On Clarke, Sport and Family.

“You’re right I suppose, I mean, I guess it is childish. But when I was about 18 and my Dad and I couldn’t communicate about anything at all, we could still talk about baseball. Now that – that was real.” – Phil (Daniel Stern), City Slickers (1991).

The quote above has been rattling around my head for the past few days. I first watched City Slickers as a boy and that line in particular always resonated with me. While it wasn’t until I was older that I wrapped my head around all the themes contained in the film – midlife crises, men reconnecting with themselves and, in turn, their families – that simple line about why men can talk endlessly about sport stuck with me. After recent events I’ve had cause to think about that line again and what it means to me.

The event I speak of, specifically, is the retirement of Michael Clarke. Tonight Clarke will walk out onto the field with the Australian Test team for the final time. His legacy as a cricketer, a captain and a statesman is a matter for debate. For me, though, Clarke’s place in history is rather more personal. For me he symbolises a moment when I felt I couldn’t communicate, so I talked about sport.

The full story begins in late September, 2004. It was the weekend of the AFL Preliminary Finals. I often use memorable sporting events to mark moments in time. I find it useful in some way. This period of time, in particular, contained some significant sporting events.

On the Friday night of that weekend I was at my home in Bunyip in West Gippsland, Victoria. I watched on the edge of my seat as the great Robert Harvey came agonisingly close to getting his young St. Kilda side over the line against Port Adelaide. It was school holidays and, as my fiancée was working as a primary school teacher at the time, we had planned for a couple of weeks off to visit family.

The following day we made the long drive up to Wagga. My parents and one of my sisters were living in Wagga and my brother had travelled down from Sydney for a school reunion. The Saturday night was spent at my sister’s house enjoying an early birthday celebration for her. Just a few quiet drinks around a small fire, periodically going inside to check the footy scores. Geelong were giving Brisbane a real fright and my Nanna, a diehard Geelong supporter, was finding it hard to contain herself.

Not all games stick quite so fast in my mind, but the last couple of weeks of the 2004 finals is a time I’ll never forget.

While we entertained ourselves that night, my brother was attending his school reunion. The plan was to meet up with him at the local nightclub to see out the night. In hindsight, I knew there was something just not right about him that night. Not something obvious that I could easily describe, but definitely something.

If I’m honest, I’d noticed a clear shift in his personality going back a while. Since we lived so far apart we only managed to catch up with each other every few months and each time we did I’d pick up on changes. I put most of it down to the end of a relationship he’d had, as well as thinking, “Well, he’s lived in Sydney for a while and they’re all a bit weird up there, aren’t they?”

After a pretty big night for all of us – me, my sister, my brother, and a few friends – a night after which I’m not sure my brother had slept at all, we quietly picking up the pieces of ourselves over a coffee and a read of the paper. At one point my brother decided he’d tend to my sister’s garden, pulling weeds at a speed that I had no hope of matching. I tried helping him for a few minutes, just long enough to remember the awful hangover I had.

Not long after this horticultural excursion we sat around reading the weekend quiz in the local paper. It was halfway through the “not-so-easy three-pointers” section that my brother’s attention drifted off. It began as a comment on how beautiful the weather was. The weather was indeed magnificent that day, but his appreciation of it was unworldly.

What followed was an almost instant and complete psychotic breakdown. It remains, to this day, the most terrifying event I have ever had to witness. Without going into too much detail, the brother I had come to know had left the body of the person in front of me, and had been replaced by a person that had no concept of the real world around him.

Eventually, after what seemed like hours but may have been 20 minutes, I genuinely don’t know, he was calm enough to be convinced to go to the hospital. A couple of his school friends drove him there under the guise of having a cut on his hand treated, but when they got there he persuaded them to take him to out to our parents’ house instead.

By the time I saw him again, later in the day, he was lucid enough to make my Mum and Dad think he was okay. In fact, he appeared well enough that he returned to Sydney that week under his own recognisance. Those of us who had seen what had happened to him tried in vain to describe it. I told my Dad I thought he might have Schizophrenia.

Upon returning to Sydney, things started to spiral for him. Eventually he was hospitalised and Mum and Dad made the trip to be with him. The diagnosis was Bipolar Disorder. It surfaced that he had spent the last months going days without sleeping, followed by days without waking. He was not well.

