Magpies in Philadelphia

When you visit Philadelphia there are a few non-negotiable must do’s. You ring the Liberty Bell, watch big Sav punt for the Eagles, eat a Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich and best of all, finish the day with the famous run up the Rocky’s stairs in order to pay homage to the great boxer. You can forget that he is a fictional character. The people of Philly certainly have and so have I.  You can do all that in a day and be back in New York by 8pm sharp.

I didn’t do any of those things. The Baltimore Eagles were lining up against the highly underrated NYC Magpies and I wanted to do my bit to help regain some Maggie pride in the big apple. Baltimore has been known in recent times to be a bunch of A grade deadbeats. They are that team in a social competition that miss the point and remove the ‘social’ in social sport and replace it with ‘sheep station: win at all costs.’ They’ve even had a couple of rare animal-types keen on knocking heads off. One famous story involved an Australian Christian missionary worker who, while on holiday from his posting in Zambia, decided to have a run for the Magpies. He was trotting down the wing keeping to himself when from out of nowhere a raging Baltimore basher knocked him unconscious with a blind-sided king hit. Thankfully, that Baltimore clown wasn’t present on the weekend but they did have their fair share of rough necks, and as much as the Pies wanted to keep things light hearted, they also wanted to put on a clinic in front of the locals and send Baltimore packing.

Your average New York Magpie is all class. Not like Simon Black or Steve Johnson football classy, but more of a living in the West Village, well groomed, highly fashionable, media savvy, good with money, gay kind of classy – like Aka. They enjoy a Broadway show and they’re not afraid to talk about their feelings.  Most importantly, they look after one another and really get into the spirit of footy in the US of A.

The season works in a fairly unconventional fashion with a mixture of carnival days and standard four-quarter matches. On carnival days a selection of teams will meet at a ground and play two shortened games with twenty-minute halves. The Ladies’ team also get involved on these days, although on this and on most occasions they struggle for numbers and play a little hybrid game on a half sized field.  On Saturday we were playing in a carnival where we were matched firstly against a very jovial and very mediocre North Carolina outfit who were fittingly kitted out in Richmond colours, and of course our previously mentioned nemesis, Baltimore.

The day started early with a bus leaving at 8.30am from Madison Square Garden.  The Pies and the Lady Pies tunnelled in from all directions and loaded onto the bus. After a couple of head counts and more than a few phone calls, our skipper, Glen ‘Brownlow’ Ormsby decided that “frickin Smiles (Centre Half Back) can take the frickin train to Philly, if he can’t get here by nine o’clock.” So half an hour after the planned departure time we pulled out, minus Big Smilesy, who was very stiff apparently as we found out later he got there at about two minutes passed nine. He did catch the train and proved to be an inspiration down back. Not on the football field mind you, I didn’t really notice him out there, but definitely down the back of the bus where he hoarded, and put to bed, about 20 Buds on the way home. It was his Birthday and after the morning he’d had, the cans were well deserved. Evidently he was also trying to settle his nerves before his planned marriage proposal to his girlfriend.

Earlier in the day North Carolina was no match for the Pies. We pretty much did as we pleased on our way to a 45-point lead by half time. Big Joel Keating ran amuck in the forward fifty and the midfield ran some circle work in the guts like it was a Tuesday afternoon skills session before nonchalantly driving the pill deep into the attacking fifty. The North Carolina defence were a bunch of short and jocular characters that had no idea what the hell was going on. They were however able to read the score board that was being regularly updated by a couple of strung out Lady Pies, one trying to work-out and communicate her six times tables, while the other madly flipped the cards.

The game ended with most of the starting line up lazing around under the trees like a congress of baboons. Our backline were trading stocks on their iphones and the reserves had taken over the feast.

After that we had a stretch and turned our minds towards the hotdogs that were sizzling away next to the ground. During the break between games we had a bit of laugh, watched the girls play with passion and nous and supported the reserves in their game against the Baltimore Magoos. Three hours after the first game we finally took to the field for the premier match of the day against Baltimore. We were informed during the pre-game pump up that this was to be the last game for Hawk, a Veteran of at least one or two seasons with the Magpies. Just before the bounce Hawk looked around the huddle and asked us if the beers would taste better if we were winners or if we were losers. It wasn’t your regular pre game rhetoric and I think most us were just glad we would be drinking beer either way. The mumbled response from a couple of the boys confirmed ‘winners beer’ as the answer to the puzzling question.

Spurred on by Hawk’s powerful words the Magpies set to work dismantling the Baltimore line-up. Believe or not, they actually employed a flood from the opening bounce. There were a couple of extras down back and Big Nick, one of our American forwards, asked me whom I was manning up on. I informed him that it wasn’t up to us to find a man when playing in the forward line. Satisfied with that he jogged up to the wing and where he happened upon a stoppage, I assume by accident, and started having a real impact on the play.

The score was low and the match was fairly uneventful. Shane Batty was the dominant player on the field. The backline repelled anything that came forward. Play of the day came in the form of a barnstorming, Marty Lang style hit up followed by a space junk floater that sailed through the big sticks.  I believe the player responsible was a fella named Toby, but I’m not completely sure. We kept Baltimore goalless and kicked three of our own to come out on top. Revenge is sweet and the beers were delicious.

The next day, staying true to form, Smilesy slept through the 10 o’clock reservation he had made at a fancy breakfast cafe for his romantic Sunday morning marriage proposal. Seriously fatigued and probably aware that this was as good a time as any, he apparently rolled over, grabbed the ring out of his sock drawer, and quoting  Mark Knopfler he said, “ You and me babe, how bout it?”

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