Geoff Sinclair’s Home and Away Games – Round 15


Melbourne versus Essendon

Sunday, July 11th.  M.C.G.

Arnold, the Human Question Mark, is back on Monday, bright and early.  His beloved Saints have had a gritty, 35-point win over the Melbourne Demons.  Is he happy about that? he asks me.  I tell him he probably is, and he agrees.  Is he also happy no-one was reported and rubbed out for 10 weeks?  Yep.  Is he delighted that no-one was seriously injured?  Yep.  Yep.  Is he thrilled that there are no more scandals of a sexual nature in the offing at St.Kilda?  Yep. Yep. Yep.

“Now where’s this mother of a pool heater?” he says, and he looks at me a bit closer.  “The Crows beat the shit out of you as well, did they?”

“No, I had a fight with a friend.  After the game.”

“In that case, you should steer clear of your enemies, right?”

“Guess so.”

I watch him while he removes the corroded part of the heater.  He holds it out to show me, poking it with his screwdriver like it’s a human organ, seriously diseased.  Naturally, he asks me how I would like to have a kidney like that, and naturally I tell him, no way, Jose.  I  pledge to lower the chlorine level of the pool as retribution for my sins.

“Or you know who’ll be back here this time next year, don’t you?”

“Sure do.”

He installs the new part in the heater.  While he’s doing it, he asks me about a million questions regarding the fight with my friend.  I leave him with the impression that Jonesy and me came to blows over whether Essendon should sack their coach immediately.  (I spare him the sordid truth.  I believe the truth is not always the best option, especially for someone like Arnold, who has reduced life to a continuous stream of questions.)

“There you go,” he says.  “Is that another repair job closer to Nick Riewoldt’s return to the playing arena?”

“Reckon it is.  When’s the happy day?”

“Would you believe Round 16 against Collingwood?”

“I believe, brother.  I do believe.”

. . . / / / . . .

Huntleigh Mews.  My god.  Who would have ever thought I’d spend a footy season in a joint like this?  There’s people coming and going most of the time, off to work, home from work, down to the rubbish, back from the rubbish, into the pool, out of the pool.  Most of them as friendly as.  I’ve never had so much company.  But it’s coming to an end.  I’ve told Tommy I’ll see the season out, then I’ll head back to Tallerack and start talking to the trees again.

I am assuming here that The Bombers will not participate in the finals.  Call me defeatist if you like, but I’d prefer you to call me realist.

Folks have been ribbing me about the football seeing as me and Tommy’s allegiance to the Essendon Bombers is universally known.  Since we’ve lost four in a row, and especially since Saturday night’s flogging in Adelaide, they’ve not been saying much, as though words can’t express the depth of their sympathy.  It’s so sad, a bit as if an old dog had just died, after living five years longer than it should have.  I’m likely to get a pitying look, or a consoling hand on the shoulder, and something like “Oh dear . . . ”, or “Tsk, tsk . . . ”, or “Gosh, I’m sorry . . . how you coping?”

Hell’s bells, we’ve only lost the last four, and we’ve played a pretty reasonable brand of football.  (Ask the coach, he’ll tell you.)  Four seasons ago, we beat the reigning premier Sydney in the first round, then lost something like 13 in a row.  Compared to that, we’re going through a good spell.

I must add – seeing as I am in a reflective mood following the The Tattooed Man’s transplant job on the heater – the Mews is turning me into a alcoholic.  The deal I made with Elaine Sidebottom – to share wine with her whenever her Tigers had a victory – looked safe enough a few weeks ago, even in the flush of their first win of the season, against Port Adelaide.  Since then, they’ve succumbed to St.Kilda, but beaten West Coast, Brisbane and this weekend, the Sydney Swans.

Sure enough, there she was earlier this morning, out on her balcony in the over-sized lemon dressing-gown, dwelling on me, her neat little face a beacon of triumph.

“Drinks for the Tigers this evening, Peter?”

“I’ll be there.”

She leans over the railing.  “Look up at me.  Now stand still.”  She says, squinting:  “What on earth have you done to your eye?”

The Tigers’ next game is against Fremantle, which may help me dry out.  Perhaps.

Then Mario and Francesco turn up at odd hours bearing alcoholic gifts, apparently still celebrating their relief at having Kevin the Potential Killer out of their lives.  Gentleman Geoffrey Jones, stung by remorse at his loathsome behaviour towards myself in Room 705 of the Holiday Inn, turned up last night with a premium mixed dozen – and I mean premium – which Tommy was happy to accept on my behalf.  The top was removed from the first available, and Jonesy and I forged a boozy truce, with Tommy in the mediator’s chair.  On top of all of this, I have a bottle of bubbly on ice for the return of the Greek Goddess, now only hours away.

