Five Revolutionary Minutes


Dan Toomey  is a recent Red Recruit, writer and professional on-ground batting form analyst


Benny Zika gave me a tired nod as he rolled his eyes and said ‘Listen mate, I’ll put you in the Facebook group and if you come down then that’s great.’

He’d clearly had a few other middle-aged former cricketers badgering him about Royal Park Reds training at in the wake of The Ashes tour of England.

Ben’s reaction to my enthusiasm betrayed the disappointment of so many no shows over the previous seasons. If one thing is constant in cricket (especially park cricket), it’s plenty of ‘all talk no trouser’ players and attitudes.

‘I’ll admit I was sceptical,’ Benny laughed, when I surprised him by arriving at Poplar Oval for a net session and was presented with a welcoming beer.

A few things struck me about The Red’s change rooms. One was the circular saw the lads were using to bust open the chain that sealed their three door beer fridge. The other was their slogan ‘Taking the class struggle to the pitch’. Despite the lockers, bar, pool table and club memorabilia (which was scant, at best), this was no ordinary club.

A few quick handshakes over a beer with committee members led to the standard first question ‘Are you any good mate?’

I looked at my shoes and thought about the amount of times I’d missed out on selection for school teams, representative and A grade teams in my distant cricket past.

‘Nah mate, no good.’

A few weeks of training led to meeting the ramshtackle playing roster of the Reds full of tradies, waiters, lawyers, actors, writers, teachers, film grips and artists. Drills were devised and I was surprised to see that all players were included rather than being broken up into levels of ability. There were no warm up laps, no mandatory exercises.

Good shots played and balls well bowled in the nets were met with admiration rather than the stern faced hubris of the local ‘urban Bradman’s’ of my playing past. ‘Geez mate, you’re looking good’ and ‘Doesn’t he play that shot well?’ were the talk of the nets bowling huddle.

I soon learned that there’s no real selection committee. The captains got together on Thursday night and got sides together based on availability and a fair go.

I quickly learnt that the Reds are great admirers of cricketers, especially their own. Availability of better players for lower grades was met with open admiration. Players going up a grade were welcomed rather than scrutinised.

Another of the cultural learnings of my Reds ensconsment, was their modesty. After a 7 wicket match winning haul, the quiet all rounder Rowdy sheepishly admitted that he’d ‘took a couple’ the previous week when I asked him how he’d bowled.

Rather than puff his chest out at training that week, Rowdy ran in and bowled just like he did every week. He still said ‘good shot’ and he looked away after he bowled you, rather than gloat on an indulgent extended follow through.

I’d dropped down to Poplar Oval a couple of times to see the Reds play. They quickly allowed me to the beer fridge (now unlocked and well stocked) and to get a deck chair to take to the boundary or under the shade of the large trees outside the post war brick clubrooms.

The heat of early summer was tempered at Poplar by a breeze that I later dubbed the ‘Brunswick Doctor’. The prevailing wind often blew up the gully from the Golf Course and Zoo across the dead flat oval that had been used as a training track for runners in the ‘56 games.

This breeze serves to cool players, aid a bit of outswing bowling and help batsman to club bowlers onto the train tracks at the end of the ground. It also serves as an aid to blow players in the direction of Sydney Road Bars after a typical social function at the rooms.

These functions included a screening of ‘Fire in Babylon’ the film about the rise of the great West Indies. Also, ‘ladies day’ typically near Valentines Day, in which all spouses and female friends of the club are invited for drinks and food over the days play.

Ladies Day seemed strange to me as the club seemed to have so many female friends on any given playing day. Indeed Club Treasurer and Scorer Cath McLeish typifies the Reds only membership requirement: a love of cricket and other people. Cath shared with a few of us one about how she misses cricket season. I wasn’t the sport she missed as much as those people playing it.

My own inclusion in the club has already drawn at least four friends to attend games at Poplar. My ‘Harem’ of friends have been welcomed with open arms and immediately included with the life of the club. They are constantly asking about the next Poplar fixture, when they can get down for a cider in the sun and a day of cricketing banter (most of this revolves around sledging my own game).

On a night out after a game Caspar Zika referred to me as a ‘Rusted on Red’. My enthusiasm for the club has been fuelled by its unique culture. This cricketing oasis is a place you can be exactly who you are without fear of jocular reprisal or tall poppied admonishment. What we may lack in skill or on field results we make up for in the human connections and abundant laughter found in every gap between play.