By this time my fiancée and I were in Brisbane visiting my other sister. Before we had left home I was excited at the prospect of being in Brisbane should the Lions manage to win their fourth successive Premiership. Now, though, the trip was made under the cloud of thinking about what kind of state my brother was in, and how he was going to recover.

I watched with my sister as Port won an historic game. It was a couple of hours of respite from the conversations we were having for much of the other time I spent there. Conversations about clues we saw but hadn’t thought too much of. My sister spoke of an obsession my brother had with the Eminem song “Kill You” when she’d last spent time with him. She had it on a CD in her car and he’d listened to it almost literally ad nauseam. At the time it seemed sort of funny, but looking back was plainly unhealthy.

When we arrived home from our journey the footy season had finished and the cricket season was about to begin. There were home series for Australia against New Zealand and Pakistan to come that Summer, but before that the Test team had a series to play in India. Making his debut in that series was a young Michael Clarke.

While Clarke didn’t have a first-class record of great note, he had shown some decent form in One Day Internationals and was known as an excellent player of spin. Not only is that crucial when attempting to beat India on their home grounds for the first time in 35 years, but there was also an Ashes series less than a year away and the team was still getting used to life without Steve Waugh. Clarke, with all his youthful exuberance and innate knack for the game, was an ideal addition.

So it was that at some stage during the First Test of that series, by now early October of 2004, I had a phone call from my Mum. She was calling from Rozelle Hospital, where my brother was staying, and told me that he wanted to talk to me. I hadn’t spoken to him for nearly two weeks, but I had spoken to Mum and Dad, who had mentioned to me the kind of things he’d been saying. Most of it I could only describe as ranting.

I love my brother. He is my best friend and would later be the Best Man at my wedding, as I was at his. He and I connected on a level that I haven’t with any other person and I’m fairly certain that is the same for him. At this time, though, I had no idea what I would say to him.

I started with, “How are you?”, as though he’d tell me he was on top of the world and really liked the place he was staying. He told me he loved me in a way that made me feel happy and slightly uneasy at the same time. A few times I recall Mum having to gently remind him what he was doing.

Then it hit me – It doesn’t have to go down like this. This guy with all his rants and rambling was still my brother. I asked him if he was following the cricket in India. “How about Michael Clarke?” I said, “150 on debut. I reckon he’ll be a pretty good player.” For the next ten minutes or so we talked cricket like we would have at any other time. We agreed that Australia should win this game pretty easily and should win the series. We rejoiced in what a difference it made to the team to have Warne and McGrath back, who had both missed the previous series against India.

For those ten minutes everything was okay. It reaffirmed to me that although my brother was very unwell, he would get better. That what makes sport important to a lot of people. While it is true that it is “childish” and primarily a form of escapism for the viewer, at times it has a greater role to play. It brings people together like few other activities can. When you’re not sure what to say to somebody, you can talk about the whether you think Hirdy should’ve finished the season, or how much of a pill you think Nick Kyrgios is.

Even when someone you love is at the lowest point they’ll probably ever be in their life, you can still talk about the cricket and remember the sun will come up in the morning. Just put both feet on the floor in the morning and make it through to stumps in the evening. Repeat it the next day and you’ll go alright.

 

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About Josh Pinn

Blogger and Podcaster for footygospel.com

Comments

  1. Great read Josh, at one point early on I was braced for the worst but thankfully your brother was/is still not out at stumps.

    I feel for Clarke carrying such a massive load on his shoulders – he must have mixed feelings about the game at the moment with the way it’s ended for him and his best mate last November.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Where would we be without sport and family? Or maybe it’s just to have something to talk about and someone to talk to. Bravo Josh.

  3. Nice Josh, Brave and good read

    Glad he seems OK now

    sean

  4. Chris Rees @4boat says:

    Beautiful story Josh, you are a fine writer. I was also braced for the worst (not sure how many brothers you have) but you handled it well, and your conclusion is profound.

    You’ve reminded me of when my brother-in-law was dying of cancer, during the 2013-4 Ashes. I didn’t really know him very well, but I felt that I had one chance to spend some time with him so I corralled my other sister and parents and we all got up there (mid north coast NSW) via a convoluted plane/train/rental car trip. Australia was dominating and cricket was a blessing. I couldn’t do anything to materially help Tim, and he didn’t have any sage insights from the brink to share with me. We just enjoyed the cricket.

