Power without glory

The demise of Crimpton Football Club sent shockwaves through the AFL’s underworld.  In a dark corner of a deli in Ascot Vale, three wizened old men sipped lattes and spoke in hushed tones.  Eighteen months earlier, a coach had been terminated.  Order was supposed to have been restored.

 

No one had been found guilty, but there was much suspicion hanging over the three men in the café.

 

‘Brad Riley was my trusted lieutenant and I loved him,’ Sonny Kerrigan said.  ‘But he had to go.’

 

Geoff Sparrow leant forward, elbows on the table.  ‘He was given specific instructions,’ he said.  ‘It was a walk in job.’  Sparrow looked sideways at Kerrigan then at the other man at the table, Brian Matisse.

 

‘He blew it,’ Matisse said without emotion.  ‘It is happening again.’

 

Kerrigan sipped the latte.  ‘I feel like we’ve still got blood on our hands, and it’s made worse by our start to the year.’

 

Matisse smiled glibly.  ‘That’s what happens when you execute someone.  If you’re smart you can do it without getting bloody.’

 

Kerrigan accepted the rebuke.  ‘It was a tough call,’ he said.  ‘But I stand by the decision.’

 

‘Real power must be taken,’ Sparrow said.

 

There was silence at the table for a moment as a waiter appeared carrying a plate of donuts with blood red icing.  He put the plate on the marble table.  Once the waiter was gone it was Kerrigan who broke the silence.

 

‘Brian, we tried to reclaim the power.  We haven’t won a premiership in nineteen years.  That’s got to change.  We’re here to tell you there may be more bloodshed.’

 

Matisse broke off a piece of donut and licked the blood red icing.  ‘If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can get rid of anyone.’

 

‘And you don’t object?’ Sparrow asked.  He picked up a donut.

 

Matisse smirked and licked icing from his lips.  ‘Tell me,’ he said.  ‘What was the last thing Riley said?’

 

Kerrigan shifted uncomfortably in his seat.  Eyes wide, he looked at Sparrow for help, who shrugged.  Kerrigan struggled with his words.  ‘That’s not something I want to-‘

 

Matisse slapped the table.  ‘Goddamn you,’ he said.  ‘Why can’t you give me a straight answer anymore?’

 

Sparrow almost choked on his donut.  Kerrigan’s jaw dropped open.  He took a moment to compose himself.  ‘He knew it was coming.’

 

‘I didn’t ask that,’ Matisse said.  ‘I asked you what his last words were and that is what you will tell me.’

 

Kerrigan sighed slowly, so it didn’t appear disrespectful.  ‘He said the club has always been ruthless and that is one of its great strengths.’

 

Matisse nodded.  ‘What else.’
‘He said we didn’t play finals and that was our objective.’  Kerrigan looked at the donut on the plate, closing his eyes for a moment.  When he opened them, they were pained.  ‘He said he failed.’

 

‘And that was it,’ Matisse said?

 

Kerrigan nodded.

 

‘When Mart Maylin took power he got rid of the assistants,’ Matisse said.  ‘Appointed his own and recruited Dean Thompson.’

 

‘Maylin hasn’t worked out like we thought,’ Sparrow said.  ‘Nor has Thompson.’

 

‘You think Maylin is a mistake?’ Matisse asked.

 

‘There was bad blood between him and Riley.  He spat right in Riley’s face,’ Kerrigan said.  ‘He wanted it enough.’

 

Matisse shrugged.  ‘Maylin has been dying from the same heart attack for the last twenty years but he thinks he’s going to live forever.’

 

‘Someone is taking hostages,’ Kerrigan said.  ‘No one has heard from any of the board members for two days.’

 

‘We can’t find the recruiters,’ Sparrow said.  ‘Manny McCague has gone to ground.  We are worried about him.’

 

Matisse gave an impatient wave of his right hand.  ‘Let me worry about McCague.  He’s been very vocal in his criticism.  As a former captain and triple premiership player, his opinion is influential.’

 

Kerrigan and Sparrow shared an uncertain glance.  ‘Is he taking hostages?’ Kerrigan asked.

 

Matisse ignored him.  ‘When is Maylin getting here?’

 

‘What about our board and the recruiters,’ Sparrow said.

 

‘I’ve got the recruiters,’ Matisse said.

 

‘Where are they now,’ Sparrow said.

 

‘They’re playing cards at my house with the negotiator,’ Matisse said.  ‘He’s letting them win, they’re happy.’

 

Sparrow glared at Matisse.  ‘You’re keeping them alive?’

 

Matisse grinned.  ‘All the board members are with my son, Chris, drinking red wine and eating pasta.  Some people will pay a lot of money for that information, but then Crimpton would lose a CEO and a president instead of gaining a premiership.’

 

Sparrow and Kerrigan were silent.  Matisse was angry.  He didn’t make threats without purpose.

 

‘Now, get Maylin here,’ Matisse said.

 

‘I’ll call him,’ Kerrigan said.

 

‘Make him an offer he can’t refuse,’ Matisse said.

 

Kerrigan called Maylin.  ‘Mart, we need to see you.  We’re at that deli on Union Road in Ascot Vale.’  He listened for a moment then hung up and looked at Matisse.  ‘Ten minutes.’

 

The waiter came back to the table.  Kerrigan ordered three lattes.  They reminisced about the Bolters of old.

 

‘I remember the old days,’ Kerrigan said sadly.  ‘When Crimpton was the envy of all other clubs.  We did what we wanted.  Poached the competition, got the best players.’  He shook his head.  ‘One by one all our old friends are gone.  Retirement, natural or not, deported to other clubs, board members killing each other like feral animals.’

 

‘Those were the great old days, you know,’ Sparrow said.

