A warning to all Dads – watch out for Year 8 boys who dance in baggy shorts.

May 31, 2011

The kid was looking straight at me. Blue eyes under a shag of blonde hair. I swear this young punk was mocking me.

He’d just done a high energy dance, with another young punk. Hip-hop, I think they called it. They wore caps, and drooping baggy shorts, designed to show off their undies.

The crowd was excited. What we’d seen, apparently, was good stuff. Girls were screaming. But this kid, he didn’t care about the cheering. He only had eyes for me.

The Treasurer accused me of over-reacting. He wasn’t looking at me, she said. He was a nice boy, she said. And good-looking!

Let us be clear. High school boys are now the enemy. Well, my enemy. No-one else seems to notice. Here they were, these thirteen year olds, confident and friendly. And talented.

It was high school dance night. Daughter One’s debut as a Year Eight performer. She was wonderful. Dads can say that. But there was a problem. Those damn boys noticed her too.

I’m no novice when it comes to dance concerts. Fathers with music-loving children become experts on matters of the stage. How ironic.

Dancing is not one of my strengths. I can sway with The Treasurer when ordered to, and have been known to break into an awkward tap late at night. Outside of that, I have nothing.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be attending these concerts. You just assume that as a dad, you’ll be at footy training. Or in cricket nets. If I’m to be perfectly honest here, it takes some getting used to.

Early on, the girls would wear cute costumes, and jump around on stage to the beat of Nicky Webster. I would sit and nod. Others around me would explode into applause. Not quite a length of the field try or a boundary through extra cover. But I played my part.

Later, it became clear that both girls were serious about this dancing caper. Afternoon practice sessions. Weekend concerts. As long as they took place outside of Saturday racing hours, I’d be there.

That last bit was a joke, of course. As if I’d put my punting ahead of the joy that is watching my daughters express themselves. A pocket transistor and earpiece worked just fine.

My greatest complaint with dance concerts, is that I don’t particularly care about other kids. No offence. I only have so much dance love. And I have to save that for my own.

These concert programs usually contain 70 or 80 performances. Yep, that many. Dance after dance. With 5 year olds, and ballet girls, and youngsters learning circus acts. All crammed into my afternoon.

It is the law of being a Dad that your child never comes on stage before act number 68. And you don’t know this until you’ve taken your seat. So you watch, and clap, and watch, and clap, and ignore the impulse to stab yourself in the eye with the nearest sharp implement.

I spent an entire Sunday at a cheerleading competition. I was not well, because of activities undertaken the day before. I took my seat, and suffered through a grand total of 112 routines.

That’s not to say that the kids weren’t talented. They were marvellous. Doing positive things to stay fit and keep out of trouble. It’s just that I had to watch them.

Just when I thought I had the dance spectator thing sorted, along comes high school. For all the problems associated with those junior outings, there was a positive; no boys. Except little ones in bow ties and bowler hats. Not any more.

As I watched the other night in the big auditorium, it hit me. My baby girl is growing up. At home, I can be blissfully ignorant of the signs around me. But here, at her high school, surrounded by these confident, talented, self-assured young people, I could no longer pretend.

She becomes a teenager in a few weeks. I’ll tell you more about that soon enough. With this new age, comes change. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m not the only one who now marvels at her beauty. Others, too, have their day brightened by her laugh. And the absolute warmth of her heart.

I’m bracing for what’s ahead. I don’t have sons, but I know boys. That’s the problem. Those mums and dads who had to put up with my antics several decades ago are clinking glasses as we speak. Payback time.

Maybe the Year 8 punks aren’t so bad after all. I guess we could learn to get along. And maybe, he wasn’t mocking me. I must admit they were impressive up there. But if our relationship is going to work, could they at least pull up those bloody shorts?


A bit like batting after Bradman. Can Hay List become the star of the show?

May 27, 2011

The mighty mare cocked her regal head in the float. Was that cheering she could hear? Not the roar she was used to. More relieved, sustained hooting.

Black Caviar’s driver, too, pricked his ears. He’d only just begun the long journey back to Peter Moody’s Victorian palace. And here they were on Nudgee Road, just up from Eagle Farm, being whistled at.

