The Albatross Rules – Chapter 20 – Round 9, Nambool Ravens (away): Old Habits and Die Hards

by Richard Holt

Nambool was an important match. The Ravens occupied the same middle rungs of the ladder as Albertville. Both teams still had a chance to force their way into the top two. There was also the likelihood of a meeting at some point during the finals, when having a bit of form over a side could be a factor.

The Albertville boys would be going into the match with Strauss in ruck, with a bit of relief from the young boy Cartwright—Eagle had been an unexpected withdrawal. It was a matter of some concern. The dreadlocked tall from the political fringes was an important part of the team. He was the fittest member of the squad by far. The team had learned that he’d once been regarded as a potential Olympic mountain biker. It was through that sport that he’d developed a love of wild places. He still rode his bike everywhere, no easy feat in this terrain. His recovery after matches was remarkable. He could ruck all day then after a short warm down he’d be back on his bike and disappearing into the bush.

Eagle’s radical agenda was, doubtless, a source of tension amongst some at the club. But when he was on the ground he was as committed as any, he worked tirelessly and he had natural ability that meant he could make things happen. Con was sure there was more to his no-show than his simple note betrayed. ‘Sorry, Duck. Can’t make it this week. Hope to talk soon. Eagle.’

His absence from training was noted by all. “Where’s the big bloke?” asked Boof, knowing how important he was to the side. Potter suggested he might be getting a hair cut. “Should be back some time next month.” Strauss looked unimpressed. He’d been glad to hand the mantle of number one ruckman on to someone younger and didn’t relish having to take it up again.

On the morning of the game The Professor approached the coach, a little agitated. “Ducky, this is a crucial game. I’ve got a bad feeling though. We’ve lost our ruckman—and I’ve been hearing rumours why. Things should be coming together but I can’t help the sense that they’re falling apart. And it’s my fault, mate. We’re not giving the boys the support they need. I knew the committee was useless. Useless. But I didn’t think they’d let their stupid prejudices jeopardise things. But that’s what I’m hearing. And I should o’ seen it coming. We got our house in order on the field but off-field we’re a mess.”

Con recalled his dismay, months before, at the disinterest of some of the club’s office bearers. He had seen it coming but hadn’t liked to say too much. Clearly between them The Prof and Edie had been doing all the work. The rest of the committee were ineffectual. The club had been in the doldrums for so long that, behind the scenes, they’d become inert. “You know,” added the Prof, his usually bright features cast downwards, “I called a meeting for next week and asked Bobby Goldsworthy if he wanted anything on the agenda. You know what he said? ‘Sandwiches’!! He’s supposed to be our bloody treasurer. Bah!!!”

“Rome wasn’t built in a day, mate,” Con replied lamely. “You’re trying to change this club, lock, stock and barrel. You’re a crazy bastard, Prof but you can’t let things get on top of you. D’you want me to come along to next week’s meeting?”

“Oh yeah Duck. I’ve been meaning to ask you. See, the wheels are falling off.”

“Listen, mate. If you’re gonna feel down about things do it now. I want the old Prof back by the time the finals start.”

“No worries, Duck. I’m not gonna drop me bundle, mate. Just need to get a few things off me chest.”

Nambool was a rotten ground for visiting teams. There were no changing facilities to speak of. The pockets on one side were wide and square, you could get lost out there. On the other they ran at nearly 45 degrees straight out from the behind posts. The effect was disconcerting. In addition the wind swirled unpredictably. The locals were mean-spirited. At Nambool the pies and beer were dispensed at the same tepid temperature.

Rain began falling just as the coin was being tossed and continued throughout the game. Not real rain (the kind of rain the country needed). Miserable rain. Miserly stuff, just beyond a hanging mist, that soaked everything except the parched soil.

If the game against the cellar-dwelling combine the previous week had shown Con just how well the team could play, then this week seemed to be a reminder that they still had a way to go. In the slippery conditions the boys lost confidence. Without it they reverted to old habits. They stopped working to create options upfield. They became static. From free kicks and marks they chose to kick to contests up-field rather than chancing a run. The game became a low scoring, stop-start affair; a real slog.

Nambool should have buried the Albatrosses but they were also making mistakes. It was the sort of day when you find yourself still in the contest even though you’re not playing well. Con asked the boys to take a few risks in the last term to see if they could salvage an unlikely win. But by that time Strauss was spent. The team were pummelled in the ruck and without first use they struggled. They got to within two kicks late in the quarter, though goals were hard to come by so a win still seemed unlikely. Then Pirelli took a mark in the deep pocket as the siren blew. The resultant goal from a kick he fashioned beautifully to swing left to right, provided a score-line that flattered them. It suggested they’d been in the hunt but Con wasn’t sure that they ever were. After the last performance this was a most disappointing effort.

Con caught sight of The Prof, some way off from the Albertville supporters, chatting to his Nambool counterpart. He’d be doing more than catching up. He’d be thinking about the politics of the league and doing whatever he could to shore up allegiances for the bigger fight ahead; the fight against amalgamation. The loss may have had little bearing on that battle but it would certainly not have made next week’s Albertville committee meeting any easier for him.

“Why are we having this meeting, Barry? It’s the middle of the season. We’re not on the bottom of the ladder. The ground hasn’t washed away.”

“We’re having a meeting, Bernie, because we need to talk. That’s one of the things committees do. We need to make some plans. We need to change a few things.”

“Who says?”