. . . / / / . . .

Here she comes, at last.

She pauses, and sweeps a look across the crowded room on the threshold of the automatic doors of Customs.  I wave – ouch.  She waves and, despite the fact that she’s dragging a suitcase the size of a 40-litre rubbish bin, she beats me to the end of the barrier.  (I’m hurting, real bad.)  She dumps the case, shoulders aside a very plump man holding aloft an AUSSIE EXPOSURE TOURS placard, and throws her arms around me.

“Peter Rabbit,” she murmurs, hugging me real tight.

“Labrini, ohhhh, Labrini. . . aaaaahhhhhhhhhh . . . . careful.” I bury my head and yelp into her shoulder.  Then I take her by the forearms, and ease her away from the embrace.  “Hi there, you sweet thang.”  I’m hamming it up because there are tears in my eyes.  “I’m so glad to see you.”

She breaks the tackle immediately, and I’m enfolded again.  Crunched.  “Peter.  Peter.  God, I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you too,” I say, but I can’t disguise a wince.  “Ooooouch!!  Her handbag is jammed against my ribcage.  “Careful Houdini . . . ” and I drag the bag away from the tender area.

“What’s the matter, Rabbit?”

“Ribs . . . bruised, but healing well . . .”

“Oh.  Kiss me, then.”

“Okay, yes, of course.  Softly.  Ooohhh, easy love.  Sorry.  Mouth damaged, but much better than yesterday.”

She puts her arms around my shoulders, and rests her forehead against mine.  “From the minute you wheedled your way into my affections, I knew it wasn’t ever going to be straightforward.”


“You’ll tell me what happened?”

“Yes, eventually.  But first things first.  Collingwood are third on the ladder, Essendon are twelfth.”

“Which is as it should be.  Come on, let’s get home.  I hope there’s some part of you that’s not hurting.”

. . . / / / . . .

I am cushion-propped, glancing around at iconic Magpies staring down at me accusingly from the walls.  Labrini is pacing her dining room, like she’s staking out her territory again.  She takes a real good look out the window.

“The park still there?” I ask, as witty as.

She plonks herself on the couch next to me, causing co-lateral pain.  She declares her trip a huge success, culturally and socially.  (I’m going to ask about Hilary, but later.)  The dancing troupe played to packed houses, not only in Greece, but in several neighbouring countries I can usually find in any half-reasonable atlas with a decent index.  As for my emailed insights into the Collingwood camp during her absence, the response is derisory.

“Your heart wasn’t in it,” she says, giving me a gentle biff on the arm.  “You can’t bear to read anything about my team.  For example, you said Alan Didak was one of our best players in a game he missed because he was injured, and you’ve always had Josh Fraser in the ruck, and he’s been out for weeks.”


“Now tell me more about your fight with the rich prick, as you call your fellow Bomber.  Do you like fighting, Peter?”

“No, because I generally lose.  But that hasn’t stopped me being easily outraged, and my responses haven’t always been . . . moderate.  Like if I got reported playing football it was because someone had picked on one of our kids, or said something racist to one of the Nicholson boys.  They were the only aboriginal family in Beaumont and the boys played footy.”

“This was before Michael Long came onto the scene?”

“Just before.”

“Hmmm, I can hardly blame you for that.  Go on.”

“Well, I still shoot my mouth off.  Like the other day, I was standing on the footpath gazing at the park and thinking of you – I was, I swear it – when this bloke walks by, sucking on a can.  And what does he do?  He just flings his empty can into one of our front gardens, and I yell ‘Oih! That’s my house mate.’  Well, he apologises and goes into the garden and fishes it out, but he could have turned on me.”


“I guess I should have said, ‘Excuse me sir, would you kindly retrieve your litter.’

“Maybe.  Have you ever been in court?  Like as a defendant?”

I nod.  “You wanna hear about it?  It’s tacky.”

“Yes please.”  She leans into me.  “Can you bear it if I put my head there?”

“Okay, so long as it’s non-weight bearing.”  We settle.  “I was arrested by Sergeant Tony Condon – yes, he was Franger or French Letter, what else – at the Beaumont Tractor Pull . . . ”

“The what pull?”

“The Beaumont Tractor Pull . . . ”

“Please explain.  I’m not sure we have these in Greece.”

“It’s a competition between different classes of tractors.  The idea is they try to drag along a machine-type thingo that gets heavier the further it goes.  There’s friction between the plate on this gizmo they’re pulling and the ground that eventually overcomes the tractor.  You try to pull this machine further than anyone else.”


