Geoff Sinclair’s Home and Away Games- Rd. 16

Round 16

Essendon versus West Coast Eagles

Saturday, July 17th.,  Etihad Stadium (N)

Tommy’s made a batch of cumquat marmalade, 14 recycled bottles’ worth, courtesy of the bounty from a tree on the lower terrace.  (He’s a clever little vegemite.)  It’s a lot easier to do a post mortem of the football when he eats this on toast for breakfast than when he’s shovelling in cereal in industrial quantities.  Monday morning’s rap is straightforward enough: Essendon’s midfield is rubbish.  All the other mobs have to do is tag Jobe Watson.  After that, there’s no-one else capable of adding bite.  (Andrew Welsh and Mark McVeigh, who should be stepping into the breach, are simply not playing to the level required.)  The recruiting gurus have tried to patch up the spine in anticipation of Lloyd and Lucas retiring, and against Melbourne, key players – David Hille, Scott Gumbleton, and Dustin Fletcher – were not on the paddock.

Fletch needs his arse kicked for getting rubbed out so often.

Tommy is generous enough to offer me an insight into this week’s email to the Club.  It will be supportive of the coach.  Coaches should stick together.  Matthew Knights is doing everything he can, but he can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.  (That will test the volunteer worker out at Windy Hill, whose job it is to read these things.)

Maybe we just don’t have the cattle, I suggest.

Tommy dismisses that with a wave of his marmalade soldier.  Knighta has a vision for the club.  This time next season when we’re in the top four, we’ll be wondering what all the kerfuffle was about.

Do tell.

But right now I can say, without fear of constipation, that we’re down in the dumps in the Manager’s Apartment, because Sunday afternoon was a truly horrible experience.  We’re low.  We’re going through the motions.  We get up at sparrow fart and watch the World Cup Final, and we spend hours following the bike riders in the Tour.  But our pulse rates stay around the hibernating/resting level.  Nothing excites us; the world of sport is bland when the Bombers are getting their bums kicked.

We must look like a couple of lonely dags in Unit 12.  Tommy’s front-of-television uniform is a tartan dressing gown which still has a belt with tassels on the end, like they used to have on curtains and bell-pulls.  He looks a bit like a squashed bonbon.  I’m probably not much better.  I pull on the Beaumont track suit which is well past its glory days, and I’ve found a pair of sheep-skin slippers in the rubbish.  It’s lucky we don’t get many visitors in the middle of the night, only drunks who’ve lost the key to their apartment, and they wouldn’t care if you were wearing a jock strap and gum boots.

“World sport is just another television show,” the old bloke remarks, hugging his McHubble tartan.

“Then why are we sitting here watching it?”

Miss Labrini is camping at “a sister’s place” until her flat is dry.  The identity and residential address of the sister is being withheld.  I suspect it’s the one whose husband has been in the slammer for altering the DNA of stolen cars.  I am not to have access to Her Loveliness’ company, maybe because she is ashamed to admit to having the hots for a person of non-Greek origin, and an Essendon supporter to boot, or else she’s afraid I might get some ideas from Con or Gino or whoever he is, and turn to a life of crime.  After ‘fessing up to my brush with the law at the Beaumont Tractor Pull, she sees me as vulnerable.

Flaky, as they say.

She is even more fiercely Collingwood than when I first met her, and the flood in her apartment has sharpened her claws.  She even suggests that I might prefer to join her at the ‘G’ on Saturday night to watch the ‘Pies play St.Kilda, rather than experience two bottom sides – my beloved Bombers and the West Coasters – slug it out, concurrently, at Etihad Stadium.  I think she is joking.  I hope so.

Labrini has a friend who is a psychiatrist.  She is threatening to introduce me, so something can be done about my anti-Collingwood paranoia – her emphasis – which has resurfaced, big time.  (Since they’ve started to look like a premiership possibility.)  She says, if they can cure anorexia, bulimia, depression, certain sexual obsessions – unnamed – then she should be able to cleanse me of my ugly anti-Collingwoodness.

