Geoff Sinclair’s Home and Away Games- Rd 10


Essendon versus Western Bulldogs

Etihad Stadium, Friday, May 28th.

At breakfast on Sunday, Tommy and I discuss our uninspired victory over the Tigers the night before.  I try very hard to concentrate on the old bloke’s quarter-by-quarter analysis of the game, but it is difficult because when he’s breaking his fast, Tommy knows no boundaries.  He empties a truckload of  Special K flakes into a plate, on top of which he spreads iron filings retailed by a bloke named Uncle Toby as BranPlus and drizzles two dessert-spoons of honey over the lot.  The whole mess then floats in a pond of 40%-more calcium milk.  The eating process involves major dribbling, slurping, crunching, crashing of spoon on teeth and, when the tide is far enough out, tilting the plate and drinking from it.

There are strong parallels with working in a milking shed, which I have done on the odd occasion.

So when he’s loaded up with a mouthful of this gunk and says something like, “Jason Winderlich should have converted twice from inside 50”, I just have to look away.  In fact, a lot of Essendon players have names which are difficult to say with a mouthful of cereal, but that doesn’t deter Tommy.  He sprays cereal shrapnel on his way through Zaharakis, Gumbleton, Fletcher and the rest.

Me, I might be a country boy, but I’m a poached-egg-on-toast man, and clean and economical in my table manners.

Eventually, after we arrive at the world-shattering conclusion that a win is a win no matter how it comes about, Tommy condescends to enquire how I enjoyed watching Collingwood play Geelong with Miss How-doo-lekkis on Friday night.  (There’s been a stony silence on the subject, plus I no longer bother to correct his deliberate mis-pronunciations.  Let him have his pathetic fun.)  Because I am pissed off with Labrini for her no-show at my game, I am not expansive on the subject.  I confine myself to the observation that I barracked enthusiastically for the Cats – as per the pre-game contract I struck with the Goddess – especially during their third-quarter burst when they kicked five unanswered goals and killed the game off.

“When Mooney, Johnson and Hawkins kicked goals for Geelong, I gave a good interpretation of being excited.  Fisting the air, going Yes! Yes! Once I even yelled, ‘Go Pussy Cats’!”

“You included Mooney in the air-fisting?”


“Huh-huh,” says Tommy, eyebrows rocketing towards the ceiling.  “At least you haven’t sold your soul completely for . . . whatever’s going on between that woman.”

I ignore the “that woman” description, because the little guy’s having a spasm of negative emotions – jealousy, envy, lust, intolerance – and he’s confused.  Instead I suggest that by going to the two games side-by-side I am now in a position to say that the Bombers are a long way behind the two top teams.  “We’re still in the development phase,” I tack on to the end to add grunt to my insight.

“Huh-huh.  How we go against the Bulldogs on Friday night will tell us a lot.”

“They’re years ahead of us in development and experience, Thomas,” I remark, casually.

The old bloke raises his eyes from his cereal bowl and gives me a wry look.  (I ignore the milk rim on his upper lip by staring at his shiny forehead.) “My, we are sounding very erudite this morning.”

It’s too good a day to be inside, so I poke around the city precinct, then meander past the Arts Centre.  At some point I decide to keep going.  From Princes Bridge to St.Kilda takes me three hours, because I dawdle and stop from time to time for a look-around.  I do plenty of people-watching.  The most interesting sight is a young woman in jeans with ROOT written across her bum.  It puzzles me: is it a new brand-name, a competitor for Fcuk?  Has the word lost its connotation since I was a lad?  If she were my daughter I would not be impressed.

I buy three cans of bourbon and coke in Fitzroy Street, and sit on the beach and drink them.  There’s plenty of people pottering about because it’s sunny, but cool, so there’s only a couple of crazies wallowing in the water.  The lazy little waves slide onto the sand with barely a hiss, the sun is warm on my neck, the grog goes straight to my head and it all drags me back to Tallerack.