“There are different classes of tractors, starting with . . . ”

“That’s all I need for now, thanks Peter.  Go on with your story.”

“Well, let me tell you, it’s a very popular event.  The Beaumont Lions Club made a fortune out of it.  People come from all over.  Anyway, the footy club traditionally ran the booth, which on this occasion me and a group of dedicated fellow-footballers set up in the morning, sacrificing our own valuable time, when we could have been, you know . . . ”

“. . . sleeping in.”

“Correct.  In fact, we had set up much earlier than was strictly necessary, well before beverages could be sold to the general public.  So my friends and myself began imbibing . . . you know, tapping the barrels, checking the lines, putting the cans and stubbies on ice . . . ”

“. . . and you got pissed on an empty stomach, and started a fight.”

“No, actually, you’re only partly right.  I made some uncomplimentary remarks to Policeman Condon who was passing by, looking at me contemptuously as was his want, due to the fact that he played for the Balagundi Football Club for money instead of playing for the Beaumont Club for love, seeing as he lived in the town.”

“You abused him to the point where he had no option but to arrest you.  And you resisted arrest?”

“You sound as though you were there.”

“What did the magistrate do?”

“Told me to avoid intoxication and to count to ten whenever I felt outraged.  Tommy Hubble wrote a reference for me.”  I tilt my head so I can see Labrini’s face.  “Not a very interesting story, eh?  Tacky, like I said.”

“Yes.  Small beer.  I have a brother-in-law who’s done time for a car racket he was in.”

“Wow, a real badass.  I’ll have to lift my game.”

“Don’t bother.”  Labrini bounces up – more pain.  “Enough of this.  The Maggies play Port Flower at AAMI Stadium on Friday night.  Want to come with me?”

“What!  I’ve just got home from Adelaide.  And look at me . . . ”

“I promise I won’t belt you up.”

“Well . . . I’ll talk to the boss.”

“You already are, darling.”

. . . / / / . . .

Tommy’s latest email to the Essendon Football Club – attention Matthew Knights – must be an epic, seeing as how a summary of it takes a whole pot of green tea to get through.  (We’re buying green tea by the kilo nowadays.)  Mark Williams is on his last chance with the VFL.  He’s been playing through pain – similar to my recent experience – and, depending on how he performs, he’ll either have surgery on his injured ankle or he won’t.  Tommy is still sceptical about how well the coaches are handling him.  (I think Tommy reckons that, because he handled someone as temperamental as me at Beaumont, he can handle anyone.  Like, if you had a bloke who was a combination of Brendan Fevola, Mark Williams, and Jason Akermanis at a club, he’d say, ‘let me have a few words with the boy, and I’ll see what’s bothering him’, and everything would be hunky-dory).

David Hille, our key ruckman, has exacerbated his hammy and will be out for another three weeks.  This causes Tommy to look very deeply into his tea-leaves, after which he reads me his selected side.

He has ten changes from last week.

We move on to general footballing matters.  Tommy thinks that Germany will play Uruguay in the final of the World Cup and Germany will win, despite both teams having been beaten in the semis.  (He couldn’t give a rat’s arse about the World Cup, and Mrs Averling takes up a lot of his time.)  Ben Cousins has survived his prescribed sleeping pills, and Grant Thomas, former coach of St.Kilda, has revealed how he got caught in a vicious cycle of caffeine, wine and sleeping tablets, to the point where he was having heart murmurs.

“How different are you from Grant Thomas, coach,” I query, looking as serious as.  “What’s the active ingredient of green tea, because you’re becoming dependent on it.  Drowning in it.  How many bottles of Jonesy’s premium wine art left?  And what about your insomnia, tossing and turning, adrenalin pumping, replaying the tapes of the last session of Claudia Abverling’s healing hands.  I’ve seen Panadol on the shopping list?  Are you doing uppers and downers as well?  Or is it scones and carrot cake?  You’re in trouble mate.”

He looks at me like I’ve grown two heads.

“You need help, Tommy, before it’s too late.”

“Peter, don’t be farcical.”

“Be a man and own up.”  I give a hoot of laughter.  “Speaking of farcical, I’m thinking of going to Adelaide again this weekend.  Collingwood versus Port.”

He hrrrumps.  “You’re the one who needs help, Peter.”

. . . / / / . . .

At about seven bells on Thursday morning, a water pipe springs a serious leak on Huntleigh Road, smack dab outside the apartments.  An emergency fix-it crew is on the scene within minutes.  Following this, there are several hundred phone calls to The Resident Manager’s apartment from people unable to look out their windows or walk to the front gate and see a small creek galloping down the gutter.