I’ve been at this club five minutes, but it has lifted my physical health, my mood and confidence. Prior to playing I was injured, unfit, unemployed and, quite frankly, depressed.

A couple of times I couldn’t afford the bus fare to Poplar, so I walked. I didn’t have gear but it didn’t matter. I never could not have afforded the financial costs of starting this sport again at a grass-based club. Nor would I have been in the position to battle the anxiety that would have swallowed me had I failed in a less understanding environment. Had I been judged on cricket alone I would have quit. But for the Reds, competition is secondary to the question ‘Are you any good?’ … as a human being.

The class struggle is on. Weirdly, the council is spending a bucket-load on a pitch that won’t fit on Poplar Oval and sending us to a place we wont fit. This move makes Poplar’s physical resource and The Reds human resource redundant. If we don’t have a home that allows us to exist the way we are, then we’re finished. All logical arguments seem to be met with the ‘you can’t fight progress’ line from Bill Heslop (that’s from the film Muriel’s Wedding btw. All the film students will have worked out the intertextual reference I’ve made there).

Any councillor reading this will probably argue that all these qualities are available at any club; they are not. The qualities they refer to are those Trojan Horses endemic in Australian sporting culture. The misguided view that sporting clubs are the bastion of all that is wholesome in terms of community and physical health is a myth. Too often these perceived ideals are a rouse for intimidation, bullying and exclusion of those who are different, funny shaped or unique.

It’s one thing to get results on the board; that’s just practice and time. To foster an inclusive culture where success is measured in is quite another thing altogether and there’s no scoreboard for it.

The Reds are a different club. It’s nothing for an actor to talk about his work without some idiot asking when he’s going to be on ‘Home and Away’. There’s no ridiculous over designed uniform, attempting to hide our lack of cricket acumen. There’s no club awards to single out individuals and there never will be.

The Reds offer an alternative in the local sporting landscape. Truly, they can define ‘social sport’ far better than some six-a-side football game where strangers play for 40 minutes then leave due to lack of social facilities (that’s what is called clubrooms and a bar in the real world).

Poplar Oval has been the home of The Reds for 25 years and this Red for five minutes; we’re not going anywhere without a fight.



About Dan Toomey

Dan Tooms lives in Melbourne and writes fiction on his tram ride to work. He watches sport happen around him and occasionally documents the antics of his cricket club. He produced and hosted Park Cricket Radio where he talks cricket in a pub and broadcasts it to anyone that is interested. He also drops in to Whiteline Wireless to call cricket live from time to time.


  1. John Butler says

    Great stuff Dan.

    Sounds like my kind of club.


  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Fantastic Dan what a great club and definitely has similarities to the club I am involved in Pembroke O S CC except jealous of you for having that many supporters ! A Qote from the doyen of football administrators Fred Bloch of Adelaide Uni FC is
    If winning is the only thing we don’t want to be a part of it ! Spot on Sir Chocka
    Loved the article a great read of what every sporting club should aspire to be Thanks Dan

  3. Great article and sounds like a great club. At the end of the day cricket is a cruel game so it is really about freindships that can last a life time.

  4. Fantastic article; epitomises all that is good with cricket clubs.

    What other sport can you stand around in a paddock in blistering hea for six hourst, never field a ball, then go out and get a first ball duck the next week and still want to come back for more?

    When you lose the conviviality of the club and the friendships you have with each other, there is in my opinion, less reason to play because the game as it is a very harsh mistress.

    Do I miss playing? Sometimes.
    Do I miss playing on a 40 degree day chasing leather after losing the first innings? No.
    Do I miss the playing cricket with my mates, beers, funny stories, end of season trips, victory celebrations and loss consolations? Every f*n minute of the day.

    Good luck with the fight to keep the Reds alive.

  5. Mickey Randall says

    Wonderful. A charismatic and charming article. Absolutely the very type of club to which I might one day again aspire! Cracking read.

  6. Dan,
    I love the Poplar Oval, having spent Saturday mornings there watching Juniors (thank god for the golf clubhouse over the road and its coffee/catering) and passing by so many times en route from Carlton to Flemington. Ripper little ground….it was a bit of a mess a couple of years ago, especially sludgy in front of the rooms as they’d inserted water tanks. Haven’t been there this season. Must drop by while cricket is still on – seen some fantastic battles, including (very) veterans matches. The refreshing breeze, though, appropriately comes from the southwest (over from Royal Park) rather than recently gentrified Brunny!

  7. Cricket and sport in general can strip away so many things leaving those things that are important to the human spirit. This article says it all. Just a great insightful read.

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