“Which is really frightening, at times,” she says, looking at me censoriously.

“What about an exorcist?” I suggest.

It’s possible Rebecca the Riot is a reformed character.  I’ve seen her going out on her bike a fair bit; indeed, we have ridden together once, down Johnson Street and onto the Yarra Boulevard, which was a little too hilly for my taste.  (I was on a new reclaimed stallion, Changin’ Gears, which had a better seat than Crossfire, but not much else.)  She had the decency to stay with me throughout the journey.

I was surprised to discover Rebecca’s changed jobs.  When I went into the deli that specialises in French Provincial tucker, damn me, there she was.  She gave me the routine: Bonjour Monsieur Lapin and some other stuff I couldn’t follow.  Cassoulet, s’il vous plait, I replied, tres nonchalant.  Un grand . . . un grand . . . a large serving please, mademoiselle.  Heaps of fun was had by all.    There has been only one lapse, behaviour-wise, at the Mews: one night last week, Mrs Sidebottom rang and suggested a visit to Unit 102 would be appropriate.  The music being enjoyed by the rest of the suburb was of Kate Miller-Heidke, she of the operatic voice turned pop diva, and when turned up loud, as in this case, a vocalist who becomes a serious threat to glassware and small porcelain artefacts.  I made my way through the wall of sound – the classic Who are You Fucking Kidding a bit down-market at that volume, I thought – and negotiated a lower decibel level with the tenant.  Lo and behold her  Blue-Bagger mate Vicki was present, boogie stud still fixed to the bottom lip.

(I hope she takes it out at night, soaks it in White King.)

I am warmly greeted by Vicki, less enthusiastically by Rebecca.  I stay just long enough to hear that they’re off to a party down the coast this weekend.  I tell them I think that is a terrific idea – the coast is an ideal place for a party.  (The Gold Coast?)  Far better than here, where they’d have to cope with the Sydney Swans beating Carlton.  Vicki thinks I’m hilarious.  Rebecca doesn’t.  I decline Vicki’s invitation to stay and have a drink, tell them to enjoy the rest of their evening, and leave with the observation that if I have any more complaints about their noise I’ll put the fire hose through the window and turn the nozzle to the “on” position.

Vicki howls with laughter, gives me a metallic peck; The Riot glowers.

Richmond continues to win, this time against Fremantle.  Fortunately I’ve enlisted Tommy to share the celebratory cocktail hour with the Tiger of Old, Elaine Sidebottom.  It has become a ritual, and now includes finger food and a mandatory second bottle of wine.

This afternoon, she’s in rare form, and after we’ve drooled over and toasted the Tigers’ victory over The West Coast Evil, she launches into a story about her late husband.  “You know, Albert’s passion for the Tigers started when he received a letter from the club to attend training while he was doing his final year of secondary school.  That was the first year he actually played football seriously, for his school.  Before that he was more interested in baseball.  Imagine . . . ”  She lifts her eyes to the ceiling, sips her wine to gather herself.

“He must have been pretty handy,” I offer.  “At sport, like.”

“He was athletic, Peter, but not . . . what’s the word?  Robust.  Too light in the frame for the big league.  Anyway, he went down to Punt Road the next year – this was in the sixties some time, I’ve forgotten exactly when – and played in their curtain-raiser practice games, you know, before the big boys, like Paddy Guinane, Fred Swift, Roy Wright, Ron Branton, those fellows.  And they put him on the supplementary list, which I suppose is like the rookies these days . . . ”

“So, he played in the seconds?” asks Tommy.

“No.  Not regularly, mainly the Under 19s.  He fractured his arm in a practice game at the Morning Star Boys’ Home in Frankston, an orphanage I think, so he missed the first month of the season.  His first game was against South Melbourne at the Lake Oval.  He told me he had a phenomenal first quarter, and at quarter time the coach . . . who do you think the coach was?”

We shrug.