I stand at the front gate and bid good morning to the unwashed and uncoffee-ed hordes, all putting a brave face on the catastrophe.  I tell them I hope they have turned all their taps off, because the water will come on again well before they return.  (Just how clever am I?)

By eleven bells, the crew has replaced the fractured pipe and the water supply has been restored.

It is my turn to provide lunch and, desperate to avoid sandwiches at any cost, I buy flat bread and dips from the Turkish casbah up the street.  Tommy and me are well into our demolition job on this feast, when the phone rings.  I can’t understand much of the conversation through the bread and humus buffer, but there is distress in the tone.

Perhaps the Essendon Football Club’s selected team has been rushed to hospital with food poisoning.

“There’s water coming off the balcony of 77.”

Holy shit.  Labrini was intending to return to The Dance Palace to a hero’s welcome this morning.  Maybe . . .

I hot-foot it over.  Even as I stand outside her door, I can see the dark bruise marks my shoes make on the saturated carpet.  Inside, I stand in a lake.  Water is trickling down the stairs.  I squelch up, turn right into the  bathroom and turn the shower tap off.  It has been projecting a stream of water onto the floor since the Huntleigh Road repairs were completed.

I get to work, shifting stuff off the floor and mopping up the lake in the dining room.  After about half-an-hour, the door opens, causing a tiny tsunami to slap against the skirting boards.  Labrini looks at me with my mop and bucket, she looks around the room, looks back at me and her face twists in silent agony.  I let go my mop, which lands with a loud whack on the sodden carpet, and she grabs me around the waist and presses her face into my chest.

I can feel her sobs, as well as hear them.  “Life’s a bitch and then you die,” I say.

She sniffs.  “I’m insured.”

“Thank goodness for that.”

I tell her I’ve called the bloke who will lift the carpets and install fans.  It’ll take a week at least to get it back to liveable.

“What will you do tonight?”

She shrugs.  “Go to one of my sisters.”  Then she gives me another cuddle, which doesn’t hurt at all.  “Will you come to Adelaide with me tomorrow?”

“I hate Collingwood, Port Adelaide is my least likeable team, I hate aeroplanes, and hotel rooms give me claustrophobia.  Sure, I’ll come.”

“Good, because I’ve got the tickets.”

. . . / / / . . .

Here I am back at AAMI Stadium.  I feel like I live here.  Instead of Geoffrey Jones sitting next to me talking trash to the locals, I’ve got the Greek Goddess, looking anything but a deity.  It’s as cold as charity, there’s a wicked, freezing north wind sweeping down the ground, we’ve landed dead centre among a clutch of rabid Port Power People, and Her Loveliness sits hunched, like a broody hen.  Uncommunicative.  She is the total Magpie package, and I don’t just mean being mummified in black-and-white merchandise.  When the recently-shafted Mark Williams walks to the Port Adelaide coaches’ box for his last game after 12 seasons, the faithful give him a standing ovation.  I rise and clap, but Her Loveliness remains seated.  (Although she applauds weakly, three times, trying to conceal it from me.)

They’re hard people, the Collingwood tribe.

Labrini’s mind-set becomes bleaker when the tide of emotion – and the 30km-per-hour wind – turn the Port players into human battering-rams in the first quarter.  They annihilate the ‘Pies as they play the game of their lives for their coach.  They score 5.3 and come within a bee’s dick of keeping Collingwood scoreless.

I try to mind my manners, but get caught in the damn tide as well.  (It’s so strong.)  Ebert and Rodan are stars for The Power and I call out and tell them so.  Yoh!

My companion is not impressed.  “Peter, I’m seeing another side of you, aren’t I?”

“Like what?”

“Like you’re barracking for Port Power, despite them being your least-preferred team after Collingwood, just to spite me.  That’s hurtful, seeing as how I’ve also going through a difficult time personally . . . ”

“Your carpet is probably already dry, Houdini, and you don’t honestly think you’re going to lose this game do you?”

“Well, look at the score.  They’re killing us.”

“You’ve got the wind this quarter, and you’ll be ahead at half-time.”

Sure enough, Dale Thomas kicks a goal as soon as the second quarter gets going, but Port hit back with a couple.  We’ve got a game on our hands here, as the commentators are probably saying, but then Collingwood’s class asserts itself.  Dane Swan is unstoppable on the forward line, and Alan Didak has been moved out of the centre to go forward.  He’s good, I have to admit.

I’m wrong.  It’s dead level at half-time, a tribute to Port’s determination.

“Like a beer?” I ask.

