Plastic boots and footballs … a dog’s breakfast

 

Right on fifty years ago, two fresh-faced high school graduates met for the first time. Andy came from South Warrandyte in Melbourne’s outer east while Ian hailed from rural south-east Queensland. Their lives crossed paths in Adelaide where both had moved to study at Lutheran Teachers College with the goal of becoming teachers in that denomination’s school system. Sharing accommodation in a rambling bungalow in Winchester Street, Highgate, they became life-long friends. It’s a long story but the things that bound them then (faith, vocation, music, sport and, later, wine) remain the same today; the one thing that divided them, their choice of football teams, remains a stumbling block to this day (if only in a light-hearted way). Here’s how it came about.

 

Plastic boots and footballs … a dog’s breakfast – Andy Thurlow

After arriving by ship in Australia as ten-pound Poms and serving our term in migrant hostels, we fortunately ended up leasing a farmlet on the urban-country fringe of Melbourne.

Our first Primary School, Warrandyte South No 3476, probably had nicknames for all 63 students and mine was ‘Fog’. My Grade 3 classmates had little knowledge of the motherland, other than its climate. Nicknames were not always that friendly. There were the more obvious – ‘Wriggles’ for the surname Riley, ‘Ding Dong’ for de Jong, ‘Cuttlefish’ for Cutler, some that were more oblique – ‘Genzy Goat’ for Tresize – and some were quite cruel. One of our classmates had one leg shorter than the other which caused a waddle and the nickname ‘Jumbo’. I learnt very quickly to Australianise my English accent.

Probably like most primary schools in the 60s, the two main games for boys (for the most part we didn’t play with the girls) were cricket and then Aussie Rules football. Somehow, these sports moved in season from one to the next seamlessly and were played endlessly. For boys, there were two social groups – those who did play footy and cricket,  and those who played in the sandpit. Teasing was rather merciless for the ‘sand-spitters’.

There was never a teacher on duty, so games just ran. The last batsman in when the bell rang to end play kept the bat next to their desk until the next break, and similarly with the ball – and then, later, the football. The little kids fielded on the perimeter and if they gave you a ball they had fielded to bowl, and you succeeded, they got to bat. It was an early form of private enterprise. The better one bowled, the more wickets one took, the more ‘bowls’ the little kids gave you.

Our unofficial school uniform was a footy guernsey of the team you supported. It seemed that the only people generally misunderstood (and teased), outside of the sandpit, were those who didn’t barrack for a VFL team.

I am amused nowadays with what seems to be the modern concept of every sportsman in team events ‘knowing and playing a role’.

In 1960, when Warrandyte South played its nemesis Warrandyte in football, we all had roles. Our school oval was in two parts. The top wing was nearly level, but the bottom had a significant slope. In my first year – Grade 3 as an 8-year-old – I was selected to play for the school. It wasn’t that I was a prodigy,  we just needed 20 players from the 30 boys there. So, having very little experience of this very unusual game, I was selected on the wing on the top side. The theory was that all of the stronger players played on the adjacent downhill side where the slope meant the footy would inevitably bounce. My role, should I somehow get hold of the footy, was to simply kick it straight away in the direction of our goal. If that way was blocked, kick it downhill. I remember that one very small member of our class called Farrell was told to stay in the goal square and not to even try to handle the footy, just soccer the ball through. This he did most effectively.

Warrandyte had a boy-man monster called Bailey and, on one particular occasion, three of our lesser-able players were asked to hang around him and just get in his way.

That’s not to say that we didn’t have some bigger boys. South Warrandyte was a fruit growing area, settled by many Italians. In those days, the only way for the child of Italian migrants to go on to secondary schooling was to pass an English test in Year 6. Now most of these children were destined for orchard work and so would leave school as soon as legally eligible. Few could pass the test and so remained in Primary School until aged 14. This, of course, in light of social development, is bordering on racism and downright unfairness. But as a youngster, most of my peer group theorised that Mediterranean children matured physically quicker, probably evidenced by an observation that most of these boys were shaving – and we were years away from using foam and the razor blade! How we longed for that day.

Besides being difficult to move in footy, when it came to cricket, it was fearful facing these young men, with hair under their armpits, on the cricket pitch. For us, with our hairless, skinny and undeveloped bodies, a cricket ball aimed at your body or head (no helmets then) is not fun.