If they’d looked closely, they would have spotted a bloke and his horse, celebrating roadside. Trainer John McNair pulling party poppers, and Australia’s second best sprinter stomping those hulking hooves.

Who could blame them? Finally, Hay List gets his chance to shine.

Punters know how game McNair’s gelding has been. All those seconds, behind the great One. Lesser types would be crushed. But not these two.

While She was treated like royalty in her custom-built Brisbane stable, Hay List was left to bunk with the rest. When they came out for the BTC Cup, it was like 20,000 fans saw right through him. But not McNair.

All along, he’s been up for the fight. Giving his bloke every possible chance. Refusing to believe that She couldn’t be beaten.

He was still thinking that, right up to the time they hit the bend two weeks back. Then Luke Nolen pressed the go button. Whoosh. Game over. Second again.

The Gosford trainer was generous in his praise of the winner. Yes, She’s too good. For everyone.

But now, She’s gone. And there’s a new hot-pot in town. Except he’s been here all along.

Don’t be fooled into thinking the path ahead is easy. It’s a bit like coming in to bat after Bradman‘s just made another 200. Not a heap of upside. Plenty of potential downside.

Hay List is a deserving short-priced favourite for the Doomben 10,000. The form line says it all. And not just in the contests against Her.

In Brisbane’s winter carnival last year, Hay List blitzed a handy field in the Healy Stakes. Five lengths easing up. It was one of the most impressive wins we’d seen.

It was just expected that he’d come back and sweep all before him. Didn’t quite work out that way.

He should win. Easily. Clearly the best horse in the race. But unlike Her, he’s not foolproof. Those taking the skinny odds could face an anxious few minutes.

Again, Buffering is the knockout chance. The Heathcote team is flying. Queensland’s top trainer calls this bloke the stable bulldog. The battle could be another carnival highlight.

But for the sake of John McNair’s health, let’s hope it’s Hay List’s day. Another second just wouldn’t be fair. They deserve some time in the sun. Much easier to shine without pesky world champions in the mix.


Origin week Blues – when does a bloke qualify as a Maroon?

May 24, 2011

It’s time to cheer. And boo. And jump from your chair and wave fists in the air. Origin time.

You can hug neighbours, whether you know them or not. Do that little jig that makes the kids shake their heads. Whistle as loud as you can. Origin time.

Are you Blue or Maroon? Or somewhere in between? Stuck in the footy fan’s version of twilight zone.

State of Origin isn’t simple. The term isn’t quite accurate. For the players, it’s not about where you were born. Otherwise Greg Inglis would be a Blue, and Peter Sterling would be a famous Maroon.

It’s all about where you played your first proper footy. So a bloke’s birth certificate doesn’t come into it.

For fans, the rules are much tougher. It’s hard to change sides. Trust me, I know.

I was born a Blue. Not my fault. But I now regard myself as a Maroon. There’s no official ceremony. You don’t get a certificate. No pledge to Wally and the Bundy Bear. You just do it. Quietly.

This, of course, annoys a great many people. The mere mention sends those south of the border a deep shade of angry. The texts have already started. Mates I grew up with call me nasty names. Such language.

But it’s no smooth sailing up here either. We’re shunned, my kind. Becoming official is more difficult than grabbing the front seat on the space shuttle. Rightly so. You can’t hand out the Maroon to anyone. A bloke needs to earn his place.

When is one worthy? I’ve been here 21 years. More than two decades, living life as a Queenslander. Babies born and raised here. Relatives buried here.

I’ve had my share of XXXX. The odd Bundy too. I’ve survived cyclones and floods. Been to reef and rainforest. Sat in pubs where you can still tie up a horse. Watched the Cowboys play their first game.

I’ve stood in sand on an island way up north, where you could hit a decent 2 wood to Papua New Guinea. Been to cattle sales out west. Munched on a steak or two at the Brekky Creek. Quenched my thirst in Caxton Street.

And I got to know Lang Park. Cautiously at first. No longer a Blue, but not worthy of Maroon. That bloody twilight zone. I’d enjoy the footy, and let the atmosphere wash over me.

