The Albatross Rules: Chapter 23- Whatever it Takes

23. Round 11, Mt Desperate Desperados (home): Whatever it Takes

Percentage was looming as a big issue for the team. The finals race seemed to be taking shape. Mt Logan looked safe in top spot. That was no great concern. Albertville had already shown they could match it with them and the animosity between the teams meant that the Albatrosses played at their best whenever the two met. Gunundurra-Heathvale were two games clear but had to play the three other finals contenders in the run home. Looking at the draw it appeared that Nambool, Albertville and Gunundurra-Heathvale would battle out the last three finals berths. They could finish level on points. Percentage could be the difference between a top two spot (and the double chance) and the first semi final route requiring three tough wins on end to secure a flag.

Mt Desperate were realistically out of the hunt but would still be nuisance value. But if Albertville played as they had the previous week a good win could be expected. That would see them back on even terms with the Roosters and the Ravens in the percentage race. They had to make the most of opportunities from here on in. Con was open to any suggestions. If anyone around the club had an idea that might give them an edge he made it known that he wanted to hear it. It may have been asking for trouble—he started taking calls at odd hours and found it hard to walk anywhere without being stopped—but it ensured no stone was left unturned. It was also good to get everyone talking about the football and to leave the dramas of the committee squabble behind them.

“Everyone seems to think they’re a tactical genius now, Duck,” commented the Prof. “Even bloody Muriel, who thinks a torpedo punt is a fast way across a river, told me she’d read that flooding the backline was good. But she thought, what with the drought and all, it might be a bit irresponsible. Anyway it’s got ’em thinking.”

“Prof,” Con replied, “it’s going to be tight for that double chance. We need to do whatever it takes. And someone might just have an idea that I’ve been overlooking.”

“Whatever it takes, eh?”

“Whatever it takes.”

After the Hellenswood win Perce the Nurse broached a subject near to his heart; a subject Con had been avoiding for some time. “I reckon there’s a few of your old blokes who could loose a few pounds.”

“Yeah, you’re right Perce. But I don’t think you’re exactly the right one to tell them.” In the last year Perce’s weight had ballooned. As a physical specimen he was a poor role model.

“See that’s where you’re wrong, Duck. I’m exactly the right person. If I can shed a few kilos then anyone can.”

“You sure you wanna do that, mate?”

“I know I’ve gotta do it. Maybe we can make a bit of a backline pact. If Boof and Archie loose those guts it’ll make a big statement to the team, too.”

“I don’t like your chances, mate. I’ve brought it up with them before. But they’re not like the young blokes. They’re set in their ways.”

“Don’t bet on it. The fact is I’ve already spoken to them. I reckon I can get them on board. You’re gonna see some strange things over the next few weeks.”

True to his word the next morning, as Con was wandering down to get milk, Nurse rounded the corner from the hotel carpark, sweating profusely, his gigantic boardshorts struggling to retain a precarious grip where his waist used to be. Following right behind were Benny, Boof and Archie. Perce was setting a cracking pace.

“What else ‘ve you got in mind for them, Perce?” Con asked when he returned home. “A bit of a jog’s not gonna be enough on it’s own. The finals are only a month away”

“A bit of a jog! I’ve spent the last three months sitting on the couch with the telly on. A bit of a jog is a bloody good place to start. But I’ve got a special, too. The magic bullet.”

“Yeah, right mate, what’s that?”



“Yeah. NO beer.”

“Strewth, you’re kidding me aren’t you?”

“I only had to ask them one question – ‘how much do you want a premiership?’ And I said I’d be giving it up too. That was the clincher. Truth is I’ve been told to sort myself out or I’ll be pushing up daisies sooner than I care to. Let me hang around and help the boys and you’ll be helping me too. What do you say? ”

“You know the club can’t pay you anything, don’t you?”

“Money! Never did me any good. I’ve still got money coming in. It wasn’t enough to make Maria stay. And it never stopped me feeling sorry for myself after she split. I don’t want to be payed. I want to be proud. And your guys can give that to me. That’s if you’d like me to see this through.”

On top of providing, through the way he’d played, a great example to the players, Perce was an astute scholar of the game. “You’re on, mate. What sort of a role do you want?”

“Call it assistant coach if you like, but I won’t tread on your toes. If I’m around the team I’ll know where I can be useful. This weight loss thing’s a start.”

