Willaston Dreams

Pictures by Almanacker Peter Argent

It’s a great time of the year for footballers around the country. Wherever they might be.

Some have been hard at it all summer. Running with squinted eyes through the shimmery white heat, loving and hating (at once) the beads of sweat which trickle between their shoulder blades, down the temples, down the sternum, and when finishing with a miler’s home-straight effort, down the ridges of the once-broken nose.

That’s the dedicated few.

Most, though, have been busy down-the-coast, or harvesting, or up north cutting cane, or at Whistler, or in jail, or just on the beer-and-chips-and-pizza cricket couch.

They were always going to play.

They throw the boots and the runners in the car, and head to practice.

With all the familiar faces (who struggled to get a kick last year as well) and the unfamiliar faces. The new copper. The mates of the new coach. The DPI bloke up for a while because of the locusts. Robbo back from London. Bluey? Is that Bluey? Look at the knees on him. (“Hey, Blue, leave some tape for us you greedy prick.”).

The oval is magnificent. Lush grass from the summer rain, cropped short. Grass that makes you feel like you’re eighteen; like you can run forever, and jump like a springbok, and that you land like a gymnast.

Four blokes standing around, arms folded. One with a towel over his shoulder. Another carrying a bucket of water.

A bloke balanced on his ample girth near the cricket pitch, like a see-saw, as a trainer gives his calves a rub. He needs it already.

The cricketers in the nets over the back. Pock, pock, pocking away; trying to make the finals. Including Damo and Jimmy.

A new physio. A student from town. She has caught the eye of the Tom Selleck-Sam Newman full-forward (who is planning a year of adductor strains already).

The president popping in on the way to putting up a sign at the property he’s just listed up by Clarky’s place.

Billy, who’s never been quite right, sitting in the dugout asking, “Will we win the flag this year? Are we going to win it?”

The thud of footies.

The light is autumn gold; less severe. And in the stillness the sounds carry.

“Macca, Macca, Macca, Macca, Macca, Macca, Macca.”

A whistle.

Voices of encouragement.

“Shit, that new bloke’s quick.”

All over Australia.

Blokes like Les Baker (pictured) who plays for Willaston.

The oval at Willaston is in very good nick. One of the locals told me they’d “spent a bit of dough on fertiliser” over the summer, for the NAB Challenge match between Port Adelaide and Greater Western Sheedy.

Willaston is just north of Gawler. The footy team, The Donnybrooks, was formed in 1889 from blokes who worked in the clay pits and their brick-maker brothers. They wear the traditional Norwood strip. In recent times they have played in the strong Barossa league, which has been dominated by Tanunda thanks in part to their skilful mid-field, their young brigade, and their prolific goal-kicker Alex Kennedy.

Justin Irving is the new coach of Willaston. He owns the Bushman’s Hotel in Gawler, and he reckons The Donnybrooks will be the big improvers this year. Justin is from Noble Park in Melbourne’s south-east and played his junior footy, from Under 9s on, with Glenn Archer. Warwick Capper was floating around as well. Justin played ressies at North Melbourne, and then a few seasons at Springvale, before heading to South Australia. At 38, he’ll stick to the clipboard this season.

“We’ve recruited well,” he tells me. “And Alex Kennedy has gone to Mannum in the Murray League.”

A few resources at Mannum I expect.

Shaun Baker, Les’s younger brother, who has won two Mail Medals, in 2007 and 2009, is back. He suffered a terrible ankle injury in the second round last year and missed the rest of the season. But the crane-driver is fit and keen. “I usually play in the guts,” he tells me, “and I just want to get out there. I been runnin’ since October. The boys are all keen. We’re a young side and we’ll go alright.”

Les Baker plays on the ball, and up forward. Les is a boiler-maker/fitter-and-turner, and pretty handy with the tools.

“What’s Les like as a player?” I ask Shaun.

“White line fever, mate,” Shaun says. “Les is a very angry man when he gets out there.”

“He’s got a bit of ink on him,” I observe.

“Oh, yeah, mate,” says Shaun, “you know what it’s like. You get your first tattoo at 18 and you’re away.”

“I see,” I say.

“Yeah, nah: Les, mate. Les knows `em good down there at the tattoo joint,” Shaun explains. “He keeps makin’ tattoo chairs for `em. And they keep drawin’ on `im.”

Clearly it’s a happy relationship.

It could be a big year for the Baker brothers, and The Donnybrooks.

And hopefully the tattoo parlour.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo13, Anna11, Evie10. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.


  1. Peter Flynn says

    Thanks JTH,

    The Donnybrooks? Great name.

    P Landy should be No 1 ticket holder.

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