Geoff Sinclair’s Home and Away Games- Round 11


Sydney Swans versus Essendon

Sunday, June 6th., S.C.G.

Jackson is the bloke who has just got the parcel delivery contract for our neck of the woods, and when I tell him why it’s so easy for me to remember his name, he gives me a nervous, crooked grin, shrugs and says sorry, but he’s never heard of Jackson Browne.

“Mate.  A great singer,” I say.  “He inspires and consoles me.”

“Oh.”  Jackson nods patiently, but he’s not enthusiastic.  He just wants to get on with his round.  He thrusts a parcel at me.  “That’s for Mrs Sidebottom in Apartment . . . ”

“Yeah, I know.”  I try another line of enquiry.  “You barrack for the Cats, Jackson?”

Again, he gives me a kind of puzzled, pitying look.  When I point to the sticker on his van, the penny drops.  “No, no, no,” he rattles off, in a minor panic, like I’ve just officially informed him his van is unroadworthy.  “I don’t know this football.  The sticker was there when I bought the machine.”


“I like the Socceroos.”

“Good.  We’ll thrash Germany.  They’re rubbish.”

Jesus, I’d like to be a fly on the wall when Jacko and the boys debrief in the sorting room.  That guy at Huntleigh Mews, you never know what he’s going to come out with . . . singers and cats this morning.

Mrs Sidebottom, whom I’ve only ever seen floating about on her eerie when Rebecca the Riot is pumping out the decibels or hurling balcony accessories at my head, is ancient and impressive.  She’s rake-thin – which her loose-fitting cream dressing gown can’t conceal – and there’s a faint but persistent tremor in her head and hands.  Her face is compact, mouse-like; her eyes clear and alert.  My immediate impression is totally at odds with what I had expected, which was whiny and mean-spirited.

It just goes to show you, Peter.

“Thank you,” she says, examining the parcel I hand her.  “They’re books from my son Stephen, in London.”  She looks up at me.  “Have you got time for a coffee young man?”

“Well . . . yes okay.  I’ve got nothing that can’t wait.”  I follow her inside.  “I’m Peter by the way.”

“Yes, I know.  Nicknamed Rabbit, but I’m not going there.”  She cocks an eyebrow and gives me a wry look.  I smile back.  “I’m glad you’ll have a cup, because as usual I’ve brewed much more than is good for me.”

The apartment I step into reinforces my close-quarters impression of Elaine Sidebottom.  Right in front of me is a huge bookcase, chockers, a flat-screen television, what looks like a state-of-the-art sound system – a comfortable-looking set of earphones trail to a lounge chair – and there’s an elegant oval table with high-backed chairs.  It’s uncluttered, but the class shows through.

I watch as she lines up cups and saucers on the kitchen bench, then pours.  She gathers, and moves cautiously towards the table.  The cups rattle in their saucers, but she guides them to a safe landing.  We lift them briefly in what turns into a kind of a toast, and sip the strong and bitter coffee.

“To the Tigers of old,” she says, quietly.

I replace my cup, slowly so I can replay what I think I’ve just heard.  “What was that Mrs Sidebottom?”

“Our first win of the season, against that dreadful Port Adelaide.  I drank a whole bottle of wine by myself on Saturday night.  God I suffered the next morning, but it was worth it.”

“You follow Richmond?”

“You make it sound like I’ve got some dreadful illness, young man.”  She chuckles.  “Pull that album over here please . . . Rabbit.”

I had noticed the heavy photo album on the table – in fact, I’d pushed it aside to make room for our cups – and now I manoeuvre it in front of us.  It is plain-covered, a regulation photo album with a metal spiral, and the brittle plastic sealing the pages crackles as she turns them.

