Dudley Street Doggies – Clem Nips Out To The Shed

“… Quang from the market …” was their little joke.

Clem only knew one Quang, and Quang knew that Clem only knew one Quang, but the joke persisted.

Indeed Quang was from the market, the same market he was at 20 years ago when Madge found young Li walking around crying and lost. Madge took Li from stall to stall until Li recognised her mother Han, Quang’s wife.

A grateful Quang gave Madge a box full of veges to mark his family’s thanks. This gift had continued to this day, as every Wednesday after close, Quang would drop off a box of slightly wilted Asian greens along with some shopworn but still quite tasty remnants from their now thriving stalls.

Even after Madge succumbed to her various (real and imagined) ailments around the time of Rocket’s arrival, the rocket still arrived at Clem’s each Wednesday evening.

Cooking was always a mystery to Clem. At first his witlof and lambs fry casserole attempts were spurned even by Bess, but with the help of a copy of the Women’s Weekly Asian Cooking Class (1987), he soon found a way to use whatever Quang or Han fitted into Clem’s weekly waxy box of goodies. (Although there were some weeks where it went straight onto Clem’s compost heap).

Despite this arrangement, Clem knew very little of Quang’s life outside the market and all Quang really knew about Clem was his passion for the team he still knows as Footscray.

Clem didn’t know, for example, that Quang’s younger brother Van had a son doing Auskick, until Quang explained how he came by the tickets.

Quang continued, “Last week two of the young Bullydogs (as Quang calls them) were there, and they gave out some free tickets. I know you and Madge used to go, would you like to go again? Van’s boy wants to go too. None of us have ever been before, but we think it is time we did. I’ll pick you up at 1 o’clock Mr Clem. Anyway, I see you Wednesday night. Bye.”

Clem didn’t have time to say no before Quang hung up.

The kindness of Quang and the anticipation of renewing his love affair with the Doggies left Clem feeling like a giddy teenager.

It was all he could think about for the rest of the week, apart from bin night. And Bess’ worm tablets. And his Tatts Lotto entry. And his doctor’s appointment. And what would have been Madge’s 80th birthday.

On Wednesday night, after Quang reconfirmed their Saturday date, Clem realised that he had nothing to wear and he needed a hair cut.

Towards the back of the solid oak wardrobe that once belonged to his in-laws, Clem’s foraging was rewarded with the sight of his old scarf, replete with its official VFL badge, the tri-coloured fringing still intact, although the white horizontal bands had taken on a yellowish, Winfield tinge. He also noted that the blue was a darker version than had appeared on the Footscray jumper both back then and now.

The hair cut meant a trip on Friday to Joe’s of Barkly St on the 220 bus, with special attention paid to nose, ear and eyebrow regrowth. Clem had been patronising Joe’s for decades, often popping into Scheidt’s butchers next-door for a kilo of tripe afterwards, but he skipped it that day.

At exactly 1pm on game day, Quang arrived in a strange car, rather than the familiar white van he used at the market. In the rear of the locally made silver Aurion, sat Quang’s brother Van and his son Danny, the shotgun possie reserved for Clem, who pointed proudly to his scarf.

During the short drive along Dynon Road, a lively discussion ensued. Danny’s favourite player was “The Bont”. Van had taken out a Foxtel package this year, so he and Danny had seen most of the Dogs’ previous games. Quang said he was looking forward to seeing many of his customers, as all week he had been signing off with “Go Bullydogs” as he handed over their change. They all agreed that St Kilda were in for a hiding.

Clem had been secretly worried about the prospect of a long walk into the ground, so was confused when Quang veered left from Dudley St the Greater, before disappearing into an underground car park. Geez, this is gonna be a long trek Clem thought, as he sidled into the lift with the other three.

Like science fiction, Clem then found himself beamed up into the world of 21st century footy, the pod doors opening at Level 1.

As they found their way into their allotted seats in the forward pocket at the Footscray end, Clem realised that the playing surface sat on top of the carpark. Shit, that’d be hard on the knees, he thought.

Clem looked around and up to the roof. The roof! This place really is just a big shed. He saw a movie once about the moon landing being faked, Capricorn One. It could have been filmed here he thought, this is just a giant TV studio, way bigger than the one he went to with the Senior Cits a few years back with that smug Eddie McGuire. Except this one had more flashing lights, uncomfortable seats and an even more annoying warmup man.

Why was the roof closed during the day, wondered Clem, when at the soccer the night before, the roof was open? World’s gone mad.

Danny came back from a walk with a Record for Clem, and Van came back with three cups of weak, flat, sour, watery beer. Clem reached for his wallet, but Quang insisted that it was his buy. Despite being off the wagon since his last heart scare, Clem, not wanting to offend his hosts, downed his suds quickly. He saw that Quang and Van were taking their time, small sips only. “I didn’t realise that you blokes liked this beer”, he remarked.

Van couldn’t maintain his pretence any longer. “We don’t, it tastes like cat’s piss”, he said, “but we thought that you would like it”.

They roared with laughter, reminding Clem of Jack Thompson in the Clayton’s ad from around the time Footscray wore red shorts.

Ten minutes later, when Clem took his leave to ‘point percy’, he saw the beer and food prices in the giant food court, and was glad that he’d had a good feed before he left. He took time to wander along the concourse, slowly absorbing the fact that he was indoors, the toilets were inside the indoors (and clean), and that people thought that only having to pay $3 for a bottle of water was somehow a bargain for something that flowed for free in the Gents.

Back at his seat, he thumbed through the Record, realising that he hardly knew any of the playing numbers. OK, so it’s Bont-4, Lukey-6, Boyd-17.

