Archive for November, 2012

Arnie Sprigg and Ed Hobble

Saturday 28 August 1978. The last match of the minor round for the year. Effectively that meant the last match of the season for Reds. In a six team competition they hadn’t made the final four since 1963.

The interior of the Reds change shed hinted at the team’s misfortune. The lone ’62 premiership flag hung from the railing it had originally been tied to. Abandoned cobwebs clung to the faded cotton, and dust particles filtered through the building settling on the pale remnant. The motivational signs positioned in the late ’50s remained fixed to the walls. The sign on the partition inside the entrance door struck everyone who entered like an inverted reminder: If you think you are beaten, you are.

As the siren sounded to signal three-quarter time in the B Grade, Arnie Sprigg, the head trainer, shuffled into the vacant shed, his Blundstone boots barely clearing the concrete between steps. A Reds life membership badge pinned to his breast-pocket trapped glints of sunlight as he scuffed his way to the storeroom in the far corner. Arnie flicked through the bunch of keys clipped to his white St John’s Ambulance overalls, jiggled a key into the small padlock, and scraped the flimsy door ajar.

A stack of new Sherrins lay on the concrete floor under an old school desk. Arnie selected one from the pile, slid it from its plastic wrapper, and sniffed its shine. The rancid odour of pig hide evicted the leftover smell of twenty lubricated men from his nostrils. He groped a narrow shelf for the bicycle pump and, relying more on touch than sight, tucked the prune-shaped pigskin between his wonky knees, and pumped some life into it, going breath-for-breath with his thrusts. Arnie spat on the bladder valve, and listened for tell-tale leaks. Nothing. He grabbed the first-aid kit and oils, and headed towards the rubdown bench.

Arnie’s shed was a mess. He slid bags and shoes and socks back under the bench seats, and placed jumpers, shirts and trousers from the floor onto clothes hooks. He picked up the scattered pieces of paper, bits of discarded strapping cloth, food scraps and soft-drink cans one-by-one and dropped them into the open-ended 12 ½ gallon drums serving as rubbish bins. Massaging his hands clean against his thighs, Arnie leaned back against the rubdown table. Nothing remained but to wait for the A-Grade players to turn up.

Hardly had Arnie taken one of his lengthy wheezes when Ed Hobble, his assistant, traipsed in. Ed hung his hat and cardigan on a spare clothes hook, and rolled his shirtsleeves beyond his crusty elbows, exposing his wrinkled arms. He leaned forward, cupped the rubdown table for balance, and ran his hand over the top of his head as though to tidy the hair he once had.

“You can’t tell a bloke from a sheila these days. My old man would have given me the belting of my life if I’d come home with hair down to me shoulders.”

Arnie pinched at the untamed white scrub sprouting from his ears, and nodded.

“Or made you wear a dress for a week.”

Paul Reilly swung past the conversation, and stripped down to his jocks. Hoisting his bare thighs onto the cold wood, he sandwiched himself between their discussion on the fate of modern man.

“They’ll want to rewrite the Bible next.”

Arnie splashed Paul’s right thigh with cold liniment, and handed the plastic bottle to Ed. As they used the coarse-grade sandpaper of their tradesmen’s hands to slap Paul’s calf muscles loose, and the liniment invaded his nostrils like smelling salts, the disorderly procession of players filtered in for the main match.

1. Friday Night Training

Posted: November 24, 2012 in Beyond the Boundaries

Clayton. Just another one of those small country towns people pass through on the way to somewhere else. They remember the speed-limit sign and slowing down but little else. To the traveler, Clayton was nothing but a nuisance town that couldn’t be bypassed.

To the locals, Clayton was a big part of the only life they knew; the town they were born in, went to school in, married in, and would probably die in. Clayton linked the scattered memories which formed the substance of each person’s identity.

Clayton had the usual run of miscellaneous businesses; it had its churches; it had its pub and, like most southern Australian country towns, it has its Aussie Rules football club. Two in fact. The Clayton Football Club and the Clayton Rovers Football club, or Reds and Rovers as they were knows. The Roosters and the Magpies.

Casting a glance along the main street, little distinguished Friday 27 August 1978 from any other weekday. By 5.30pm trucks, utes and cars occupied every available parking space within a hundred yards of the Clayton Community Hotel. Inside, the front bar was a swell of salty male bodies surging back-and-forth, rising up and down like a choppy sea. Voices slapped and crashed against themselves as conversations blended into a racket, drowned in the roar of overlapping blasphemies.

The Plane brothers, Ken and Wally, or Stiffy and Wobbly as they were known, had been in the pub since opening time. Their two Stetson hats lay upside-down on the bar near their elbows, stacked one-inside-the-other like dusty dishes. Their hound’s-tooth tweed jackets stretched almost around their bloated midriffs, and their sloppy buttocks squashed the bar stool cushions flat. They looked like two oversized marshmallows on four-pronged toasting forks.

“Jesus! Don’t these bastards have anything better to do on Fridays? The rabble’s bad enough but now a man’s getting crushed,” Stiffy whined, as the general surge of bodies towards the bar forced him to shift a couple of inches.

Stiffy whinged about most things. Exhausting one topic, he launched into another, always with the same bitterness that stained his outlook on life itself. Stiffy licked his brandy chaser clean, and slid the pony glass across the beer puddles. It stopped short of his empty butcher glass like a child before its parent. Stiffy’s bloodshot eyes stalked the bar until he located the solitary barman pouring beers three patrons away.

“Christ Almighty!” he moaned. “Nothing ever changes around here. You still can’t get a beer when you want one.”

Wobbly toppled his stack of assorted coins in readiness for the barman’s next lap as Stiffy spat green phlegm into his hankie, and stared at it. Wobby avoided correcting his brother, having learned after seventy years together that nothing he said would make Stiffy see things any differently.

Barry Oldfield, or Rags as he was known from his habit of calling everyone Rags, propped himself alongside Stiffy. Rags was the town drunk but out of common courtesy the locals still considered him a shearer. His blood-and-shit stained dungarees added one more fragrance to the mix.

“The Red Dogs tomorrow,” Rags spluttered, and thrust his Coopers Ale stubbie towards the nicotine-stained ceiling tiles.

Sniffy snorted and counted certain blokes with his unsteady finger.

“Fucking Red Dogs, my arse! Look at the drunken cunts. The whole team’s in here and it’s not even sick o’clock. They couldn’t win a game if their lives depended on it.”

“Twenty bucks says they win tomorrow.”

Rags jerked his stubbie from his mouth, and spat out his reply. He wiped his wet handlebar moustache across his chequered shirt sleeve, and eyed Stiffy over his wrist.

Stiffy flicked at the uninvited froth and spittle on his jacket, and screwed his face into a crumpled paper bag. His black eyes peered from his pasty skin like currants sinking into cake mixture.

“Piss off Oldfield. I haven’t seen the last twenty. Or the twenty before that.”

Stiffy turned away, and glared at his empty glasses as though they alone were responsible for all the injustices he had suffered over the years.

Wobby advanced a timid objection.

“Not all the team’s in here. Young Paul’s not.”

Stiffy rotated sideways, and eyed his brother with contempt.

“When I said all, I meant everyone except him. You bastards knew what I meant. The bloody place would fall down if Reilly walked in.”