The Albatross Rules: Chapter 4, Team Building

The Albatross Rules

(a football chronicle)

The season is fast approaching. Coach, Con Filipou, is still looking for players. Meanwhile the Professor wants to implement a few more changes around the club in the hope of turning its flagging fortunes around.

4. Team Building

The league had been pressing hard for a merger with Mt Logan. Getting Con up to Albertville was part of a bigger scheme to keep the club alive. “Mt Logan! That bunch o’ pricks;” spat the Prof, “I’ll be singin’ at the opera before they take us over.”

His ‘masterplan’, it turned out, had been cobbled together from various sources—his years in football, his reading of articles about successful clubs and teams and success in general, pop psychology, business theory and gut instinct. “If we’re going to be a good team we need to look like a good team,” he said. The team’s guernsey, black and white hoops, though worn with pride was plain and unflattering. “I don’t want to change it mate… just jazz it up a bit.”

So, while Con concentrated on patching together a decent list, the president turned his hand to fashion design. He organised a get-together at the pub on Saturday evening to reveal his new creations.

Con held training on Tuesday and Thursday nights—just basic drills for starters and some fitness work. It gave him a chance to get to know the players. He had the bare bones of a team. The Professor had persuaded the Rivera brothers to switch from the lowly Dwights Mill-Barcaroo combine. They were an unassuming pair but good footballers, both, and they had family ties to Albertville. Massey talked up his big plans and Con’s coaching credentials to convince them to come over. The Formosa kid’s raw talent showed on the track too. Though he had put his unscheduled dip into the creek behind him, he remained disappointed that Bernie McGrath hadn’t made it to Albertville. What could you say to a kid like that? He’d trained hard ever since, convinced, as he confided one night, when Con asked him why he insisted on running extra laps after training, that Bernie might be back up that way any time.

There was genuine talent amongst the locals. Boof McKenzie was a valuable enforcer in defence. Potter was a ball magnet capable of making an impact as a small forward. A couple of the youngsters who’d looked promising on last year’s tapes had matured physically so Con would be looking closely at them. But the team was still a player or two short. Without a bit more firepower they’d be competitive but might lack the depth to mount a genuine challenge.

Maureen’s arrival had excited the women of the town, especially the netballers. When they saw Maur’s height and athletic build, they pressed her to join them. There regular ‘goal attack’, Caz, was pregnant and there’d been complications. On doctor’s advice she’d be sitting the season out. “You gotta join us,” pleaded Jen, the local mechanic and a tough defender in spite of her diminutive size. “With Caz gone, we’ll be short of players, and none of us are tall enough to be much good in the circle.”

There’d been a netball team in Albertville for forty years. But as young women left the town for work or study or a taste of a faster life in the city, fielding a team had become difficult. “I’d be happy to help out,” Maur smiled, “but I’m a bit rusty.”

When the Prof popped by Con’s house, a few evenings later, just to see how the new arrivals were settling in, Maur had been having a cup of tea with her goal-attack predecessor. “Heh, Caz girl,” the president grinned, “how’s it all goin?”

“Good, Baz—now. All quiet on the western front,” the sidelined goal-shooter pointed down towards her tummy.

“Ah, good onya girl. That’s the way?” The Prof turned to me. “Caz is a one-woman cheer-squad. You can fair dinkum hear her screaming over all the car horns. When things get tight she’s real good to have around.”

“Yeah, but Doctor Don reckons I’ve gotta keep a lid on it this season—we’ll see,” she laughed.

Maureen emerged from the bathroom wearing the netball uniform that Caz had brought round.

“Perfect fit,” Caz whistled her approval.

Maur mimed a little catwalk turn. “You’re a lucky man, Con,” the Prof smiled. “You know,” he went on, “the footy club shoulda merged with you netballers long ago.”

“What makes you think we’d want you.” Caz laughed. “Your lot can’t run a chook raffle.”

“Fact is it’d make good sense—economies of scale and stuff, share our resources.”

“You sound like a bloody talk show, Baz.”

“Yeah, sorry, girl. Been reading too many books. Anyway we missed the boat. We’ve gotta get our house in order first.”

“You will, Baz. You and Con. It’s going to be a great year.” Caz patted a hand on her ever so slightly expanded waste and turned to me pointedly. “The Prof’s just the man to get this club a premiership. Honestly between his fishing an’ his crazy birds he’s always tryin’ to get your hands on something that’s outta reach. And he won’t rest til he’s got it.”

