Geoff Sinclair’s Home and Away Games- Rd 7


Essendon versus Port Adelaide

Etihad Stadium, Saturday, May 8th.

Labrini stretches voluptuously, Greek-style, which includes a playful slap on my stomach and some tugging of the thatch on my chest.  She’s combative, I have to admit, but in a loving kind of way. “Peter, that was wonderful.”

“Good.  It was wonderful for me, too.”

“It’s been a wonderful day, hasn’t it?  The Pies winning, and now this.”

I pause for a moment to summon conviction.  “Yes, the Pies winning.  Wonderful.”

“Your Bombers won last night.”


“Although it was against very weak opposition.  Hawthorn are gone.”

“Thank you for your generous appraisal, sweet lady.”

My old man would turn in his grave. Going to a Carlton versus Collingwood game of Australian Rules football would be, for him, easily as bad as me marrying a catholic girl and having children named Sean and Bernadette. Of my own free will, the day after the Bombers towelled up the Hawks, I paid money for a ticket, sat and watched the match from go to woe in the Great Southern Stand with my female companion, Labrini Houdalakis.

Not only am I sleeping with the enemy – hem, hem – but Labrini’s company at the football was something I’d have written home about, had I a home to write to.  She looked like one of those people who you see before the game as you are ushered across Wellington Parade in front of a tram by a policeman, and you think, thank god I’m not with that idiot, because they’re totally over the top. (You know, one of those huge medieval-looking hats with bells and ribbons, or a bloke wearing a woman’s wig, or a mob of blokes wearing women’s wigs. Ridiculous.)  But there I was with one such item, as proud as, arm-in-arm and absolutely loving it with what looked like a frigging black-and-white toadstool. She had had the white skunk-slash of hair upgraded to fluorescent, so the whole luxuriant nest screamed “Collingwood! Collingwood!  She had half the face painted in stripes and a magpie on the other cheek, she had the skin-tight, long-sleeved Collingwood jumper in place, she had black-and-white hooped pedal-pushers, and just in case anyone thought she might have a smidgen of sympathy for one of the other teams in the competition, she had a club scarf – with badges attached – hanging jauntily from around the neck.  She would have bought a scroll banner with “Hot Pies” emblazoned on it had I not drawn a line in the sand.

I was in neat, neutral attire, anonymous in a land of bogans, fruitlessly scanning the horizon for the consoling slash of red on a black background.  Everywhere I looked there were prison stripes, “Fly Emirates” and Wizard Home Loan Adidas caps.

This relationship had better work, because I’m sacrificing big time here.

Throughout the game, Labrini was a quivering, frenetic mess, like a jellyfish on a vibrating mattress.  My right arm was the lightning rod for this frenzy.  The first quarter was even, so my arm got nervous tugs, and occasional frustrated jabs and squeezes; when Collingwood bolted to a 38 point lead in the second, she dragged at it, nearly wrenching it out of its socket like she was pulling a venetian blind chord that had snagged; from then until half-way through the third quarter when Carlton staged a revival to get within three points, there was more cantankerous squeezing and punching, an occasional resting of her head against my shoulder in frustration; then Collingwood quelled the Blues’ rebellion, and my arm felt the release of tension – it was nipped at, pinched, and gently squeezed and by the time the Pies’ lead extended over 40 points, it was dragged to rest at a pleasantly pneumatic angle against Labrini’s torso.

I remained non-committal throughout.  Scrupulously fair-minded, even-handed and balanced in my opinions.  (It was a revelation to watch a footy game without the dreadful tension of watching your own team.)  However, if I had been put on one of those lie detectors, the graph would have jerked upwards and registered “Whoa!” when Carlton got within three points.  Because then, I was putting on my sympathy face for Labrini, and NOT REALLY MEANING IT!

I run my fingers through her white slash of hair.  “Thank you for changing the doona cover.  I prefer the floral to the Collingwood stripes.”

Labrini sighs.  “It is less distracting, right?”

“Right.  And lingerie without Magpie monograms.  I really appreciate that.  Was it your grandmother’s?”

