Country Footy: You wouldn’t like a game would you?




By Neil Anderson


It’s funny how you read a few sentences or hear a few words that spark your interest or throw you back in time. It happened to me when I read Paul Daffey’s introduction to the book of stories he and John Harms put together, Footy Town.


The book arrived in the mail as part of a welcome to The Almanac package. In my case it was welcome back to The Almanac. I recently rejoined to write something, anything, as the isolation blues took hold. I’d been through the various stages of grief. Despair that I wouldn’t be seeing the Bulldogs play. Angry that the Bulldogs would not have a chance to redeem themselves after being so poor in Round 1. (I thought Mick Malthouse’s suggestion to scrap the Round 1 results was an excellent one). The final stage was acceptance of circumstances and the need to find another social outlet. Writing something for The Almanac would be a start in the right direction.


Footy Town includes stories from country towns all around Australia and I was amazed to see a writer listed from my own small town of Panmure in south-western Victoria. Also our neighbouring town of Allansford was mentioned in regard to its historic grandstand. My family first settled in Allansford in the 1850’s.


So it was a combination of Paul Daffey meeting the gate-keeper at a local footy ground who asked him ‘whether he would like to pull on the boots’, plus seeing my local dot-on-the-map town being mentioned that gave me the spark to write something.


1988 we had just relocated from Melbourne to a place called Dixie, six ks south of Terang, south-western Victoria. With a name like Dixie, it had to be way down south of somewhere. Me transferring to Warrnambool to work in the Education Department office. My wife with her newly minted Diploma of Education which she would use later to work at Camperdown High School. One of her star pupils was Almanacker Luke Reynolds, whom she says, managed to incorporate cricket stories into all facets of the curriculum.


After our boxes, crates and suitcases were unloaded at the school-house we were renting, we went into Terang in search of a counter- tea.  The first pub was like something out of the wild- west. It was a Monday night but it was beyond quiet. Dark and gloomy with four drinkers at the bar and no lounge open for meals. If there was a honky-tonk piano that suddenly stopped playing as we walked through those swing-doors, it would not have surprised me. If the bar-keep wiping the glasses looked up and asked, “ Where you from stranger?” I would have expected it.


We were eventually directed to what was called the middle-pub where they might be serving meals, although it is Monday you know.


One month later and I was calling in at the Ecklin general-store which would have been the replacement store after the Ash-Wednesday fires had destroyed the original  five years earlier. Whenever we spoke to locals, they talked about the fires as if they only occurred the previous year.


The store owner famous for his hospitality was different to the publican in Terang. A welcome smile and a friendly greeting. His name was Bill McKinnon and he and his family are mentioned in the story by Brendan Ryan in Footy Town.


The three other customers were a lot more taciturn, obviously sizing up the city-fella that was livin’ in the Dixie school-house. Bill introduced me to Harry, Jack and Cliff who were on the Ecklin Football Club Committee. The Football-ground was just across the road.


It turned out these Ecklin footy-club scouts were eyeing me off a possible recruit for at least their reserve team. They had spotted a bloke that was about 40, six-feet tall, upright and breathing and they were ready with their Form Fours. I should have laughed and explained that I hadn’t played for quite a while. But I didn’t. I was flattered. Memories of being picked for the school-team came flooding back. Polishing the boots and whitening the laces the night before the match. I probably blurted out something like, “ So you need some new recruits do you?”. “ I should be available”.


The idea was to turn up at training after work on Tuesday, have a run and see how you go. It all sounded good to me. I was excited. What could possibly go wrong. Although I did hope the farm-boys we would play against in the reserves weren’t as big and tough as the seniors. But those negative thoughts were soon forgotten as I wondered where I could buy a pair of footy-boots.  My last pair I owned probably had nail-in-stops. The other fantasy going through my head was what number jumper would I wear. I hoped number three was available because I had worn that one since primary school days in Footscray. I was floating on air as I drove back home thinking of how I was going to be accepted by the locals after word got around that, the new bloke from Dixie, he goes alright!


