The Albatross Rules: Chapter 25, Good and Evil

25. Round 13, Mt Logan Cobras (home): Good and Evil

On Tuesday morning Con went down to collect the papers as soon as the delivery came in, hoping there’d be something about Potter’s family connection. Thanks to the churlish behaviour of Sir Lawrence Turner-Brown the story was front page. ‘Lawrence of Cry-Babia’, you had to hand it to those tabloid editors. Then in slightly smaller type, ‘Battlers Claim a Place in History’. Below a photo of the disgraced Turner-Browns being ejected from the History do was a shot of Potter and Donger in Albertville guernseys holding blown up team photos featuring some of their forebears.

The unbeaten Cobras would be the team’s last challenge before the finals, with a bye to rest up during the final round. The mutual mistrust between the two neighbouring towns had not diminished in the two months since the ‘crazy town’ incident. If anything the publicity surrounding the Albatross’s rover and the realisation of a unique football dynasty in Albertville had left their rivals with a fresh reason to fume. While Mt Logan was still living down its mauling at the hands of the big city media, Albertville was being trumpeted as a town with a noble history and a football pedigree that was second to none.

They had a full squad to choose from with Pirelli now recovered from the knock that had grounded him for the game against the combine. It was a great position to be in with the finals looming. And the team still had a chance to grab a top two spot with a good win, even though the results in the final round would be the key.

The hullabaloo surrounding the Potters could prove an added spur or an unnecessary distraction, it was hard to know which. But when Con saw Boof, Archie and Cotto, pedalling up the main street with Perce The Nurse he knew that their minds were still squarely on the job at hand. He flagged them down and showed them the front page. “Ohh, geeze,” Boof exclaimed, “that’ll get up a few noses.”

No sooner had he said it than an even greater irritant to Mt Logan’s sensibilities rolled around the bend and into town. Peter Handley’s restored pink Customline was not a car you could forget easily. It cruised slowly up the dusty street like a futuristic armadillo, then pulled over next to the group.

“Well, well, well, Peter Handley,” said Boof, “welcome back to Albertville. What brings you here; taking in the Mt Logan sights?”

The lanky journalist stepped out clutching the morning papers. “I see you’ve made the front page. Congratulations. Actually I’m here to do that story on Tiger. Jimmy Hyde. I got a call last night and it seems he’s failing fast. I’m meeting The Prof and we’re going to go down and pay him a visit.”

Just at that moment the club president came strolling down the hill. “G’day boys,” he smiled then waved the reporter towards his car. “Come on, lad. We’d better get down there before the cantankerous bugger changes his mind.”

The next they saw of Handley was days later when his big sedan slid menacingly up onto the embankment on the half forward line in full and defiant view of the visiting supporters of Mt Logan. Con liked the reporter’s style. As the Cobra players warmed up near the goals at the bridge end a ripple of disquiet spread amongst them. Their incredulous eyes gazed towards the pink American machine.

Albertville expected a spiteful game and the boys were prepared for plenty of niggle. “But keep out of trouble,” Con urged. “Our next game’s a final and you don’t want to be missing ’cause you’ve done something in the heat of the moment.” It wasn’t just the old town rivalry, the ‘crazy town’ humiliation, the re-emergence of its author or Albertville’s recent newsworthiness. These were like kindling on the fire. But the spark was the approach of spring and the understanding that the stakes were about to rise.

The first half was a torrid affair full of crunching tackles, fearless smothers, some cheap shots and plenty of push and shove that threatened to boil over a number of times. The Albertville boys had the better of the play but were falling down a little at half forward. When the half time siren sounded they held a slender two goal lead. As the teams jogged towards the boundary Billy Collins sidled up to Potter. “I see it’s official; the Potters are the biggest mob of bastards playing football.”

Potter wasn’t going to have his family maligned in such a way. “The finest pack of bastards, ya bastard!” and his resolve to not be sucked in came unstuck. The fingers of his right hand wound together and his arm swung back then sprang forward.

Then stopped.

Boof’s big fingers held his wrist. “Save it, Pete.” It had been a close thing. They needed Potter’s pace.

Things continued tight and tough in the early stages of the third and the powder-keg atmosphere remained. Half way through the term and Albertville still had only a slender lead. Then suddenly the game exploded in an unexpected manner.

It was just a pack mark; a huge mob of players, running from different angles with eyes on a high ball descending above the Cobras’ half forward flank. And in the middle, right under the fall of the ball, was Piggy Pandazopoulos who normally played at full back but had been moved into the forward line.

The fearful crunch of bodies left players sprawled around the pill with Piggy, seemingly untouched, standing tall amongst the fallen. But the truth was somewhat different. He’d been hit from so many directions that the combined impacts cancelled each other out. It was a quirk of physics rather than a feat of strength for, in truth poor Piggy had gone and joined the crazy-town pixies. He was ‘out to the world’ but still upright.

Then a faint but insistent signal fired in some primitive recess of his brain. ‘Run, Pig, run,’ it urged. Piggy scooped the ball from amongst the carnage, tucked it under his arm and took off in the wrong direction. As he ran he lashed out at startled Albertville players, flattening Cotto with a savage elbow and laying Rachmann out with a coat-hanger left. The umpire, who had been momentarily distracted by the scene of carnage in the Cobra’s forward line, looked up in dismay, then took off after Piggy, blowing his whistle madly as he went.

Piggy was making rapid progress towards the wrong goal, looking for the next black and white guernsey to assault when he heard a familiar voice shout ‘wrong way, Piggy.’ Wrong way! His unwired brain short-circuited. Somewhere in its mysterious, disconnected neural blancmange it said to him ‘you’re hitting the wrong ones’.

