When White Was Not Cool

 

It must have been around February and footy pre season talk was in the air. Ankles, Swooper and I had a dilemma – who to play footy with in the forthcoming season.

It was not an easy decision. We played school footy the previous few years and had no idea of our ability in the real world. In fact, we were pretty well convinced we were bordering on the hopeless after several years of massive thrashings at the hands of the Catholic colleges in the schools competition. This inferiority complex had been reinforced in our final year when the only other protestant school, the previously even more hapless Luther College, thumped us to reinforce the perception we had of our football ability.

After a lengthy discourse in Ankles’ back yard we had reached consensus that the local community club was probably a leap too far and a season on the terraces at Glenferrie Oval or Princes Park was our immediate footy future.

Just as all seemed lost Ankles family boarder suddenly appeared with his footy kit from the Granny Flat in the backyard. ‘Who are you guys playing footy with this season’ he enquired? Our relief at this possible unexpected solution to our dilemma was palpable. ‘Nobody’, we crowed in unison.

His brother happened to be the President of a club in the distant Eastern Suburbs where none of us had ever ventured before. However, it soon became obvious that the advantages outweighed the disadvantages and in those days if we chipped in 40c each it would keep a VW, Mini or Morris Minor on the road for a week.

But most importantly, the fact that the club was only in its second year and so short of players that they recruited from the local High Street on Saturday mornings prior to the game boosted our fragile confidence no end.

We were in. A ring around convinced Possum, Cookie, Jonesy and Stiffy that the trip to the eastern suburbs was indeed a trip to the football ‘Promised Land’. It was a fortuitous decision; the Mudlarks had indeed a rather shallow playing list and the arrival of the ‘Lavender Hill Mob’, as we soon became known, meant that the days of recruiting ‘fillers’ from the shopping centre on Saturday mornings was a practice of the past.

Coach Clanger religiously stood in the front of the canteen each Saturday home game with clipboard at hand and when the Lavender Hill Mob arrived – invariably late but always reliable – immediately ticked off a third of the team and he could then concentrate on more pressing coaching matters. Like dreaming of winning a game or rather planning to militate against the likelihood of a massive defeat.

Clanger, no doubt influenced by Yakka ‘s sponsorship of the Collingwood Football Club at that time and perhaps in the misguided hope of inspiring his young chargers attempted to project a Tommy Hafey image by religiously wearing a pair of Yakka jeans with the innovative comb caddie pocket. Whilst this style may have been considered fashionable in some circles it was certainly not considered the de rigor of fashion on the academic campuses frequented by the Lavender Hill mob. Despite Jonesy relentlessly suggesting each and every week that a Tommy Hafey Yakka T shirt would be a far more effective motivational tool, Clanger remained resolutely committed to his image.

Among the cast of misfits at the club were some big names.

Trottie was the brother of a handy St Kilda wingman. He was occasionally capable of a big game after a long hot bath.

Pratty was distantly related to the great Bob. Only problem was that he enjoyed a smoke and dram or two of brandy at each break.

Brownie worked for the local Baker Boy factory and his arrival at training was eagerly looked forward to and it was common to see donuts, cream and fruit buns being enthusiastically consumed during the warm up laps.

We went up the mountain for the first game of the season to tackle the Wandin Bulldogs and as fate would have it won with a late goal by yours truly – a reverse torpedo from the pocket. A total fluke and not manufactured at all like today’s artisans. As we wended our way down the mountain after the game we weren’t talking premierships but there was a definite air of previously unanticipated optimism for the season ahead.

Perhaps we weren’t half bad after all.

A week later we were down 17 goals to 3 at half time against Mulgrave. Dave Curry announced his retirement at half time when Clanger asked him for a suggestion as to where we might possibly improve in the second half. Dave’s meltdown must have had an impact as we came out inspired and kicked the first 3 goals after the long break. This stirred the Mulgrave Captain Coach, a bear of a man of Ray Gabelich proportions and fitness, to leave the behind post he had strategically positioned himself against to that point of the afternoon. He waddled to the next centre bounce and offered a fiercely guttural “Grind ‘em into the ground” and promptly returned to hibernate against the still warm behind post. Mudlark resolve promptly dissipated and first half form returned.