But my time would come. Blame Matty Bowen. Game One, 2005. I’d been reserved, as usual. But it was epic. One of the best ever. After eighty minutes, the scores were locked up. Origin was heading into Golden Point.

Four minutes into extra time, the little fullback with the twinkling feet snatched an intercept from a disbelieving Brett Kimmorley, and set sail. The stadium erupted. And I was on my feet. Cheering the Maroons home. For all the world to see.

They won the game but lost the series. So don’t accuse me of joining the winners. Although I’ve been something of a lucky charm since. Mates on both sides of the border are screaming at that.

Since then, I’ve fessed up to those who ask. No big deal, but I support the locals. The Bulls, and the Reds, and the Lions. This is home now. I’m proud of that. And I want us to have all the trophies we can get.

I know not everyone agrees. Plenty of friends who live up here are from New South Wales, and are still passionate supporters of the Blues. They’ll never change. I get it.

The Treasurer remains a Blue. So too her mother. I suspect they’re ready to launch an attack on my football morals, if Mal’s men struggle anytime soon. Don’t hold your breath ladies.

I should add that I’m proud of my own origins. Always will be. A small coastal town, an hour and a bit away from Sydney. Still full of loved ones. A town that’s laid back and friendly. A place that reminds me so much of….Queensland. Might as well give them something else to yell about.

The Maroon purists will say I’m not there yet. Thanks, but no thanks, they’ll say. You may not have noticed, but we’re not short of faithful fans. Another twenty years, then come and talk.

I don’t care. Call me traitor if you like. Deserter. A turncoat. I can take it. You mightn’t like it, but a bloke has to follow his heart. After all this time, I’m at peace with the football gods. And there are plenty of others just like me.

I’m not going anywhere. The rest of my days will be spent north of the Tweed. You’ll eventually find me in a nursing home not far from Eagle Farm, muttering about failed photo finishes, with a maroon blanket over my knees.

Until then, I’ll try to match the passion that’s gone before me. I have a supporter’s scarf for Game One. Yes, it was a late call up, but I’m going to the game. No nachos needed. I’ll cheer, and boo, and there’s every chance I’ll be jumping out of my chair. It’s Origin time. And it’s great to be a Queenslander.

#Postscript .. 2.30pm .. 25/5 .. Since this was published, there’s been debate on 4BC about who REALLY qualifies as a Maroon, and now Anna Bligh and Campbell Newman are in a State of Origin birthright stoush. Does that mean someone is actually reading this?? 

 


Matters of the heart – helping us find the winner of the Doomben Cup.

May 20, 2011

Repeat after me. Bet with the head, not the heart.

It should be our number one guide to punting. Should be. Anything else is a sure way to the poorhouse.

There are other great rules that I’m constantly ignoring. Believe what you see. Winners are grinners. If they salute with a leg in the air, they’re usually worth following. And don’t be frightened by big odds.

It should be so simple. Don’t forget, there’ll be a winner every time they run around. And while we’re talking clichés, let’s not forget that we’re taking it one game at a time. Full credit to the boys. And believe me, we’re not getting ahead of ourselves.

I try hard not to be sentimental. Really I do. I see the pros prowling the betting ring, with cold eyes and bulging wallets. Are they really having fun, crunching the odds and winning big?

Of course they are. Winning is great. It allows you to order Chinese on a Saturday night. And come back to play next week.

Mind you, I wonder about some of the serious types I see around the traps these days. Not sure how they’d go in the middle of a good ‘ol fashioned plonk from years gone by. They always seem to be punching info into laptops, and other tiny devices. Exciting stuff.

Sure, it LOOK impressive. But what are they really doing? For all we know they could be typing out the shopping list. “Tulloch at evens, Bernborough at twos, and a litre bottle of washing liquid.”

Anyway, back to my punting. The Doomben Cup is upon us, and my heart and head are involved in a decent stoush. You see, one of my favourites is running around. And I can’t let him start without me.

Shoot Out is one of those horses that divides those in the punting ranks. Some reckon he’s over-rated. Was wrapped way too early, after winning a few decent races against questionable opposition.

