Dreams of Mediocrity

You don’t have to be good at sport to love it. Indeed, those of us who are mediocre or only aspire to mediocrity, may have the greatest love of all. After all, unrequited love is often the strongest.

I’ve never made the first eleven. Never played in a premiership. Never stood on a podium with gold dangling from my neck. But in the words of Peter Sellers in Being There, ‘I like to watch’.

My mates like to watch too. We gather from time to time to see AFL or cricket. Every year we travel great distances for the privilege; sometimes to Sydney, often to Melbourne. We make a weekend of it. We eat and drink the best, consume the city, stand and shout and scream as the situation demands. We escape for a while.

In the end we return exhausted to our lives. Full of memories of the journey and of our own youthful exploits, suitably recast by our time away.

Yes, even we have our sporting stories. Tales of triumph and tragedy. Runs scored. Catches taken. That day I soared, sunlit above the pack, arms outstretched – if only I had held the ball.

My mate, he might as well be called Tiger after that unlucky team that he worships, is a case in point. We studied together at a regional campus. Not one of your beautiful old southern establishments. All stone, timber and towers. Ours was a new place then. Built to quench the thirst of the first generation to enjoy free university education. Unfortunately that didn’t make it pretty; the concrete and steel brutally out of place in the dry bush on the edge of town.

A hot northern town. League and Union territory. Footy played by indigenous kids, soldiers on their way somewhere and Victorians whose families moved here for work.

We were young then. Energetic sportsmen and enthusiastic drinkers before that combination was shameful. Every Saturday we would meet. Generally at one of the town’s half-dozen old pubs. They were not yet gentrified. Big windows, high ceilings, fans pushing the hot air about. No poker machines and nothing but a single Pac-Man to sully the atmosphere.

I remember one day. The day Tiger’s dream of sporting greatness died. It was a beautiful winter’s day. Harry and I perched at the bar waiting for Tiger. A big bar, long and broad. Sun sliding in, catching the Fourex and casting happy patterns across Harry’s Best Bets.

Tiger swung in on crutches, one leg straight and immobilized by some kind of contraption. We asked the usual questions.

‘Bad,’ said Tiger. ‘Missed the whole bloody game.’

‘First quarter injury?’

‘Warm up.’

Harry and I nodded. Not surprised.

‘I suppose that’s the season then,’ I said.

Tiger gulped his beer and groaned. ‘Worse. My cricket careers kaput as well.’

‘No baggy green then,’ I observed.

‘Dreams of captaincy up in smoke,’ added Harry.

I thought about Tiger’s capacity for self-delusion, his lack of application and unco-ordination. Decided not to kick a man who was down.

I thought about what he called his career and about his cricketing prowess. He liked to think of himself as an all-rounder, handy behind the stumps and a brilliant tactician. Harry and I saw things differently. We called him ‘Line and Length’ because he’d never managed to combine the two qualities in any one delivery. At the crease he was ‘economical’. His blade would have lasted a lifetime had it not been for his habit of bashing the toe repeatedly into the pitch as he awaited each delivery.

Still, there was the day in reserve grade when he took three catches in the outfield. His performance was lauded and he came off the field ten feet tall and bulletproof. Then came the duck of course.

And what of my exploits. Well, I’m no better than him. When you can remember in exquisite detail every catch you’ve ever taken, you know there can’t have been many. My favourite is a caught and bowled; a one armed batsman in a social match.

But no matter, I still have the memory.


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About John McCool

Lawyer and writer. Father. Brother. Son.


  1. Mark Duffett says

    You speak beautifully on behalf of, I suspect, a great many readers here, certainly including me.

  2. rabid dog says

    Something about having to pay to play the game gives the true love of sport away.

  3. John Butler says

    Over achievers can be so tiring. Here’s to the mediocre!

  4. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Snap John. I can vividly remember catching the elegant left hander Maurice O’Keefe at mid wicket, playing away at Elizabeth East Primary School in 1972 for Elizabeth South.

    Can’t remember yesterday’s lunch though.

  5. I really enjoyed this. Thanks.

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