 

‘And we were like the Roman Empire,’ Kerrigan said.  ‘Crimpton was like the Roman Empire.’

 

The voice was soft yet forceful.  ‘It once was,’ Mart Maylin said.

 

Sparrow and Kerrigan flinched.  They hadn’t seen or heard Maylin arrive.  Matisse stood up.  Kerrigan and Sparrow quickly did the same.

 

Maylin took off the fedora and his overcoat.  He sat down, folded the overcoat and put it on the seat beside him.  ‘I’m here.  Tell me what is so important.’

 

‘We need to win a premiership,’ Sparrow said, sitting down, followed by Matisse and Kerrigan.

 

‘Our victories this year are meaningless,’ Matisse said.

 

Maylin beckoned for the waiter and ordered a latte.  ‘I can do that,’ he said.  ‘But I need a contract extension.’

 

‘What are your terms,’ Kerrigan said.

 

‘What can you offer me?’ Maylin said.

 

‘A latte and donut,’ Sparrow said, smiling.

 

Maylin didn’t find any humour.  ‘Let me tell you something about Crimpton.’  He pinched a tiny piece of fluff from the fedora then brushed it with his fingers.  ‘There was this kid I grew up with.  He was younger than me.  Sorta looked up to me, you know.  We started playing footy at the same time, worked our way out of the suburbs.  Things were good, we made the most of it.

 

‘During the seventies he tried out at Crimpton and was sacked.  He went to Hotham and played in a losing grand final in 1974.’

 

Maylin smiled.  His voice was soft.  ‘As much as anyone, I loved him and trusted him.  Later on he rebuilt a derelict football club in a wasteland for industry.  That kid’s name was David Potter and the football club he reinvented was Hotham.’

 

Sparrow and Kerrigan stared raptly at Maylin.

 

‘This was a great man, a man of vision and guts,’ Maylin said.  ‘He won two premierships with Hotham and coached them into seven consecutive preliminary finals and there isn’t even a plaque or signpost or statue of him at Arden Street.  Later on he coached Crimpton for five years and did his best.’

 

Maylin, with narrow eyes, jabbed his thumb at Matisse.  ‘Crimpton crucified him before he arrived then waited five years to do it again.’

 

Matisse remained impassive.

 

Maylin touched his right eye, took a deep breath and made a gun out of his right hand.  ‘Someone put a bullet through his contract.  When I heard it, I wasn’t angry.  I knew David, I knew he was head-strong, talking out loud, saying stupid things about his game plan.  So when his contract was terminated, I let it go.’

 

Maylin tapped the table.  ‘And I said to myself, this is the business we’ve chosen.  Coaches get terminated all the time.  I didn’t ask who gave the order, because it had nothing to do with my career.’

 

Kerrigan and Sparrow were silent.  Maylin composed himself.  ‘I’m going to take a piss,’ he said.  ‘When I return, if there’s a two year extension on the table I’ll know I have a partner.  If the contract isn’t there, I’ll know I don’t.’

 

He got up and went to the men’s room.

 

Matisse got up and left without a word.  Sparrow and Kerrigan watched him walk outside and get into a limousine.

 

‘We need to do it,’ Sparrow said.  ‘You’re the president, so give the order.’

 

Kerrigan sat back.  ‘I’ve got to get this right,’ he said.  ‘If I do and we don’t play finals my legacy will be damned.  If I don’t and we don’t play finals I’ll be damned too.’

 

‘That’s why you’re president,’ Sparrow said.  ‘It’s your call.’

 

Kerrigan took the phone from his pocket to call Janet Price, the widow of Craiglea’s former millionaire saviour.  The phone rang three times before she answered.  ‘Hi Janet, it is Sonny.’

 

Those were the last words Kerrigan ever spoke.  It was Sparrow that shot him point blank, one bullet in the neck, one in the head.  Kerrigan crumpled to the floor, a pathetic slurry of a president, the phone still to his ear.

 

Maylin walked slowly across the café and stood over the corpse.  He bent down and gently prised the phone from Kerrigan’s fingers.

 

‘Hi Janet,’ he said.  ‘It’s Mart.  It’s done.’

 

‘Win a premiership you punk bastard, or I’ll kill you too,’ Janet said.

 

Maylin disconnected the call.  ‘Leave the gun,’ he said to Sparrow.  ‘Take the donut.’

 

Sparrow dropped the gun and picked up the plate carrying the donut.  Maylin put on his overcoat and fedora then grabbed the donut.  He took a bite.

 

‘I don’t like violence,’ he said.  ‘Blood is a big expense.’  He licked blood red icing from his fingers.  ‘I’m going to get that latte.’

 

‘See you at the club,’ Sparrow said.  He walked outside and turned left on Union Road.  As he unlocked his car, McCague emerged from an alleyway and shot him four times.  Sparrow died on the asphalt.

 

Across town, at Mount Waverley, the negotiator garrotted the recruiters.

 

At Hanging Rock, in Victoria’s north west, Chris Matisse made sure his fellow board members went missing, never to be found.

 

Maylin left the deli, sipping the latte.  His phone beeped, a text message from Matisse – I don’t feel I have to wipe everybody out.  Just my enemies.

 

Maylin responded – Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer.

 

In the limousine, Matisse read the text message and smiled.  He responded – You have no idea how close you are to me right now.

 

Maylin read the text as the police swept past.  He tugged the fedora lower.

 

Another contract extension, Maylin thought.  He thought he was going to live forever.

About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…

Comments

  1. Luke Reynolds says

    Nice work Matt. Exactly how I imagined things are done at Crimpton. Looking forward to hopefully another loss by Crimpton to Maylin’s previous team this week.

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