Footy as remedy

I’d do anything for my mates, even an Essendon supporter.  When my mates hurt, I hurt.  If I’m going through a rough patch, my mates are quick to provide surety.

Some of my mates have been around almost three decades.  It means I’m getting older and they’re great blokes.  There is intimacy, when you’ve known each other so long.

I’ve known AJ almost twenty years.  He’s an Essendon fan but I still like him.  Last week, when he described the squamous cell carcinoma above his left eyebrow, I told him not to worry.  It was the most basic advice, all I could think of.

AJ had the cancerous cells cut from his face.  The mess had been sent for pathology.  He’d know the results inside a week.  Telling him not to worry sounded worthless.

Squamous cell carcinomas are the second-most common skin cancer.  They generally occur in parts of the body exposed to the sun.  Those that occur on the face and neck pose a strong risk of spreading to the lymphatic system.

Australian’s are more susceptible to squamous cell carcinomas than the inhabitants of any other country on the planet.

It didn’t make sense that AJ had a carcinoma.  He is the most sun smart man I’ve ever met.  He wears a hat in the shade.  He uses sunscreen as moisturiser.  In summer, he is usually seen in long pants and long-sleeved shirts.

As we were chatting, Essendon were pulling away from North.  AJ didn’t sound too excited.  Footy, as much as he loved it, was an aside to life.  Essendon’s win didn’t stop the fear.

On Monday, I sent out an invitation, come and watch footy, to AJ and two other mates, Adam G and the Pole.  The invitation was predictable.  No matter what the pathology returned, I figured footy and beer was the remedy.

AJ’s acceptance was the only variable.  He sounded a little crook and flat during the week.  Telling him not to worry sounded as pointless as it had five days earlier.

I shouldn’t have worried about AJ’s mindset.  On Friday night, he turned up ready to go.  The Pole did too, making the salad and cleaning up the bar.  Adam G bought cheese and salami.  We drank beer, ate food and talked pathology.

The night was about to become a celebration.  AJ was fine.  The pathology showed the cancer hadn’t spread.  Importantly, as he modestly said, the surgeon had done a great job.

‘My good looks have been preserved,’ AJ said.

So the night became a celebration.  Beers were never empty.  Hawthorn dominated the first half.  The Pole, a Hawks fan, didn’t want to risk a beer so he drank vodka.  At half time I barbequed lamb chops.  We ate during Essendon’s third quarter revival.

With seven unanswered goals, the Bombers turned a 32-point deficit into a three-point lead at the last change.  I turned empty beers into full before the start of the last quarter.  The Pole still didn’t want to risk having a beer.  He poured a deep vodka.

Adam G wondered if North wasn’t as bad as we all suspected.  AJ asked if North were favourites against the Bulldogs.

‘You’ve got three good players,’ AJ said.  ‘And one of them is 40.’

‘Just like Fletcher,’ the Pole said.

The final quarter was a privilege to watch.  When Chapman curled a goal to put Essendon nine points up, we figured the game was over.

It took eight seconds from the bounce for Bruest to cut the margin to three points.

‘That is fucking luck,’ AJ yelled.

Back in the forties, Len Smith, brother to Norm, compiled a dossier on coaching and tactics.  In notes given to Ron Barassi, Smith wrote how a goal could be scored in eight seconds.

For the first time in my life, I got to see one.

The Pole and AJ were panicking.  Despite the margin, the Pole congratulated AJ on the win.  ‘Too good Lewie,’ he said.

‘No,’ AJ said.  ‘You’ve got this one.’

Neither the Pole nor AJ were willing to claim the game.  It was Cyril Rioli who claimed the game, a goal with a minute left.

When the siren went, Adam G, the Pole and I erupted.  Our roar could be heard five houses away.  The Pole had his Hawthorn t-shirt off, waving it around his head.

AJ was red in the face.  Maybe it was the booze.  It was a hot night too, and he was wearing long pants and shoes.

It was Adam G who recognised the despair.  He extended an apology to AJ, who was sitting befuddled, arms crossed, teeth gritted, his head slowly shaking.

‘Let’s face it, AJ’ Adam G said.  ‘We all hate Essendon.  It doesn’t mean we hate you.’

AJ moaned about luck, the bounce of the ball.  He was swearing as I filled his beer.

‘I know you’re disappointed,’ I said.  ‘Don’t worry about it.  The important thing was that you were here so we could all see it.’

It was pick on Essendon time.  The insults flew.  The Pole tried to drape his Hawthorn t-shirt across AJ’s shoulders.  AJ grabbed him in a headlock and asked me if I had any gaffer tape.

I did, but AJ was just bluffing.  ‘Hawthorn,’ he said disgustedly.  ‘The poos and wees.  Sponsored by Melbourne Sewerage.’

We played pool.  AJ is good on the table.  He walked around, firing away, showing his skills.

‘Matt, how many is that I’ve sunk,’ he asked.  ‘I’ve lost count.’

‘You’ve sunk two,’ I said.  ‘I’m not surprised you’ve lost count.’

Adam G, who was waiting for a shot, tried looking serious.  ‘I think Essendon has become the new Collingwood.’

AJ missed his shot.  ‘Hird’s gotta go,’ he said.

We watched the press conferences.  Alistair Clarkson and Mark Thompson were great theatre.

As the night grew old, AJ wanted another beer, his last.  As I filled the glass, he shrugged and sighed.

‘Can I ask you a question?’ he said.

‘Is it an intelligent one?’

‘Yes.’  He seemed surprised.

‘Sorry, you’re an Essendon fan.  I had to ask.’

‘How long do you dwell on a loss like that?’

‘Until you win a premiership,’ I said.  ‘It could be a long time.’

It was a great night, made better by the quality of the game.  AJ needed release after a tough week.  Footy gives us the chance to talk.

And AJ carried a lifetime of worry.  Following the surgery, he fretted for five days, waiting for a phone call.  It didn’t come.  On Thursday, the uncertainty forced him to make contact, a nervous phone call.  A receptionist gave him the all clear.

‘We only call if there’s a problem,’ she said.

That’s what AJ did as North was losing to Essendon.  He had a problem, he made a call.  This is what mates do.  Support was offered via beer, barbequed lamb and footy.

Such a simple remedy.

About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. Andrew Starkie says

    Beautiful Iron Mike. Footy and mates, sometimes that’s all we need. Love your work. Go Roos.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Spot on great read and let’s be honest all of us blokes should be far more health conscious . Love the mateship well played Iron mike

  3. Luke Reynolds says

    Great stuff Matt. Sounds like a good group of mates. I have a mate who is” an Essendon fan but we still like him” too. Essendon could well have overtaken my Magpies as the most hated team in thed AFL. For now.
    Glad AJ got a good result.

  4. mickey randall says

    Matt- a wonderful piece in which you investigate the vital topic of relationships, mortality and footy. Love your minimalistic style too. Great stuff.

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