Others love him. His win in the AJC Derby was a ripper. He should have gone on to Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup glory. He didn’t, but we overlook that. Bloody heart again. Yes, I’m in the loving camp.

His trainer John Wallace is another bloke I’d like to have a beer with. I know, that list is growing. So down to earth. Old school. He’s had top sprinters, and a Melbourne Cup placegetter. He sounds tired every time I hear him interviewed. That’s what happens when you get up at 3.30 every morning forever.

In one of those interviews, he let something slip. He told 4TAB listeners that he thought Shoot Out would be his best ever horse. Let me tell you, that’s a fair wrap. This from a bloke who sounds like he wouldn’t give the cabbie directions, for fear of being too chatty.

When I started backing Shoot Out, Stathi Katsidis was riding him. It seemed like it was meant to be. Both shooting stars. They were in action at Randwick and won. But then we lost Stathi. And it was like his number one horse read the papers the next day.

Those next few races weren’t the same. The spark was gone. Like the rest of us. It didn’t seem fair. The team that was set to conquer, was split.

For a bloke who could find trouble off the racecourse, Stathi was amazing for how he could avoid it on the track. The mark of a gifted horseman. Time and again, he’d be in the right place. That’s all you can ask as a punter. The little bloke on top giving them every chance. And Stathi did.

Last start, Shoot Out found a heap of trouble. Corey Brown was in more strife than Flash Gordon. But amid all the obstacles, it looked like Johnny Wallace’s star performer was back to some old form. Maybe he’s not reading the headlines anymore.

The head says he’s a risk, against the likes of Scenic Shot, and My Kingdom of Fife, the horse that used to run around in the Queen’s colours. I’m not talking Freddie Mercury here. The official, horse-owning Queen.

Something tells me that the wily old Gold Coast trainer would love to beat that Royal Connection. I’m pretty sure Stathi would have. And I reckon it just might happen.

I know, the heart is taking control. Take a hike head, we’re not listening. Sometimes, matters of the heart are more important. I’m sure her Majesty would understand.

 

 

 

 


Stock up on your cheese and corn chips – it’s State of Origin time!

May 17, 2011

In our household, State of Origin means Special Dinner. As Locky leads the Maroons out, I’ll be tucking into a plate of nachos Billy Slater couldn’t leap over.

Kick off is just over a week away. Amazing how quickly it comes around. Game One. State versus state. Mate versus mate. And my footy feast.

Like the players, a bloke needs his Origin routine. Mine is finely tuned. If a ticket to the Cauldron hasn’t magically appeared, we revert to our regular roles.

The nachos thing started by accident in Bundaberg about twenty years ago. Nice and basic. Possibly the Treasurer’s sneaky way of suggesting I should have been firing up the BBQ. But the plan backfired.

There was something strangely soothing about yelling at the old Rank Arena through a mass of melted cheese and corn chips. I backed up for Game Two, and by Game Three the Kraft Tasty was so thick there was a paramedic on standby.

We took the hot plate tradition with us to Cairns, and then the Gold Coast. Different lounge rooms, same artery-clogging meal. Brisbane too. The only change of late has been who’s cooking.

The Treasurer has passed the salsa spreading baton down the line. Not Daughter One. Cooking is not her thing. Unless it’s pancakes or chocolate. Daughter Two, however, is a whizz in the kitchen.

She has made some subtle changes. Slightly less cheese, with a dab of avocado. Something about trying to make me eat healthier. I can’t complain. There are still cool drinks involved.

Origin routine. Every family has it. Dad’s special spot. Mum’s lucky jersey. Flags on the wall. And the golden rule. No talking while the game’s on.

I love it when local businesses get involved. The butcher’s snags. The baker’s cakes. All done in Origin colours. Special game night pizzas. Do they still do them? I remember they were big a few years ago. Not that we needed them in our house.

Street parties. Split down the middle. Blues over there, thanks. Maroons get the comfy chairs. The kids playing their own Origin battle out the back before kick off.

I’ve been to plenty of Origin functions over the years. Pubs and clubs chockers. Huge nights for local footy clubs. I enjoyed them in the early days. Free beer until the first point is scored. We’d pray for a wet night and slippery ball.