“Albert, my husband, died in 1982, which wasn’t very thoughtful of him, although given Richmond’s record since his passing, it saved him a lot of heartache.  He kept this scrap book, mainly of the glory years of the 70s and 80s.  We saw a lot of football together.”  There are pages and pages of black-and-white photographs and yellowed newspaper clippings.  She murmurs names as she flicks through, occasionally stabbing a bony finger at a photo: “Look . . . Jack Dyer, Captain Blood . . . Albert was in New Guinea in ’43, but . .  here we go, 1969.”  Her tone changes, probably because this is where she gets personally involved.  “Billy Barrot, Roger Dean, Rex Hunt.  He could play football as well as talk, you know.  We were there in ’69, and ’74.  Sheeds, and my favourite pair, Dick Clay and Royce Hart.”  She pauses, draws the album closer.  “God I loved watching them play,” she says softly.  Then she props her head up with a fist.  “I just loved going to the footy, every weekend.  Albert and I lived a very crowded and privileged life together, socialising, going to the theatre and cinema, travelling overseas.  But I lived for the footy.  Is that sad?”

“Of course not.”

She goes back to the album.  “Now look at this.  Was this one of the most exciting days of my life?  1980.  Ask me the score.  Go on.”

“Tell me.”

“Richmond, 23 goals, 21 behinds, 159 points.  Collingwood, 9 goals, 24 behinds, 78 points.  Etched deeply in my mind.”  She closes the album with a slap.  “Those were the days.  Now if we win a single game I feel the necessity to drink a whole bottle of wine.  Now that is sad.”

I smile.  “I like your coach.”

“Of course you would.  I’ve seen you and your mates leaving for the football, done up in your red-and-black.  I don’t miss much up here.”  She looks wistful, then adds, “Young Jack Riewoldt could be a champion of Royce Hart’s calibre.  He kicked five, I think, against your lot.”

We move to current footy issues, and she’s as sharp as.  She has very firm views on rugby players switching to Aussie Rules – it won’t work, they’ll be found out in the end – and Jason Akermanis – he simply doesn’t respect his club and team-mates – and her beloved Tigers – we’re on the right track, all we need is a decent president.

After a while I see her wilting, and I suggest it’s time for me to get down to work.  “Of course, Peter.  You must come and visit me more often.”

“I’d like to do that.”

“Come up the next time the Tigers win, and help me with the wine.”

At the door, Elaine Sidebottom places a hand on my arm.  “Be patient with the young lady in 102.  She’s got a dreadful chip on her shoulder.”

“Like a wood-heap.  She must disturb you with her noise.”

“It’s not my taste in music, but I’m deaf when I take my hearing aids out.  I’m more worried about her.”


“She may actually want you to be her friend.”

“Really?  God.”

. . . / / / . . .

Tommy and me agree that the corporate box experience will not be repeated, even if it comes with the bonus of a young woman who’s never seen a full game of football locking herself in the toilet to keep her record in tact.  I maintain Karen never fully recovered from winning the first quarter score prediction and being kissed on both cheeks by Jonesy.  I’d lock myself in a toilet, too.

Dustin Fletcher, the Bombers’ indefatigable backman, is suspended for one week for tripping.  This pisses Tommy off – deeply, madly, truly.  In his opinion, Fletch had no option other than to lunge at Barry Hall, because he was already sprawled – and here the little guy role plays sprawling and lunging from where he’s sitting on the couch, causing me a spasm of (concealed) merriment.  (Tommy’s arthritis makes role playing difficult.)  The action has resulted in Fletcher’s hand sliding down Hall’s calf, sock, boot and ankle, ultimately causing the Footscray player to fall flat on his kisser in the goal square.

Tommy’s final address to the jury (me) bristles with legal point-scoring.  Not the crime the rule was intended for.  Inadvertent.  Unintentional.  Accidental. Innocent victim of circumstances.

I join in our little game, and  declare the charge not sustained.  However, news doesn’t get out into official circles, and Fletch is suspended for one week, pending Tommy’s email to the Club.

“We will never beat Sydney without our best player,” announces The Prince of Pessimism.  (That’s what Bulldog calls him.)

“We can and we will.”

“Okay.  But now we have work to do Peter.”

“Then let’s do it, boss.”