Edith entered the room carrying a tray of scones. “The Prof ’s right, Bernie. We need to start getting behind the team more for a start. Show a bit of leadership. As a committee, I mean.”


Club treasurer, Bob Goldsworthy, entered. “Where’s the sandwiches?”

“There’s scones on the table and the urns are on.”

“Scones! A man can’t live on scones. Any cream?”

Edith didn’t answer

“Any cream?”

“Look in the bloody fridge, Bob. Use your brains.”

It was not an auspicious beginning. Nugget arrived fifteen minutes late. “Edith. Gentlemen,” he said pompously, before getting right down to business. “Scones, Ede, you ripper.”

At twenty past eight The Professor called the meeting to order. He ran through the formalities. He noted those present. Bert Ironside was the club secretary which explained why nobody had a copy of the last minutes. Bob Goldsworthy was Treasurer. Bob had the club’s ‘accounts’ under his arm in a beaten up exercise book. Nugget and Bill Murphett (who they were assured was ‘on his way’) were aptly designated Ordinary Committee Members. “Very ordinary,” the President had observed when he’d been describing the situation to Con the week before.

Apologies; there were no formal apologies but Pete Inglis, recent go-go dancer, was a no-show. Pete was on the committee to represent the Past Players. His failure to turn up suggested he was doing a sterling job. Then there was Edith McKenzie, with The Prof the driving force behind the club. Edith was in charge of the Social Committee, which she continued to call the Ladies Auxiliary, “on account of none of you blokes being able to run so much as a chook raffle.”

Edith launched into a diatribe about the Pie Night preparations but The Prof cut her short. “Benny, you’re here for Don again?” Don Withers was supposed to take care of facilities and ground maintenance but somehow he was always busy. Retirement could be like that. Benny Cotton deputised.

The Prof noted the coach’s presence too. Con had been invited along to update the committee about the playing group. “Geeze,” whined Bob, “we go to the games.”

Minutes of sorts were reconstructed from some scrawled notes Bert produced from his pocket. ‘The family day was a big success, thanks Edie. Everyone thought that the new jumper was ‘OK’. A date was to be set for the annual pie night-Duck could get some old star to come up and talk.’ “That’s about it,” said Bert as Bill straggled in and took a seat without so much as a nod to acknowledge his tardiness. “Shit. No sandwiches?”

“That’s not about it, Bert.” Con sensed that The Prof was about to fire up. “That’s not ‘about it’ at all. What about actions? Who was going to do what?”

Bert scratched his head.

The Professor opened a little black notebook. “Don was going to get some quotes for resurfacing the ground.” Benny shrugged. It was the first he’d heard. “Nugget to put together recruiting notes for next year – talk to Duck.” – silence – “Thought as much. Bob, you were going to check with the power company about a billing issue.”

“The power company, oh shit.”


On cue the lights in the clubroom flickered and then went off. In the moments of darkness before Edith found some matches and lit a burner on the old stove there was an uncomfortable shuffling. “Bugger,” mumbled the Secretary, “meeting adjourned.”

“This meeting is not bloody adjourned.” In the dim orange glow The Prof fixed each of his fellow committee members in turn with a gaze that told them not to leave their station. “I’m not leaving here until we’ve talked about this committee. We need new blood. The team’s making great progress on the field and there are plenty of people around this town wanting to get on board. Meanwhile we’re sitting around bickering. Geeze you can’t even do simple things. Benny and Duck, not you, and Edith, you’re an exception of course.”

“Thanks, Prof. Well it’s about time somebody said it. You lot are a bloody disgrace. Step up or step aside.”

“You can’t force us out, Baz. We’re elected officials.”

“Your kidding me aren’t you? You’re gonna start playing bloody politics when you can’t even pay a light bill. What about our ruckman too – any of you know anything about what’s happened to him? I’ve heard some things in the last few days that I didn’t like the sound of.”

“He’s just another greenie with a chip on his shoulder.” Nugget looked pleased with himself.

“Yeah: a woodchip.” continued Bob.

“What’ve you idiots been saying to him?”

“Ah, geeze Baz. We just told ’im what everyone thinks. We don‘t need his kind in Albertville. We’re better off without him.”

“I know who we’re better off without.” shouted The Prof. “I want you bastards off this committee!”

“You haven’t got the numbers.”

“Haven’t got the numbers! I’ve got the town behind me. And the team. You bludgers have got nothing but your memories and your bigoted ideas. You could’ve been part of something great—the revival of the club—but you turned your back on it. I played alongside you all and I don’t want to go down as part of the last Albatross premiership team. That’s history. It’s been thirty years. Anyway if the club goes under everything we did in our day will just be forgotten. So grow up. Lock up when you leave.”

With that he stormed out. Edith went too. “Here bloody here.”

“Have a look at yourselves.” Benny Cotton worked hard enough on the field. He had no time for passengers.

There was no reason for Con to hang around either. He stepped out into the night.

As he was descending The Prof stormed past, back up the steps and into the doorway. “Meeting bloody adjourned.” He slammed the door so hard that a panel came loose. He swung it back open. “And fix the bloody door before you go.” This time, when he hurled it shut the loosened panel fell to the floor.

By the time he reached his car The President was quieter but no calmer. “The cards are on the table now, Duck. Keep your head down. I’ll do my best to keep the boys out of this mess. And I’ll get your ruckman back for you—somehow. We’ll see it through.”

“No worries, Prof,” Con replied. “Let me know if you need anything.”

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