Con and Barry, the Duck and the professor—a team. Con recognised a strange appeal in the relationship. He could feed off the little bloke’s passion.

“Spot on, Caz,” the Prof chirped. “We’ll give it a bloody good crack, won’t we Con?”

Maur became Con’s eyes and ears around the town. While the coach concentrated on football matters she was learning, from Caz and others, all about the social intricacies of the place. There were old families who had roots in these hills going back a hundred years or more. They were the backbone of the area. The McKenzies and Pierces (Caz’s ‘mob’) were the largest of these local clans. There were farmers—mainly dairy—who for the most part did it hard on small sloping plots. With jobs and money scarce a lot of families relied on the timber mill in Mt Logan or on the bigger mill down in the valley for income. There was a bit of seasonal work, too, in the snowfields and picking fruit in the valley. Apart from the ‘locals’ there was a smattering of die-hard hippies scattered through the hills.

Maur had learned plenty from the women of the town. She knew of festering feuds and of reputations, fair or otherwise—from ‘best scone-maker’ and ‘a shoulder to cry on’ to ‘best avoided’ and ‘a bit of a cow’.

Along with all these social and cultural titbits Maur was alert for any information that might be of use to the club. “I think there might be a bit of a surprise in store for you on Saturday,” she intimated as she and Con stood on the bridge at the end of the main street one evening, thinking how things had changed for them. Con was intrigued but knew not to press her.

Boof had decorated the bar with black and white balloons and set a roaring fire to combat the cold that descended each evening now as the winter chill approached. As the players and girlfriends and wives entered he greeted them all heartily. Apart from the football crowd the only people in the bar were a group of German tourists, who seemed to have taken a wrong turn and were making a bit of a din, and some of the local ferals who tended to do their drinking early, decamping before local passions began to boil. No-one paid them much attention.

Maureen and Con settled down against a raised bar built across between two pillars. Some of the side’s youngsters had gathered there and they were soon in deep conversation about hopes for the coming season. Word had got around about the Prof’s new jumper and the young blokes were keen to see what he’d come up with.

Not being such a wiz on the computer, the Prof had left it to his grandchildren to find some albatross pictures on the internet. He had them printed up big and his daughter had tacked them onto a couple of old Albertville guernseys. He wanted to get everyone’s opinion that night. He called the throng to order and, after addressing a few general matters, came to the one that mattered most to him.

“Now we all love our jumper. Our dads played in it, and their dads. But it’s new times for this club and I think it’s time we jazzed it up. I’ve got a couple of examples. I’m not set on them,” he went on disingenuously, “but they’ll give you an idea of what we could do.”

With this he reached into a shopping bag behind his chair and pulled out version one. He hung it on a coat hanger suspended from the glass rack above the bar. “I’ve been thinking that we should make more of the albatross theme. It’s all about ‘branding’. So this is the first one.”

In spite of its crude manufacture it actually looked pretty good. The bird was drawn in a dramatic fashion and looked fine flying across the stripes. There were a few gasps followed by a swelling of approval.

“Looks pretty good, Prof”

“Not bad”


Then, from the back of the room, came a new voice. One of the ferals had risen. He was a strapping lad with rastafarian locks. “You can’t use that!”

“Who are you, hippy?” the Prof returned.

“You’re not a man of letters are you mate? Not big on poetry?”


“The drawing’s by Gustave Dore. It’s an illustration of Coleridge: The Ancient Mariner.”


Ah! well a-day! what evil looks had I from old and young! Instead of the cross, the Albatross About my neck was hung. Might be the most potent symbol of impending doom in English Literature.”


“Really mate.”

“Nice one, Baz, you wacker.” Peter Potter smirked.

“Oooohhh…. shit…. we don’t want that do we?”

“Hardly appropriate… Let’s see the other one.”

I thought the next one looked promising. It had real presence. Again ripples of approval spread through the room.

“It’s not an albatross.”

The room fell quiet again and the Prof fixed his unlikely informant, the same big hippy, with wicked beady eyes.

“Who are you?”



“Name’s Eagle. That’s not an albatross…”

“Eagle, eh. Listen bird-boy…”

“…it’s a red-footed gannet, a ‘booby’.”

“A what?”

“A booby.”

