Chapter 8: Nambool Ravens (home): The Rumble in the Jungle

The Albatross Rules

(a football chronicle)

8. Round 2, Nambool Ravens (home): The Rumble in the Jungle

Con was never quite sure now, when Caz and Maur got together, whether the two of them were just talking or if they were cooking something up. But unexplained things started to happen around the Prof—insignificant things on the face of it but, as his idea of a practical joke was a fish on a string or a car on a roof, the subtlety drove him to distraction.

“It’s the darndest thing, Con” he said, when Con met him to talk about the upcoming Nambool game. “Have a look at that Best and Fairest board. 1978, What do you see?”

“That’s you, Baz. Well it’s someone a lot like you. Larry Messey.” I turned a choke into a cough and the cough into something altogether meaningless. “Geeze Baz, how long’s it been like that?”

“I dunno, mate. It’s got me buggered.” The Prof scratched his head. “Never mind. Let’s talk about the game.”

The Nambool match held particular significance. Not only was it the team’s first home game for the season but it was a chance to put behind them the ignominy of the previous year’s last round. The Albatrosses still had five blokes out suspended as a result of it. No doubt the Nambool boys would be in the Albertville player’s faces, reminding them of their trifecta; won the game, won the fight, and won at the tribunal too where only their vice captain, the mad Pole, ‘Bomber’ Lashka, had been penalised.

But this was the sort of coaching challenge Con relished. He decided to pick up on the come-from-behind win against the combine. He’d run a ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ theme—use the Ali-Foreman fight as motivation. He carried a selection of videos with him for inspiration and one of his favourites was the ‘When We Were Kings’ documentary. It showed the power of indomitable self-belief. And it demonstrated the capacity to turn diversity into advantage—Ali on the ropes taking a pounding then stepping up to batter his tiring opponent.

“Nice one, Duck,” was Boof’s response when he mentioned the strategy. “We had to climb off the mat last week and Nambool will start red-hot, they want us to suffer.”

So the players gathered together after a short session on Tuesday and watched the surreal drama of that heavyweight fight that seemed to mean so much more than two large men facing off—a fight about beliefs and perceptions, history and destiny.

The impact was immediate. As the final credits scrolled the anticipation that had built up in the room erupted. The Prof rose above the excited din to deliver a stirring reminder of the ambitions of the club, the need to seize an opportunity and the consequences of failure.

Finally, he gazed up at the honour rolls around the walls of the clubrooms (a dilapidated corrugated iron shed with a bar at one end and a big old wood heater at the other) focussing on the one name that was repeated there so often that it leapt from the walls. He spoke in awe of the great Jimmy Hyde, 305 games, eight times Best and Fairest, Captain for eight years that netted four of the club’s five premierships. Then he finished with a typical Barry Massey flourish. “Jimmy’s crook boys, real crook. I spoke to him today and I promised him this; that we’d play each game the way he played, hard and honest, and that we were committed to building a new era for this fantastic club. And Jimmy, he looked me in the eye…”

The Prof paused for dramatic effect. “…and he said to me, ‘you always were full of crap, Baz.’ Well Jimmy was a great, great footballer. But he’s also a cranky bastard. Anyway we’ll bloody show Jimmy Hyde who’s full of crap.” As one the boys roared approval.

The team would line up pretty much as they had the previous week, with just a couple of minor positional changes. Con told each player to think about the Ali fight. Nambool had shown how brutal they could be if given the chance. But Albertville were a skillful unit and probably had the edge in fitness. The focus would be on fast movement and running hard into space when the ball was going forward. The defenders would need to play their opponents tight, nothing fancy, be prepared to take a hit or two.

Thursday night the boys trained with a passion that suggested they’d be ‘on-song’ for the Nambool game. Con rose on Saturday to the golden light of a clear sky with the low sun filtering through eucalypts. Maureen went into town to join the netballers for their first game while the coach gathered his thoughts on the back verandah. A mist rose off the creek and a nearby kookaburra filled the valley with its call. Con took time over toast and coffee to go over tactics for the day.

At times such as these the sense that things are all as they should be is so pervasive that one can begin to imagine problems. But worry as he might, everything seemed in order. The ground was a picture. All the support was in place, scoreboard attendants, timers, trainers, water-boys, Edith and her crew on the urns and the pie warmer, cold beer and a crowd coming in. As the players began to gather, news came through from the netballers. They hadn’t expected to win—they were just glad to have put a team together—put they’d given it a good shake, going down by just five goals. Con had a strong feeling that this would be Albertville’s day.

Then, as the sound of studs on concrete signalled a readiness to take the field Con saw Marco Pirelli racing across the ground looking agitated. “Marco, you’re cutting it fine, get in there and warm up mate.”