Late autumn, and the times when she wasn’t sleeping off a night shift at the hospital, Linda would be having breakfast with me on the verandah, after we’d knocked over the morning chores.  There’d still be patches of mist hanging in the gullies, but the night-chill had gone.  We’d gaze out over the front paddock I’d cleaned up and sowed with oats, drinking coffee and planning things.  We loved planning: new poultry yards, new fences, new tree plantations, a new kitchen.  We’d end up with the biggest plan of all – how many jobs to go, how much more money to spend, before the shearers’ quarters were ready.  Then we’d be able to advertise for people to come and stay.  Linda had already sketched out a pamphlet – Tallerack Farm Homestay, hosts Linda and Peter Schofield, complete with a charcoal sketch of the house, the converted shearers’ quarters and the dam.

Jesus.  I just can’t see myself going back there and resuscitating the whole idea.

I blink hard against the sun’s reflection on the water, and push myself to my feet.  I catch a tram, and back at Princes Bridge the city lights are outrageously bright against the gathering gloom.  I see a few Hawthorn banners above the heads of the crowds, and when a group wearing brown-and-gold accessories tumble noisily into my tram, it’s obvious they’ve beaten the Blues.

That’s a turn-up.  That will mean Tommy’s tipping record has slipped from ordinary to catastrophic.

Back home, I find the little chap reclining deep in one of his leather monsters, toying with a  glass of wine.  “I went to see a film, “Soul Kitchen”, he tells me, directing his pained expression at the ceiling, like he’s going to fart.

“I didn’t recommend it,” I say emphatically, knowing what’s coming next.  “All I said was, I think I’ll see it, should an opportunity arise.”

“For your sake, I hope it doesn’t.  By the way, the Greek woman rang.”

“Did she?  By the way, she was born in Flemington, okay, 38 years ago.”

. . . / / / . . .

Tommy thinks it’s time for The Mob to regroup, which I’m happy to hear, because I’ve been mulling over the reunion idea while going about my janitorial duties.

This is my first reunion.  The Beaumont High School ex-students’ committee has failed to locate me at my current address.  Either that, or no such committee exists.  I can’t imagine anyone, or any other organisation, with whom I would be invited to reunite.

I had originally assumed that reunions lasted for a few hours, a weekend, or three or four days, tops.  Like year level school reunions, or meetings of people who have done a gourmet tour of Japan and eaten raw fish every day, or those people whose plane engines stopped when they cruised through volcanic ash, years ago.  (Now that would be a riot of a reunion.)  Reunions I believe, involve heaps of people, crowds milling around nervously peering into each others’ faces then, when the penny drops and someone makes out who belongs to that overweight body holding up a wrinkled, blotchy face, there’s  squeals of ‘oh-my-god-is-it-really-you?’ or ‘mate, you don’t look a day older’.  Also, there’s dances, places where you can buy memorabilia like ties and cups and photographs, dinners and speeches, huge amounts of applause, hugs and handshakes, jokes and embarrassing stories.  (Like if there was a Beaumont High School Year 11 reunion, someone would ask, who put the carp in Bulldog’s meter box?  Answer: Peter Schofield and Linda Pay, both pissed.  I still haven’t told him.)

Season-long get-togethers like ours seem against the natural order of things.  But it’s kind of working out for me.  I haven’t thought seriously about returning to my Tallerack spread for ages.

Anyway, I insist on cooking for the regrouping event, so Tuesday morning sees me outside the doors of a French deli opposite the pizza-rama where Rebecca Ritchie waits on tables, when she’s not bad-mouthing me or riding her bike down the Beach Road.  I purchase a rather large quantity of an item called cassoulet, because it looks very much like the stew Mum used to make.  Same rich, chunky consistency, if a trifle more expensive.  The young lady behind the counter informs me that it is a traditional dish of southern France.

“It looks as if it will put hairs on my chest,” I remark, flirtatiously.

“It already ‘as for my ‘usband,” she says, smiling in fluent French.

Naturally, I glance across at the homesick restaurant on my way out, and sure enough the pony-tailed man-mountain and Rebecca the Riot are enjoying a coffee and a fag in the Wednesday morning sunshine.  They wave, then share a private, derisory comment about me and laugh.  Idiots.

That evening, I heat the cassoulet in the oven, bake some spuds to which I add chives from the Huntleigh Mews herbarium, and whip up a dinky little green salad, walnuts included.  The meal receives strong endorsement from The Mob.  For a while I string them along with the story that I discovered the recipe in one of Tommy’s dusty cookbooks – god, soaking the beans and finding the right kind of sausages took ages – but in the end I own up, because basically I am an honest person.  Tommy was happy to string along with me, because he’d seen it in the fridge.  He’s good like that.