There was one final hurdle before I ran out for my first match. Apart from no footy-boots, jock-strap, being slightly overweight, too old and unfit. It was telling my wife that the current bread-winner of the family was about to play a game of footy. Well, she didn’t laugh but she did prick my fantasy bubble and put a huge dent in my confidence.


“ What! They’ll kill you!” It was only then that I started to think like a grown-up and consider that maybe she was right. So thoughts of racing along the wing and kicking goals for Ecklin suddenly disappeared. I just wondered what they would have thought when their star recruit didn’t turn up for training on Tuesday.


Six months later I joined the Laang Tennis Club which was a lot safer and I even managed to get a few kudos when we won the B-grade grand-final. Middle age acceptance of my sporting career being over was put on hold for just a bit longer.





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About Neil Anderson

Enjoys reading and writing about the Western Bulldogs. Instead of wondering if the second premiership will ever happen, he can now bask in the glory of the 2016 win.


  1. A lovely yarn, Neil.

    “With a name like Dixie, it had to be way down south of somewhere” A brilliant line!

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Ah! Excellent to hear a piece concerning the area many of the paternal side of my family hail from – they’ve been in this part of the world for more than 150 years. Fine country!

  3. Luke Reynolds says

    Great piece Neil, and welcome back!

    One of my Aunties lived in Dixie for several years, probably around the time you were there.

    The Ecklin FC, another on the long list of footy club casualties. Green and Gold?? Not sure of their nickname.

    I hadn’t been to Ecklin for cricket for many years until the 2019/20 season. It was never a great surface in the past but boy was I impressed upon turning up there. Immaculate, golf green like surface. A credit to the Ecklin CC, in my opinion the best hard wicket ground now in our competition. Great bunch of guys down there too, thoroughly enjoyed playing against them in 2019/20.

    Say hello to Mrs Anderson for me, tell her I’m still managing to incorporate cricket stories into all facets of my curriculum!

  4. Brilliant story, Neil, and quite appropriate given your Footscrayitis that Panmure’s nickname is the Bulldogs.
    I reckon “She Who Must Be Obeyed’s” comments denied Panmure a potential match-winner.
    Anyone for tennis?

  5. Neil Anderson says

    Thanks everyone for your comments. Now I remember what made the Almanac great again. The comments section. Always encouraging. Seldom critical in a nasty way.
    It appears I didn’t have to be so precise locating my little corner of the world. Readers have either been here or had relatives that have lived here. In Luke’s case, he played cricket here. Why am I not surprised. Mrs Anderson (I sound like Damian Hardwick talking about his wife) said to say hello Luke. Sharyn is still teaching part-time at Deakin and has added a few more letters after her name since Camperdown. Yes Peter, it would have been nice if I had been able to run out for the Panmure Bulldogs. But I would have been waiting for the elective surgery to start up again to fix my broken body.

  6. Neil Welcome back ! I smiled re the reference to Luke ( I no it will amaze you but,Luke has been the teacher in the last few weeks at home and says that cricket has been a v important part of the curriculum)
    Yes dreams followed by common sense definitely can relate well done winning the tennis final

  7. Neil Anderson says

    Thanks Rulebook. Yes forty-years old is an interesting age. Still thinking you are in your twenties as far as being involved in competitive sport is concerned. You need someone to be honest and tell you the painful truth. Running around after kids and being entrenched in the rat-race doesn’t make you fit unfortunately.
    Mrs Anderson would be very proud of Luke to hear he has been a teacher in the last few weeks .If ever I mentioned his name, Sharyn always says, ” He was a lovely boy”.

  8. roger lowrey says

    Great yarn Neil. It reminded me of my own first year teaching at Warrnambool High in 1977. My first accommodation was a farmhouse in Wangoom. Only later did I come to realise that many older farmers let their houses out to boost their incomes while they had moved into smaller units in W’bool with their wives after they had become empty nesters. Many young single teachers thought these farmhouses were an absolute godsend in a tight rental market. And I am always able to resurrect this story every year with the running of the time honoured Wangoom Hcp aka the Newmarket of the bush.

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