They couldn’t get James Hird

Last week I stepped up to the podium at an Almanackers lunch to address the topic ‘Tony Wilson, A Life in Football’. At the age of 37 (Marianne Faithful’s ‘The Ballad of Lucy Jordan’ anyone?) I did wonder if I was too young for anything containing the words, ‘A Life’, but then pushed ahead regardless. After all, talking about myself has always been a bit of an interest, and in the absence of a responsive audience at home (three year old daughter wants to talk about herself, wife has already heard all the stories), this loomed as a ripe opportunity. And footy as the topic! Normally, nobody is particularly interested in stories from the ‘never wases’. Why get the bitter, delisted, eight-games-in-Hawthorn’s-reserves guy if you can get James Hird?

Working in my favour was the fact that the Almanackers couldn’t get James Hird. And so they got a guy who at least has a James Hird story. In 1996, when I was having a final tilt at the big time during a pre-season at Essendon, James Hird picked me in his team. That might not sound so amazing, but when Gary O’Donnell and James Hird are taking it in turns to pick players for a scratch game, and you’ve been at the club for eight days, you really don’t expect to be taken before Michael Long.  James Hird did that to make the ‘new kid’ feel welcome. It made me like him. It still does.

These are the stories that dominate my life in footy. I wasn’t good enough, but I spent time around plenty of players who were. Tony Wilson of Manchester, England once said, ‘I’m a minor player in my own life story’, and he was a lot better at pithy, life-defining quotes than me.

If you didn’t make it to the lunch, here are the anecdotes you missed:

John Origlasso’s classic story of nearly killing Alan Jeans during a game of tennis at the coach’s house. His deep backhand volley drew a dive out of the ever-competitive Jeans, who then lay motioneless in the entecar for several minutes;

John Origlasso’s other great tale about being beaten in a Burwood time trial by reserves coach Des Meagher, with it later emerging that Meagher had suffered a small stroke;

Being delisted by Chairman of Selectors Brian Colman and telling him he would ‘regret the decision for the rest of his life’;

Allan Joyce telling me not to call him ‘Joycey’ and not to wear a hat in thirty seven degree heat, ‘because only James Morrissey gets to wear a hat – he’s got a skin condition’;

General thoughts on how my real life football career has informed my fiction. In particular, the sensation of my foot plunging into trainer Bob Yeomans beer gut is one that has stayed with me, and was resurrected in Players. Also, my first under 10s coach at Balwyn was Mick Leahy, the local dog catcher, and we all used to bark in the back of his dog catching truck on the way to away games. That memory is given to the central character, Billy Nock, in ‘Players’.

‘Making News’, which involves a Premier League footballer and ex-Socceroo, Charlie Dekker, has less autobiographical titbits, just because I never played EPL football on ?75,000 a week. As I mentioned at the lunch, it’s a story of a sex scandal, a Me-some no less (definitely not autobiographical!) and the impact a world wide scandal has on the Dekker family.

Lucas Dekker is at school, and the idea for the book actually came when I saw Shane Warne in playboy underpants, with an inflatable dirigible flapping around out front. I wondered, ‘how would his kids go at school the next day’. And so much of the book is about interpersonal relationships in a strange, celebrity family.

Other things that are drawn from reality:

  • I really played Lucas’s shoe kicking game, You Play, You Pay at school. The kicker whose shoe goes the least distance can be hoofed between the knees and neck with the non-shoed foot of all other players.
  • A friend called Terry Walker really did run a book on what hymn would be sung at Monday assembly – ‘Hymnlotto’.
  • Dad once claimed that he wanted to play in a premiership winning team while Henry Bolte was Premier because he wanted to not shake Bolte’s hand. ‘I don’t shake hands with anyone who kills a man in my name’ was his rehearsed line, in relation to the Ronald Ryan hanging. Dad never had the chance, but Charlie makes an identical stand over the Iraq War, not shaking hands with Tony Blair. He later undoes some of this good work by recreating the moment for a razor commercial (he takes a razor from Blair).
  • I was once speaking to an openly gay man in a dark bar for half an hour, and it was only after the armrest of the couch on which I was leaning moved that I realised I’d had my hand gripping his thigh. This moment is also recreated for the novel.

Making News has been positively reviewed for the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald

If you’d like to purchase a copy, it’s available here

To read my favourite sport related chapter of Making News, this is the one where Charlie’s agent, Phil Bennett, is trying to encourage his client to participate in a sports variety television project with former Spurs and England legend, Paul Gascoigne. And yes, Gazza really did once put cat shit in a pie, and feed it to his mates.

Last, but not least, the lunch was notable for the fact that I got to sit next to Tim Adam’s brother, Rod. Rod gave us an update on Tim – Tim was moving from hospital to a rehab facility that day – and with the sort of eccentric humour that reminded me of his brother, Rod told me that he has not eaten a lamb shank since devouring the perfect one at the Langstrath Inn, Stonethwaite, United Kingdom. He then, unprompted, wrote that on a card for me, as if to say, ‘do yourself a favour, get over to Stonethwaite and have a lamb shank’.

I love these lunches.

About Tony Wilson

Tony Wilson wore number 47 for Hawthorn. So did Dermott Brereton.

Leave a Comment