“Only Graeme Richmond, the power behind the club’s success in the next 15 years.  Anyway, Albert said Richmond came up to him and grabbed him by the arm and said, ‘Sky’s the limit, boyo.’  Problem was, Albert was exhausted.  He hadn’t done a hand’s turn of training while his fractured arm mended.”  She smiles.  “He was so naïve, a real country boy.  He had to be taken off the ground during the third quarter.”

“Oh dear,” says Tommy.

“He always used to tell me that Graeme Richmond would always be the benchmark for what passion for a game and for a club really was.  And to prove it, he would tell me about the last game the Under 19s played, at the old Brunswick Street ground against Fitzroy.  The Tigers had to win to get in the Four, and they lost by a point.  Albert kicked the last goal, but they lost.

“Anyway, in the dressing room afterwards, everything’s dead quiet, they’re all shattered with disappointment, and the umpire came in and handed Graeme a report sheet to sign.  Apparently someone had been reported, hard to believe but true.  He was so numbed at having lost the game and missed the finals that he took the sheets from the umpire and sat there motionless for a while, until the pages slipped from his grasp and fell to the floor.

“I think Albert realised that while he thought he was competitive, he couldn’t hold a candle to that level of passion.  He realised he would never make the big time.”

The three of us mull that over.  The way Elaine Sidebottom tells it, it’s not hard to put a picture to the fragment of her husband’s life she’s just offered us.  Defeat.  There’s a bunch of kids slouched on the trestled seats around the room, bits of their footy gear off – boots here, a jumper, white grass-stained shorts – trainers, glum-faced, a couple of parents, hands deep in gaberdine overcoats . . . and Graeme Richmond, the report sheets slipping from his hands and lying at his feet.

“Did your husband play for long at Richmond?” asks Tommy.

Mrs Sidebottom smiles.  “No.  He got the shove at the end of the season.  Don’t contact us, we’ll contact you.  But it started his devotion to the club, which rubbed off on me.”

Tommy glances at me, then says:  “When was the last time you went to the footy, Elaine?”

“Oh, years ago.  I’m too frail.  I’ve had my battle with the Big C you know.”

“What about this weekend?  The Tigers and North Melbourne at the ‘G’ on Sunday?  Peter here, he’s a big strong lad.  He can help you, and I can drive you.”

She sits with her hands circling her wine glass, weighing up the pain versus the pleasure in the idea, I guess.  Eventually, it’s arranged – we’ll drive to the ground, park as close as we can, and use a wheelchair from there.

“I’m very grateful,” she says.  “Will you stay?”

“Of course,” I say.  “I’m sick of watching losers.”

Elaine Sidebottom nods.  And nods.  Because she’s that excited.

. . . / / / . . .

Saturday evening, and The Mob are enjoying a pre-match nosh-up before heading off to the Docklands for the Bombers’ clash with the West Coast.  Tommy has gone to no end of trouble, catering-wise.  There’s cheese and biscuits, flat-bread and a selection of dips from our favourite casbah, and the piece de resistance, party pies in the shape of animals.  The guests, including myself, make rude comments about them.  Just before it’s time to head off to Etihad Stadium, the phone rings.  It’s Blue-bagger Vicki, The Riot’s mate, at their party on the coast.  She’s just shy of hysterical.

“We just want to come home, Peter.  We’re frightened.  The police have been here.”


“There were gate-crashers, heaps of them.  They were hoodies.  It was awful.  Can you come.  Rebecca said you’d come?”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m shit-scared they might come back.”

“What’s Rebecca doing?”

“She says to ring you.  That you’d come.”

“But what she doing?”



“What’s the address?”

I decide to go, straight off.  No hesitation, but after this . . . I might have come to the end of the penny section regarding Rebecca the Riot.  Run out of compassion.

I explain the situation to my colleagues, tell them I’ll take the Navara.  But Bulldog says he wants to join the excursion.  I tell him not to worry.  He says he’s not worrying, he’s just coming.

“Take the Audi,” says Jonesy.  You could have knocked me over with a wet tram ticket.

“You’re sure?”

“No,” he says, throwing me the keys.