  5. Thanks for sharing that Josh. Glad to see your brother has worked / continues to work through the issues he has to deal with.

  6. Thanks Josh. I am certain this piece will touch a lot of people.

  7. i don’t often comment on blogs but your beautiful writing moved me to tears this afternoon and I wanted to say thank you.

  8. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Great heart warming article,Josh thank you for sharing a lot of issues discussed the importance of the element of sport to escape real life problems can never be under estimated

  9. Beautifully written Josh.

  10. That is such a beautiful article Josh. As you say sport is an opening for many conversations. Well done

  11. Thank you all so much for your comments. The reaction I’ve had to this article is quite overwhelming and humbling.

  12. Dugald Jellie says:

    Oh Josh,

    Such eloquent, heart-wrenching, honest storytelling. I’ve read it again just now. I think you need to send this piece to Beyond Blue and the Black Dog Institute; they should be interested in sharing. Give your brother a big hug from all of us, and let him know if he ever wants to talk about footy he has many ears that will listen. Go tiges! Go the mighty shinboners!

  13. Thanks Dugald. My brother does indeed line talking footy. He joins me for the Footy Gospel podcast every week.

  14. Steve Fahey says:

    Great piece Josh, this will be really useful to lots of folk.

    As much as we carry on and get upset about the winning and losing, it’s ultimately the connection and belonging that really matters.

    I remember sitting with my father a couple of months before he died, watching the cricket with the commentary on mute and chatting about his early life in Collingwood in the 1930s, just after the Depression (and the four in a row premierships). As we talked, McGill ripped a massive wrong-un through Nasser Hussain and bowled him. In unison we pointed at the screen, put the conversation on hold and watched about 10 replays, with the sound back on before returning to our conversation. A treasured memory, like your conversation with your brother. I’m really glad he’s doing OK.

  15. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Thank you Josh. It’s great to have a brother that you can lose yourself with in sport. My older brother has been there for me in similar ways over the years. Simple act of going to the footy or watching a game can make meaningful connections and shared memories/emotions. Wonderful stuff.

  16. Barrie cassidy says:

    A truly heartfelt story and constructed so well. I agree with Dugald. The organisations he mentioned would find it inspiring and helpful. Well done.

  17. Hi Josh,
    Sorry I didn’t comment earlier, but I posted this piece to the site and thought I had already.
    Thanks for contributing this piece. It is truly touching, and a great read.
    Hope everyone is well.

  18. mickey randall says:

    Josh- terrifying but also hopeful. Deserves to be read widely. Good luck to you and your family.

    Thanks very much for this.

  19. Thank you, Josh, for your story, for your generosity, for your thoughtfulness. Keep writing, keep being a brother.

  20. Lapsed Tiger says:

    That’s an amazing story Josh.
    Such a big journey that you and your brother went through, and it needed a starting point. Cricket, footy etc all have more influence on society than the pure entertainment and business value they are measured on.
    Brave writing. Well done.

  21. It’s obvious by my name that I’m related to Josh. There aren’t a lot of Pinn’s around.
    I’m one of Josh’s two sisters. It was my birthday we were celebrating that day.
    I just want to say that to see the bond my two brothers share put into words is a beautiful thing, and to see those words wrapped up in sports talk is profoundly appropriate. Thank you, Josh, for writing this.
    I love you both… but unfortunately have no sporting reference to measure it by!

  22. Beautiful piece, Josh. I’d missed this earlier and I’m glad I’ve caught up with it now.

  23. Rob Richards says:

    Thanks for sharing this amazing story. It was beautifully written. I gained a lot from reading it.

    I hope that next week you get the opportunity to write about the EWK Hawks ending a 33year premiership drought.

  24. I lot to draw on here Josh. A difficult and well told story. Its funny how sporting moments dot one’s life. And not necessarily the big sporting moments. Good luck to your brother. That bond is unbreakable.

  25. Well done josh a great story. As being through things like this myself. Danny is very lucky to have family members that love and accept him. I know things he probably done and said wernt really him but he had you lisa megan and your mum and dad forgive him. And im sure thats what helped him deal with it all.

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