After the meal, we sink into the leather monsters with glasses of Jonesy’s Margaret River wine, and another session of past-life regression threatens.  This, though, is less personal, dealing with the fate of the Beaumont Football and Netball Club Inc.  (R.I.P. 1885 – 1992)

“We really should go back and watch a game,” suggests Jonesy.  “Isn’t the split round coming up?”

“I’d be in that.”  I glance around.  “Has anyone seen the new team play?  The Beaumont Balagundi Bombers.”

“They’re not the Bombers any more.  They’re the Rovers,” says Tommy.

No-one has seen them play, but we know Tommy was involved in the early stages of the amalgamation with Balagundi, a town far enough into the wheat belt to have been shrinking for years.  (In the last few years of their life, ‘gundi took some horrible floggings.  Beaumont kind of held its own, despite dwindling numbers.)  The old bloke takes up a story we’ve all heard before, but are content enough to listen to again.  “It only took a year to complete the process, because the writing was on the wall.  They only had to look around at the number of clubs in Victoria that had gone down the amalgamation path before us.  It was obvious neither of us could survive on our own.  So it was a pretty smooth ride.

“They formed a committee, made all the decisions then they had ceremonies in both the clubrooms.  They were good, well thought out.  Dignified, and very sad.  There were speeches, taking down pennants and cups, a new charter, an unveiling of the new uniform.  Hmmm . . . it was good.  The netballers did the same.”

“Still.  A century of rivalry wiped out in a few months,” mutters Bulldog.  “But the farming profile changed around Beaumont even in my time.  Some of those marginal dairy farms south of the town sold up – remember the Waddinghams, and Tony Browne and his family?  They left, and multiply that by ten.  The same thing had happened on the broad acre holdings further west, which is why Balagundi struggled for years.  Remember one year they hired half-a-dozen mercenary footballers from Mildura?”

“Never works.  Some of them arrived at the ground stoned,” says Jonesy.

Bulldog looks across at me.  ”I remember you telling me Peter, when you started playing with the Under 12s, your mum drove you into town past maybe twenty farms.  A few years later when you’re in the seniors, you could only count seven properties.”

“Yep.  Probably less now.”

“Young people started to leave the district.  The high school became part of a regional college in at Glendale and the old brick building, the main one, is now a community centre.  Bank branches closed, the Ag Department office was relocated.”

Jonesy chips in again.  “I read somewhere that in the last 15 years something like 150 country football and netball clubs have gone into recess, folded completely or amalgamated.”

“That’s a huge number.  By the way, what’s the jumper like?” asks Bulldog.

“The Beaumont-Balgundi Rovers Football Club wears . . . ah, it’s red-and-blue vertical stripes, with a BBFC monogram.  Hoops on the socks.  A bit like Port Melbourne.  It’s okay.”

“We should go and watch them,” says Jonesy, again.

“We’ll look at the dates,” says Tommy.

We keep mulling it over, the death of our footy club and its reincarnation as a different one.  Technically, I’m the only dinky-die local, born and bred in the district, but that doesn’t matter.  Not to me, anyway.  Bulldog lobbed into the town as a teacher, and would have stayed on except he had to come back to Melbourne because of his mother.  Jonesy sold his pub and has become a millionaire, we all know that, and Tommy . . . well, I don’t know exactly why he left Beaumont.  I think because his missus wanted to get back here.

As I said, it doesn’t matter how long we were there.  We all gave our heart and soul to that club.  It meant the world to us.  Our pictures and our names are all on the walls – or were.  (They’re mainly locked away in cupboards now by the sound of it.)  I miss it like buggery.

“How’s your mother, Brian?” asks Tommy.

Bulldog sighs.  “She’s fine.  She’s ninety-three now, but she’s fine.”  He drags himself forward in his chair.  “This is a tough week for me, you know.  She’s a dyed-in-the-wool Footscray supporter.  She could rattle off their playing list right now if she were here.”

“Every single player?” asks Jonesy.

“Every single player.  Correct spelling, correct numbers,” nods Bulldog.