The first job is for Tommy’s friend, Mrs Averling.  I get the steps from the storeroom, and Tommy and me traipse over to her flat.  As we wait for the door to open, I ask him, “How many Essendon supporters does it take to change a light globe?”

He smirks, which is about as much as you’d expect from a man burdened with the worry of his full-back’s suspension.

When Mrs A opens the door to us, she is wearing a leather overcoat, open at the front to reveal a miniature olive-coloured cocktail dress.  She’s also wearing a face like thunder.  She beckons us in with a moisturised nod.  I’ve barely manoeuvred the ladder through the door, when she starts giving Tommy the rounds of the kitchen, wanting to know how he spends his time, and why hasn’t he done something about the dreadful rate of faulty light globes in her apartment.  There must be something wrong with the electrical wiring, she says, flinging her arm around at the electrical wiring.  After all, she is paying his wages, and this fellow’s – that’s me – through the huge body corporate fees she is charged.

She’s talking trash, but looks a formidable foe, and I wouldn’t like to try to wrestle her to the floor.

She points sullenly towards the stairs, explaining that on her way up last night the light went pffttt. (That’s noisy for a 100 watt globe.)  “Please fix it before I fall and break my leg in the darkness, Mr Manager”.  Personally, I doubt her legs would break if you hit them with a railway sleeper.

Changing light globes in these interior stairwells is tricky, because the light-fitting is very high and only one side of the ladder can be placed on the floor.  Someone has to hold the other side.  (That’s me again.)  Mrs Averling stands like Boadicea, olive cocktail dress fully exposed, glaring up at us while we do the job.

She doesn’t have time to offer us a cup of tea, because she’s already late for work, which is our fault.

Next Tommy asks me to go and see a Mr Arumugun, who’s got a ground-floor bolt-hole in the fernery area.  He has been dwelling on my arrival,  because the door opens at pretty much the instant I finish knocking.  I’m looking at a blotchy brown face, and wide, googly eyes.  When I see the rest of him, it turns out he’s a frail, stooped little guy who barely comes up to my chest.

Tommy tells me he was once one of the most renowned surgical podiatrists in town.  Not any more.  He has trouble talking, let alone carving up feet.

“Ah,” he croaks.  “Come . . . in.”

We do the full introductions: Dr. Devesh Arumugun, Peter Schofield, how do you do, thank you so much for coming, you must be busy, pleased to make your acquaintance, followed by a long, limp handshake, and a tortured account of the problem I’ve come to solve.

His mobile phone has slipped down between the cushions of his Italian hand-crafted lounge chair.

The preliminaries have already taken about 10 minutes.  Fortunately, the job is a cinch, and will be over in a few seconds.

I dial the mobile’s number on the landline, and I slip my hand down the side when I hear the faint ring tone.  After manoeuvring along the length of the chair, I can’t find it, which is strange.  I can hear it, though.  I go back again, forward again, back again.

Dr. Arumugun hovers, muttering things I can’t hear.  (How can I?  My head is nearly up my arse.)

I push deeper until it hurts my fingers and the back of my hand.  Nothing, but the little fucker can’t be that far away.

I re-dial, listen intently, head cocked like a gun dog.  The doctor and me nod in agreement, two great minds – yeah, it’s there somewhere – and I dive in again.  Still nothing.  I straighten up to ease my back.  I suggest the ring tone might be being deflected by the . . . er, cushions, knowing sweet nothing about the transmission of noise, except it travels well over water.  Which is not relevant to the current dilemma.  (But it’s the sort of comment an ex-foot- chopper would find interesting, surely?)  So I try the other side of the chair, which is starting to piss me off, individually hand-crafted, gifted by his children or not.

I go up and back along the western crevice several times.  By now I am perspiring.  My forehead is damp.  Still no result.  The novelty of the situation has entirely worn off.

I stand and take stock.  I think Devesh is telling me to forget the whole thing.  Whatever, I ignore him.

