My friend, Michael, is soon to rejoin the Aussie foreign legion. It consists of expats spread throughout the earth who need to rely on the internet to keep up with the footy scores.

The connection is none-too-reliable in the far north of Cameroon in Africa. Michael barracks for Carlton and is working with his wife and a group of locals to translate the Bible into the Buwal language for the very first time. The Cameroonians share his love for sport. (Remember Roger Milla) To encourage the Buwal speakers to read more in their own language Michael wrote and published a small book on the Indomitable Lions, the national soccer team and a great source of pride for the soccer-mad population. By all reports, it continues to sell well. He was the cultural attache for the Cameroonian team during the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006. Michael’s biggest challenge was ensuring that athletes didn’t abscond from the village and disappear into the suburbs in order to apply for political asylum a few months later. Cameroon, he informs me, is actually one of the most peaceful and stable countries in Africa.

But for now, it’s time to feed his own addiction and gather some pleasant memories before hopping on a plane a few months from now.

What memories can Michael gather from the opening round clash between the Blues and the Tigers?

An autumn chill and occasional showers. Typical footy weather. An opportunity to don the scarf and the beanie in March. Traditional rivals going head to head. The Tigers are in danger of losing the fixture after suffering crushing losses in the corresponding matches in 2009 and 2010.

The action is always frenetic in the first game of the season. So much quicker than practice matches and NAB Cup encounters. The players are like greyhounds tearing up the track after being confined for too long in the kennels. New players, some new numbers and a few new haircuts. Second and third year kids bearing a few more kilos after a summer of straining in the gym.

Carlton takes the whip hand. Warnock leaps over Graham at the centre bounces. Judd, Murphy, Gibbs, Scotland, Carazzo, Robinson and Simpson tear through the midfield.

Fortunately for Richmond, the Blues’ goalkicking skills are about as reliable as a ten dollar iPod. The Blues fluff their set shots and have five behinds on the board. The Tigers already have two goals despite the ball being largely confined to the Carlton forward line. It takes a major from first-gamer Ed Curnow to open their account.

We see the new substitute rule at work. Jarrod Waite is poleaxed in an accidental clash of heads with Alex Rance. If the medics admit that he’s been concussed, that’s it for the night. Sure enough, Waite doesn’t return and is replaced by substitute Kane Lucas.

Carlton leads by only two points at quarter time, despite entering the forward-50 nineteen times as compared to the Tigers’ five.

Gibbs and Russell score in the first two minutes of the second term.

“Twelve goals,” gloats a Blues supporter behind us, “We’ll win it by twelve”. Carazzo adds another a minute later.

And yet it doesn’t quite go to plan. The Blues must regret spending too much time in team meetings during the summer when they should have been having target practice. Richmond, on the other hand, have a new team rule. No behinds allowed. They boot seven straight by half time and are only 22 points adrift of their profligate opponents, despite being kept under the hammer in general play.

It looks as though Richmond is facing another first round hiding. Surely the wayward Blues are about to find their range.

But things don’t run according to script. Deledio and Cotchin make up for forgettable first halves and start to find the ball. Nahas provides some effective run, Conca displays his skill and Houli does enough to suggest he might be a good pick-up. Goals to Jackson, White and Vickery reduce the margin to three points by the seven-minute mark. Tiger barrackers are in full voice. Ratten persists with the inexperienced Simon White on Riewoldt. It is only his seventh game and he is unable to counter rampaging Jack. Riewoldt takes chest marks in the middle of packs and roosts three for the term. Three in a run of six unanswered goals for the team. He puts the Tigers in front at the 16-minute mark and has six of his own by three-quarter time. His major just before the siren takes the Tigers out to a 14-point lead.

Carlton supporters are enraged. They have spent months gleefully anticipating percentage-boosting wins over Richmond and Gold Coast in the opening two rounds. They blame the umpires, Jordan Russell and Ratten for leaving White on Reiwoldt.

 Judd ignites his crew with a goal within sixty seconds of the resumption of play. He goes up a gear and inspires lesser mortals. That’s just what he does. The tricky wind renders it almost impossible for Richmond to score at the Punt Road end. A tired Deledio kicks straight to Garlett standing on the mark. Garlett swivels around and pops it through. Armfield regains the lead for Carlton at the 18-minute mark. The Tigers are spent. The Blues dance and prance through the last ten minutes.

“Order restored,” grins one of the Carlton supporters sitting behind me. Richmond’s six goals to none third quarter is countered by Carlton’s five goals to none final term. It’s a case of having greater experience and a few more stars than Richmond. That and the irrepressible Judd.

It’s unlikely that Michael will see Carlton playing a game at Cameroon’s national stadium in Yaounde.

“How about the Socceroos?” I ask.

“Doubtful,” he replies, ‘it’s a bit out of the way and the facilities aren’t too good.”

He knows he’ll have to get by with the news of a few Carlton victories as he works away in a tiny village up north, not too far from the Nigerian border.


  1. John Butler says

    Nice work John.

    If the Blues had lost that game, a couple of the players might have been on the plane to Cameroon with Michael.

Leave a Comment