We let that sink in.  Maybe the others are thinking what I’m thinking, that that kind of allegiance to a football club is as decent a way of coping with life as a lot of others, especially when you’re ninety-something.  God.

“The Bulldogs, eh,” says Jonesy.  “What does she think of the North full-back knocking Barry Hall over when he’s doing up his bootlace?”

Bulldog chuckles.  “Reckons Hall should have strangled him properly.  And she was only half joking.”

We laugh.

Then suddenly the lights go off, and we’re in total blackness.




I’m on my feet.  “Sit there, everyone.”  I grope my way through the furniture and lift one of the blinds, which sheds a dim light into the apartment.

“It’s everything out,” says Tommy, “so it’ll be in the switch room.  Nothing to do with our bikie friend, Peter?”

“I’ll go and find out, boss.  Don’t jump to conclusions.”

“I’ll join you, Peter,” says Bulldog.  “And then I must be off.”

Bulldog and me walk down the stairs, and as soon as we arrive at the fernery it hits us.  Music loud enough for the entire block to enjoy, except for those spoil-sports with ear-plugs or their heads buried under pillows.  It takes me five seconds to determine the source.  Before heading in that direction, I visit the electrical room, and flick the switch of No.12 back to on, and flick the 102 switch to off.

Bulldog says, as I’m closing the door, “The music’s stopped.  I’d just recognised the song.”

“Yeah, it’s a favourite of my nieces, Silverfuck by Smashing Pumpkins. Not my taste.”

Mine either.  They must have known you were coming.”

“No.  I switched her power off.”

As we approach 102, I glance around at the apartments and sure enough, there’s Elaine Sidebottom on her balcony, oozing indignation through her dressing-gown.  I press The Terror’s buzzer, and lean in close to the speaker.  I wish I hadn’t, because there’s a metallic crunch and a horror-film screech.  “Rabbit, you bastard!”

“Shush, keep it down, will you.  Come out on the balcony Rebecca, I want a word.”  I try to sound confident and managerial, in case Bulldog is within hearing.

When the balcony door thumps open, Rebecca appears in pale pyjama pants and a sleeveless Carlton footy jumper, swaying and lolling against the railing.  “What d’you want my fine Mr Rabbit-o?”

Her voice is seriously skew-whiff.  I tell her, politely but firmly, not to touch the switches in the electrical room again or I’ll make sure her power is not returned until everything in her fridge is rotten, and if she continues to play crap music at high volumes, even if it has a cult following, I will personally enter her apartment . . .

I don’t exactly see her let go of the object, but I sense instinctively that something black and heavy is en route to my head.  (I think it is called sixth sense or maybe peripheral vision.  Very handy on the football field, and in life generally.)  I duck and fling up an arm, which proves a very smart move, because whatever it is catches me on a shoulder blade, and sprays potting mix and cigarette butts over me and the handkerchief of lawn around me.

“You fucking stupid, ignorant bitch!” I hiss at her, and leave.

“Your mates suck, Bomber Rabbit,” just reaches me before I arrive where Bulldog is waiting for me at the top of the terrace stairs.  “You okay?” he asks.

“Yep.  I usually handle things better than that.”

. . . / / / . . .

For the second consecutive week I have had to suspend my golden rule of not drinking at the football.  Last week I invoked the “exceptional circumstances” clause while sharing a football experience with the Swiss cheese marketeers, Inge and Harold.  To have refused their hospitality would have been in poor taste.  (Pun intended.)  This week the clause still has relevance – The Mob is going to watch the Essendon versus Western Bulldogs game from a corporate box.

I am currently sitting in the box Geoffrey Jones has hired, next to Mrs Jones – Thuy – who has already confided to me that she wishes she were elsewhere by a distance of several hundred kilometres.  She pats me on the knee and assures me (quietly) that it is not The Mob that concerns her, it’s the football, which she loathes with a passion, and . . . she waves a discreet hand to indicate the snappily-dressed Bright Young Liquor Point-of-Sale guests who surround us.

“These are my husband’s most recent recruits,” she says.  “They have to endure Geoffrey’s hospitality as part of their training.”

I smile, a smile hand-picked to convey my complete agreement with every syllable that falls from her impressive lips.