Whack!  Another playful slap on the tummy.

. . . / / / . . .

On Monday, Tommy and me eat in public, under the lower terrace gazebo.  We muscle our way through a pile of egg and lettuce sandwiches, with a door-stop slab of carrot cake to finish.  I should mention here that carrot cake is another strong suit in the old bloke’s cooking repertoire.  He works on the principle that a menu item should stretch over several days; consequently he cooks and bakes in commercial quantities.  (His vegetable soup, for instance, would keep the Fitzroy Soup Kitchen operational for at least a week.)  I’m not complaining, because my own personal repertoire ranges between A and B so to speak, and after three or four consecutive leek-and-feta pies, the excitement dies.

With only one sandwich each to go, something unusual happens, something that only the trained managerial eye would notice.

“The fountain just shut itself off, boss.”

“Did it?”

“It did, I just saw it.  Plus the lights over the stairwells have come on.”

Tommy swivels, not the easiest of moves for the old bloke .  “So they have.  It certainly is a bit early.”  He checks his watch.  “One o’clock.”

“Perhaps it’s that woman who does hypnotherapy and past-life regressions, and that other stuff.  Maybe she’s cast a spell on us.”

“No.  They should come on when it gets dark enough, because a pe cell activates them.  Actually, I’ve been fiddling with the system Peter, ever since daylight saving, and I’m not sure I’ve got it quite right.”

That would be an understatement.  Tommy was never the most practical bloke going around.  “It could be you’ve got the timer over-riding the pe cell.”

“Hmm.”  He looks glum.  “The set-up in the electrical room is very complicated.  It was made in Germany, and I’ve never really got on top of it.  Before the footy season I had to make adjustments to the automatic sprinkler system.”


“Let’s just say things were a trifle damp for a day or two.  I think I gave it instructions to water for eight hours, rather than once every eight hours.”

“That’s pretty sad, Tommy.  I’ll have a look at it this afternoon.  Are the instructions in German or English?”

“There’s about six languages, take your pick.”  Tommy pauses, and I can just about hear the cogs whirring.  “Unless it was the young woman you’ve given a key to, interfering.”

“I’ve been expecting you to say that.  What took you so long?”

. . . / / / . . .

Re-setting the time clock isn’t straight forward.  The instructions go for about forty pages, partly because they are in Spanish, French, German and English.  I select English.

There is a section with the heading “Radio Control Input”, which says terminals 17 and 18 of the mediatron hook up with a transmitter in Germany “in the area of Francfort”, but I figure we are out of range.

Mediatron is not a word I’m familiar with, but seeing as the instructions refer to it in nearly every line, I guess it is the thing I am looking at when I stand in front of this intimidating bank of switches and display panels, taking up the entire right-hand wall of the electrical room.  (I have to lift the Terror’s bike out of the way to get at the mediatron.  It is as light as, and looks very expensive to my untrained eye.)

I turn the fountain, the watering system and the carpark exhaust fans to manual.  Bugger them – they can wait.  After about three hours I believe I have the stairwell, bollard and tower lights ready to obey the command of the pe cell.  As dusk falls around 5:15, I am prowling the lower courtyard of Huntleigh Mews.  Sure enough, at 5:19 the whole shebang flickers into life.  I return to Unit 12 in triumph, and I am served a hero’s meal of soup, tuna mornay followed by rhubarb and ice cream.

The next day, with the confidence of significant achievement oozing from every pore, I approach the electrical room to nail the other systems.  I notice a slither of light coming from under the door, and when I push it open, there is Ms Rebecca Ritchie of Unit 106 – I’ve checked in Tommy’s register of names – wiping the chain of her bike with a rag.

I am face-to-face with the mad woman.  Well, strictly speaking she is in the crouch position, but we are in close proximity.

“Oh, it’s you,” she says, glancing up, about as charming as a cornered tiger snake.

“Sorry to be alive.  I do work here you know.”

