for a real long time. But you saw him too! Huh! Maybe  we’re both crazy!’


Macca’s story was swirling through my mind and so was this week’s game. Had we picked the right team for the weekend? Would it rain? And did we have some kind of spectre to contend with, and importantly, whose side was he on?


We both sat there in the old grand stand at Mitchell’s Landing. Macca finished off his fifth stubby and we both dawdled back through the shadows to the car-park. Macca was in no state to drive so I gave him a lift home.


‘Do you think, we’ll see him again Mac?’ I asked as he got out of my car.


‘Dunno.’ Macca mumbled. ‘I just dunno.’ and he closed the door and weaved his way to his house.


But I did see Norm Andrews; Doc Andrews, that big, raw-boned, sharp-shooting country forward again. Twice.


We gave Newfield an absolute flogging in the Prelim. I had a good game and snagged four and my leg was feeling pretty good, so after the game I tried to put Doc Andrews out of my mind. I spent the Grand Final week keeping myself occupied and trying to make sure that I was never by myself for very long and I thought I’d done a pretty good job.


Come Thursday night and it was our last training session. There were nerves and corny jokes and smutty witticisms echoing from every corner of the change-rooms as we got stripped and ready for training. Guys who had minor injuries all year long were suddenly fighting fit. I even had one of our flankers who’d been out half the year with a dodgy shoulder tell me that he was finally fit enough to play. Everyone’s available when it’s finals time.


The full squad shuffled out the doors and into the race while I checked that my knee bandage wasn’t too tight. I had just put my foot up on the timber seats when I heard a low roar from outside the change-rooms. It was the sound of distant applause and faint cheering. I looked around the rooms to see if anyone else had heard it but the rooms were empty. Just me. The sound of  applause swirled around the change-rooms. The cheers echoed and grew clearer and louder and nearer. I thought that maybe some of the locals had come down to cheer us on at training. The cheers were strange and muffled and laced with cries of ‘Hooray for Rovers’. The sound clamoured through the change-rooms from the door to the race so I turned to see what was going on. Shadows flitted around the door way. Shafts of pale light played off them and swirled with the cheering. And stepping into that play of light and shadow and cheers was a footballer in white shorts and wearing an old Rovers jumper. He was jogging lightly on the spot as he looked down the race towards the ground. Training oil gleamed on his thighs and upper arms. His jaw was clenched tight. He looked at me and gave a very slight nod of his head, then looked back down the race. I stood up and walked towards him. I absent-mindedly rubbed my hands together in anticipation. Then he turned, looked at me and spoke.


‘There’s not long to go.’


He gave me a very slight tilt of his head, beckoning me towards the race. The cheers swirled and swelled. I took a step towards him. He stepped through the door into the race and the cheers faded. The shadows faded. There was the familiar clatter of football boots running down the concrete race but they faded away too. I stepped into the race and looked out but there was no-one. I trotted down the race and onto the ground. The squad was having a bit of kick-to-kick along the wing but there was no-one else. It was a mild and sunny afternoon, so I jogged over and called them into a group. While they trotted towards me, his voice came back…


‘There’s not long to go.’


I had Thursday and Friday night to think about it. Was I going to die in some freak footy accident? Was it a cosmic message that I had to make the most of my time on this earth while I could? Or was I slowly going mad? There was one thing that was perfectly clear to me though, after all of this, win lose or draw, this was definitely going to be my last season. And  I wasn’t going out with a whimper.


We had played Strathcairn twice that season. Both games had been close and we’d both had wins at home, but I figured we had their measure. The warm weather would favour our quicker players and the wind didn’t look like it was going to be a factor so it wasn’t surprising that the crowd was so large and vocal. We went in at half time with a six point lead but Strathcairn came back in the third quarter as the breeze began to freshen. And they were going to kick with it in the last quarter. They kicked the first goal after the break and were eight points up but I felt we were still in control. We got a couple at the scoreboard end, then they replied. The game was tight. We had a few shots from the pocket in front of the scoreboard but the bloody wind pushed the ball wide each time.


You know, when you’re a kid, football is a simple game – it’s just a case of ‘See ball. Get ball. Kick ball.’ but when you get older you’re better able to judge how a game can ebb and flow. So I knew that if I got another opportunity to get my hands on the ball in that last quarter I had to make it count. Those opportunities were becoming more and more scarce and Strathcairn knew it. And the wind was freshening. Every time we went forward they forced the ball into the dead pocket.


I moved further up the ground to provide a target on the flank where the old grandstand offered some protection from the wind. Stevo Wilkes – one of our young backline players, burst from a pack and finally got free. I started to lead towards him but Strathcairn wingers were pressuring him and forcing him wide. He started to run out of room, but one of their wingers tripped, and Stevo suddenly burst past them and into the clear but was caught on his wrong side. I led anyway. Stevo’s kick covered the distance easily but it swirled with the wind and drifted towards the boundary, so I  adjusted my position. This was going to be an opportunity that I couldn’t stuff up. I focused on the ball as it drifted towards me… then leapt. I planted my knee on the hip of a Strathcairn defender and that helped me climb up and over two other players. I focused all my attention on marking the ball but I was still aware of the roar of the crowd in the old stand and the jibes from the Strathcairn supporters that lined the fence.