Danny was agog when his heroes appeared at their end for the warmup. “There’s The Bont. And Murph. And Johannisen. Wow Dad, thanks for letting me come today. This is the best day ever.”

Quang and Van were transfixed, neither saying it, but both realising what they had been missing out on all these years, and why their local customers had been walking a bit taller the past month or so.

The huge scoreboard screens blazed out like giant poker machine screens, but the accompanying noise assault made it hard for Clem, Quang, Van and Danny to carry out a conversation. They were now reduced to pointing and nodding, as if they no longer shared a common language.

As the banners went up and the players ran out, Clem had a double take. His eyesight was no longer the best, but it looked like there was a cartoon bulldog on his team’s jumpers, Corinella style. He thought that it looked stupid. He couldn’t imagine EJ wearing one of those, Brad Hardie maybe (after all he togged up in a koala getup after he left) and certainly not Dougie. That’s progress?

The Saints entered from the other end, wearing an unfamiliar arrangement of their familiar colours, accompanied by their familiar song.

“Last time you’ll hear that today,” shouted a wag from the cheer squad.

“Go Dogs,” yelled Danny, jabbing his Dad in the ribs.

“Carn Footscray,” shouted the brothers in unison.

“Go Doggies,” Clem roared, instinctively reaching out to pat Madge on the leg, before realising his mistake. He cried, only briefly mind you, for the first time in ten years.

The opening siren blares.

The final siren blares.

The three elders console young Danny, who can’t believe that his team has lost, after being so far in front at half time. So far in front that Clem lashed out at half-time and bought himself a new cap and a Bont badge for the kid.

Quang and Van still loved the game, Danny filling them in on the finer points along the way. They told him that they didn’t understand the holding the ball rule. “Don’t worry”, said Danny, “no-one does.”

As they waited for the lift, Quang asked Clem whether he enjoyed the game.

“Enjoyed?”, exclaimed Clem. “Bloody Oath. Gee those kids had a crack. So they didn’t win, but geez it was exciting. Wouldn’t be dead for quids.”

“Who we got next week?”, said Quang.

“What’s calamari got to do with it?” thought Van.

 

For more of Clem’s adventures look  here

About Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt

Saw my first SANFL game in 1967 - Dogs v Peckers. Have only ever seen the Dogs win 1 final in the flesh (1972 1st Semi) Mediocre forward pocket for the AUFC Blacks (1982-89) Life member - Ormond Netball Club -That's me on the right

Comments

  1. Priceless. Thanks Swish.

  2. Neil Anderson says

    The best story I’ve read on the Almanac. After chapter one, we were hoping Clem would make it to the footy to see the Dogs and you have described his reaction to twenty-first century footy perfectly. If you were able to film Clem’s adventures it would be the equal to the’ ‘Year of the Dog’ doco, only with a more positive feel.
    I particularly liked how Quang got to know Clem and their on-going friendship.
    Let’s hope Go Bullydogs! catches on and can be heard around the stadium.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Fantastic Swish loved picturing,Clem in the lift re car park you described it perfectly
    more stories on Clem and Quang, Please. Go Bullydogs is priceless

  4. Thanks Swish. Much to like in this, but my pick is

    “It was all he could think about for the rest of the week, apart from bin night. And Bess’ worm tablets. And his Tatts Lotto entry. And his doctor’s appointment. And what would have been Madge’s 80th birthday.”

    Funny. Poignant. Brilliant.

    And of course the only way to go to a shed is to “nip.”

    I’m looking forward to how Clem and his friendships develop.

  5. “Around the time Footscray wore red shorts”. Much to like about that era and very much to like about this tale – thanks Swish.

  6. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thanks for all of your kind words – we’ll have to see how Clem and Co fare for the rest of the season.

  7. Luke Reynolds says

    Fantastic Swish. I was worried Clem may not have been able to find his seat after ‘Pointing Percy’ with all the grandstands looking the same. Glad he made it back.

  8. Michele Davis says

    Absolutely brilliant story Swish,
    Had me holding my breath hoping no harm would come to Clem before the big day,
    Love the bit about the veggies, and the Womens’s Weekly Asian Cooking Class (we all had one of those!)
    So subtle, Quang driving the Aurion, (of course he does!)
    I wonder if they sat near my friend Karen, her heart breaking for the Doggies while her nephew Jack Billings kicked 3 in the last quarter to get the Sainters over the line. Bittersweet was how she described that!
    Swish you are certainly giving Alice Pung a run for her money.
    Can’t wait for more tales of Clem!

  9. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thanks Luke for the possible future story line.

    Thanks Michele, I had to look up Alice Pung. I suspect her memories are a bit more authentic than mine.

  10. What do you mean possible future “story’ line, Swish? Don’t tell me this is like that Oprah Book Club “A Million Little Pieces” scandal where the bloke had never had a drink in his life.
    The Almanac’s army of fact checkers will be around tonight to interview you and Clem and Quang. You better have your story straight. An august publication like the Almanac won’t tolerate writers who bend the truth and tell porky pies.
    If that is the case I will make sure there are no presents from Santa under your tree this year; or Crows premierships; or choccie eggs next Easter. (At least one of those is guaranteed).
    Consider this an official warning.
    Yours sincerely,
    (Third Assistant Under Editor).

  11. Neil Anderson says

    To continue the Swish Book Club theme, I can thoroughly recommend Alice Pung’s book ‘Unpolished Gem’ (2006 ) Alice and her family could easily be neighbours of Quang.
    The quote on the back cover in part says, ” In a wonderland called Footscray, a girl named Alice and her Chinese- Cambodian family pursue the Australian dream–Asian style.” And then the classic piece that stuck in our minds when we finished reading the book was, ” And every day her grandmother blesses Father Government for giving old people money.”

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