I remember playing Warrandyte on our concrete cricket pitch. To this day I’m not sure what happened, but I knew it was my day when I ran out their best batsman. His opening partner belted the ball back up the pitch and, in my effort to avoid stinging hands, the ball ricocheted off my leg onto the wicket, stranding their Bradman backing up too far. It seemed after that that nearly every time I bowled a ball on the wicket, their batsmen took unsuccessful swings and I claimed all but one of their wickets. For five minutes, ‘Fog’, the mystery English spinner, was the school hero. I was never to have anywhere near that sporting success again.

Somehow, in footy, at our schooltime breaks, we were organised into teams, with tackling allowed. If an Italian got the ball, none of us would go near them. If you did, they would kick the ball at you, and that really hurt from short range. We would wait for them to take their kick and then the rough’n’tumble would resume. The Italians didn’t seem too interested in getting sweaty – possibly as adolescents they were already checking out the mature Italian girls and being careful not to mess up their Brylcreemed hair.

At times we would all play marbles, yo-yos or kiss chasey. We would run very quickly from any girl who we thought undesirable but, deliberately, quite slowly when tailed by one of the school beauties.

We were quite poor and could only afford plastic boots and plastic footballs which were only useful until our dog got to chew them. I so envied the richer kids with their new leather gear.

Like many kids of that era, I barracked for Melbourne, the mighty Demons. During my Australian school years they won three premierships, having won a hat-trick in the 1950s.  I’m not sure if the No 6 was on sale, but I had that number on my back – Frank ‘Bluey’ Adams. My brother had the 6 upside down – No 9, Brian Dixon. Both played on opposite wings and were dynamic in what is remembered as an iconic team for the ages.

Our school changerooms were the outside toilets which were constructed of cement and could be hosed out. Even the smell of sweaty guernseys and socks could never mask the testosterone of male urine. It was probably a clever way of upsetting visiting teams.

I moved to Adelaide (and have lived in SA ever since) to study at uni and was taken along to a local Sturt v Port Adelaide game at Unley Oval by friends, including Almanacker Ian Hauser. Ian and the rest of our group barracked for Sturt and it made sense. It was during Sturt’s Golden Era and this team is still remembered and honoured in this state. I felt sorry for Port and, in good Aussie tradition, began to barrack for the underdog. (1) This sentiment grew and I became a foundation member of Port Power. I can’t explain the heresy of changing affiliation in football teams. My family in Melbourne, Demons for life, have threatened to disinherit me. In spite of this defection, Ian and I are still best mates. I am possibly the only Pommie, Victorian, Aussie-Rules, Port Power barracking bastard that he even likes!

 

Bare-footed kids and vegetables everywhere – Ian Hauser

Blenheim State School was a one-teacher, one classroom country primary school about 50 miles west-southwest of Brisbane when I went there in the late 50s/early 60s. Enrolment ranged between twenty to thirty, all kids of local vegetable farmers. In my seven years there, we only ever had male teachers, nothing unusual in those times. We were all just simple country kids with most of the boys destined to go back and work on their family farms when they reached school leaving age (which I think was 14 then.) What stood out about our primary school days was that no-one wore shoes except on those few chilly Winter mornings when there was a touch of frost about. Even then you had your sandshoes off by 9.00am.

With so few students, organised sport with other schools just wasn’t possible. Nor did we have the facilities, apart from our one ant bed tennis court. It got a fair working over! Instead, we played games like ‘Rounders’ among ourselves with mixed gender teams, red rover or hopscotch. In our so-called Winter, some of the boys would play football (rugby league) in 5-a-side teams. We looked forward to Arbor Day which was less about trees and more about a sports carnival. The big attraction was that the winner of each race won sixpence while the rest got threepence. By day’s end, you might have a couple bob to take home. Parents were also involved with events like ‘throwing the broom’ which my Mum won once.

The exception to all of this was the annual sports day (athletics) involving all schools in the Lockyer Valley. Laidley, Gatton and Forest Hill alternated as the venue. That was the only place we ever really came into contact with kids from other schools. I remember seeing one particular kid there most years. We ended up in the same class in Year 8 at boarding school – his name was Lester Zirbel.

