Saints March In, Coober Pedy Style


Will the Coober Pedy Saints march in with their first win of 2011? They look smart in their red, black and white strip. At least as smart as St Kilda look half the time. It’s the eighth round of the Far North Football League (FNFL) season so it’s been a piss-poor start.

 

Hornridge, the mob they’re playing, wear Collingwood-style guernseys and you imagine a similar lack of invention renders them ‘Magpies’.

 

Saints against Magpies, it’s a bit ho-hum. CB used to be the Detonators and you wish they still were. You go further and wish Hornridge were the ‘Hornies’ and had a loose lady as a team mascot. If the CB’s get up you can imagine the headlines

 

DETONATORS EXPLOSIVE WIN

or even better

DETONATORS BLAST HORNIES

that might be set in 72 point bold. If not to die for either would certainly be more vital than the one you’ve come up with for the title of this story.

 

The Saints are at home for an evening match on the fully-grassed, fully-lit Oz Minerals Oval on 19 June, the ground a matter of Coober Pedy pride and joy. I’m the blow-in reporter from Adelaide, 830ks down south. I’m hoping to be a good omen.

 

The FNFL boasts five teams, three of which – Roxby Downs, Olympic Dam (the nicely-named OD’s) and Hornridge – are near Roxby, and Andamooka is not far away. Hornridge took a bus 480ks and will stay at a motel overnight but normally it’s the Saints who do most of the travelling. About a third of the Saints team come from Oodnadatta, another 200ks to the north. It’s a long way to go for a kick.

 

I expect families in cars will surround the ground, that horns will toot support, and little kids keep warm in flannelette pyjamas. This is country footy but they do things differently here. Instead the cars – a lot of 4WD’s among them – are parked outside. ‘Unique’ is a word bandied around a lot. ‘We do things OUR way a somewhat surly town Mayor tells me. ‘We’re different!’ Yeah and no.

 

King-size burgers boast not only a decent slab of sausage meat, lettuce and cheese, and two thick slices of beetroot inside a mammoth bun, but also a hard-boiled egg on the side of the paper plate. The beetroot is the big plus, the boiled egg is definitely different, and the $5 price is a steal. One little girl is trying to wrap her hands around a bun almost as big as she is. Its five degrees and you wonder about the hardiness of some of the spectators: little girls in flimsy dresses, some boys in bare feet, and one buxom teenager with a plunging neckline. Will she end up with a chest cold?

 

Police sergeant Greg Burns bounces the ball to get the game under way and the Saints make a sharp start in front of nervous supporters. Club president Robin Walker reckons the side needs a lot of goals to guard against a late fade. 4.3 to 2.2 is a satisfying beginning and at the first huddle club followers are saying ‘You can do it boys’. One of the senior players who’s had a lot of experience in the big league (Port Augusta) urges his mates to ‘Keep the ball away from those fat cunts.’

 

Hornridge have a height and weight advantage. The mine workers are regularly employed two weeks on one week off and can eat as much as they like. A number of them look like they have second helpings. The advantage they might hold in the air and packs they will lose on the ground. Several players lack a yard.

 

The sides go goal for goal at the start of the second quarter but then there’s a cry of ‘Champagne football’ as the Saints slam through a hat-trick of majors. Fans are going berserk: ‘Keep those legs pumping fellas’, ‘Gutsy play boys.’ Ten year-old Nicky is dragging a labrador around the boundary line and complains of the dog (George) being ‘obsessive about food’ as the lab snaffles the remains of yet another burger.

 

The quarter closes and Hornridge kick direct to position. The architect of most of their moves is a blond-locked on-baller who looks so much like Ronnie Wearmouth I christen him Ronnie Wearmouth. Slack defence by the Saints allow Hornridge two goals just before half-time when the scoreboard reads 10.4 to 8.3.

 

Two pairs of Explorer socks inside Rossi boots and the toes are still curling up. Approaching the drinks booth I hope to order a port or at least a red. Instead, there’s a choice of eight beers and Jim Beam. ‘A Hahns Light, mate.’ A woman to my right orders a Carlton Milk Shake whatever that is. I guess a beer with a good head. A pretty brunette (Curly), who’s served me cab merlots the last two nights in the Italian Club, says ‘You’re still in town’ and I reply, ‘Funny to see you this side of the bar.’ She looks regretful when I say I’m checking out Monday. I’m half regretful myself.

 

Third quarter and one of the Oodnadatta lads knocks the ball wonderfully from hand to foot and boots a reflex goal from forty metres to stretch the lead to four goals before Hornridge respond with two quick majors. Then elusive play by the Saints leads to a conversion from a set shot from fifty metres and the score at the last change is 13.8 to 10.5.

 

At the final break there’s plenty of talk in the Saints ranks: ‘Believe in each other’, ‘Everybody keep moving’, ‘Play fuck’n hard’, before coach Carmelo Crisa comes with wiser counsel, the like of which wouldn’t go astray in front of an AFL whiteboard: ‘Man up’, ‘Keep our heads’, ‘Be accountable’. As the players move back to their positions two golden retrievers and a part-dingo camp dog are a section of the home team hangers-on. The Dog Fence runs from Ceduna to the Gold Coast. How did that dingo get through?

