Vin Maskell’s meditation on kick-to-kick (2007)

 

It’s a simple pleasure. You’ll see it in the Flagstaff Gardens at lunch-time, in a suburban street just before tea-time, at a local footy match at half-time.

 

Fathers and sons, brothers, friends, girls sometimes, kicking a footy to each other. Back and forth, to and fro, end to end. There’s no competing, there’s no scoring. It’s the joy of kicking a football to each other and having it kicked back to you.

 

If there is such a thing as the essence of Australian Rules football then kick-to-kick might be it.  And if there is any soul left in Australian Rules football then it might be passed from friend to friend and back again as they play kick-to-kick.

 

I play on a Sunday morning, with a handful of friends. We bring our drink bottles and our sliced oranges and all the dashed dreams of football careers that never got past the under fourteens. And, perhaps, of lives that didn’t turn out as we imagined. We put aside the job, the family, the bills, the divorces, all that the world has to throw at us.

 

We bring friendship and patience. You need these when the kicks are wobbly and the legs are slow.

 

We play with a hand-made football, beautifully stitched together by a fourth generation member of the Sherrin family, makers of footballs since 1879.

 

For an hour we are young again, or so we like to think. We run around, gently. We kick and handpass and mark. We hear our own voices, calling for the ball. We hear our mother’s voices, saying it’s time for tea.

 

It’s a reverie, a conversation, a dance. And it’s still football, of a kind.

 

There are no leadership groups, no hard-ball gets, no zones, no corridors. No overlaps, no flooding. No TV rights, no tribunals, no talk of the AFL brand. No rule changes. And no pre-season cup.

 

You just try your hardest to mark your mate’s kick and then to kick perfectly to another mate. You do your best, not to beat anybody but to repay your mates for their friendship and to repay the game of Australian Rules football for the pleasures it has given you ever since your mum or your dad or your sister or your brother first put a little football in your hands, stepped back and said those immortal, defining words, ‘Kick it, kick it to me.’

 

JimPavlidisKickToKick copy

‘Kick to Kick’ by Jim Pavlidis

 

I like to think it was my eldest brother who first played kick-to-kick with me in the mid-1960s. One of my earliest football memories is of brother Mark kicking a series of goals with drop-kicks, showing an innate understanding of the science required. The drop-kick was, wrote the late poet Philip Hodgins, ‘The noblest Kick that ever left a boot/It had a different flight to most of them…The risks were just as great as the rewards.’

 

And on that day, after school at a local ground, the rewards were plenty. Mark had no trouble finding the sweet moment when foot, ball and ground all meet at exactly the right place and time and send the ball spinning over and over. I retrieved the ball each time Mark kicked it through the goals and kicked it back.

 

From that moment, possibly earlier, kick-to-kick became a constant winter past-time, either with schoolmates, my brothers or, especially, my neighbour John.

 

We played at Elderslie Reserve, almost in the shade of the Geelong cement works. We all knew, inherently, that the the beauty of kick-to-kick is that you play together rather than against each other. Sport could be play, not a contest to win.

 

John was my regular kick-to-kick mate all through our teenage years. We didn’t go bike-riding or hitch-hiking or partying. We didn’t go shopping for records or clothes. We hardly set foot in each other’s houses. We would talk about sport and music and comedy but mostly we just played. That’s all we needed.

 

Sometimes when Mark and I played he would peel off his shirt and run about bare-chested, his long hair streaming behind him. It was an expression of freedom, a freedom he never found. He led a different life to most of us.

 

We played faultless kick-to-kick. There was a brotherly connection that made everything perfect. Centimetre perfect, as commentator Dennis Cometti would say these days. We kicked and ran and marked with unerring accuracy, regardless of the six years between us. We never put a foot wrong. No two people could play kick-to-kick as well as us.

 

I need to think this because otherwise I may not cope. It’s belated wishful thinking but it occurs to me only now, more than 30 years on, that our kick-to-kick might have been a rare time for Mark to forget or ignore whatever hidden demons suddenly cursed him.

 

John and I didn’t play kick-to-kick for a week or so after Mark’s death, just as we didn’t play for a little while after John’s mother died so very young, of cancer.

 

 

 

Kick-to-kick, once a simple end in itself, had changed. Then John and I grew up and apart. He went to Perth, I went to Melbourne, and the football stayed in the shed, waiting for air.