It was only at boarding school in Toowoomba that I played in real sports teams – cricket in Summer, tennis and rugby league in Winter. Our school was small, so just about everybody had to play at each age level to make up the teams. Younger boys who demonstrated ability were chosen in senior teams. Allan Vitale and Rowan Truss from my year level played in the ‘A’ cricket team from Year 9 right through to Year 12. The good thing was that just about everybody got a go. The Sportsmaster, Mr Vince Klingberg, was a very positive influence on us – he was highly revered by the boys.

Over the years there, we got to know kids from other schools when we encountered them each year at the next age bracket. I recall Chilcott and Murdoch from neighbouring Harristown State High – they rolled us for 19 in U15 cricket one cold Saturday morning at Coronation Park. ‘Scholly’ was a master blaster, also from Harristown, although I seem to recall we had his measure. Kerry Robinson played for Downlands, another Lockyer boy. Ross Case and Alvin Gardner were the top tennis players from other schools. St Mary’s CBC was ‘the enemy’ in rugby league, pitting us good Protestant lads against those awful Catholics. (It was another era.) Rightly or wrongly, my memory is that we played most of our sport on pretty good ovals and courts – Toowoomba has always been a major sports hub.

But all good things come to an end and so, after completing matriculation year (‘Senior’ in Queensland) at the end of 1969, I followed in my older brother’s footsteps and moved to Adelaide to complete tertiary studies through Lutheran Teacher College. There, one Saturday evening late in February 1970, I met the bloke with whom I had to share a room, Andy Thurlow. It didn’t take long for us to become good friends because we shared so many things in common. I could tell you a thousand stories.

But we differed markedly over our choice of football teams in Adelaide. Living in the City of Unley, I naturally followed Sturt (a bit of big brotherly influence was also in play) who had won the previous four premierships and were on course to win their fifth in a row. Andy was a Melbourne Demons fan but had to make a choice of an Adelaide team. And so we found ourselves at Unley Oval one Saturday afternoon for one of the big matches of the season, Sturt v Port Adelaide. Andy took a fancy to one of Port’s rovers, Ross Haslam, and that decided things for him – plus a bit of natural contrarianism! And never did the twain see eye to eye on Adelaide footy again. Decades later, in the era of AFL, I had moved back to Queensland and favoured Adelaide Crows as my SA team (although Essendon remains my first choice); Andy became a foundation member of the Power.

A couple of years ago, he took me to a Showdown match at Adelaide Oval. (2) His fervour was almost religious, especially when they played ‘Never Tear Us Apart’. The Crows totally dominated the first half but led by only 23 points and their fans were giving them real stick. I was lapping it up. It was lights out for Port. Andy was still hopeful – ‘How can we play so badly and only be four goals behind?’ And, of course, the Power came back on, turned on the after-burners, came from behind and, after a topsy-turvy last quarter, snatched a win in the last 30 seconds! Great times.

So he may be an ex-Pom to my homegrown Aussie, an ex-Victorian to my Queenslander, Port Adelaide to my Sturt, Port Power to my Crows, and AFL to my NRL – but he’s still the great friend of my life!

 

(1) SANFL Round 9 – 6th July 1970, Unley Oval: Sturt 18.16.124 d Port Adelaide 12.11.83

(2) AFL, Round 8 – 12th May 2018, Adelaide Oval: Port Power 14.11.95 d Adelaide Crows 14.6.90

 

Andy Thurlow, a Tanunda-based retired teacher, is the author of Kieran Modra: the way I see it as well as A Singular and Outrageous Blessing and Heart to heart: the Margaret Ames story.

 

Ian Hauser, a Noosaville-based retired teacher, is a co-ordinating editor for footyalmanac.com.au and offers editing services at writerightediting.com.au
@blenheimboy2

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

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Comments

  1. What a ripper. Thanks gents. And a marvellous concept to write about – both stories woven into one. Opposites do attract.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thank you Andy and Ian. The two saddest words ever – “plastic boots”

  3. Bob Zanker says

    Great read about the two of you; obviously your memory has yet to be found wanting. You would have been convinced even more in an earlier time – Port won 6 grand finals in a row [in Fos Williams’ time], the runner-up’s, then won again – Fos was also from Quorn so I naturally became a supporter, until my interest waned. But my sympathies are still with the Power. As to those plastic shoes, not sure if they were the same, but after a little sweat they stank to high heaven.