She is in cycling gear – a blue, short-sleeved shirt with PRESTIGE  MOTORS on the back, and black lycra shorts.  On the floor is an upturned helmet containing gloves and sunglasses, and a yellow jacket hangs from the door of my mediatron.  (I’m a little peeved at that, but I don’t say anything.)

“Still doing the heavy work?  You could strain a muscle flicking these switches,” she says, addressing her bike.

“You’re a smart arse, lady.  Scared the earth will explode if you say something pleasant?”

“Doubt it.”

She goes on wiping, then dribbles oil, carefully rotating the chain as she does so.  I hold the bike steady while she does this.

“Thanks,” she mutters, standing.  “Your pathetic Bombers won.  But don’t get excited – Hawthorn are hopeless.”

Here goes another one.  It sounds as though the Hawks have been written off by the Huntleigh feminists.

“I’m not.  We’re no great shakes.  The Blues got smashed, but at least your blokes made it a shoot-out against Collingwood.”  That’s me showing my maturity – I’m so impressed I change the subject.

“You been for a ride?”

“Yep.  Did a few laps of Albert Park, then out to the Yarra Boulevard.”

“How far?”

She takes a careful look at a tiny computer on the bike’s handlebars.  “Looks like about fifty clicks.”

“Hmm.  It’s a great-looking bike.”

“Yeah, it’s a good ride – I saved up for it.  It’s custom built.  It’s got an aluminium frame, butted tubes, carbon fibre front forks, three chainrings on the crank, eight cogs on the back, Shimano components . . . ”

We stand and admire it, until she asks, “You got a bike?”

“There’s one in the storeroom.  Someone has cleared off and left it.  It’s got Crossfire on the frame.”

“Sounds a blast.  Want to come for a ride on Sunday?”


“Yeah, you know, the day after Saturday.  The morning after the day the Bombers get their arses kicked by Port Adelaide.”

“Oh, that Sunday.”

“I’ll see you at the main gate at seven.  I’ve got to be at work by twelve.”  She looks me over.  “I’ve got a jacket might fit you.  It can be pretty chilly until the sun gets going.”  She lifts her bike and places it against the wall behind her.  “There you go Mr Rabbit.  You can flick your switches now.  Don’t strain yourself.”

“Thank you, Rebecca.”

“By the way, there’s a dead fish in the fountain.  Either that or it’s practising the backstroke.”

. . . / / / . . .

On Thursday I talk Tommy into a film, just to vary the diet of football, football and football.  I have to agree to Mrs Averling joining us, and the film having sub-titles, because the old bloke has one of his hearing aids – the critical left one – in dry dock.  I agree, on the condition we don’t come home to vegetable soup and spag bol.

The deal is closed at 6:00 p.m., in time for the 6:45 screening of “The Concert.”

I have to get out of Unit 12.  Tommy is obsessed with Andrew Welsh, the Essendon mid-fielder and tagger, who has been suspended for a month for kneeing a Hawthorn player in the groin during last weekend’s game.  I am pissed off that a member of the leadership group of my team should perform such an act, but do I go on and on and on and on about it?

No I don’t.  Nor do I write emails to the Club demanding retribution, nor do I draw inferences about Welsh’s character because the point of his knee came into collision with a Hawthorn footballer’s wang.  Personally, I think it is a very down-market act.  A man’s privates are to be respected and in my playing days, I afforded that respect to my opponents but, as I patiently explain to Tommy, it is a hostile environment out there on the AFL paddock.  Not long before, the same player Welsh was belted over the head when he went for a mark, and the umpire called play on.  Severely belted over the head.

“Maybe he was concussed,” I suggest.

“Rubbish,” huffs Tommy.  “It’s a disgrace.  He knew exactly what he was doing.”

“Can we forget about it?  Can we go and watch a film?”

There are at least ten other people in the five hundred seat auditorium, so the fact that there is huge amount of whispering and head butting happening between Mrs A. and her man doesn’t matter.  I think the problem is, that the lady is having trouble reading the subtitles, which are rapid-fire I’ll admit – there being heaps of hot-blooded Ruskies and Frenchies shouting passionately at each other – and Tommy is doing a line-by-line interpretation.  And playing catch-up.  Nor am I personally offended by the racket, because I decide early days it’s just an average film, but I sit it out because I know there’s got to be a concert  before the thing is over, and maybe that will redeem the whole shebang.

