Cleaning the boots: A father’s story

It was the night before the big game against Phillip Island. Our eldest son Sasha  (9) wanted to clean his soccer boots, he was totally excited. Sasha and cleaning don’t go that well together. I quickly reflected. This could be a time for father and son sharing- and a chance to teach him how to clean! So I told him how I used to clean my boots.

I remember vividly the process and it was so much a part of my cherished upbringing, my junior football playing days in Bright with my brothers and friends. We would train on Friday night and we used to run amok chasing the footy down. What a great way to end the week, bursting around the Bright footy ground, training our hearts out with my football loving mates, feeling so alive. A quick shower then head home. I would ride the blue dragon star home with the guys doing puddle splats and skids in the cold of winter. The footy boots would be tied onto the handlebars dangling to a certain rhythm. Our voices would pierce the night air, the cold air biting on our skin.  We were born to run, to kick, to glide, to ride, to live.

Once home we would tuck into mums delicious Lebanese stews and then I would clean the boots, having to get them ready for the next day, as we were up early to places like Milawa, Moyhu, Chiltern, Beechworth and King Valley. I used to get rides with my coach “Diamond” Jim Lewis to the games. I was his captain and I loved riding next to his daughter Leanne. Shame I could not talk to girls that much. Reason? footy basically ruled my life.

I remember progressing through the different levels of football boots when I was a kid. It was both an education and a rite of passage for most boys. First the hard plastic boots, the el cheapos, which I used to tear up the lawns with my brothers much to Dads disappointment.  Then onto the Ron Barrasi specials. That was a quantam leap and I used to save my paper round each week to buy them.  Then onto the pot of gold, the super cool adidas 3 striped boots. This elevated us to Champion status ( in our minds…you have to love marketing!) They were my pride and joy: (others reading this story may remember the “Graeme Jenkin” boots.)

I would start by scrubbing the mud of; using a sort of toilet brush that dad would have in the shed, then slamming the boots outside for any excess mud. I then used hot water and a rag to wash over all the mud. Then I would towel them dry and warm them next to the open fire at home to really dry them. I used mentholated spirits to get the 3 white stripes to stand out and a butter knife to get any mud out under the stripes. I would then get the nugget out, slap it on and then shine with a light cloth. The faster you would shine, the more glow you would get. I did this 2 times and by the end of it I had glowing, crisp footy boots that made me smile.  I would then sit the boots on top of newspaper near my bed with all my footy gear nicely arranged for he morning.  I would go to bed happy and dream of playing for the tigers. Mum always said I was first to bed. I did not tell Sasha all of this, but I did tell him the broad process. I showed Sasha the plan, some water and bit of elbow grease and then onto the shine. He did well, for Sasha. I also said I used to have contests with my brothers Abdel and Omar.

We had been back in Australia a few weeks and we had seen Wonthaggi get beaten by Phillip Island a few weeks earlier. Sasha was watching and champing at the bit to play but we did not have him registered and I did not want to put another kid out of Mike Tong’s under 11 team. Sasha had grown up playing Soccer overseas and it rules his life. On the return leg though Sasha was eligible and his boots were self-made ready. He played great against the Island, who had not been beaten. Personally I think his skill was the difference in the game. At times he would catch a break behind play and swagger a bit like his old man. He attacked quite ferociously at times and his red and white boots were flashing in the Phillip Island morning. He kicked the sealer, a 40-meter long bomb that scuttled the goalies vision. His loyal boots served him well; they gave him direction, balance, charm and a certain lightness of being.


About Haje Halabi

Born in Bright Victoria, went overseas for 2 years and stayed 18. Tiger tragic, father of 2 fine young men, teacher and obsessed with sport and the good it can bring.


  1. Rocket Nguyen says

    Son of a gun.
    Clearly a clean pair of boots leads to showing the opposition a clean pair of heels!

  2. I remember my very first pair of screw-ins. I felt like a “real footballer” the first time I put in the long stops just prior to playing on a really muddy ground.

  3. It was a bit simpler then to Haje. You only had adidas and puma. It’s a minefield out there now. Stripes and swooshes and don’t get me started on the colours!

  4. Boot colours are ridiculous these days! … I guy I work with took his 7 year old son shopping for his first pair of footy boots last year – had to look hard to get a pair of black boots for the boy – as he explained to his son … “You have to earn white boots” ! A philosphy I heartily agree with!

  5. Pete- yes the screw ins were another rite of passage- we certainly upt the aint there hey!

    Gus- yes bloody colours galore now- back then it was liberal or labour now we have every party under the sun!

    Nik- nice story- earning the white boots they are harder to clean I guess but more prestige- Fab phil carmen was way ahead of his time

  6. I skipped the nugget and went with dubbin, but otherwise my ritual was pretty similar.

    Also used to stuff them with screwed up newspaper. Always funny the first training session the next season when you had to remove the 6 month old newspaper!

  7. Ah the memories Haje. The Ron Barassi’s were my first boots too!
    Kicking off the dew in the juniors and then the luxury of playing senior footy and playing after midday! Ah after 40 years of footy and still playing the super rules I have now profgressed to the Over 47’s and guess what? Again I am kicking off the dew.

    Boots, footy, life…. it all turns the full circle.

    Loved the story.

  8. thanks JB, yeah funny how things have turned around, but not may like you still playing after all these years….your strong legs have filled the boots well

  9. Haje – what a great piece about such a simple but powerful footy routine.

    I too cleaned my boots religiously every Friday night & it was a joy, not a chore. It meant the next game was almost here & you could dream of playing like Fabulous Phil or Daics or Billy Picken. I loved it (and picked up a couple of bob along the way – how good was that).

    My two boys don’t know what nugget is! I still sneak out every now & then on a Saturday night & clean their boots for them…..reminiscing about this and that.

    Great work.

  10. Great story and I verify that the “Bright” part was spot on!

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