We find the Audi parked in the NO STANDING zone outside the Mews.  It’s as black as, and still has its new-car smell.  In less than a minute I’ve found the ignition.

“She on another bender?” asks Bulldog.

“Dunno.  Maybe.  They’ve had gate-crashers and a visit from the cops.  Sounds a hoot of a party.”  And I add, “You’ll miss the game.  We might beat the bottom side, you know.”

He looks at me like he used to at high school, all watery eyes and erosion lines in his face set to solemn.  “You – that is we – have made a decision.  Someone needs our help.  You drive, and I’ll handle the surround-sound and climate control.”

“It’s an amazing car.”

“Try not to bend it, eh?”

We thread our way down Exhibition Street through irritable, Saturday night traffic and onto the tollway.  Eventually, we have the freedom of the South-Eastern Freeway, and I’ve set the beast on cruise control.  I hand Bulldog the address Vicki gave me, and he consults the Melways.

“We need the Hastings turn-off,” he says.  “Avoid Phillip Island.”

The game has started at Etihad Stadium.  Bulldog has the radio tuned; it sounds as though the commentators are sitting next to us.  The Bombers start well – Zaharakis and young Colyer kick goals, then West Coast’s Mark LeCras gets the visitors on the board.

“He can play, that boy,” observes Bulldog.  “I like him.”

“Sounds like Heath Hocking’s got the job on him.  He’ll keep him under control.”

Gumbleton scores a major, Jake Melksham takes a hanger on the half-back line.  Wow! Look out, Sam Lonergan goals and we’ve kicked four of the first five.  This could be a whitewash, something I suggest to my travelling companion.

“Settle down,” he says.  “Settle down.  The turn-off’s coming up.  Try the left lane boyo.”

At the 18-minute mark, LeCras gets a free-kick and goals.  That’s his second.  I mutter Heath Hocking’s name a few times to give the Bomber boy a lift.  It doesn’t help, because LeCras gets his third at the 23-minute mark, plus another one right on the siren.

“Shit a brick,” I mutter.  “He’s got four, and it’s only quarter time.”

“Get someone else on him,” suggests Bulldog.

We turn the radio down during the first break.  “What was Rebecca like at school?” I ask.

“Well . . . ”  He pauses, and I get the sense he’s a bit uneasy about something.  “She was a bit of a handful, but not that bad that we shouldn’t have been able to handle her.”

“Did you teach her?”

“No.  I didn’t, I was vice-principal, but I got to have a fair bit to do with her.  She came to us in Year 10.  She’d been in the private system since kindergarten.  Her old man had been on the board of governors at her grammar school and was a benefactor, that sort of thing.  Apparently he got into financial difficulties . . . ”

“Went broke?”

“I think so.  Whatever happened, she turned up at Taverner Secondary College with a massive chip on her shoulder.  Like, she didn’t want to be amongst the bogans.  But she settled down, gradually, after kicking over the traces, you know, bad-mouthing teachers, absconding, smoking, brawling with other kids . . . I had a fair bit to do with her, myself and the other woman vice-principal, because recidivists tended to get sent to us.  I thought she’d turned the corner, then we got a new principal.  Lady with a deep voice and an evangelic need to cleanse and reform.”


“So when Rebecca was busted for being in possession of a joint on the school grounds, she was given her marching orders.  Over-reaction in my view, which didn’t count under the new broom administration.”

Bulldog turns the radio up, to discover LeCras has kicked another, putting us three goals down.

I sigh and give the steering wheel a bit of a thump.  “Surely Knights will put someone else on that bloke.  He’s kicked five, already.”

Bulldog reaches for the volume control.  “There’s another one to the West coast – Priddis this time.”

“Jesus, turn it down.  They’re saying we’re getting smashed in the centre.  Watson’s hardly touched it, and Selwood and Ham are belting us.”

Bulldog turns the radio off.  “I think Rebecca harbours the view that we let her down, Gail – the other  V.P. – and myself.”

“I see.  She told me her father committed suicide by hanging himself in their garage because he lost a truckload of money in a bad investment.”