Sure enough, at long last the pick-up stand-in Bolshoi Orchestra of gypsies and people who had gone back to their day jobs since the charming Mr Breshnev sacked them for racial reasons twenty years ago, are together on stage at the Chatelet Theatre in snobby Paris.  (Whoa there, another twenty year reunion, and I nudge Tommy, but he’s pre-occupied.)  They launch into Mr Tchaikovsky’s concerto with as much cohesion as the Essendon mid-field on a bad day, which is not surprising because they have not been to training.  Naturally, the French audience cringes and smirks, and thinks, well, the Russians still haven’t improved.

This dreadful scratching and blurting goes on for a few bars, and then Anne-Marie, surely the most attractive and well-stacked violinist since Marie Antoinette, comes to the rescue.  She plays divinely, and inspires the rest of the rusty rabble to play well above their draft-positions, and suddenly you have the most outrageously, spectacularly brilliant interpretation of Mr Tchaikovsky’s work in the history of music.  The result is a different set of meaningful glances, this time from the I-told-you-they-could-play-but-this-is-awesome school, and includes a shot of the teary, mascara-stained face of a person of significance to the violinist.

I am transported by this last twenty minutes of music, and my chatterbox companions have shut up, on account of there being no dialogue, just music.  And what music.  I’ve never heard anything like it.  I am on the podium controlling this exhilarating sound, I am somewhere in the orchestra sawing away, I am in the French audience . . . my mind has been liberated and is zinging with the possibilities of life, my spirits have taken wing, I am swaying with the pulse of the music, and when the damn thing finishes and the Chatelet audience goes nuts up there on the screen, and violinist and conductor embrace, I near-as-hell start cheering myself.

So close am I to making a fool of myself in an art-house cinema.

I float out onto the street, and plonk myself down at the first available restaurant table I find.  Eventually my companions join me.  Tommy and his beloved are immediately scanning the menu.  They take twenty minutes to decide between the linguini and the caesar salad, while I stare at the sky and picture the exquisitely beautiful Anne-Marie belting out arpeggios on her violin, and I’m running fragments of the sonata through my head.

“What are you having, Peter?”

“I’m just having a drink.”

The order is taken, with bustling efficiency.

Tommy plays the host role.  “Peter and I have been discussing a serious incident that occurred last weekend, Claudia.”

Claudia takes a drag on her brown cigarette, exhales a stream of smoke into the Lygon night, and looks solemnly at Tommy.  “What happened, little man?” she asks, her moisturised face keeping its impeccable shape despite her obvious consternation.  I suspect she thinks we’ve spent the day analysing the Greek crisis and its implications for the European Union.

With the measured, patient tone of speech you would use were you trying to explain calculus to a sheep, Tommy starts to describe how Andrew Welsh kneed Xavier Ellis in the goolies.  The longer and slower Tommy proceeds, the deeper into confusion Claudia Averling sinks.  This surprises me, because I would have thought Claudia the type of person who had lived a life where  groin collisions occurred on a pretty frequent basis.

I take a quick look into the immediate future – linguini, caesar salad, sauvignon blanc at $58 a bottle, Tommy’s voice going so slowly he never reaches the end of any sentence, Mrs Averling filling the sky with smoke, a bruised groin hanging off the end of a knee cap . . . And I decide to leave: quietly, with a sincere apology about being tired to the bone.  Not like the Russians in the film.  They would have roared their indignation and belted the table with their fist.

How I envy their fiery Slav temperaments.

. . . / / / . . .

As it turns out, it’s just myself and The Bulldog, Brian Nankervis, at the Etihad Stadium to watch the Bombers play the dreaded Port Adelaide on this beautiful Saturday afternoon.

