Old Code Hopper

At the age of 44 I stole some hours from my youth.  I pulled on the boots again. Had an absolute hoot playing a game of AFL Masters (over 40s) in South East Queensland. Middle of winter, a chilly 23 degrees. Most of us originated from the southern states. Oldies from SANFL, WAFL, VFL, TFL, VFA. The skills were impressive, but the chasing was Fevola like. 

I had been talked into playing by an Italian rugby union player, Anthony Merlo. As Italian as the coffee his family imports, he had been badgering me to join for weeks. “Why are you there?” I asked him repeatedly. 

He would text me training times, and coffee dates. I told my wife. “Heading out to footy training just for a spot of fitness dear. Nothing more”.  

We trained at Maroochydore. I watched with amusement how he looked at the ball every time he tried to handball, awkward in the John Howard bowling action kind of way.  But he could run. Too far. The thought to bounce was not instinctive, instead an afterthought, like a learner driver forgetting to signal.  We chuckled watching these kindergarten AFL steps in a silver haired fortyish Italian with pace. Pondered sending him over to Auskick. 

Merlo grew up in Brisbane and was indoctrinated in rugby union. Exceptionally quick he soon caught the eye of Queensland and then Australian selectors. Living the dream he moved to Italy as a Professional and spent a number of Italian winters playing for Rome then Sardinia. His days were spent in Piazzo squares fine tuning his coffee drinking and his Italian. On the weekend he played the game they apparently play in heaven.  During the off season he returned to Sydney and played for Sydney University.  

Eventually he fell for a ‘Noosa Hippie Chick’ (his words) and settled on the Sunshine Coast. Grew a family and dabbled in real estate. That was until recently.  Maybe it was the passing of his father, or the passion for sport. Maybe it was a midlife crisis thing. Certainly cheaper than a fast car or an affair. But for some reason he turned up at AFL training as a student. 

But for me several training sessions and the gig was up. “What on earth do you hope to achieve at your age?” said sensible wife.

“…mmm … dunno…but we play on Sundays so could be a religious thing!” 

 After a couple of strong espressos we drove to the the first game together. The silver haired Italian who looks like (a fit) George Clooney sans moustache, and moves like Campese or Harvey…., but with anti-inflammatories.  We chatted about life, and past premierships won and lost. 

Merlo was to play on the wing and I was somewhere back. So despite the complete absence of spectators, the volunteer umpires, sprogs as goal umps, and the massive knee brace my opponent wore, I still felt that thrill, dry mouth, jelly legs and nervousness that comes as the umpire raises the ball.

I glanced at Merlo. He was running all over the place.  

He knew how to play in front. He knew when to lead, when to go into the pack, when to receive. He blitzed, (except for the part when you had to bounce.) He manned-up and took contested marks. And of course he could tackle.  Code Changer dominated. He laughed and chatted with us all, opponents and teammates alike. He had the time of his life. 

I bought him a hamburger from the canteen. It cost me $4. Hunt and Izzy Folau would’ve cost me 10000 hamburgers per game. 

“I just absolutely love it”.  Simple. He finally answered my question. 

We drove home beaming like a couple of 18 year olds.  His wife rang. 

“Are you guys in an ambulance?” 

“No but your husband is a freak”. 



  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Just the one game Scott or did you butter up for a few more?

  2. We played a season – which was about 12 games…..12 very funny games….
    he was the most natural AFL footballer I have seen…..would’ve been 200 game player….

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