The corporate box is living down to my expectations.  It is not my idea of watching footy.  I feel kind of hemmed in.  The view out the window is panoramic, sure, but it’s still like being in a really tiny cinema.  There’s a bench thing at the back for food and grog, and a door to a toilet.  Not only does the huge indoor stadium shelter us from the weather; now we’re separated from the rest of the crowd as well.  Without wishing to let my philosophical bent run amok, how far away from reality can you go and still claim you’ve been there?

Ordinary people stroll soundlessly by in front of our window.  Some glance, others gawk and share a comment with their mates, who laugh.

We are hoeing into sausage rolls and washing them down with Crown Lager or wine, which a young lady in black is serving.  (She’s very efficient, quiet and looks bored.)  My general impression is that Jonesy’s staff is about as interested in the football they are about to see as the Chinese Communist Party are.  From what I can overhear – which is not difficult, believe me – Magnetic Island is an awesome holiday destination, while only a fool would bother with Fiji these days.  The scuba diving is to die for, man.

Jonesy is standing next to a whiteboard, to one side of the front window.  He has everyone’s attention now, and points out individuals by name – there’s lots of in-jokes that whistle past me, but they cause others to giggle or squeal – and he obviously savours his chance to introduce his Mob Mates.  He’s got a lot to work with – we must look an odd crew.  Bulldog, casual at the best of times, is today wearing a grey jumper that I’d say his mother knitted him when he was a young man, and before she’d mastered tension technique, because it reaches well below his waist.  It’s stained, as well, and hangs in a disappointed kind of way.  Tommy is huddled over his Footy Record, pen poised.  He has the Outwear jacket on despite the tropical temperature in the box, plus baggy jeans.  (Short, tubby blokes should not wear denim.)  He looks like he is about to be fired out of a cannon.

Me, well I don’t know.  I have the short-sleeved club shirt and the scarf  jauntily knotted around the neck.  What you see is what you get – a simple, broad-minded country bloke aiming to leave a small footprint.

Next on the crowded agenda, we kick in ten bucks each, because it’s competition time.  (The players are moving to their positions.  This bullshit had better be quick.)  Jonesy gets to work with his marker pen, as everyone yells out their predictions for who will kick the first goal and what the score will be at the end of the first quarter.  Naturally I assist Thuy with her bets.

The siren sounds.  (At least I can hear something.)  I feel I’ve been here a fortnight already and weigh a kilo more.

The Bombers start like a house on fire.  Jobe Watson kicks the first goal four minutes in.  A young lady in the back row with mahogany streaks through her hair squawks her appreciation at receiving her cash prize and a peck on the cheek from Jonesy.  She presents both cheeks, European-style.  She’ll get on.  Bomber No. 6, David Myers is in everything, and Heath Hocking kicks a glorious running goal.  The Bullies look a bit lethargic to me, a bit flat, but they reply with a couple of goals when we turn the ball over.

This pattern of play is becoming typical of the Bombers’ season: a furiously fast, fluent period of play followed by several costly turnovers, and we’re back to square one.

But I’m impressed with our endeavour.  We’re having a crack.  The quarter ends at 3-2 apiece.  Bulldog wins the cash, and nobody’s game enough to suggest he uses it to buy a new jumper.  A few more wines and someone might.

Here comes another round of sausage rolls.  I’ve probably had about ten.  (I’m not counting the beers.)  Jonesy’s at the whiteboard again, writing in our predictions for half-time.  The mahogany girl walks across the front, arms raised like a prize-fighter, claiming she’s the defending champion.  Thuy has her knitting going, hot to trot.  (“It’s a jumper for my niece.  Like the colours?  By the way, who’s winning, Peter?”)

No-one, and everyone.

Our ball movement is excellent, and we skip away, but the Bulldogs peg us back.  Dustin Fletcher’s duel with Barry Hall is great to watch, with Fletch having the better of the dangerous Bulldog forward.  Leroy Jetta is having a great game, and Winderlich and Stanton are doing well in the centre against Adam Cooney.  Again, we look to be in control, but Hudson and Hall goal to reduce the margin to 7 points at half-time.

Call me an outrageous pessimist, but I still have the feeling that at some point soon the Bulldogs will shake themselves out of their lethargy and run over us.