“Sorry, Mr Filipou, I’d be frank…”

“Now’s not the time, lad.”

“… Frank, not Marco.”


“His brother. Twins.” The resemblance was precise. “Marco’s got calf problems”

“Bugger. He was moving OK at training.”

“Baby cow problems, Mr Filipou. He’s elbow deep and the vet’s running late. He asked me to stand in ’til he gets here. He shouldn’t be too long.”

“Shit, can you play?”

“Not much, But I can run.”

Con’s thoughts returned to Ali and Foreman.

“You’re starting on the ground. The fullback’s Muller. Just run him round. Can anyone in town tell you two apart?”

“They reckon not.”

“Then you’re Marco, mate. Don’t forget it.”

Con sent the team out with instructions to play through Formosa who’d start close to goal and for Pirelli to play a decoy role, taking the fullback up the ground, out of his comfort zone.

As the team ran out the coach took the ring-in aside. “Remember, just run ‘im around.”

Well the boy took his task very seriously. As the rest of the team settled into the fast, direct style they’d talked about Pirelli trotted, pranced and gambolled, moving continuously. He covered every inch of ground between the goal line and the wings. He ran and ran and ran, with the big man Muller all the while puffing along on his tail getting more and more perplexed, frustrated and plain angry as the game went on around them.

He sprinted from the goal line to the centre circle, skipped backwards towards the outer wing, ran a zig-zag line to the opposite pocket (managing an accidental tap-on that finished in a goal) then skipped sideways along the flank. He drew the attention of the opposition supporters who howled at him every time he came near a boundary line. A couple of times he feigned an interest in proceedings but for most of the quarter he barely knew where the ball was. It was hard not to be mesmerised by his antics.

At quarter time the teams were on equal terms. As the players huddled close together Pirelli kept jigging around, stretching and jogging on his toes like some sort of Jerry Lewis athlete routine. He clearly had no idea. Back on the ground he continued to drive big Muller to distraction. Finally, ten minutes in, Con heard a loud “pssst.” at his shoulder. The real Pirelli had spirited into the ground hunched under an old gabardine coat. “Change room, now” Con whispered then called to the runner, “Give that clown, Pirelli, a rest.”

Pirelli trotted to the interchange and Con sent young Bobby Rivera up forward for a few minutes. The changeover of the two twins was seamlessly achieved and minutes later Con called for Rivera and Pirelli to interchange again. The real full forward trotted off the boundary, made directly for the goal square then stood there idly, hands on hips, watching play in the opposite half. Muller exploded. He let loose with a verbal barrage that did little to dispel his pent-up fury. After forty minutes of follow-the-leader his blood was boiling. Suddenly, unable to contain himself, he swung one mighty bear-like blow onto Pirelli’s chin.

Confusion followed. The goal ump’ reported the big man who was immediately sin-binned. A free was awarded but Pirelli’s chin was gushing scarlet so he couldn’t take the kick. As the Nambool players restrained Muller and directed him towards the boundary, our forwards dusted Pirelli off and directed him, at a safe distance, to the sidelines as well.

Frank Pirelli, looking relaxed now, in his old track pants, jumper and coat, was waiting for his brother. “I told you, mate—don’t let him catch you. He’s an angry man.” It was, it had to be said, just a small understatement between brothers. Before we knew it there were two Pirelli chins to patch.

Meanwhile Formosa lined up and goaled from the free, just ten metres out.

It was a turning point. After another good attacking move we went in fifteen points up. In the second half Pirelli and Muller returned to battle, but one was flat, demoralised and just plain exhausted. The other looked fresh and ready to go. Old-timers around the bar marvelled at the boy’s fitness. It was Ali and Foreman to a T (except, of course, that the great man had to do it all himself). Pirelli came off the ropes and straight on the attack. He finished with seven goals, three and the team cruised to a memorable win.

The Prof approached Con after the game. “Well, well, well, Duck. You’re full of surprises, ain’tchya? Full of bloody surprises. If I hadn’t a seen it with my own eyes…” He went off shaking his head.

Considering his match-winning display Pirelli was in a contemplative mood. He was tired of fielding questions about the unusual tactics he’d employed early on—though they were regarded, in hindsight, by his teammates as football genius. “Something I cooked up with the Duck,” was the best he could offer.

Con had to agree that he deserved some of the credit. “You were good today son—all day.” The coach gave him a light pat on the shoulder. “Everything stays between you and me. Understand.”

“No worries, Duck. Never again, mate.”

“Never.” Con echoed emphatically. “How are the cows?”

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