2. Going Through the Motions

Posted: November 30, 2012 in Beyond the Boundaries

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.

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