It is time for extreme measures.  I tilt the back of the chair – firmly, because that’s the way I feel now – and whoa! behold! a cavity, and I instantly believe I have discovered the mobile’s secret resting-place.  Surely this is the catchment area.  Where else is there?

Devesh and I share a conspiratorial grin.  Victory is one grasp away from two very smart cookies.

Disappointment.  The cavity is as big as a suitcase, but there’s not even a pen, a peanut or a coin.  But it MUST provide the answer, so I go at it from all angles.  I will not accept the obvious fact, that there is nothing there.  I repeat, reverse and reprise everything I’ve done – with both hands.


I tilt the whole shebang this time, upend it so its tatty private parts are showing, because I’ve become very frustrated.  Devesh pretends to hold it steady while I run my hands over it like I’m doing physio on someone.  We ease it back upright.  I wipe my face with my handkerchief.

“Damn.  What are you going to do?” I ask.

“I’ll . . . ring . . . manufacturer, or . . . otherwise . . . ”  He sounds like he’s at death’s door.


He shrugs.  “Another phone . . . no problem.”

“One more try.”

I slip my hand down between the leather where we started, and push as deep into the corner as I can.  As I pull my hand out, my watch bounces off the armrest and onto the carpet.

Devesh stoops, agonisingly, to retrieve it.  He holds it up.  “Oh.”

“Don’t worry.  It’s a cheap one.”

“Sorry.  I’ll pay . . . . ” and his hand goes into his pocket.

“Don’t be silly.”

Eventually, I leave, the poor old bloke still mobile-less.

. . . / / / . . .

It’s the kind of day that makes me glad I don’t play football any more.  It’s cold and miserable, and a sharp little southerly bluster whips in a fresh batch of leaves to replace the truckload I’ve just swept up.  It’s foggy, and only a fool would suggest there weren’t showers on the way.  People are out and about, doing the things Huntleigh Mews people do after a Saturday sleep in –  shopping, walking, brunching, fetching the paper from their letterbox, fagging on their balcony.  Me, I’m giving an impersonation of fixing the lock in one of the pedestrian gates.  (Locks and door handles are not my strong point, technology-wise.)

Who should sneak up on me while I’m tightening and untightening a screw but Rebecca the Riot.  She’s in the full mid-winter battle regalia of the Carlton Football Club, which includes a slicker with CARLTON BLUES on the back, a beanie and a scarf.  It looks impressive, the old dark navy blue, not that I’d admit that in a fit.

“Going to the footy, eh?” I remark, wagging my screwdriver towards her in jocular fashion.

“No.  Hot air ballooning today, Mr Rabbit.”

“Ho ho.”  I hold the gate open for her.  After taking a few steps, she turns and says, “You coming?”

I’m astounded.  To buy a few seconds of decision-making time, I examine my handiwork.  The gate swings shut with a click.  I give Rebecca a satisfied tradesman’s smile and a thumbs up, and join her.  She’s not interested in my mechanical dexterity.  “Hurry up, yes or no.”

“Okay, but I’ll be barracking for Melbourne.”

“You’re a born loser.”

The walk to the “G” is my kind of a walk.  It’s a no-nonsense, long striding affair, with not a lot going on between the two of us, except maybe a sense that we’re both enjoying the work-out.  We hammer through the Carlton Gardens, around St. Pat’s Cathedral and into the Fitzroy Gardens, which look a treat.  The city is barely a hush in the background, the elm trees are nearly bare, having spread a magnificent carpet of yellow leaves along the paths, which we’ve virtually got to ourselves.

When we’re waiting for the lights at Wellington Parade, Rebecca does say  she’s seen me and a woman together, so I tell her about Labrini and the dancing lessons, and the fact that she’s a Collingwood supporter and I’ve been to the footy with her.  It’s the first piece of personal history we’ve exchanged and I’m happy to give her my life story, but we keep getting separated as we thread our way through the parked cars surrounding the arena.

Just before we arrive at Gate 3, I get one more sentence in.  “She’s going to Greece and other places, with a dancing troupe, leaving Monday.”

