It was the summer we decided to get serious about our fitness.
Three of us made a pact. For the first time, we would get fair dinkum with our training. Start the footy season in tip-top shape.
We turned the old garage into a gymnasium. A faded, heavy boxing bag took pride of place. We’d even tape our hands, as if we were in Rocky’s original gym.
Each would spur the other on, and go an extra minute. There was no shortage of sweat in that hot, dusty room.
When we weren’t belting the bag, we’d be running up a God-awful hill, next to where we lived. It got steeper at every turn. Calf muscles were ready to explode. Lungs screaming for air. No pain, no gain.
It’s true, we took our share of supplements. Every night, if we could afford it (meaning if we hadn’t lost our money mid-week at the Gosford dogs).
Our performance enhancing agent was steak. Big, juicy cuts of meat. Eggs too. The more protein the better. It’s what you did when you were in training. So our Dads told us.
It worked. Both my housemates played first grade that year. Having more ability than me helped them no end. I managed to wreck a shoulder in the lower grades early in the piece, thereby wasting all that good work. But our fitness routine had paid dividends.
The blokes around me who succeeded in sport didn’t need powders or needles. They just worked harder than the next guy. No shortcuts. No magic potion from some snake oil salesman.
I should add here, that the game in my time was awash with drugs. Few weren’t involved. Yet there was no probe.
The drugs were legal. Grog and smokes. We were there to have a good time with our mates.
I knew of players who needed a tipple before the game. One bloke carried a bottle of port in his gear bag. A half-time swig before returning to the fray.
Those were the days when the esky in the dressing room was full of cans, not orange juice and sports drinks. Few beers are tastier than the ones consumed after battle.
There were smokers, too. Some would still be puffing before they ran out. And they would certainly light up after the game.
We didn’t think twice about such things, because we knew no better. But there was no cheating. Too much respect for ourselves, and the game we loved. It was the same at coastal and country sporting clubs all over the country. A different time.
I’m not sure when sport got to the stage when hard work wasn’t enough. When scientists and clowns in lab coats started convincing coaches that they were a necessary part of the team.
As some players get banned in the coming weeks, there will be others working hard with their mates in backyard gyms. Sweating to a chorus of encouragement. In the hope of making something of themselves.
They’re the ones I want to go and watch. Because they know that the game is bigger than all of us. I hope they’re eating their steak.