“Who …”

“Heh, you can run around with boobies on your jumpers all season if you want, it’s up to you.”

The tree-loving interjector had a point.

“Good stuff, Baz. You’ve just killed two birds with one stoner, mate.” Potter jeered. “You’ve been stumped by a greenie.” Derisive cheers and whistles circled the room.

“Stick to farming, Baz,” yelled Tex. The Professor looked dejected.

Maureen nudged Con and gestured towards the big outspoken lad. “Remember the surprise I promised you?”

“Sure love. What’s he got to do with it?” Con glanced towards the dreadlocked youngster. A flicker of recognition stunned him. “Heh, don’t I know you?”

“Henderson, Sir,” he replied, grinning broadly and feigning a plummy accent, “Burton house-captain.”

Tony Henderson! Con had coached him for two years at Grammar. “Geeze. What’ve you done to yourself, boy. I remember you. You were good. You were a handy ruckman.”

That should have been enough surprises for one night—but no.

Quite without warning, from the adjacent table, the burliest of the rowdy tourists suddenly rose. “Ha, ha. You are ‘andy ruckman.” He slapped the feral lad on his candy coloured shoulder. “I too am Andy Rachmann. Ha ha.”

“You’ve got it wrong, mate. I’m Eagle.”

“Ja, ja. I too am Eagle. I too am Andy Rachmann.”

“What a circus, Baz.” Potter drained his glass. “Wake me up for the elephants, will ya?” The rest of the bar went silent as stunned anticipation spread.

“What’s goin’ on?” The Professor’s look changed from bewilderment to hope. “Handy Ruckman, eh?”

“Ja, ja. Andy Rachmann. I play on ving. You have jumper mit boobies. Ja?”

“No!…” The Professor looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. “Versatile, eh? Ruck and wing—two positions.”




“Bloody hell.”

“—I’m Andy Rachmann…”

“Very handy.”

“I play on ving.”

“You play all over, eh?”

“Nein, nein, nein. I play on ving.”


“RACHmann, RACHmann, RACHmann!! Gott im himmel.” He lurched forward. Though his intention was only to make himself clear, Boof and Archie Pierce, thought it best to restrain him.  They each grabbed an arm. The visitor looked startled. “I show you. I am Hamburger Eagle.”

“You’re kidding me!”

“I am Eagle. I play on ving. I am Rachmann”

“You’re crazy.”

“I am crazy—you have booby jumper!”

“You’re nuts. That’s what you are!”

“Nein, nein, nein. Please. I show you. I am eagle. I am Andy Rachmann. I play on ving. I am Hamburger footy.”


“Look, bitte. I am Rachmann. I play on ving. I show you, in back pocket!”

“Ruckman, wingman, back pocket…bah!!”

As the room dissolved into mirthful disbelief the visitor furiously shook an arm free and reached round into the back of his jeans. “Here, here, here,” he pleaded pulling out a crumpled newspaper cutting, flicking it open and holding it up for the room to see.

It featured a large picture of the German in full footy kit in the classic scoop-on-the-run pose favoured by bubble gum footy cards.

With the decorum of the night extinguished and the townsfolk roaring approval at their club president’s confusion the German handed the paper over. As the Prof slowly read the caption below it the colour drained from his ruddy face. ‘Andy Rachmann, wingman for the Hamburg Eagles in the fledgling German Australian Football Association was welcomed this week as the first foreign player to benefit from the Southern League’s new player exchange program…’

The Prof was rarely without a comeback. But the proceedings had left him spent. He slumped back in his chair mumbling quietly to himself, “Andy Rachmann… handy ruckman…” while the doomed booby jumper, unveiled so proudly just minutes before, hung forlornly above him.

Once again it was the big hippy who brought much needed decorum to the situation. “You need a tall,” he said. “Well I can play a bit. Ask your coach. And I can fix your jumper too. I’m a graphic artist by trade. Not hippy shit. Good stuff.”

Con decided to seize the moment. “What about you, Rachmann?”

“Sure. I play.”

Football casts a strange magic sometimes. By Eleven, tables had been pushed together. The Professor, being a keen bird watcher, in spite of his ignorance of coastal species, had a few questions for Eagle—the boy obviously knew his stuff. But Eagle and Rachmann were too busy talking footy. Some of the local boys had thrown off long held prejudices and summoned the courage to join them.

Maureen and Con slipped quietly out into the cold, clear air.

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