When Poetry Wins You Games of Footy

 

 

This isn’t really a sports story. More a Greek tragedy, set in the desolate expanses of the Western Australian Wheatbelt.

 

Before I get to the actual opening act, I probably should mention I was a serviceable footballer and lucky to play in two Premierships in Brisbane with Coorparoo, one Premiership with North Wagga in the Riverina and a Premiership with Werribee in the VFA. I was never the leading actor, just a “grunt” making the others look good.

 

I was 17 when I left WA to join the army in 1980 and three years older than my younger brother Glen, who with his distinctive red hair, was as wild as they come. Glen was a gun footballer and I can honestly say that had it been these days, he would have been identified and swept up by an AFL club. Instead, he left home at 16 and headed to the tiny south-west town of Yarloop, then Waroona to play footy and work in an abattoir.

 

In 1995 I had an opportunity with my work to head home to Perth. We bought a house in Fremantle and I was coaxed out of retirement to coach and play with Glen’s team Waroona in the Peel League. After only moderate success for over two years there but with my body still intact, another of Glen’s old teams, Boddington, came knocking. Glen had won a couple of flags with them in the early 90’s and recommended the club highly. I said I’d go only if he came, which he did.

 

Boddington lies 130km from Kewdale where I worked. Its population of approximately 1200 consists of mostly farmers, itinerant shearers, gold miners and teachers. I coached two nights a week and would often turn up to be greeted by 8-10 players. Any planned training notes went straight into the bin.

 

Our training form quickly revealed itself in season 1997. The club had been successful over the years and despite playing finals the previous year, was seen to be on the decline. The attitude of the players was laissez faire to say the least and I was struggling, compounded by the fact I was seen as the “city boy” with little country credibility.

 

At round 7, we had three wins, four losses and were playing West Arthur, like all towns in the Upper Great Southern League, in the middle of nowhere. We had suffered a bad loss the previous week against Wagin where we gave up a seven goal lead at half time and that was the final straw. During the week I sat down and wrote my feelings down on paper, including this thing, which by all intents and purposes can be classed as a poem.

 

 

I must have been nervous because I just realised the typo on the first line after 25 years! This soliloquy was the start of a one page manifesto that went into detail as to how selfish these bunch of “bushwackers” were.

 

I read it aloud to my ex-wife Tina and told her I was going to give it to them before the game at West Arthur.

 

“No you’re not”

 

“Why, what do you mean?”

 

“They’ll kill you”

 

“No they won’t, I’m just being honest”

 

“They don’t want the truth. You’re a dead man.”

 

Round eight at West Arthur, almost four hours from Fremantle and I arrived with a pile of stapled two page manifestos. The reserves had started so I instructed every senior player I saw, to grab one and tell the others to do the same when they arrived, while I slinked off to join our Reserves Coach, Brad on the side-lines.

 

Out of one eye I checked on what was happening at the change-rooms. The players were reading them, some quicker than others. There appeared to be less confusion than I expected and the visions of being the first coach to be spit roasted, subsided. I didn’t mention the poem before the game which we subsequently won unexpectedly by eight goals and then sang the song with a gusto previously unseen.

 

We would go on to win nine games on the trot to what is now known as the “pre-poem period” and the “post-poem period! “

 

A couple of weeks after the West Arthur game, the Sydney Swans were playing in Perth. I caught up with an old team mate The Right Honourable Damian Drum (ret) these days.  He was Assistant Coach and kindly showed me the process behind Sydney’s ‘flooding’ strategy, something that is ‘part and parcel’ of AFL teams these days.

 

This was a process called ‘push up’ which started the moment the ball was turned over in your forward line. We practiced it as much as we could at Boddington and it worked a treat. We beat the reining premiers Kukerin/Dumbleyung twice on their own ‘dung hill’ including the semi final and beat the minor premiers, Williams in the qualifying final to go straight into the grand final.

 

It was an extraordinary winning run of eleven games that was about to come to a crushing finale. We played a star studded and angry Williams in the grand final still reeling from being beaten by us two weeks prior. At quarter time we were down by an appalling eight goals. What happened next is something I’ve regretted ever since.

 

After the quarter time siren I walked to the huddle, in what can only be described as an altered state. All the driving, the family sacrifice, the mental and physical anguish of keeping a competitive team together and a scoreboard that said, “you’re f**ked”, was too much. I was a giant boil about to be lanced.

 

Our wonderful president Terry was holding the whiteboard containing the magnetic names of our players whom I now cared little for. “If you didn’t want to play today, couldn’t you have just told me?” I was thinking in utter despair.

 

I looked at Terry and he looked scared. I then turned to the players  and let off a tirade of abuse that would be more at home on the terraces of an English soccer game. Suddenly without rhyme or reason I punched one of our bigger players in the chest. I thought it was a push, but Glen assures me it was a clenched fist. It sent him reeling back and with rant complete, I gave the players the cliché’d request, “Ok boys, bring it in.”  No one moved. I’d well and truly lost them.

 

As I walked out of the huddle to start the second quarter, my half-brother Peter, a former WAFL premiership player and then WAFL director of umpiring approached me. Having had nothing to do with me for twenty years, he told me to watch my language like I was a 15 year old and not the 34 year old maniacal, psychopath he saw before him. Through clenched teeth and demonic green eyes I told him to “get f**ked!”.

 

Top day all round. We went on to lose by 105 points I think, it’s all a blur after quarter time. Despite the loss and my behaviour that day, I’m proud of what our team achieved that year given the challenges we faced and spending three years playing with and coaching Glen was the highlight of my career.

 

Does ‘Who Cares?’ stand up there with anything Tennyson or Whitman brought to the table? Maybe not, but there’s some middle aged blokes in the Boddington Football/Netball Club social rooms every year sharing a drink saying,

 

“ You remember that lunatic coach who wrote that poem in 1997?”

 

“Willow Senior? Yeah. The pre-poem and post-poem period ”

 

“ What the f**k was that all about?”

 

“Dunno”

 

I’m happy with that   :)

 

 

More from Ian Wilson can be read Here.

 

 

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About Ian Wilson

Former army aircraft mechanic, sales manager, VFA footballer and coach. Now mental health worker and blogger. Lifelong St Kilda FC tragic and father to 2 x girls.

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