When Con turned up ready for training that Thursday the big blokes were already getting down to business on the new fitness equipment that The Prof had bought with some of the money that the carnival had made. Boof was trying to come to terms with the speedball. Archie was bench-pressing a sizable load while Cotto worked on a rowing machine. It was good to see the fancy new gear getting a workout. Hardest working of all was Perce, or more precisely the bike upon which Perce was perched. It’s tiny saddle quaked under the shuddering weight of the former all-Australian.

“Afternoon, fellas,” Con said as he entered.

“Coach,” Boof turned and raised a paw and the swinging ball collected him on the chin.

As the rest of the players arrived news spread that Perce would be staying on to help in the run-up to the finals. The surprise announcement energised the old changing room. Perce Nightingale, here, in Albertville! The team trained enthusiastically and their new found self belief was matched by a commitment Con hadn’t witnessed through the earlier rounds. It was not just that Perce was on board but the timing of it, which somehow made the finals seem a lot closer and a flag seem more achievable.

Taking that attitude into the game the boys cruised to an impressive win against Mt Desperate. It was, in many ways, an unremarkable match, in that they made it seem easy. Certainly they showed they were now comfortable playing boldly, being attacking whenever they could, being accountable all the time and even, sometimes, allowing themselves the pleasure of simply being intuitive. Con didn’t want a regimented game-plan that stifled flair. It had been a long time between drinks and if the Albertville Albatrosses were to win a flag the players deserved to have fun doing it. He even wrote ‘joy’ up on the whiteboard before the game, looked at it a few times, then added an ‘e’ and an ‘n’ at the front so as not to appear to be getting too esoteric.

Though the team’s all round dominance meant it was an unspectacular game there were two incidents in the match that are worth recounting. The first was a diving smother by Pirelli that caused a turnover from which Juan Rivera scored a running goal. It was a brave and instinctive act that, in a game they were never going to loose, signalled the dedication that had developed among the players to do the small things for the team. But it came at a cost. The full forward was badly concussed and they’d be without him for the crucial Gunundurra-Heathvale clash.

The other incident worth reporting was somewhat more prosaic. Call it a sign of his commitment to the cause or a sign of madness, but The Prof managed to do his bit from the sidelines, probably saving a goal in the process. Now if the wrong side of the boundary seems a strange place from which to influence a football game then the tight space underneath an old Humber parked on the hill is even less likely. Yet it was there, in the dying seconds of the first half that the ball found itself, the result of a miskick caused by a crunching Archie Pierce bump on ‘Plod’ Clarke that the umpire deemed illegal.

For an old bloke The Prof was as agile of body as he was of mind. No sooner had the ball disappeared, with the siren sounding in the background, than he was in there after it. Nobody else was going to crawl round underneath his beloved jalopy—not even Boof who had leapt the fence to retrieve the ball.

After an extended period scrambling about The Prof emerged with the Sherrin in hand. He tossed it to Boof with a wink. Boof caught the ball along with the president’s drift. He tucked it under his arm, vaulted the fence and jogged with it back to where the Desperados’ forward was preparing to take his kick, on a slight angle, forty metres out. He slapped it into his opponent’s chest as he ran past. “Chewy on ya boot.”

The sound of the old phrase brought back memories of the school under tens. Geeze, thought Boof, smiling, I haven’t said that since I was a kid. Maybe it was a small sign of his renewed enjoyment of the game he’d played for years. Boof circled around behind Archie, standing the mark, and made a bit of a monkey of himself as players distracting forwards shooting for goal tend to do.

‘Plod’ went back deliberately, glaring at Archie (for the bump) and Boof (for the monkeying around). He tossed a little grass into the breeze, adjusted his socks, then trotted in purposefully. It was a routine he’d practiced many times and it had served him well. Boof and Archie leapt skywards as his trusty boot swung through.

‘Phlwwwwt’. Plod’s foot sunk deep into the footy, which spiraled in an undignified fashion. It barely travelled thirty-five metres, landing with a limp bounce short of the surprised pack of players milling around the goal-line.

Con looked down at the The Prof in astonishment. But The Prof was otherwise engaged, trying to reassemble a ball-point pen that seemed to have deconstructed somewhere beneath the Humber. Finally he lifted the restored implement up triumphantly before stuffing it back into his shirt pocket. “Whatever it takes, Duck,” he grinned. “Whatever it takes.

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