Chapter 7: Off the Interchange

The Albatross Rules

(a football chronicle)

(The story so far)

Last week’s first up win came at a cost. The team arrive back in Albertville suffering from the effects of the stink of dead fish in the team bus.

7. Off the Interchange

A sorry bunch of footballers arrived back in town that night in dribs and drabs. Most hitched rides with returning supporters rather than risk another journey in Jen’s stinky bus. Late leaving the ground, Boof, the Prof and Con found themselves without an alternative. Jen hadn’t been able to completely expunge the nasty fish smell so all the way from Dwights Mill to Albertville the victors endured the spoils.

With the exception of the indomitable German the players were in no mood for elaborate celebration. At least the team had a win under its belt, albeit a narrow one against a weak opponent. Con felt obliged to make an appearance at the Grand. Maur joined with the womenfolk in sharing a good laugh at the player’s expense. They were all, Jen excepted, in the mood to party. If the players wanted sympathy they’d have to get it from each other. Besides, the netball season didn’t start for another week. The team had a practice match the following morning against Mt Logan, but that was just a warm up, no need to take it too seriously.

Even though she was ‘on the wagon’ and had been told to take it easy, Caz was doing her best to ensure that the netballers made the most of the unique opportunity circumstance had delivered. “You too Maur,” she insisted, “it’s girl’s night tonight.”

By ten o’clock those footballers who had braved the Grand were making apologies and shuffling home. The tape of the game, which by tradition would have been playing on the TV screen after a win, had been ejected. It was not such a pretty thing to watch.

Honey O’Reilly, who worked sometimes in the bottleshop and didn’t hold her drink well, poured herself onto the bar in front of Boof and, looking up with great big blood-shot doe eyes, pleaded for him to fire up the karaoke machine. Though he’d regretted ever buying it, his resistance was low and he succumbed meekly. Honey loved to sing—which she couldn’t—and cleared out all but the most persistent of Boof’s male customers with a sorry rendition of Joelene. After that the netballers had the run of the place.

Shortly after midnight Maur arrived home, somewhat dishevelled, though relatively unscathed. She was not a big drinker. The party was still raging, she said. “There’ll be some sore heads turning up for the game tomorrow.”

“D’ya have a good night love?” Con muttered wearily.

“Yeah, sure, Hun. Heh Caz is a cracker. You know she’s married to Mt Logan’s full forward?”

“Archie mentioned something,” Con said. “He wasn’t too impressed. I don’ think …I don’…hmph…” Sleep reclaimed him.

At breakfast Maureen picked up the conversation. “Caz reckons Arch was livid when she started dating Mitch Temple.”

“It’s the Mt Logan thing. It runs pretty deep round here. –Toast?”

Maureen nodded. “But she says he’s a softy, he’ll get over it. Caz told me some interesting stuff about Albertville.” She looked up at the ceiling, idly, waiting for some sort of prompt but Con was fumbling with the toaster and missed the cue. “We talked about our babies too, Con…it felt good.”

“She’s going OK, isn’t she?”

“Oh yeah. She had a bit of a hiccup but everything’s good now.”

She sipped her tea silently for a minute or two. “You know I said I’d fix up the Prof for that fish stunt of his…”

“Maur?”

“—I think I’ve found an ally.”

“Caz?”

“She still owes him. The rotten bugger switched her wedding tape.”

“What for?” I asked incredulously.

“Cheap laughs, I guess.”

“What song, I mean. Some horrible pop song I s’pose.”

“Worse.”

Worse?”

“The club song—I mean Mitch was livid. All his side nearly walked out.”

“Ouch! He can sure be a prick.” Con felt the same sense of grudging respect for the club president that he had after he’d been his victim. “What’ve you got in mind for ‘im.”

“Dunno, yet. Caz says she’s got a few ideas. She got a bit of a twinkle in her eyes.”

“There’s always a twinkle in that one’s eyes, I reckon.”

That afternoon Con waved Maur and Caz off, promising to make his way down to the court for the start of the game—it would be a good way to unwind.

Some of the sorer-headed netballers turned up. But some didn’t. Honey forgot completely. She had a knack for blissful ignorance. Jen was still recovering from the bus incident and sent her apologies.

Caz had taken on the coaching role during her year on the sidelines. As she drew her squad around her it became clear that she’d be struggling to get a full team together.