The ball landed neatly in my hands, and it stuck. As I came down I cannoned into two defenders and we all sprawled forward onto the turf. That’s when I got hurt. I got sandwiched between them and somehow one of them hit me hard on the side of the head just above my ear. That’s when some things seemed to slow down- and other things sped up.


I felt the crunch along the side of my skull. You’ve heard the saying ‘seeing stars’? Well, I had the whole Hubble Space telescope inside my head! I hit the ground hard with the ball caught in the crook of my right arm. Small tufts of grass sprayed in slow-motion from between the outspread fingers of my left hand as I slid forward and finally stopped with my ears and head ringing. I heard the umpire’s whistle as he paid the mark and the cheers and applause from the crowd. Macca was the first one to get to me and helped me to my feet.


‘Come on Laurie.’ he said as he took me by the arm and helped me up. ‘Up you get. Jeeze that was a bloody good mark! What a ripper. You alright to take your kick?’


I nodded as he wiped the sweat from my face with his towel, and as I got up I got a close-up view of a pair of knees smeared in mud and grass with bruises and nicks along the thigh muscles. One of our players helped me to my feet. He was in white shorts but we were the home team that day. We were playing in our black shorts. So I guessed I knew who it was.


He took me by the other arm and helped me to stand. I looked him up and down. He was a slim but tough country footballer with knotted muscles in his arms and with straight black hair slicked back with perspiration. He leaned close to me and said;


‘Bloody good mark Laurie. But you know… there’s not long to go.’


‘Yeah I know. ‘ I looked him in the face as we walked back to my mark.


‘You’re Doc Andrews. Aren’t you?


‘I suppose I am Laurie. At least that’s what they used to call me.’ He nodded and gave me a faint smile.


‘It is you, isn’t it Norm?’ Macca stuttered as he held me by the other arm.


Norm nodded back at him.


‘Yes, it is Macca. It’s been a long time. Must be fifty years at least.’


‘Didn’t expect to ever see you again Doc.’ Macca shook his head slowly.


The Doc shrugged and turned to me again. ‘You know the siren’s about to go Laurie. You better take your kick right now. This wind is a bit tricky tho.’


I didn’t say a word. I couldn’t think of anything to say to him, but if  I had the chance again now – there’d be so much to ask him…so bloody much.


I could hear the taunts and cheers from the crowd as I turned and lined up the goals. Could they see the Doc too? Could they hear the conversation the three of us were having? Well, after the way things had gone over the last few weeks I didn’t think so. They might have wondered about the strange look on Macca’s face as he led me back to take my shot, but that was about all.


I turned and lined up the shot. I twirled the ball quickly, held it between my knees, leant forward and waited for my head to clear. I was going to have a big headache the next day, no matter what else happened. I felt the Doc’s hands on my shoulders as I straightened up. He spoke into my ear. His voice was clear and distinct. There was nothing ghostly about it in the slightest.


‘Laurie. You have to aim for the gap between the scoreboard and the behind post. Then let the ball drift towards the goals. It’s the only way you can score from this pocket.’


‘Yeah. I know. I’ve seen you do it Doc.’


‘Well I’ve been practising if for quite a while now Laurie. And now it’s your turn.’


The crowd on the sidelines catcalled and swore at me.


 ‘….Laurie, you can’t kick it from the dead pocket!’

‘No-one kicks it from there Laurie!’

‘You’re a goose Laurie!’ 

‘It’s the dead pocket Laurie!


Their curses echoed around in my head and I felt things speeding up again.


‘Laurie. Put your head over the ball and aim for that gap ! Come on Laurie.’


He slapped me on the shoulder.


‘It’s time for you to get us home!’


Then he stepped away. There were a couple of thousand people yelling at me from only yards away but I was on my own.


I hit it sweet. The ball went straight. Straight for the gap between the scoreboard and the point post. It was heading towards the boundary. The crowd along the fence jeered. The crowd in that beautifully restored grandstand brayed. And you couldn’t blame them because from the grandstand and the boundary fence it looked like my shot was heading out of bounds. The Strathcairn supporters laughed big beery laughs and slapped each other on the shoulder but time seemed to slow down again. A nervous murmur rippled through the crowd. The ball spun cleanly towards the gap and then that bloody wind…that bloody wind.


It caught hold and the ball started to drift. It curled away from the boundary line and toward the goals. It curled and drifted. Spinning neatly all the way toward the goals. It was still curling its way towards the goalposts when the final siren echoed from the grandstand.


There was noise all around me as I slowly sank to my knees. The smell of damp grass and liniment and sweat overwhelmed me. In the back ground of my mind I heard cheering and swirling and applause and then everything was growing dim and my mind ran away from me.



Murray’s book, “The Last Dance”, is now available. Details here.



Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


Do you really enjoy the Almanac concept?
And want to ensure it continues in its current form, and better? To help keep things ticking over please consider making your own contribution.

Become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE
One off financial contribution – CLICK HERE
Regular financial contribution (monthly EFT) – CLICK HERE



To find out more about Almanac memberships CLICK HERE


  1. Terry Riordan says

    Great read Murray … Lots of atmosphere l felt l was there. Keep up the good work
    Will certainly buy a copy of your forthcoming book
    Best regards

  2. Colin Ritchie says

    Loved the story Murray, looking forward to the book!

Leave a Comment