Archive for the ‘Beyond the Boundaries’ Category

"Righto, chaps, laddies ..."

“Righto, chaps, laddies …”

Stan finally found the courage to face the players.

“Righto chaps, lads. Now I know things aren’t going too well out there. But don’t give up.”

Stan rubbed his palms together and glanced at his players but no-one was interested. Stan decided, Now’s not the best time to address the chaps and laddies. He turned and faced the Bessa brick wall. The team’s been this far behind before. Lots of times. But the half-time break’s never been this out-of-control. Stan raked his fingers through his oily hair, and scratched at his scalp – packing the Californian Poppy tighter under his fingernails. He rearranged the lump of clothing tucked into his Y-fronts, and tugged at both earlobes. It’s only a little incident. It’ll sort itself out. Stan removed his specs, slid them into his shirt pocked, buried his face in his hands, and shook his head. No coach deserves this.

Rags eyed Stan closely. For quite a while. Like a Council worker studies the ground before he starts digging. He moved across and patted Stan’s back.

“Don’t worry, Rags. No-one wants your job. It’s safe.”

Rags’ voice echoed in the change shed. He chuckled at the truism, and stepped back as Stan straightened. Everyone appreciated the humour of Rags’ quip but no-one was in the mood to laugh with him.

Paul looked to his left and right. He saw the row of sunken heads, and added one more to the line.

Stan nodded at Rags as if to say, Thanks for trying to cheer me up. But don’t bother next time. He replaced his specs, and patted his hair into place.

“Righto chappies, lads. There’s only half a match left for the year.”

He pirouetted around to face the players, saw the two rows of lowered heads, withdrew his fist, and slotted his hands into his trouser pockets.

“Have a bit of a rest for a few minutes, lads, and we’ll talk a bit later. Before we go back out.”

Stan spun on his heels, and buried his own head in the Bessa brickwork.

At the sound of the umpire’s two-minute-whistle warning, the players rose from the benches. As Shep jogged daintily towards the door, Stan dipped his head to him. He listened to the sound of Shep’s sprigs trotting on concrete, waited for the crunch of gravel, then poked his head through the doorway. He watched Shep retreat from hearing distance, and slithered back to his customary postion in front of the blackboard.

“There’s been some pretty piss-poor umpiring out there today.”

Stan launched into one of his customary attacks on the injustice of shithouse umpiring decisions.

“We shouldn’t be this far behind. It’s obvious the ump’s not going to pay frees behind play. Or half of them in play. But there’s no use complaining. There’s nothing you can do about it. As hopeless as he is, he’s the ump, and you have to abide by his decisions.”

“Who’s he talking about? The ump or himself?” Arnie quipped to Ed.
“He’s not even convincing himself.”
“He’s a joke,” Arnie said with finality.
“Jokes are funny,” Ed said with double finality.

Snow decided to kill the morbid silence.

“Righto, you fellas. Come on!”

Other players joined in with shouts of their own.

Stan smiled dementedly at the collective noise. He motioned the players to take the field with a jerk of his arm.

“Okay, Sticks. Take the lads and chappies out there.”

"You're a disgrace to the club."

“You’re a disgrace to the club.”

Eddo (Reds’ centre-half-back) was up to his usual tricks. He tucked the Sherrin under his hairy left armpit, put his good arm in front of him to fend off opposition players, and made a futile attempt to run the length of the Clayton oval without taking a bounce. Two opposition players dragged him to the turf (couch grass and lumpy dirt) on the half-back-flank.

Shep (the local league’s stuttering umpire) blew his whistle in short staccato bursts, and gave the signal for holding the ball.

“Pig’s fucking arse!” Eddo removed the clump of couch grass from his mouth, and hoiked the Sherrin as far as he could over the fence – beyond the row of spectators’ cars, onto Stationmaster’s Terrace.

Shep blew his whistle again. “Th-th-th … That’s f-f-f … fifteen metres.” Shep paced out the distance of the free, which was more like thirty.

“No fucking way!” Eddo pushed one of his tacklers to the ground, and stood over him, bully fashion.

Shep blew his whistle again. “Th-th-th … that’s th-th-th … thirtyl!”