Now, I’d rather be at home. Total focus on the big screen. Volume up. No distractions. Yelling mindlessly at every play. Jumping out of the chair. Waving fists at you-know-who, throwing early cheap shots.

Of course, the only thing better than being at home, is being at the ground. Experiencing Origin live is something everyone should get to do. It never disappoints. And there’s nowhere better than the Cauldron.

I never tire of hearing tales about the old Lang Park. I interviewed the legendary Choppy Close once. He told me the story of how he and his mate used to climb over the fence to get in for free. The scam worked a treat, until the day the security blokes spotted them.

Choppy’s mate had a wooden leg, meaning he didn’t quite have the great man’s speed. In the drama of the chase, his makeshift pin fell off. Both rolled down the hill. Reckon that’s ever happened at the Olympic Stadium?

No climbing the fence now. That’s ok. There’s no better place to watch a game of anything. It’s world-class. And best of all, the daunting, ear-splitting spirit of Lang Park is never far from the surface.

I love that kids all over Queensland will live in their Maroon jumpers for the next week. Especially in the bush. A concept originally designed to keep interstate footy alive, now makes an entire state happy. Or sad. Depending on the result.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. For those staying home, there’s a menu to be worked out. Remember, nothing fancy. And if there’s any family tensions, just quote me. You’re not a true fan if there’s no cheese.

 


One for the night owls – the day Black Caviar came to town.

May 14, 2011

The woman on the fence was in her best dress. She’d been waiting a while. It was the perfect spot to see the winner return. The lady was waving a flag. And shedding a tear.

She’d just seen something special. Like the rest of us. The fastest racehorse in the world, gobbling up the second fastest racehorse in the world.

Her friends were cheering too. They’d also been there a while. It was such a good spot. A bloke a few rows back kept yelling out to us. “She’s the best in the world, mate.” Just in case we hadn’t noticed.

Everyone knew Black Caviar would win. Everyone knew it would be exciting. What we didn’t know, was just HOW exciting.

You know the cheer they make when the field leaves the barriers in the Melbourne Cup? The Doomben crowd did a pretty fair imitation. And then, as this magnificent mare rounded the bend, and took over from poor old Hay List, the cheer turned into something else.

I’ve been bumming around racecourses since I was 16. I’ve sat in State of Origin cauldrons. Even Wembley once. I’ve heard passionate crowds, in top voice.

But this was something else. This was one, furious, magnificent roar. The stands shook. Form guides quivered. Chills multiplied. Just before 4 o’clock, on Saturday May 14, sporting history wasn’t made. It was amplified.

When all was done, they left her out there alone. It was her time, after all. The other horses and jockeys were ushered off the Grand Dame’s stage.

Luke Nolan was in no hurry. He took her all the way back up the straight she’d just scorched. When he came back a second time, it was at a leisurely stroll. So everyone could get a look. Cue more cheering.

Peter Moody was covered in kisses. From owners, and journos, and committee men. We all owe him big time. Forget winning a Group One race. He could do that anywhere. This was about showing off his girl to Queensland. Making us feel good. Getting people of all ages back to the track.

It wasn’t just the biggest crowd since we were doing the ‘Crocodile Rock’ and blushing while watching ‘Alvin Purple’. It was the happiest. Smiles everywhere. We would have stayed all night if they hadn’t kicked us out.

Hours earlier, before the champ even had her saddle on, I shared the end of a bench with two good ol’ boys. I munched on my hot dog; they sipped on cool drinks.

The bloke next to me started talking, as men of his vintage do. Told me he hadn’t been to a racetrack since the late seventies. Until today.

He’d decided to come out, with his thirsty mate, to be part of sporting history. They’d been planning it for weeks. Now, could I recommend a nice bar until race time?

The boys might have to make another trip in two weeks. Every chance the Champ will return for the Doomben 10,000. We’ll all be back. Every one of us.

Can it get any bigger? She’s capable of anything, this mare. Fans will be booking tickets tomorrow. That roar, however, is another thing. That was one for the ages.

 


My secret friendship with Black Caviar, and what she wants to hear tomorrow.

May 13, 2011

I’m friends with Black Caviar on Facebook. We’ve been tight for weeks now. Celebrating each other’s success. Ok, mostly her success.