“I’d heard that.  Still affecting her, I’d say.”

We pass through Bittern, Bulldog intent on the street directory now, interior light spearing a shaft onto the page.  He’s a bit worried, not having found a Ti Tree Boulevard in Balnarring Beach.  Ti Tree is popular with local government street-naming sub-committees – there’s courts, avenues, groves, drives, lanes and even a track, but no boulevard.  Nevertheless, we poke around the mean streets of Balnarring Beach for a while, on the assumption that any party involving Rebecca and Vicki will be audible, even if it’s been gutted by hoodie gate-crashers and checked out by police.  But nothing, and nothing in Balnarring Without the Beach, either.  I feel a goose, because not only have I stuffed up the address, I didn’t think to get a phone number.

“I’m sure she said ti tree, beach and boulevard,” I say. “And maybe Balnarring.  Or near Balnarring.  She was pretty tense.”

“Are you sure she wasn’t blowing her nose?  Bal-narrrrrring.

“Very amusing.”

”There’s a Ti Tree Court in a place called Somers, just back there.”

“Let’s try it, and then go home.”

“Relax.  She had your phone number, and she contacted you.  What else did you have planned for tonight?  Aren’t you enjoying pretending this machine is yours?”

We find Somers and Ti Tree Court soon enough.  There’s about ten houses in it, all as dead as a morgue, and now we both agree it’s a wild goose chase.  Bulldog flicks the radio back on, and we hear a description of LeCras kicking his sixth goal, a banana from the forward pocket.  Hocking is still his opponent.

“Turn it off, mate.”

“Surely he should put someone else on him.”

We put the Melways away, and we have silence in the Audi as I point her to where I think home is.  Instead we end up at the Somers General Store, then go through an S bend with the Yacht Club on our left.  Bulldog tells me we’re going back to Bal-narrrrrring Beach, and would I turn into the track coming up so we can retrace our steps.  We both see the  sign at the same time: The Boulevard.

We give each other the old, well-fuck-me-with-a-chainsaw look.

We lurch over potholes, the headlights rake over ti tree and agapanthus.  Gates and tracks on both sides suggest houses hidden deeper in the scrub; banksias loom, their twisted trunks gleam silver for an instant.  Around a bend,    we come across a mob of cars that look as though they’ve been herded into a yard.  Pale light seeps through the huge windows of a low-slung mansion.

“At least we found a party, Rab.”  And then,  “Quick score before we go in?”

The radio comes to life telling us that LeCras has just kicked his seventh goal.  We’re two goals and a bit down at half-time, and playing very ordinary football against the bottom side.

We exit the Audi.  The front door of the beach-side mansion is open, so we enter and are confronted by the remnants of a party –  a room dope-fugged and pulsing to low-volume, electronic music.  We stand on the threshold for a considerable time, until an anorexic-thin girl weaves her way unsteadily towards us.  Above the narrow band of a red halter-top, her shoulder blades look as though they could puncture her skin.  She trips on the edge of a mat in front of us, and gives out a sharp little “oops” as she steadies herself.

Bulldog has taken over.  “Hi,” he says, “we’re looking for a Rebecca Ritchie . . . ”

The girl’s mascara leaps upward.  Then she gestures for us to follow, carefully avoiding the mat in case it bites her again.  Through a kitchen trashed with party leftovers, a deserted lounge room, down a passageway, we eventually arrive at a dimly-lit bedroom.  Outside I sense rather than see the swell of the ocean.

Vicki is there, slumped on the end of a bed, looking very second-hand.  As soon as she sees us, she gets up and grabs my hand.  “Thanks heaps.”  She keeps squeezing until it hurts.

“Easy,” I say.  “What’s happening?”

Her face is puffy, her voice tight.  “I think some creep put something in our drinks.  I’ve been sick, but Beck . . .”  and she motions us towards the lumpy contour of a body beneath a blanket.  I can see Rebecca’s cheek pale illuminated, and an arm exposed, following the edge of the bed.

A shocking fear grips me that it might not be okay.