Moments later Cobra big man Phil McKinnon, who’d set up a road block to stop his teammate’s run, or at least turn him around, went down to a straight right. Boof, who Con had moved up forward to bolster the attack, decided it was time to intervene. He ran at Piggy, hoping to hit him with a hard shirt front and take the wind from him. But the forward’s scrambled wiring started spluttering and he began to slow. Boof did his best to pull out and in truth the contact he made was miniscule. But Piggy’s brain had finally relented—’you’re unconscious you dopey bugger,’ it was saying, ‘lie down for heaven’s sake.’ As Boof’s hip and shoulder collected him his legs buckled and he went down like a sack of potatoes. The umpire, realising he’d lost control, decided to take what action he could to regain it. He ran in and spun Boof round. “You’re booked, McKenzie. Off you go.” Boof looked incredulous. He slumped from the ground, imagining his finals dream crumbling.

Now the game was being covered by the colourful commentary team at High Country Radio. Butch Hilmer had the microphone when these strange events occured and his report captured this bizarre scene as it appeared to the bewildered spectators:

… It’s a high, high, high, up-and-under hospital kick. Look out Buster (Buster Lachlan was Butch’s sidekick) this is gonna hurt. Panda’s underneath it. It’s Piggy in the middle. WHACK, BAM, WOLLOP. Oh, Geeze, it’s Gone With the Wind out there. Bodies everywhere. Unbelievable, Buster. Piggy’s up. He took the hit. He took the ball. He’s off. I don’t believe what I’m seeing. HE’S GOING THE WRONG WAY.

Ohh, BANG!!! Pandazopoulos has taken out Benny Cotton with a huuuuuuge right. He’s still heading away from goal. CRUNCH! Rachmann, the German kid’s gone down. Hold me Buster, I must be dreaming.

I AM DREAMING. Sorry folks; this is not happening. Piggy’s still goin’ the wrong way and POW, he’s flattened his own man. McKinnon is down! HE’S ONE OF YOURS, PIGGY!!! McKinnon is down and he ain’t getting up. Ohhh the humanity.

Boof McKenzie’s next in line. Piggy’s slowing down. Oh, oh, Boof!! McKenzie’s had enough. He’s taken matters into his own hands. Piggy’s down and out. McKenzie’s game might be over, too. The umpy’s caught up. Where ‘ve you been ump? The book’s comin’ out. The book’s comin’ out! You’ll be able to read all about it ’cause the book’s comin’ out. What a turn of events! Buster, I’m done in. Let’s take a break while this all gets sorted out…

As High Country Radio spruiked the merits of Mann’s Pig Pellets the carnage cleared. Boof trudged from the ground. Cotto and Rachmann came off too for some panel work, but they’d be alright. Piggy got loaded onto a stretcher eighty metres from where he’d really been knocked out. And back at the scene of the high ball players dusted themselves off and collected their thoughts and their teeth. The umpire scribbled in his notebook. ‘Albertville #1 (McKenzie), unduly rough play [Mt Logan #22, Panda…s] 3rd Q, 17 mins in.’

Even with Boof off the ground Albertville was not greatly inconvenienced as McKinnon and Piggy were both gone for the afternoon, along with fellow Cobras Stephenson and O’Henry who had fared the worst, apart from Piggy, from the crunching pack. It was the Albertville players who gathered their composure quickest. The surreal events took the wind from the Mt Logan sails and the locals drew away to post a great, hard, morale-boosting win going into the finals.

There were few sweeter sensations than beating Mt Logan at home. As Father Anthony walked around the boundary towards the rooms he made a point of stopping to acknowledge each of his congregation’s Mt Logan residents. “I’ll be seein’ you in church tomorra, Thomas Cruickshank”, “See you in the mornin’, Peter” and so on. They knew he’d be wearing his blasted black and white scarf and would have something smart for them buried within his sermon.

Another who enjoyed the victory was the journalist, Handley. He’d spent the morning by the great Jimmy Hyde’s bedside. Jimmy was not long for the world now and Handley had become something of a confidante. He had promised to let Jimmy know the score as soon as the game was over. But Jimmy was not one for telephones. So the city slicker hopped back in his fancy old car and cruised straight down to tell Jimmy the great news. The team had beaten the much-loathed Mt Logan. They were in the finals and playing like genuine contenders.

They had a weeks break now before the first final, which would be a huge advantage after such a physical game. They’d have to wait for next week’s results to know if they’d snuck into the top two. Their main concern in the meantime, of course, was Boof. A report on the eve of the finals was not supposed to be part of the script. It was a cruel blow, particularly in light of the work he’d been putting in with Perce. But Boof brushed it off. “We’re in the finals, mate! I’ll be right, I hardly touched the stupid bugger and if I stopped him then I did him a favour. It’ll all work out.”

Con didn’t mention the footage he’d been shown. Watched in isolation it didn’t look good. Boof’s little love tap looked a bit too much like a head high shirt front, even though the only contact to Piggy’s head had actually been half the ground away. It was the way he went down—just dropped—that made the incident look bad. They’d have to chance their luck at the tribunal. Con’s concern must have shown. “Footy’s a funny game, coach,” Boof assured him as he threw back an ice-cold orange juice. Not even the date with the judiciary had swayed him from the pledge he’d made to Perce. Con chose a cold ale and proclaimed a toast to the end of the home and away games and to the start of the main contest—the finals.

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