 

Play begins slowly, the ball transferring between the half-back lines. Neither side penetrates their forward fifty until a low stabbed punt pass from Ronnie Wearmouth gives Hornridge a chance to close the gap. There’s a sigh of relief as the kick from thirty metres is off line. ‘We don’t care how many points they kick’, someone says to break the tension.

 

And tension there is. ‘Dive in’, ‘Zone up in the spaces’, come the unofficial instructions with Darryl Borrett, a man intent on reviving cricket in the town, leading the way, his enthusiasm almost carrying him onto the field and no one wants the game stopped for a head count. ‘We should’ve bolted this in’ remarks one pessimist used to seeing his team run over in the dying minutes. As a Northridge player marks in easy scoring distance comes a yell of ‘They’re not Collingwood!’ When he kicks out of bounds on the full there’s a touch of light relief: ‘More than it deserved!’

 

The Saints are 21 points clear. They can’t lose from here. The night before I was amazed when watching the Crows–Western Bulldogs clash at the G. During the last quarter, as the match hung in the balance, boundary-rider Tim Watson interviewed a Crows player about the state of play. TV, the great invader; unmistakeable proof of sport as entertainment. Surely a footballer actively engaged in the game would be entitled to say, ‘Piss off Tim’. But then he’d be biting the hand that fed him.

 

Less than 24 hours later with five minutes of this game to go I find myself doing a Watson. Fifteen year-old Dylan Cameron, who barracks for Gold Coast – ‘Because they smashed Port’ – has played both juniors and seniors in one afternoon/evening. ‘I started at 3.45 and came off at 5.15 to be ready for the main game beginning at 6.’ He’s knackered. ‘I won’t be doing that again’, he says, as he paces the boundary.

 

A couple of minor scores and then a goal stretches the lead to 23 points but Hornridge keep coming. ‘Number 3’s cutting us up’ and it’s that man Ronnie Wearmouth who snaps a shot which goes high over the goalpost and immediately runs to the centre of the ground to celebratory back-slapping from team-mates. Pure bluff! The ump is conned. ‘Blinded by the light’ someone says. ‘The umps are sponsored by OPSM’ is another comment. Surely the Saints won’t roll over. The margin is 17 points.

 

The Saints hustle forward and a rushed behind brings a jubilant reaction. ‘You’ve lost yourselves the game’ is an echo of Steve Waugh at the 1999 World Cup. From the bounce Hornridge charge into attack and a Saints defender receives a blatant push in the back directly in front of a BLIND umpire who fails to pay it. Twelve points.

 

‘Blow the fuck’n siren.’ Hornridge are thirty metres from goal, Saints throw their bodies in, there’s a chorus of ‘BALL’, the ump pays it the right way, and the ball is cleared. A point puts the win beyond doubt and another seals it.

 

14.14 to 13.6

 

Victory is sweet. It’s been a long season until now. The team finally has a photo opportunity and the chance to sing the club song.

Oh when the saints go marching in

When the saints go marching in

Oh lord I want to be in that number …

The trouble is they start and then they hesitate, like they’ve forgotten the words, and you wonder.

 

You wonder about the Detonators. How did their song go?

We are the DET-O-NA-TORS

We’ll blow you sky high …

 

Or some such. 

 

About Bernard Whimpress

Freelance historian (mainly sport) currently writing his 20th book. For the previous 15 years was Curator of the Adelaide Oval Museum and Historian for the South Australian Cricket Association. Will accept writing commissions with reasonable pay. Most recent books - The MCC Official Ashes Treasures and The Greatest Ashes Battles.

Comments

  1. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    Good one Bernard.

    Looks like the FNL would get a big boost with all the mining activity set to expand even more.

    Your piece highlights the convergence to team names and strips converging to the AFL…
    great original names the Detonators and the Hornies.
    Find it incongruous that any team should be called the Saints when the name of the town or suburb is not St Mary’s or St Kilda?!

    Why is it so?

  2. bernard whimpress says

    Thanks Rod

    The Hornies was my suggestion but now I realise I’ve made a whole lot of typos calling Hornridge Northridge for much of the piece so will have to ask JTH if I can resubmit.

    But you are right. Why not stick to names that have some meaning as well as colour. When Port Adelaide were coming into the AFL I suggested Diamonds to keep alive the name of the Black Diamond Corner, the principal intersection in the Port. It would’ve also lent itself to ‘Diamonds are Forever’. Power always seemed a nothing name.

    One of the best local names in Adelaide long ago was when the West Torrens club were known as Butchers. There was an abattoirs in the west parklands in the late 19th century and a lot of the players worked there. It had a lot more meaning than Eagles.

  3. Dylan cameron says

    cheers for putting this up, just read through it, thinking who is northridge?? then i finally figured it out… it was a good game though, all the saints boys did really well.

  4. bernard whimpress says

    Thanks Dylan

    It was a pleasure having a word with you during the last quarter. Good luck with your footy, school and life beyond that. A pity you couldn’t get me try to the emu pizza at the restaurant on Sunday night but their long necks put me off. I would’ve tried camel had it been on the menu but eventually was happy to settle for the roo which was delicious.

    I’ve advised that I made an error in calling Hornridge by the wrong name from about half way through and hope that will be altered.

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