Later in the year we ventured up to Yarra Glen to take on the red and black hoops and cop another pasting. But what set this match apart was that we could not fit the entire team in the visitor’s rooms at the one time. We changed in shifts.

Coach Clanger gave his half time team talk on the riverbank high above the majestic Yarra River. It was a lovely sunny winter afternoon and the Yarra twinkled in the sunlight as we dreamed of all things not related to the next two quarters of football.

But the most distinguishing feature of the Mudlarks – perhaps the most apt nickname of all time – was that we wore a white jumper with a tasteful smidgen of black in the form of a monogram. The only other side of the era who wore predominantly white, that I knew of, were the mighty Roosters from Geelong West.

White was not an entirely insane jumper colour for the up market VFA grounds. But a white jumper in the Eastern Districts League covering the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges, whilst perhaps aesthetically appealing, presented many challenges of a practical nature.

Almost universally the grounds were mud heaps by mid June and the white guernseys were gradually becoming a subtle light tan. The match at Rowville (who wore an eminently more suitable brown and gold combination) was played on a ground about 3 feet below the level of Stud Road. It was more akin to frolicking in a muddy swimming pool. Cluskers caught a rash around the unmentionables that reportably took 3 seasons to completely clear. By July mums, wives and girlfriends were buying bleach in industrial size containers to retain a resemblance of pre-season white.

Consequently by August most jumpers were two sizes smaller and highly susceptible to the odd tear from a fierce tackle and many featured artistic patchwork designs that would have won a prize for needlecraft at the Royal Melbourne Show.

The Mudlarks gradually improved as the year progressed, the Lavender Hill mob rediscovered their mojo and eagerly looked forward to the next season. Clanger retired and the new coach introduced the professional era by banning Brownies’ high carb training regime and we even won the premiership the year after that.

Some years later after the Lavender Hill mob had left to pursue the Sherrin on other far flung paddocks; the club controversially or perhaps rather predictably ditched the hallowed white strip – and a chunk of history – in an economy drive and replaced it with a predictable AFL design and accompanying nickname.

The short-sightedness of clubs dispensing with their uniqueness and history is highlighted, in the Mudlarks situation, by the rash of AFL clubs who, in their infinite wisdom, prefer glorious white as the dominant colour on the – generally – abysmally designed alternative jerseys worn on those dubious designated jumper clash games invented by some AFL apparatchik to justify his/her performance bonus.

I wonder if jeans with the comb caddy pocket will also make a comeback?

 

Comments

  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Enjoyable and amusing read , Railman and spot on re jumpers and club history

  2. Sensational.

    One of the lines of the year:

    Dave Curry announced his retirement at half time when Clanger asked him for a suggestion as to where we might possibly improve in the second half.

    Loved the whole piece.

  3. Steve Fahey says

    Great piece, highly enjoyable. Agree completely re the folly of unique local club jumpers being replaced by ubiquitous AFL designs.

  4. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Well done Raitman.

    I’m not sure about other leagues, but Centrals caused quite a stir when they introduced their white jumper in the late 70s, as celebrated here:

    http://i279.photobucket.com/albums/kk134/DRTrev/DSC03961.jpg

  5. Excellent humour and a great piece of writing.

    Loved the bit about ……Brownies’ high carb training regime. And … Cluskers caught a rash around the unmentionables that reportably took 3 seasons to completely clear.

  6. Jeannie Heynatz says

    This is such a great story, written with clever and warming Aussie humour.
    A comment on the culture of footy – the importance of traditions that underpin clubs, the great characters involved, the connections made and the sense of identity that comes from participating.

  7. Murray Bird says

    Great Story Raitman.
    Tell us one of your La Trobe Valley yarns next, please!

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