Tommy’s too crook to attend.  I thought his indisposition might have had something to do with me storming off from the restaurant after the film, but when no sandwiches appeared at lunchtime yesterday, I knew it was much more serious than being miffed by his staff.  I crept upstairs, yelling out his name in advance just in case he was receiving some sort of restorative from Claudia Averling, but the little bloke was doing it hard, hunched under the doona, looking like death warmed up.  He wasn’t much better by lunchtime, so I pump more Panadol into him, set the radio on the right channel for him to hear the match, and set off into the autumn sunshine on my Pat Malone.

Jonesy has had the decency to phone.  He is dining in the city with his coterie mates, and watching from the Medallion Club.  Wanker.

I am a bit nervous about being at the game with Bulldog.  This is the first time we’ve been alone since the reunion started.  He taught me English at Beaumont High School in his first year there, when I was doing Year 11.  He was a great teacher, and I loved his classes, but I think it is true to say that I was a bit of a . . . trial.  Me and several other ring-leaders, I hasten to add.

So just after two o’clock, when the teams are going through their final warm-up, I think I’ll clear the air, just check to see if he has any emotional baggage in the back of the wardrobe.  “You know, Bulldog, I’ve never apologised for that stunt we pulled on you up at Beaumont High.”

He gives me a sidelong look, keeping his eyes mostly on the players doing their drills.  “Which one, Peter.  There were several as I recall.”

“Parking you car in the foyer.  That was my idea.”

This time he chortles, folds his arms across his chest and kind of hugs himself with glee.  “That was beautiful.  I mean, it gave me a kind of status, because it happened not long after I started at the school.  I became the bloke who drove the car which was parked outside the principal’s office.  Like, literally.  Let me tell you, the person who absolutely didn’t see the joke was the man himself, the boss.”

“He went ape shit.”

“He had absolutely no sense of humour.  Why did you do it?”

“Dunno.  You looked like you could take a joke, you had this Mini Cooper and you told us it had broken down, so we rode our bikes in real early.  Jack the Broom let us in, and we just lifted it inside, shifted a couple of the trophy cabinets a bit, closed the doors, and Bob’s your uncle.”

“It did look a treat.  At first the boss assumed I’d actually parked it there on purpose, that’s how high an opinion he had of me . . . so there was you, Linda . . . who else?”

“The Felminghams.  That’s all.”

“They could have lifted the Mini with one hand.  But hey, that’s enough mea culpa for a while.  We’re here for the footy.”

It’s on.  Port Adelaide has beaten us the last eleven times we’ve played them, and this one doesn’t look as though it’s going to be much different.  We have our chances early, but squander them, while they nail theirs.  They look systematic, and ruthless.  Quick as a flash they’ve got two goals, and we have a point.  But it’s a hell of a game of footy, ferocious in the clinches.  The pressure on the bloke with the ball is enormous – no wonder there are fumbles and a few turnovers.  There’s only a split second to make a decision, to handball in a flash, or kick it.  The Bomber fans groan a few times when there’s a stuff-up.  They’re an unforgiving lot.

We beat them at the stoppages, though.

Kane Cornes dominates, blanketing Brent Stanton and getting a heap of the footy.  Cornes is a player I’ve never taken to, but there’s no doubting his effectiveness.  The highlight of the quarter for me – apart from watching my team have a red-hot go – is Jake Melksham’s running check-side goal from the forward pocket.  He keeps the bouncing ball inside the boundary somehow, and screws it through.  It’s a blinder, and me and Bulldog fist the air.

They are cleaner, more certain in their play.  Our boys often look to be in panic mode, playing on reflex actions alone.

We’re 3 goals and a point at the end of the quarter.  They’re four straight.

Bulldog and I stand and stretch.  “It’s a ripper game,” I say.

He nods, shoving his hands deep into his trouser pockets.  “What about on Fair Day?” he wants to know.

“That was Linda’s idea.  Jack the Broom let us in early again.”

He chuckles.  “How many were there?  Five teacher’s desks on the roof of the Admin Wing?”

“It looked hilarious, and Linda was really particular about taking all the books and papers out before we hoisted them up.  In case it rained, you knows.”

“Ethical girl, your late wife.”