The opposition player escaped the tangle of Eddo’s legs, and the neck-lock of liniment-stained, strawberry-blonde Ranga hairs.

Shep paced out a forty-metre fifteen this time, and guided the opposition player to the edge of the ten-metre square.

Eddo’s two younger brothers, Steve and Alan, decided to avenge their off-field grudges on-field. They stood wrestling each other on the half-back-flank as play continued on-and-around them.

Stan sent Arnie out to separate them. Alan accidentally knocked Arnie to the ground with a roundarm meant for Steve.

Eddo ran across to separate his brothers. He put Steve in a headlock, dragged him to the ground, and open-palmed Alan across the back of the head.

“You piss-weak cunt. Pick on someone your own age.”

At half time, the Reds players trudged into the change shed, socks down and guernseys out. Arnie lay recuperating on the rub-down bench. Steve and Alan Edwards were still at it. Steve had his finger almost up Alan’s nostril.

“I told you during the week I’d fix you up.”
“And I told you, you wouldn’t know how to.” Alan smacked Steve’s finger away.

Steve and Alan eyeballed each other. Stan looked anywhere he could except in their direction, and prayed for divine intervention. Joe Edwards – their old man – stomped past Arnie and Stan, and clapped their two heads together like an enraged cymbalist. The crack of skulls was felt by everyone in the change shed. Steve and Alan reeled apart like two world championship wrestlers who’d accidentally made contact and given each other an Irish kiss.

“Grow up, the pair of you. You’re a disgrace to the club. And, Alan, you go straight up to Arnie and apologise.”

“It’s alright. I’m fine.” Arnie raised a lethargic arm and shook his head.

“I don’t care. He can bloody well apologise.”

“Go on.” Old Man Eddo pulled Alan by his guernsey, and shoved him towards Arnie.

“Sorry, Arnie.” Alan moved across, and put his hand on Arnie’s shoulder, checking Steve’s reaction.
“It’s alright.” Arnie waved Alan away. “Forgiven and forgotten. Done and dusted.”
Alan made his way back to the bench, and sat down.

All noise and movement ceased in the change shed. Steve and Alan glared at each other. Old Man Eddo glared at both of them. Eddo glared at all three of them. Stan gazed into the corner as though Bessa brick and concrete had suddenly assumed fascinating qualities. Stillness hung like damp bedsheets. The thickness of the atmosphere suffocated and strangled time. Slowed it to a halt. And prevented it from further movement.

Stan forced his arm upward, and cleared his throat with a timid cough.

“Thanks, Joe.” Stan acknowledged Old Man Eddo with his words but not his eyes. Stan’s words intruded rather than flowed, but restarted time. Each second dragged itself slowly forward again, catching up to its regular beat.

5. Enough is Enough

Posted: October 11, 2014 in Beyond the Boundaries
Barnsey is that you? David?

Barnsey is that you? David?

The Reds team squeezed through the gateway in the Clayton oval fence, and fanned onto the ground as the opposition team completed their warm-up laps. From the opening bounce, the pattern of Reds’ game unveiled an all-too-familiar style.

Snow was his usual wayward self. After completely misjudging his leap at the centre bounce, he staggered across to the fence on the far wing, and threw his guts up over the railing, throat-blending two Clayton Pub, Friday night, lounge bar ‘Special’ schnitzels into a bubble-and-squeak pizza base on the gravel track.

Stan shifted Snow into the forward line, then into the backline. He eventually placed Snow back into the ruck when he realised Reds were a man short in the centre square.

The opposition full-back smacked Deery (Reds’ full-forward) behind the ear early in the first quarter. Deery abused the umpire for missing the incident (referring to him as female genitalia bereft of a brain and vision [“You dumb blind CUNT!”]) and, from that point on, refused to try.

Deery’s team-mates started the name-calling.

“You’re a fucking big sook.”
“Stop being such a fucking cry-baby.”

Deery’s behaviour only worsened.

“You can all go and get fucked, the lot of youse.”

Deery folded his arms, and leaned his frame into the goal post like a disinterested town bike sitting on the front porch of Cliff and Zeta Kelly’s house.