“Poor boy.”

Another surprise awaits outside the gate: Rebecca’s face lights up when she meets a friend.  They give each other a hug, then I’m introduced to Vicki, another Blue bagger done up in the club colours.  Vicki has straight, dark hair, a pleasant chubby face which has numerous items of metal attached.  (The stud on her bottom lip I don’t go for much – it’s like a permanent boogie.)

I stand in the short queue and buy our tickets, while the girls have a fag.

When we find seats, Vicki is concerned that I haven’t got a raincoat.  Rebecca is unsympathetic.  She tells her mate I have special gifts as a weather forecaster.  “When he’s not doing heavy work at Huntleigh Mews, he’s a farmer,” she says with a smirk.

“It could be showery,” I say, looking at the leaden sky.  “But I doubt there’ll be much.”

“I think you should get one of these plastic poncho things,” insists Vicki.  She seems genuinely concerned.

“Promise you won’t make a bad joke about me looking like a condom,” I reply.

Vicki giggles, and Rebecca lets out a hoot of laughter.  (That’s a first.) “And when you do, you can get us a beer, Rabbit,” says Rebecca.

I buy a tray of beers – another exception to the golden rule for me – but there’s no raincoats available that I can see.  And away we go, game on.  Carlton’s Setanta O’hAilpin gets a free kick before the opening bounce, a trend in modern football which really pisses me off, and when he misses I yell out, “All it deserved!” just to rile my companions.  They’re not riled, just amused.

I have the support of a well-mannered Melbourne supporter behind us who yells very pleasant things, non-stop.  For example, Play well, Melbourne! And Oh good hands, Ds and What a beauuu-ti-ful kick! The same bloke refers to the yellow insectsthe umpiring fraternity – as ‘sir’. So it’s not, What about his head, maggot, it’s Surely too high, sir! I find him highly amusing, and when I look at him, I’m amazed that he’s not dressed in a dinner suit.

Actually, the game is over quick smart.  The Carlton forwards can’t miss – Ryan Houlihan gets three – and by quarter time they’re leading by 5 goals.  And the light drizzle is getting to be heavy drizzle, so I’m happy enough to go and re-load the beer tray so I can get a bit of shelter.

The well-mannered barracker just keeps rolling along during the second quarter:  Wasteful, wasteful Carlton.  Fear our comeback! But there’s to be no comeback – just yet, anyway – because by half-time the Blues have added another goal to their lead.  The girls are now encased in their plastic cocoons and have revisited the condom joke several times, they’ve asked me whether I’m getting wet twenty times, and they’ve added a couple more beers to their general outlook on the game (and life).

At half-time I again take shelter in the beer queue.

Carlton start with a super, mid-air soccer goal from Mitch Robinson, and it looks more of the same.  However, at some point a change comes over the game, possibly about when the rain turns from heavy drizzle to light torrential and I feel the water seeping into my shoes and groin area.  I announce to the girls that from now on, they’ll have to buy their own beers, because I’m going home.

“So soon, farmer Rabbit,” says Rebecca, deeply sympathetic.  “It’s only a passing shower.”

“Lovely meeting you, Peter,” says Vicki, and gives me a beery, metal-boogie peck.  “Sorry about the weather.”

Where’s the attempt there, sir! yells the mild-mannered Demon as I squelch along the row and out.

When I get home, my Kathmandu jacket feels like it weighs my body-weight – 96 kgs.  My trousers are plastered to my legs, and I’m freezing my tits off.  When I stand dripping on the mat, Tommy tells me I shouldn’t keep working in rain this heavy.

“I’ve been to the football,” I say.

“What football?”

“At the ‘G’”.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”  Then, “Why didn’t you take a raincoat?”

. . . / / / . . .

I am rollicking along Sydney Road, me and my tram and all who sail in her.  Night is setting, day is done.

I love trams.  I have a ticket, which I have incinerated before sitting down.