Muriel Watson may have been a pushover in the baking department, and in many other aspects of life besides, but she held her own as one of the tougher umpires in the local competition. She’d agreed to officiate at the game and was unimpressed by Albertville’s plight. She’d heard enough around town that morning to know it was self-inflicted. “Caz, if you can’t field a team I’ll have to file a report.”

“It’ll be OK, Muriel—relax.” said Caz, but she wasn’t sure it would be.

When, at the last minute, Fee Brierley turned up with wingman, Rachmann, in tow and apologised for her tardiness the team was still one player short. Mt Logan captain, ‘Windy’ Bindi McPherson, was unimpressed.

“Bloody Albertville! It’s typical. I don’t care how you do it, Caz, Just get a team together. We didn’t come up here to play by ourselves.”

“It’s just a practice game, McPherson,” said Caz, “don’t get your knickers in a knot. How about you lend us someone off your bench.”

“Find your own bloody players,” the Mt Logan captain spat.

Caz looked around at her former team-mates then threw her hands in the air. “Oh, what the hell, it’s only one game. I’ll…”

A concerned chorus rose to quash the notion. “No way, Caz.”

“Well, any other ideas?”

The blank, searching faces of her charges answered the question for her. Then suddenly, into the silence of the predicament, a voice rose up from the back of the Albertville group. A deep unfamiliar voice. “Ah, vot the hell. Catch the ball, throw the ball, throw the ball, catch the ball, Ja? I play.”

The players looked at Caz. Caz looked at the grinning Rachmann and at Windy, then back at Rachmann. “I don’t care how you do it, eh! OK big boy you’re on.”

“Wait just a bloody minute. He’s not…”

“Not what, Windy?”

“Well he’s not…registered!”

“It’s just a practice game. Remember?”

“But he’s not…”

“Ja, Ja. I know. He’s not ‘Austrarlyan’. Everyone notices. OK. OK. Here I am all alone in a new land. Oh, poor me; vy von’t they let me play?” Rachmann put on his best orphaned-child face and looked pleadingly at Bindi over the Albertville players. Linda Parry, Albertville’s feisty winger, choked on a sports drink sending sticky liquid blurting across the court in the opposing captain’s direction.

“He’s a bloody bloke!”

“So!” Caz, raised her eyebrows in mockery of the statement’s blinding obviousness.

“Well there are rules in this league you know.”

“Oh yeah, which ones exactly.”

“Oh I don’t know…uniform regulations.”

“Right,” said Caz. “Rachmann, follow me!”

As Caz led the big lad away, trying, as they went, to explain just what was involved in the game apart from throwing and catching Bindi called over to them. “You do know the rules, Caz.”

“Vot’s she on about?”

“I don’t think she’s going to cut you any slack, Andy…”

They returned, minutes later, with Rachmann kitted out in a pleated skirt, t-shirt and bib, white ankle socks over his size 11½ Dunlop Volleys. He was walking somewhat gingerly. “Ja, no slack for sure,” he mumbled to Caz. Just visible, beneath the micro cut of his skirt, was the delicate scalloped beading on the largest pair of regulation knickers that Caz could find. “I thought footy shorts ver tight. OoooWeee! OK ladies, no low passes, ja.”

As Muriel, at Windy’s prompting, gave Rachmann the once over he provided a commentary of sorts “Muriel, my darlink. I didn’t know you cared. Oh Muriel.” Finding no reason not to, Muriel declared him, against her better judgement, fit to play. “Oh, Muriel.”

So, fifteen minutes after the scheduled start time, the game commenced. As it turned out Rachmann was a natural. It wasn’t so much that he was good at the game. He was just…well…big. The Albertville girls used his height and bulk to good effect. He pretty much stood on the wing and did what he’d said he would… ‘catch the ball, throw the ball, catch the ball, throw the ball.’ Soon the locals had edged ahead. They settled into a game plan feeding the ball forward through him at every opportunity. As training for the real season it was a pointless exercise. But as a way to humiliate Mt Logan it proved more than adequate.