  4. Enjoyed the read Andy and IJH.

    Queensland kids still weren’t wearing shoes in the 1970s.

    IJH, I payed cricket with John Klingberg (son of Vince) at Wests and our coach was a bloke called Snow Janetzki. Toowoomba certainly was a sports town – especially a rugby league town. The story of the Clydesdales of the 1920s and 30s is quite remarkable.

    Andy, welcome back to the Almanac.

  5. Tim Ziersch says

    Thanks Andy and Ian – great memories – evoked a few of my own!

  6. Thanks to all for the feedback.

    Dips, I could harangue you with plenty of stories from the last fifty years but we’ll leave that to a session at the NFA. Thank you for appreciating the flavour of our contribution.

    Swish, in my case, we were never in the position of having the option of plastic boots but I can imagine the discomfort, and the smell!

    G’day, Bob – ah, the memories of No. 1 Winchester Street! Whatever happened to Hans Z? I figured you for someone better than Port Power! Cheers.

    JTH, there’s a PhD or two (or 10!) in the history of sport in Toowoomba. My biggest moment was when Johnny Gleeson (Australian five-eighth, as compared to your modest career in the same position for Oakey Under somethings) came to Concordia rugby league training one afternoon at the invitation of Vince Klingberg. The Klingbergs are a marvellous family, the absolute salt of the earth! I later interacted with Vince’s son David, now sadly deceased, and his granddaughter Lauren when I taught at Grace in Redcliffe. Vince, when he batted in student v parent matches, had this beautiful, late, back cut shot where he would effortlessly and languorously step back and across, lie his bat at 45 degrees across his back pad, and nonchalantly dismiss the ball through the gap between third slip and gully to the boundary. Then he’d smile up the pitch at you as if to say, ‘What do you think about that, lad?’ Absolute poetry! He was a bloody good teacher, too.

    Hi, Tim! Thanks for responding. Yes, so many memories of such special days in a very special place. Any thoughts of buying a new model of the buggy for the 2020s? I’ll keep an eye bout for an FJ!

  7. Colin Ritchie says

    Fab read gents! I love tales of by-gone times especially school days. What is interesting we all played the same games (I’m discounting footy/cricket) and it makes me wonder how we knew of those games. However, I’ve never come across Red Rover, how is it played? Cheers.

  8. Andrew Thurlow says

    It’s great fun reading the comments, and I’ve received quite a few emails from friends who have enjoyed our stories. I am constantly amused and enlightened by posts on this site, and awed at the writing talent of contributors. Ian’s articles are always good reads, and I particularly like his description of my conversion to Port Adelaide and then Port Power as originating from a ‘bit of natural contrarianism’. Now I should take exception to this, but every bone in my body suggests that he is probably right, and his first witness to this truth would be my wife, Marlene. I treasure this very special friendship with Ian. We can talk to each other about anything, knowing and trusting that no offence is taken … not even beng tagged with ‘contrarianism’!

  9. What a fabulous read gentlemen! It opens the eyes (and minds) of migrants like us who are a little cynical about the general preoccupation of Aussies with their sport, to the deep sense of connection, identity and nostalgia that sport offers. A feel-good trip down memory lane and a classy read!

  10. Stephen G. Nuske says

    Well, well, what great yarning from a couple of old farts. The way sport crosses all kinds of cultural boundaries, like, the Italians in those days, the role of Arbor day, the ritual function of sport in small schools and communities…what a gift. Thank you chasps.

  11. Andy Thurlow says

    Thanks for taking an interest in this nostalgia, Raj and Steve (fellow old fart). To distract myself from Covidness for a short while, I tried to google a picture of the old plastic footy boots, and the plastic footballs. No go! People comment on the narrowness of my feet and thinness of my ankles. I’m sure that’s due in part to those tight boots elongating my toes and the constant lack of normal blood supply. I’m an AFL nut and am counting the days, hours and minutes until the opening match. Sad to say (although there may be others on this site with a similar affliction) I spent hours putting together a Dreamteam. Stay safe … keep writing … and may The Power be with you.

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