How to Watch Footy (part 16): Innocence lost

By Vin Maskell

Williamstown North Primary v Williamstown Primary. Grand Final. Thursday 27 June, Fearon Reserve, Williamstown

If the first cut is the deepest, what is the first goal kicked against you? And the second and the third and the fourth and the fifth? How deep is the cut when you’re eight goals down at quarter-time and you’ve hardly got the ball into the forward line?

The ominous pre-match. The Willi Primary footballers changed into their blue and gold Willi colours in the Fearon Reserve clubrooms, amidst the lockers, honour boards, Williamstown United photos (Mark Arceri, Ian Fairley) and, of course, the smell of liniment. The Willi North children changed into their green and gold Spotswood colours on the grass on the other side of the ground. The footballers had a team set of drink bottles. The children had their own motley collection of water bottles.

The telling warm-up. The Willi Primary footballers organised themselves into training drills. Then they did a lap of the ground together. Then they bunched up into one of those arms-around-the-shoulders gung-ho huddles. Then they let out a roar. (Well, a yell.)

Then their ruckman thumped the ball 10 metres and they kicked eight goals in 15 minutes.

Second quarter. Five minutes in and the children are ten goals behind the footballers. Then 12 goals. The umpire (the footballers’ coach) abandons the centre-circle ball-up after each goal and gives the children a free kick from the centre instead. Which is promptly marked by the ruckman at centre-half-back. Or by one of, seemingly, 17 rotating midfielders.

Half-time. The score is 16 goals and a few points to none. 100 point margin. The footballers head into their changerooms with their coach. The children sit on the grass and listen to their teacher. “The parents here have been taking stats and it’s clear we need to lay more tackles. You won’t get hurt. You might even get the ball. And maybe we can get a goal.” The teacher smiles. It’s nearly end of term. His team’s losing but he’s happy.

A vital statistic. A parent mentions to me that Willi Primary train every Thursday night for two hours. You can do that when you’ve got an oval next to the school. (Willi North used to have some space but a booming student population and then the economic stimulus plan and its national building project left little to the imaginations of sporting children. What’s the good of classrooms if there’s no room for running around at lunchtime?)

Third quarter. Through inadvertent flooding of the backline (bored kids on the forward line straying downfield) the children keep the footballers down to four goals. “The tackling has improved,” says the teacher, smiling. “Well done everyone. We haven’t scored yet but there’s still time. This is your last quarter of footy for Willi North. Make the most of it. Enjoy yourselves.”

Fourth quarter. I have to leave early but next morning I see the Willi North teacher at the school-crossing. It’s the last day of term. He’s smiling. “Did we get a goal in the last quarter?” I ask. “No!” the teacher laughs. He knows that footy’s just a game.

Votes: 3 to the Willi Primary footballers. Maybe footy’s more than a game to them. 3 to the Willi North children. They kept at it. 3 to the sole goal umpire who kept fetching the ball from the far ends of the Fearon.

About Vin Maskell

Founder and editor of Stereo Stories, a partner site of The Footy Almanac. Likes a gentle kick of the footy on a Sunday morning, when his back's not playing up. Been known to take a more than keen interest in scoreboards - the older the better.


  1. Andrew Fithall says


    Just the other day we were having a chat around our dinner table about the equivalent game in 2006 when St Mary’s Williamstown took on the might of Williamstown Primary at the Fearon. Willy Primary that day was coached by Matt Montebello who is now senior coach at CYMS. Umpire was Bill Green – teacher from Willy Primary. Was he umpire again? On this day I went and had a half-time chat with Bill. Bill had been a year ahead of me at secondary school and I have a photo of us, arms folded, side-by-side in the school under-14 team 1972. The chat was to reintroduce myself and to remind him that there were two teams out there. St Mary’s was guest-coached by Rohan Smith – a St Mary’s parent. It was a rare win to St Mary’s.


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