Big Snow

Towards 2pm, the A-Grade coach meandered in.

Stan Roach transferred to Clayton in late 1976 to tackle the position of hospital secretary. The talk of the time was, ‘In Stan’s younger days he was a hell of a player. He took a team down in the South-East to a few premierships.’

That rumour was enough. The Reds committee turned up on his doorstep the day he arrived to offer him the coaching job, pointing out, ‘All townies play for Reds. It’s an unwritten law. It’s tradition. It’s custom.’

After the players had trained and played under Stan, the common consensus was, ‘He hasn’t got a fucking clue about the game, let alone how to coach.’

Stan’s most obvious skill was being able to talk to and spit on someone at the same time.

The image Stan cultivated was consistent with his football knowledge. He tucked his shirt and singlet into a lump inside his Bonds Y-Fronts, and then exposed the white elastic rim above his brown K-Mart trousers. He saturated his hair with Californian Poppy, and wore thick black-rimmed glasses which kept his long fringe from his eyes rather than offer him better eyesight.

By 2pm, all the Reds A-Grade players were in the change shed except for Len ‘Big Snow’ Maynard; Reds ruckman, occasional centre-half-back and occasional centre-half-forward. Due to Stan’s dubious coaching methods, Snow usually played all three positions in the course of each match.

Half-an-hour before every home match, Stan dispatched one of his sons to Snow’s place; a short dash along the track behind the Clayton Bowling Club, through the gaping hole in Snow’s back fence, and up to his bedroom window at the rear of the house.

Shortly after 1.30pm, Stan’s son stood at Snow’s window with his regular assignment: “Wake him up. Keep him awake. Wait for him. Make sure he comes.”

“Snow!” Stan’s son tapped on the windowpane.

“Come in,” Snow grumbled as he rolled over and sat upright in his tangled sheets.

Snow rubbed his face, flicked his pillow-flattened hair from his eyes, and dragged his shirt across the floor by its sleeve. He prised his crumpled Benson & Hedges packet and a Bic cigarette lighter from the shirt pocket, lit a ciggie, and dragged on the filter like an asthmatic sucking on a Ventolin inhaler during a chronic attack.

Stan’s son leaned against Snow’s door frame taking everything in; not game to put his nose any further into a room that ranked of dirty socks, week-old unwashed clothes, stale tobacco smoke, an unemptied dreg tray and the men’s urinal.

Snow stretched for a tepid West End beer can on his dresser, and took a swig.

“Yuck! It’s half empty,” Stan’s son winced, as if to enlighten Snow.

“Na, it’s half full. Depend on which way you look at it,” Snow said, enlightening Stan’s son, then bounced the can off the wall and watched it land on a pile of dirty clothes in the corner of the room. “A man can’t play footy on an empty stomach.”

Snow brushed Stan’s son aside and dragged his bulk to the bathroom.

Stan’s son eyed the cigarette ash on the lip of the beer can, picked it up gingerly, and shook it until he heard doused cigarette butts rattling around inside. He tossed it back among Snow’s dirty laundry, and retreated to the kitchen table.

The putrid stench of Snow’s activities on the toilet wafted into his nostrils. Deciding body odour beat the smell of soiled undies hands-down, Stan’s son applied a peg-grip to his nose, and moved back near Snow’s bedroom door.

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