Posted: February 20, 2013 in Beyond the Boundaries
Tags: ,

stans son

STAN ROACH chalked the players’ names onto the blackboard, and spun around to address the team.

“Righto chaps and laddies,” he muttered, spraying those in range with a watered-down version of his lunch. Now chaps and laddies, as you’re all aware, today is the last match of the season for us. Now, although we haven’t won a match all year, there were a couple we could have won; a couple were pretty damn close.”

Arnie dug his elbow into Ed’s ribcage, and protected his whispered comment with an open palm. “Yeah, the match they played last week was close. Both teams played at the same ground. You can’t get much closer than that.”

Stan continued his address, oblivious to the detractions, pacing little circles in his Bata Scouts. “Now, a lot of teams in this position would throw the towel in and say there wasn’t much to play for at this stage of the season. But you chaps are bigger than that. I know all you laddies will look upon this match as the first match of a new season; the first match of next year.”

“It’s the same meaningless dribble every week,” Arnie whispered openly. “Off the cuff it’d be bad enough but the tragic part is, he spends all his spare time thinking this shit up.”

“He’s bloody hopeless.”

Snow macheted his way through the supporters and humid liniment with his battered red-and-white Adidas sports bag as Stan’s son trailed off him like a lapdog.

Rags – Clayton Reds number one supporter – fossicked in his trouser pocket for a fistful of coins and handed an assortment of ten, five, two and one cent pieces to Stan’s son, and ruffled the lad’s hair. Stan’s son clutched at the money, ran outside to count it and, in his childish innocence, wished he had a dad just like Rags.

“Snowy lad, thank God you’re here,” Stan sighed as his stiff shoulders slumped. He watched Snow drop his grip bag to the floor while the players sat waiting for him to continue. Stan looked at the page with hospital letterhead on his trusty green plastic clipboard and read to himself: Key Words. Forget the season. Think next year. Desire to win. Stan smiled at his own doodling, especially his stick-man Super Stan complete with Superman logo.

“Oh, that’s right … Now chaps and laddies, as I was saying, the year hasn’t been as bad as it looks on paper. It hasn’t been a complete waste. Some very positive things have come out of this year.”

The umpire poked his head around the partition which divided the shed into two distinct sections, and blew his whistle. “Two minutes Stan.”

Stan offered the umpire a half-nod while Rags picked at the wax in his left ear as if doing so would remove the ringing.

“Righto chaps and laddies. Up on your feet. Now, the main thing today is … today. You can forget the rest of the season. That’s behind us. The important thing is how we play today. The team’s the same as last week. You all know your positions.”

Stan arched his back and clenched his fist. He thumped the blackboard in preparation for his coup de grace but his frenzy was anything but contagious.

“Righto chaps and laddies. The big question today is … Do you wanna win?” Stan paused and passed his eyes over the players. Nothing came but a spasmodic half-hearted ‘Yeah’. Stan repeated his appeal, anticipating a more enthusiastic response. “Do you wanna win?” Another collective ‘Yeah’ hung stiff and uneasy. The players fidgeted and eyed the doorway. Sticks – Clayton Reds captain – bounced a worn football to himself at the head of the group.

Rags picked the uncomfortable moment to pull Stan aside with a tug on his fawn cardigan sleeve. He leaned into Stan, draped one arm around his shoulder, planted his spare hand firmly in the middle of Stan’s chest, and whispered his beer-breath into Stan’s ear. Stan listened to the barely audible words and began to nod drunkenly to himself. He pulled away from Rags with an expression of vague enlightenment.

“Righto chaps and laddies, there’s a keg on the game. Now, do you wanna win?”

“YEAH!” The response was enthusiastic and almost unanimous. Paul Reilly stood at the rear of the bunch of players with total indifference. He could not get excited over a keg of beer.

“Righto, Sticksy laddie, take the chaps and laddies out there.”

As the players filed towards the doorway, Stan clapped them on their way an expression of dumb contentment splashed across his face. Rags slapped the players through the doorway and, was so impressed with his own input, turned to shake hands with the remaining supporters.

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.

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.”