The Albertville netball court is nestled beside the old, Catholic Church at the end of town, just strolling distance from the pub where a number of Rachmann’s Albatross team-mates had gathered to recuperate. On hearing of his latest sporting foray they decided to lend their support. Father Anthony emerged with some members of his congregation. Sue-Anne, meanwhile, told everyone who ventured into the store about the goings on nearby, and being Sunday most of them had nothing better to do. Soon enough a ‘crowd’ of thirty or forty, and steadily growing, had gathered to cheer the team on. Even Honey turned up, somewhat sheepishly, but kept a low profile.

Poor Windy Bindi had been completely taken aback by the events of the day. By half time she’d had enough. To rub salt into her wounded pride her team was trailing by a significant margin on the scoreboard. A raucous crowd had been hounding them at every opportunity. And she was still seething at having the moral ground, which she had thought she’d claimed, not only taken from her but substantially lowered. Each time Rachmann took possession of the ball she became just a little more unhinged.

For the second time in two days the German’s strange antics had cast a spell over his opponent. It didn’t help that, all through the game he kept up a strange, disjointed commentary in broken English. “Ja for Albertville. Good shooting.” “Fraulein Rachmann gets it again.”

“Shut up, you stupid German,” Bindi yelled finally, “What are you doing in a dump like Albertville anyway?” The court went quiet. Dagger eyes trained on the Mt Logan captain.

Rachmann just smiled. “Ja, Maybe I come down to Mt Logan later…”

“First bloody sensible thi…”

“Vich vun is Logan?”

At last she could take it no longer. A pass looped out from the Mt Logan defence in her direction. From nowhere a large hand dropped down between her outstretched fingers and scooped the ball away. “Two hands for beginners, ja.” Rachmann looked up to spot his next target.

Crash! A hip and shoulder sent him toppling groundwards. Muriel blew her whistle furiously. Bindi came down on top of her opponent. She glared momentarily into his mocking eyes.

Rachmann began floundering about, his arms shaking and his hairy legs kicking out from beneath his dark blue knickers. “Help, ref, help. Get her off me. Ooh, she’s an animal. Get her off me, ref.” Muriel’s whistle blew and blew. Bindi tried to extract herself but Rachmann’s flailing made it impossible. “Oh, ref, she’s an animal. Get her off me.”

Bindi did the only thing she could think of to bring her predicament to an end. Rachmann’s antics stopped suddenly and a loud “ooohhh” went up around the court. The wingman’s Saturday team-mates closed their eyes instinctively. Muriel blew a single long loud blast that turned her face purple and sent the Mt Logan captain to the bench. Never, in all her years as an umpire…she began to ponder how she should describe the infringement—it couldn’t go un-reported.

Rachmann lay motionless. In truth it had been just a glancing blow, what with all his flopping about, but he thought he’d milk it anyway, for the amusement of the crowd and the sympathy of his fellow players who gathered around him.

Eventually he struggled back to his feet determined to finish the game. “Now do you feel like one of the girls, Rachmann?” yelled Peter Potter from the edge of the court.

“I feel like them all, Potter. They’re all gorgeous. Come on ladies. Vee show ’em.”

Albertville won the game by twenty goals and the vanquished Mt Logan team slunk away knowing they’d likely be missing their captain for the first few rounds of the season.

“And you thought footy was a strange game, Con,” said Maur when Con reached her through the milling crowd.

“Unbelievable,” he agreed. “You gonna celebrate?”

“Yeah, love—with a quiet night at home. Let’s go, eh?”

“OK, just a mo.” Con wandered over towards Rachmann, who was standing head and shoulders above the ring of admiring team-mates gathered round him, concerned about any injury he might be carrying as a result of Bindi’s assault. On seeing his coach approaching he flashed a thumbs up that said not to worry, so Con returned to Maur, who was sharing a joke with Caz.

“Gotta go, Caz. See you tomorrow.”

“Yeah. See ya, darl,” Caz smiled “See ya later, Con. It’s been a big weekend, eh?”

“Too right it has, Caz. See ya.” Maur took her husband’s arm. “Let’s take the track, Con.” She led the way down to the path near the creek, which wound along past some of her new favourite places.

“The Prof was right,” Con muttered as he watched her skip down the rocky steps to a ferny gully.

“What’s that, love.”

“Oh nothing. Good game, hun.”

“Ta.”

Comments

  1. John Butler says

    Richard

    My Pappy always told me to beware of Germans in short skirts.

    Not sure if this is quite what he had in mind.

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