A spiked-haired young bloke gets closest to the half-time score.  There’s no justice – he’s been watching the races on the television at the back.

Our dynamic waitress has rustled up a huge batch of scones, jam and cream while we’ve all been having fun.  Now she serves them.  Tommy can’t believe his eyes – a comfortable seat, free beer, no noise and now his favourite indulgence.  He indulges – I don’t look.

Predictions for the three-quarter time score have thinned out.  People are losing interest in the whiteboard fun, and so is Jonesy who’s buried in a huddle with some of the staff, dispensing wisdom.  (How to sell grog – it can’t be that difficult.)  I open the front window to let some noise in.  A few seconds later, a bloke stops and yells “Wankers!” at us through the gap.  Someone jumps up and closes the window.

The Bombers are hot at the start of the third.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen the ball fly out of our backline with such system and confidence.  The game is slipping away from the Bulldogs, and when Leroy Jetta nails another we’re 38 points up.  Gilbee and Griffen get goals late in the quarter for the Bulldogs, and we finish 26 points ahead.

“Is that enough to win, Peter?” asks Thuy, holding her knitting up.

“Ah, no.  But it’s a handy lead.”

There’s more scones, jam and cream at three-quarter time, but there’s as much interest in them as there is in the whiteboard fantasia.  The waitress shrugs, and goes back to housework.  As the game gets under way in the final quarter, Jonesy lowers himself to sit with The Mob.  Almost all of his employees are now convinced something of significance is happening out there through the glass, so they watch too.  Thuy’s needles click remorselessly on.

Lovett-Murray goals from an angle.  “That splits the sticks,” remarks Tommy, with no co-lateral damage.  (Even he is scone-ed out.)

Gumbleton – go Gumby! – marks and goals.

We’re 5 goals up at the 11 minute mark.  Thuy pats me on the knee – I think she’s worried about my stress level.

We’re 4 goals up at the 14 minute mark.  We’re going to throw the game away.  We’re handballing at shadows.  The whole box is crowded into the three front rows.  The horses race across the television screen, and no-one cares.

LEROY JETTA GOALS!!  Some employees chant: LEROY! clap,clap,clap, LEROY! clap, clap, clap.  Jonesy smiles approvingly.

That’s 5 goals up at the 16 minute mark.  Thuy smiles at me, possibly because I joined in the chant without knowing I was doing it.  I shrug and explain that it’s subliminal.  She looks puzzled, and knits on.  (I have a bizarre thought: maybe she’s knitting Matthew Knights’ head like Madame Defarge, and it’s the guillotine for the coach if we lose.  It’s dreadful, I know it’s stress-related, and I share it with no-one.)

Oh shite.  Another turnover = Bulldog’s goal.  Back to 4 goals at the 20 minute mark.

“What’s that thumping noise?” asks one of the female employees.

Oh god in heaven, there’s Barry Hall . . . oh no, he’s done it . . . that’s 3 goals up at the 25 minute mark.

“Where Karen?”

“Oh no, look out.  Punch the frigging thing!  Shite, here we go, point blank, another Bulldog goal.  That’s 2 goals up at the 26 minute mark.

Thuy taps her husband on the shoulder.  “Geoffrey, that banging noise is annoying . . . ”

“Darling, there’s a game on.  You might have noticed.”

“Thank you darling,” she says, sarcastically.

“It’s probably kids banging the floor, or the fence.  Jesus, I don’t know.”

Thuy has actually stopped knitting.  Personally, I’m perspiring like a piglet.  A whiff of my armpits would kill a small child.  I’m wringing my hands.  “How long will the quarter go, Tommy?

“I don’t know,” he says.

“Well you fucking should.”

Thuy looks sternly at me.  “Sorry,” I mutter.

9 points up at the 30 minute mark.

At last . . . SIREN!!!

See those Bombers fly up up/To win the premiership flag

“SHUT UP EVERYBODY!”  It’s one of the gambling chaps, the spiked hair one, who’s raised his arms and is yelling for attention.  Everyone is so startled, we all shut up.

Thump, thump,thump.

“Where’s Karen?  She went to the toilet ages ago . . . ”

Our boys who play this grand old game . . .

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