 

Still, there were moments. My children learnt to walk and climb and cycle (and to kick a football) in the playground of the primary school across the road. There I would often see a young teenager in a Fitzroy jumper. His football would stray towards me and we’d play in between me watching the children. I never knew the boy’s name, or what street he lived in. But I knew that he’d rather kick the ball to someone than to no-one.

 

The boy is now a strapping man in his late-20s, a builder. His cars have personalised numberplates and blast out that stuff called Doof music. He lives in a new house around the corner. We nod or wave to each other, a greeting borne 15 years ago of the need to kick a ball back and forth.

 

But in the early 1990s most of my kick-to-kick was imaginary. It was better than nothing at all. Once, while watching the footy on the telly I called out to Essendon’s Terry Daniher, ‘Kick it to me, TD, kick it to me!’ He had the Sherrin in his hands, he was looking for a team-mate, but he couldn’t hear me.

 

And then in 1996, a knock on the door. A cousin I hadn’t seen for a few years had moved nearby. John and I were both struggling for work that year, so we had plenty of time for kick-to-kick.

 

We’d run about a little, have shots at goal (not on goal, as people say these days) and then sit and chat about music and comedy and sport and family.

 

Since that June day kick-to-kick has become increasingly regular, to the point of it now being a Sunday morning ritual, from February to December.

(We refuse to be constrained by the artificial constructs of sporting seasons.)

 

As well as John, there’s usually Bruno and Steve. Occasionally Paul, Scott, Geoff and my younger brother Peter turn up.

 

We start with small kicks and small talk but soon we stand back further and further until the words disappear. We form a triangle or a square or a circle and the football becomes the conversation as it moves between us.

 

And then we will kid ourselves and pretend we can run a bit, so we lead for a pass. You call out a mate’s name and run to an unmarked anticipated spot. All going well the call, the kick, the run and the mark will intersect exactly.

 

The ball floats from friend to friend, as eyes and hands, legs and feet and hearts and lungs work together.

 

And if it’s warm a few of us will peel off our t-shirts and play bare-chested.

 

JD, Steve and Paul kick lovely drop punts. Geoff can do torpedoes on the run. Scott bounds about in his tights. Bruno and I try to keep the drop-kick alive.

 

But the forces are against the drop-kick. Philip Hodgins again ‘A Kick like this, with all of life at stake,/could never be expected to survive/in what became a game for money men.’ It  belongs to another era.  Before football coaches spoke of processes and outcomes and accountabilities. Before players became automatons. It has gone the way of milk-bars and drive-ins and service stations, of vinyl records and posties on bicycles.

 

And language is against it too.  What hope is there when ‘drop-kick’ is now an abusive term, used by people who may never have known the grace and beauty of the perfect meeting of earth, foot and ball.

 

But the drop-kick is only part of our Sunday morning. There’s an element of dance, of timing and footsteps. There’s the blue sky and the brown grass, the sliced oranges and the red home-made football. There’s blood running through our veins and sweat stinging our eyes. There’s the basic camaraderie of a few blokes just playing in the sun.

 

All of it protects us, for an hour, from whatever the world has to throw at us.

 

First published in The Age March 31 2007

 

 

 

 

About Vin Maskell

Founder and editor of Stereo Stories, a partner site of The Footy Almanac. Likes a gentle kick of the footy on a Sunday morning, when his back's not playing up. Been known to take a more than keen interest in scoreboards - the older the better.

Comments

  1. Kick it to me Vin

  2. Keiran Croker says

    And to me Vin.

  3. Terry Towelling says

    I agree with Vin. Kick To Kick is the duck’s proverbials.

    After a 5 year embroilment in the horrible, soul-destroying political quagmire of the local junior organised caper, my boy and I have wrested ourselves free this year, and our only involvement in footy will be roosting drop punts to and fro in the park with a couple of local mates thrown in to spice the goulash. Bliss.

    You can roll most of the rest of footy up in a carpet and throw it in the skip, as far as I’m concerned. A couple or a handful or a couple of handfuls of humans of good will, an old leather footy and a patch of grass is all you need.

  4. Looking forward to having a kick with all of you, metaphorical or otherwise. Thanks.

  5. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Kick it to me too, Vin. Just don’t ask me to make a long lead.

    “Philip Hodgins again ‘A Kick like this, with all of life at stake,/could never be expected to survive/in what became a game for money men.’ It belongs to another era. Before football coaches spoke of processes and outcomes and accountabilities. Before players became automatons.” So very, very true.

    This is the stuff that keeps me interested and connected. Love Jim Pavlidis’ art too here. Captures the tone of the story beautifully. Available late next week if you’re interested. Cheers

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