She’s probably my most exciting friend online. No offence to the rest of you. But really, it’s not much of a contest. Some of my closest acquaintances would need a cab to cover the 1200 metres.

You must know by now that the world’s greatest racehorse is in Brisbane. And she’s the hottest ticket in town. Just a few weeks into the Winter carnival, and they’re about to put the ‘House Full’ sign up at Doomben. Twenty thousand people, coming to see one mighty mare.

She’s running in the BTC Cup. Hardly one of the classics. Remember who won it last year? Probably not. It was Albert the Fat, at 20 to 1. Decent horse, but not Facebook worthy.

Traditionally, it’s a stepping stone to bigger days ahead. The 10,000 and Stradbroke. Not any more. After tomorrow, it might just be the most memorable race ever run here.

People are flying in from around the country, to watch a horse race. Can you believe that? From Cairns, and Townsville, and Sydney, and beyond. And not just racing nuts. Sports fans. Ready to be part of something we might never experience again.

There are very few horses that can hold the interest of non-racing types. Punters are used to our nearest and dearest tuning out the minute we start babbling about odds and weights. How unlucky we were in the last.

Phar Lap could do it. I wasn’t around at the time, even though it might look like I was. Big Red gave hope to thousands during those grim Depression years.

More recently, Makybe Diva had that pulling power. Winning three Melbourne Cups will do that. But would she have sold out Doomben racecourse in early May? Maybe. Maybe not.

Someone asked me this week why Black Caviar is so special. A bloke who loves his sport, but wouldn’t know a hoof from a hat rack. There are some easy answers. Winning 12 consecutive metropolitan races is a start. And doing it with ease. Officially rated the best in the world. Making potential superstars look second-rate.

But it’s more than statistics. It goes deeper. I reckon those playing the bit roles around this mighty mare have plenty to do with the whirlwind romance we’re all caught up in.

Trainer Peter Moody is a bloke you just want to have a beer with. He’s a Queenslander, of course. A bush boy, from out Charleville way. He’d rather have his champion in Brisbane, than mixing with the toffs at Royal Ascot. It’s a huge call to ignore those wolf whistles from overseas.

Jockey Luke Nolan seems a humble guy. Make no mistake, he’s one of the best in the land. But he plays down his role in this show. Reckons she does all the work. He takes her out, she wins, he brings her back.

She’s not owned by a Sheik. Just a bunch of friends who got together, to race a horse. Living the dream. And giving hope to thousands of others, that our own minimal shares might one day turn to gold.

Dare I say, as much as she’s a superstar, there’s a touch of the ordinary about the Black Caviar camp. How good is that. Nothing appeals to the Aussie sports lover more than to think one of us could have been in that group photo with them.

It’s a rare thing for a modern racecourse to hoist the House Full sign. Numbers have been dwindling for years. Too easy to punt on the internet at home, wearing your pyjamas and not walking the length of the straight to find a toilet.

We constantly hear about race clubs trying to attract crowds. Marketing gurus are sometimes involved. Slick slogans and shiny campaigns. Bands and fashion parades and giveaways.

They don’t always work. So what does? What makes 20-thousand people want to catch trains and buses and taxis, to stand shoulder to shoulder on a Saturday afternoon?

A horse. The best horse. They’ll come from far and wide, if they get to see a living legend. So they can tell the grandkids they were there the day Black Caviar made thirteen a lucky number.

She’ll be as short as it gets. No one will care. Watch how many have a dollar bet, and keep the ticket, just so they can frame it for Dad’s wall of fame.

Back on Facebook, we’re both trying to stay relaxed ahead of the big day. I can’t give too much away about our private conversations, except to say, she’ll be winning. No boasting there, and no great surprise. Just fact.

The champ wants to hear the cheers. From the top of the straight, as she unleashes that breathtaking sprint. She wants the flags waved, and the banners hoisted high. And when Luke brings her back to scale, she wants to hear the passion that Queenslanders are famous for.

What a day it will be. If you’re heading to Doomben, soak up every last bit. If not, don’t despair. She’ll have all the details on Facebook. For her friends anyway.