“You know, Jack the Broom had bottles of beer stashed in empty lockers all around the school, in those insulated fridge bags.  Morning and night, when he finished cleaning one section the school, he’s open the locker for a beer.”

“Caught up with him, yeah.  Here we go.”

We kick three goals, bang, bang, bang, like ringing a bell.  We could just run away with this game.  I entertain the thought that we may win by 63 points.  Warren Tredrea, Port’s full-forward, limps off with what looks like an ankle problem, but we lose Henry Slattery.  Ribs I’d say.  Then, starve the frigging lizards, they get three of the easiest, cruisiest centre clearances, and they go bang, bang, bang and my dream of handing out a thumping goes out the window.

We get another, and at the main break, we’re a point in front.

It’s bloody hard work.  I suggest a beer, but I return empty-handed because the queue is about half a kilometre long.

“The funniest thing you ever did at that school, Bulldog, in my time anyway, was taking that line-dancing club.”

“Well, there you go Peter.”  He tosses his head back and guffaws, then eyeballs me.  “You know, that blasted principal never liked me from the moment I walked into the place.  I dunno what it was.  I’ve often thought about it.  I don’t think he had any sympathy for English or literature or the arts, and of course, that was my area.  Maybe it was because I was older than your average beginning teacher.  Maybe he had small man’s issues, because I was a foot taller than him.”

“He was a short-arse.”

“Well, I reckon he put me in charge of Wednesday afternoon club activities just out of spite.  So I was determined it was going to be better than it ever had been.  So I organised that couple, Toni and Wesley Myers, remember them?”


“Toni and Wesley stood up on the stage of the hall and taught 200 kids line dancing.  That meant I could have little clubs operating, like the glue-sniffers doing model aeroplanes, the ice cream makers, the film club and so on.”

“Beautiful.  Line dancing soaked up most of the kids.  I saw you once, trying to demonstrate a line dance move with Toni up on stage.  Two hundred kids in hysterical laughter.”

“I still have nightmares.  But it was a sacrifice for a noble cause.”

We’re going again.  Nathan Lovett-Murray is terrific.  We kick three and my dream of a boil-over pops into my head again.  Forget it, they nail the next four, then we get two, they get two, and we get two.

At the end of the quarter I’m rung out like a rag.  “It’s like bloody line-dancing, Bulldog.”

“It is a bit.  Thirteen goals for the quarter.  If we lose this, you want to know the defining moment, Peter?”

“When Jobe Watson got tackled as he headed for goal.  They got a goal on the rebound.”


Here we go.  The final quarter.  We’re in agony.  I think about asking Bulldog whether he knows who put the rotten carp in the meter box at his house, just to ease the tension.

I choose not to.

We live and breathe every move on the ground.  We’ve got a kind of a strained commentary going, independent of each other and more or less under our breaths, yes, yes, oh god not there, come on, come on, get there, get there, well done, oh no, not there, handball over . . . We’re urging players to mark, kick, pick it up, handball, don’t handball, run, punch it away, and every now and then we join the thousands of other Bomber supporters bellowing BALL!! when we tackle, or HOLDING THE MAN!!! when we’re tackled, or WHAT ABOUT HIS HEAD!!! but the umpires have basically put their whistles away and they kick three goals in a row.

I can’t hardly believe it.  Just like that – three in a row.

Good night nurse.

Hang on.

Gus Monfries snaps one and we’re only a point down, but there must be only seconds left, but look out, Brent Stanton has it and he’s charging through the centre, and we’re a chance here COME ON COME ON KICK IT KICK IT OVER OVER GET IT OVER AND WE’RE HOME AND HOSED LOOK GUMBLETON’S THERE GET IT OVER . . . oh shit, what a dog of a kick, straight to a Port player who kicks it somewhere to someone I don’t know, I slump back in my seat, fold my arms, and they have a shot on goal but the siren has gone and I’m not watching.

We lose by three points.

“Come on,” says Bulldog, getting up like he’s been spiked in the arse.  “I’m not listening to that shitty song.”

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