“Too cold.”

“Wine.  Stale chardonnay?”

“No thanks.”

“Kick up the arse?”

“No thanks.”

“Rum and coke?”

“They don’t sell it.”

“Try this.”

I whip out the bottle of coke I bought in the hotel lobby.  Labrini takes a swing, tells me it’s got rum in it, calls me a feral law-breaker and doesn’t hand the bottle back until it’s two-thirds gone.

A bloke near us who’s got ear-phones dangling from his head tells everyone rain is on the way.  Just what I need – watching my most-loathed and my second most-loathed teams playing in Antarctic conditions, and now it’s going to rain.  Why am I here?

Labrini nudges me and passes the coke bottle.  Now I remember.

Port get gifted a goal by the umpires to get the third quarter going – Josh Carr kicks it – but the Magpies’ pressure is immense.  They starve Port for most of the quarter, get ahead and it looks like it’s all over, red rover, until my man, David Rodin kicks two magnificent goals to make it a point the difference at three-quarter time.

But Collingwood will win.

Port run out of emotion, Collingwood show their class and finish twenty-six points up.  Port give it everything, and I clap them as they leave the arena to  emotional dressing room scenes.  Their sacked coach is nowhere to be seen.

“Told you,” I say to Labrini on our way out.

“It was an excellent win by our boys.  You have to admit you enjoyed it.”

“No I don’t.  Did you switch the electric blanket on?”

. . . / / / . . .

It’s Sunday night, and despite it being a day of rest, I can’t sleep.  I’ve taken to my room and I’m tucked under the Cleopatra-comfortable doona but my mind is zinging like a telephone exchange.  I’m not helped by the fact that I’ve hit the comfort-food hard after we were flogged by Melbourne by 52 points, culminating in a 6-pack of jam donuts.  (Wicked.)

(The papers say we lost by 19 points, but when I left half-way through the last quarter, we were 52 points down.  Apparently we scored rubbish goals towards the end to lend a bit of respectability to the scoreline.)

Seven goals they got from 50-metre penalties.  It keeps bobbing to the surface no matter how much I try to hold the statistic under the water and drown it.  They were all there, the infringements, according to the authorities, including The Mob.  Tommy Hubble, guru coach, says so.  G. Jones, purveyor of fine wines, says so.  Brian Nankervis says so, although he was in an uncharacteristically pessimistic mood at the “G” right from the start.  (“I smell defeat in the air,” he says, “and it’s not just because school starts tomorrow.”)

He’s was right.  How strongly did the players protest when the yellow insects went on their 50-metre spree?  Not much.  How loudly did the Bomber fans howl from the stands as the atrocities unfolded before their eyes?  Not very.  Bulldog’s right.  There is a whiff of defeat around Bomberland.

I toss, I turn.  I give the pillow my combination of jabs and whip in a body punch to finish it off.  It gets uncomfortable again after 20 seconds.

We came out in the third quarter and gave it a shot.  We got to within 12 points of the Ds, we started playing like we can play.  Then Jack Watts, Melbourne’s fair-haired glamour recruit, ran towards the the City End goal and let fly at the goals.  He was lucky to score a point.  But he fell over after the kick, and Travis Colyer, who was chasing him – rookie Colyer, knee high to a grasshopper – is judged by the Yellow Insect to have pushed him.  Goal to the Glamour Boy.  Travesty of justice.

A few minutes later, Sam Lonergan, desperately trying to get the ball forward from the centre, breaks two tackles – cleanly, irrevocably, immutably breaks the tackles, as nearly 50,000 people are my witness – handballs cleanly away AND GETS PENALISED.  Travesty of justice.

Did a goal result?  I can’t remember.  Whatever – our momentum is trashed.  We become rubbish again, confidence and endeavour sapped out of our bodies.

The Demons deserved to win.  Jamar was fantastic in the ruck, Cameron Bruce superb and Green top-class at full-forward.  Plus they beat us at the fall of the ball, all day and into the night.

I get up, and creep out of my bedroom.  Tommy and Claudia Averling are cosy on the couch, their faces reflecting the eerie colour-pulsing of the television.  They look across at me, bug-eyed, like two guilty teenagers caught petting by a parent.

“What you watching?” I ask.

“Tour.  How you feeling, Peter?”

“Heartburn, stomach cramps, burping, farting, headache, insomnia . . . okay.”

Claudia puts on a sympathy pout.  “You like a massage, little man.  I give you massage.”

Maybe it’s a sugar-surge, I don’t know.  Whatever it is, I say, “Okay, your place or here?” and watch Tommy’s chin hit the floor.

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