But Bulldog does the practical thing.  He leans over and checks her pulse by placing his fingers on her neck.  He nods to me, then flings the blanket off, and manoeuvres his arms under Rebecca.  He lifts, bounces her a bit to get a proper grip.  “Has she been sick, too?” he asks Vicki.

“No.  She just sort of . . . collapsed.  I’ve been so worried . . . ” and she sniffs, loudly.

I do a comforting arm on the shoulder to try to ease Vicki’s anxiety.  “Okay.  We’re off now.”

“Guide me,” says Bulldog.  “I’m not sure where I’m going.”

Mis Halter-Top is sad we can’t stay for a while, but we usher the girls into the back seat of the Audi, quick-smart.  Rebecca is awake by the time we rock down to the end of The Boulevard, and moans, and says a few words of thanks.

I’m relieved to hear her voice.

We put the radio on low volume on the ride home, but what we hear is that the game has turned ugly for the Bombers.  We’re getting a pasting, and obviously we’re looking like a rubbish football team.  Dustin Fletcher has been moved onto the dynamo LeCras, which, in my humble opinion, is not a smart move.  Fletch is more suited to a taller, slower opponent.

Anyway, I’m not in the coaches’ box, so it doesn’t matter.  A bloke called Hams is having a field day for the Eagles, LeCras kicks his ninth and tenth goals at around the halfway mark of the quarter.  At the 28 minute mark he has a shot and misses.  The commentators go into gales of laughter – take him off, says one of them – and the West Coast fans boo ironically.

We are approaching the Bourke Road off-ramp, still half-an-hour away from The Mews and we’re six goals down and we have our sixth defeat in a row sewn up.  Bulldog is rummaging in the console for a CD, because the game is giving us the shits.  I am dog-tired, and wishing the kilometres away.   Jonesy’s favourite, Frank Sinatra, suddenly fills the luxurious cabin . . .

Don’t know why, there’s no sun up in the sky/Stormy weather

. . . and when Bulldog gets rid of Frank for a second, it’s twenty-five minutes into the last quarter at Etihad Stadium, and Mark LeCras has marked deep in the forward pocket.  He slots it, giving him 12 goals.

“Off, please.”

Life is bare, gloom and misery everywhere/Stormy weather

I can hear the girls stir from their sleep, and for few seconds they talk, but their voices are low and I’m concentrating on the music.  Then Vicki says, louder, a bit of urgency in her voice, “Peter . . . ”

“Yes, we’re not far from home,” I say.

I can’t get my poor self together/I’m weary all the time, so weary all the time. . .

“Peter . . . ” Vicki says again, even more anxious this time.


Bulldog flicks the radio on.  “That’s it,” he says.  “It’s all over.  They’ve beaten us by thirty-two points.”

Just then, at the exact instant my friend’s finger is about to depress the ‘CD’ knob and reignite Frank, a stream of warm vomit sprays into the front seats.  It hits the open console dead-centre, splatters our arms and laps, flecks the T-bar.  Fragments reach the dash.  Bulldog swings around, muttering something about that being an appropriate gesture for another loss, but adding more sympathetically, “oh dear, oh dear.”  The new-car smell is replaced by the pungent reek of body-warm regurgitation.  Then there’s a second rush of gagging, a hoarse, throat-rasping hoik, followed by a slapping sound, diminishing, so I guess that lot has hit the back floor.

Vicki comforts, Rebecca wails, which sounds like a confession under torture, high-pitched, dismayed: “Sorreeeee.”  Then she heaves huge, involuntary breaths like a child, and bangs the seat with her palms.  “Ohhhh, god, sorreeeeee . . . I am so sorreeeee”, then she gets into one of those uncontrollable sobbing jags which are the epitome of utter, utter wretchedness.

“Take it easy, kid,” says Bulldog.  “Nearly home.”

All I do is pray the Lord above will let me walk in the sun once more/Can’t go on, ev’rything is gone/Stormy weather . . .


  1. What a great story.

  2. This chapter really does remind me a lot more of Peter Temple’s truth, as I get into the detail.

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