I check the ticket to make sure it is a ticket – it’s here somewhere – and retrieve it from where it falls.

This afternoon, The Mob watched the Sydney – Essendon game at the   Gilbert Hotel, and I stayed on for a valedictory drink, due to the fact that we lost.  It seemed appropriate.

Looked at from the perspective of this tram, the result is of little consequence.  Obviously, no-one rollicking along with me could give a rat’s toss that the Bombers were magnificent in defeat.  Everyone is lost in their little worlds, and it is their beholden right so to do.

From a global perspective – it’s a short step away in a rollicking tram to a global perspective – the event is, moreover, hereunto, of little consequence.  The world will continue to spin on its axle at the rate of seven days a week, 365 days a year whether Essendon wins or loses.  From the perspective of the friendly Gilbert Hotel, our presence was of relatively little consequence.  Frances, the delightful barmaid and shareholder in the enterprise, had only to remind us several times that there were other patrons in the back bar and would we kindly keep the noise down.

To which I would retort, Frances, the free-kick count is wildly in favour of the Swans, and no team, howsoever great, can win against such home-ground odds.  No fan of such a team can endure such treatment in silence.  I remember Frances not being impressed with my plea for understanding.

We rollick to a stop.  Is it mine?

Where’s my ticket?

No, not my stop.

I smile at the man opposite me, because he’s smiling at me while pretending to look out the rollicking window.

Four grown men have been to hell, and only made it part of the way back.    It was a scrappy, tough, wonderful game of footy.  It was a privilege not to have been there but be able to watch it on the Gilbert’s big screen.  The lead changed 20 times, and no person can endure that without cracking.  We lost David Hille to a torn hammy, we lost Angus Monfries and Jake Melksham.  And we lost the game, to boot.

Apparently the veteran Swans players had a meeting during the week and decided they would play well today.  Why do they always do that before an Essendon game?  Jude Bolton, Jarrad McVeigh, Ryan O’Keefe, Brett Kirk and Jobe Watson all played huge games for Sydney.  Bolton had 50 contested possessions.  The meeting was a great success.

No, not Jobe.  He plays for us.  He’s our captain.

Plus their man-mountain Mumford.  Killed us.  Plus the umpires.

I remember it was one minute and seven seconds to go when Adam Goodes kicked the sealer.  He’d done nothing all day, then he snaps the sealer.  How often is that the way?

A man in a uniform gets on my rollicking tram, and when I eventually find my ticket, I show it to him because he remains standing when there are heaps of seats available.  He gives me a grin and says he’s from the Salvation Army.


I get out at the Queen Victoria Market, only three stops too late.

On my walk to Huntleigh Mews – I take the scenic route – I keep replaying the free-kick against Courtney Dempsey.  (Third quarter?  We were kicking towards the male toilets.)  Every time I watch it in my head, he hand-balls it out of the pack and is penalised.  Penalised for a handball – that’s good.  Then he says something rude to the umpiring staff, and gets a 100 metre penalty.  (If he’d kept talking he would have ended up back at the airport.)  And the Swan misses from point blank.  And that’s when Frances comes out to the back bar again to tell us to quieten down.

Jonesy was particularly unruly.  Bulldog was pacifying Frances.  Tommy was embarrassed.  I was animated.

Now I am standing outside the rollicking Huntleigh Mews, feeling terribly tired and emotional.  And sad.  The light is on at No. 77, or thereabouts, so I thread my way up to the door.  Labrini opens at my third knock.


“Yes, I do believe.”

“Oh goodness, look at you.  Come in.”

I give Labrini a huge hug, which she returns in spades.  “The free kick count was 34-13 against us today,” I whisper in her shell-pink.


“The Collywobbles snuck home.”


We continue with our cuddle.  We pull back after a while, and there’s moisture on our cheeks.  “I’m going to miss you,” I say.

“I’ll miss you to, Peter.”

I give her a long, loving look.  “You’ve changed your hair.  It’s for the dance troupe, yeah?”  She nods through her tears

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