Masters of their Universe

It’s a typically chilly Sunday in Melbourne; overcast skies, with a light drizzle sweeping sideways. It’s a good day to stay indoors by a warming fire amidst the wafting aromas of a roast lunch. This scene of domestic bliss, after a long working week, seems hard to resist. Not so, however, for a peculiar breed of “He-men” in inner suburban Brunswick; a breed of men old enough to know better.

They are footballers but not your average players. They are not only in the years of their twilight but, for some, in that place where the sun has well and truly set. Just don’t tell them that. They play Aussie Rules in the ever-burgeoning Masters League; a league broken down into age divisions from over 35’s through to that breed of gallant warriors in their 50’s, 60’s and beyond.

These men form the Brunswick Mudlarks Football Club and the opportunity to run around and play a game they love at a competitive level beats, hands down, the homely comforts they have earned themselves in their well ripened years.

As a spectacle the game may not always be pretty; neither fast-paced nor silky.  In truth, tempo is less elan and more akin to the three-toed sloth. Yet despite these obvious shortcomings there are occasional flashes of inexplicable brilliance that help players forget the Roman numerals encrusted on their yellowing birth certificates.

The pre-game ritual is a sight to behold. Not unlike gladiatorial battles of yore, combatants are rubbed down, strapped up and bandaged to within an inch of their lives. Some wear armour-like contraptions fashioned to hold limbs together for over an hour of torturous battle. And it is during that time they give 100%, even those that are running on less than half that.

Their match-day odyssey is the stuff of Homer. At three-quarter time men are wounded; battered and bruised, pain an unlikely ally. The coach, like a battle-scarred general, will ask for more, “We can win this”, with gritted teeth he pleads. The players nod and vociferously echo the sentiment even if they have no more to give. They are spent and know a win is unlikely. It will not, however, stop them from trying. Their effort cannot be questioned for they know but one ethos. On this day none will die wondering.

It is a game where statistics are less about kicks, marks and goals and more about aches and strains, knees and groins. It is this battle through the pain barrier that is a sacrifice they gladly make for their mates.

 

One may ask if this is merely a tale of fancy, an urban myth. In fact these crusaders are very real. From far flung corners of the social realm they gather. Amongst their number are nuggety tradies, corporate executives, professors and doctors and others unemployed or retired. It is a place where the conservative capitalist happily rubs shoulders with the tree-hugging lefty. These are family men; sons, brothers, fathers, even grandfathers. For some the club is their family. Add to this a tasty mix of cultures – Muslim, Jew, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu – and whilst some inexplicably still endure racial slurs from the odd, ignorant dolt, they stand strong, loyally worshiping the all-mighty footy god. And when the appropriately toned black and white jumper is pulled proudly over their greying and balding heads this rag-tag bunch of misfits become one. Such is the all-embracing philosophy at the Mudlark nest.

So what is the allure? Why do they gather? One can imagine even David Attenborough scratching his head at this strange ritual migration. For some it is a reminiscence of glory days past. For others it is familiar aromas; a panoply of liniment, sweat, naphthalene and Old Spice. But for all it is the need to be part of a team where their contributions, no matter how small, are poetically lauded. And it is the yearning to re-live the splendour of youth, refusing to believe they are no longer kids.

On game day there is no fanfare, no parade and no prize. There is, however, the roar of the adoring crowd. Well, as much of a roar as you can get from the modest throng of loyal family and friends cheering and bellowing words of encouragement or the quieter mutterings of, “silly old bugger!”, bemused at why they bother. But the players know; it’s when a tackle is nailed, when a bouncing run down a wing draws gasps from the crowd and a pass hits their team mate, lace-out, on the chest – that’s why they bother. And their reward is the loud and proud post-match rendition of the victorious club song – how sweet it sounds – and, having survived this day, the tantalizing anticipation at least one more game.

And as another pre-season of summer training looms for these tireless troopers, dusty-haired rookies will arrive from far and wide into the welcoming Brunswick fold to try their hand. They will be given nothing but encouragement from older war horses, many of whom, feeling the patina of age, will dread this pre-season as their last. Their bodies will tell them as much. But will they listen?

 

Comments

  1. Cracking piece Andrew. When’s training?

  2. J.T.H: get down and have a run, you’ll be glad you did. I’ve been thinking about discussing a Fitzroy Supers club with Litza. Time will tell…

    Looking forward to saying hello if our paths cross during the season Andrew. I’m involved at Melbourne Supers FC.

  3. Andrew – that’s a beautifully crafted piece. Never has inelegant action been described with such eloquence. For a few deluded seconds you had me having a kick too! More please.

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