The game’s just not the same. Words of footy wisdom from blokes who know.

July 16, 2013

We always end up on the same table when we’re back at home, at our original pub.

No-one organises it. It’s just what we do. Perfectly aligned to the bar and the small screens.

It doesn’t take long for the stirring to begin. It’s a tough school. The wrong shirt or a dodgy haircut is enough for some unified bagging.

The talk turned to footy, as it usually does. Timely, with one of the great Origin games on the way.

There are hundreds of games between us. Lots of blood, sweat and broken bones. With a few cool drinks sprinkled in between.

Half of those at the table turned to coaching after playing days. These blokes know the game. Some have sons still involved.

The races weren’t even done when it became clear this mob was unhappy. Everyone saw a problem with the modern game. A few of the boys have even stopped watching on a Friday night.

We went around the table, and everyone had their say. Voices of real fans. I wish I’d made a recording, and sent it to the NRL.

Weird Harold hates the wrestle. In his day, he was a tough forward, who tackled, and was tackled. Always around the legs, as we were all taught. He can’t stand blokes grappling, and being kept upright, to allow defensive lines to re-group.

We all agreed. The Cannonball tackle, where a third defender comes in and hits a player’s knees while he’s being held by others up top, makes me sick. It goes against everything we were ever taught.

Smithy bought a round, and we went quiet, thinking about why this great game keeps getting tinkered with.

Coffs broke the silence. He thinks they’ve got the defence all wrong. He can’t stand slide defence. When it doesn’t work, wingers keep scoring in the corner, game after game. Boring, he reckons. Get back to defenders attacking attackers. Coaches over-coaching. It’s one of the reasons the game is short of playmakers. He would know. There were few better with the footy in his hands.

They both can’t stand how technology has slowed things down. The mind-numbing delays, when video refs are trying to make a decision.

It makes the game so much slower. Teams are unable to create pressure, while a director is rewinding yet again. And pressure on the footy field can bring the best of teams undone.

Richo hates how they form scrums today. Anyone can stick their head in there. They amble over, with any number on their back. No-one pushes, or attempts to win the ball over. Drives him nuts.

Bez doesn’t say much. Just stands, and nods. We’re assuming he’s not happy either. He would come off the field, covered in dust. Without the energy to say anything. Nothing much has changed there.

I agreed with all their gripes. I think the game is best when there are minimal stoppages, and the skills of the athletes are on show. I want big blokes to get tired, so little blokes can create magic. Fast men being put into holes. That’s what kids will copy in the backyard.

It’s still a wonderful game. We agree on that. Just stop changing the things that make it great. The speed, and the strength, and the skill, and the toughness.

Let’s hope the Origin decider is all of those things, and more. Keep an eye out for Cannonball tackles. Boo if you see one. And for Richo’s sake, let’s hope we don’t have a winger packing into a scrum. It might be the end of him.

Home ground advantage. When it comes to footy fans, the louder the better. Teeth optional.

May 15, 2012

There’s nothing like home town loyalty.

And nowhere is the passion for a place more obvious, than at the footy ground.

Stadium or cow paddock with posts. Doesn’t matter. You’ll get a fair read on what the locals stand for, by the way they support their team.

I saw it first hand on the weekend. Ventured south, for a weekend with some old boys. Mates who know more stories about me than I’ve forgotten.

We met while involved in rugby league in North Queensland many moons ago. We’re ancient now. But we catch up in a different place every twelve months, and will continue to do so until we walk with frames, or forget our own names. Meaning we only have a few years left.

This year, we followed the mighty North Queensland Cowboys to the Hunter Valley, for their clash with the Knights. And in Newcastle, we found a city bursting with pride.

You can tell something about a town by how excited folks are on the way to the game.

Walk with them, or share the bus, and listen. No better way to discover the heartbeat of their home.

These Knights fans, they’re hard-core. Just about all of them are decked out in the colours of their team. A few from the club’s early years. They wear them, some unwashed since the first premiership, like a badge of honour.

Inside the stadium, the loudest message comes from the kids. The young ones wave their flags. Teenagers not the slightest bit embarrassed about proclaiming their loyalty. Here, it’s cool to be involved.

One of the great things about being a supporter, is that everyone’s the same once they take their seats in the stand. No-one cares what you do, or how big your salary is. If you’re sporting the right colours, you’re ok.

Strangers bond. People who might have little to cheer about for the rest of the week, suddenly find their voice. Life might be tough. But giving the ref a blast from Row G is a wonderful tonic.

For some reason, the member of our party responsible for tickets decided it would be handy to be high up in the stand. This meant we were a picnic rug away from disturbing air traffic.

When I wasn’t attending to my nose bleed, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the loyalty of those in blue and red around me.

On the same night, in that other code, the Collingwood faithful headed north, and turned the Gabba black and white. They set up camp in Brisbane, and made it look like a home game. That’s what passionate supporters can do.

I’ve heard Lions fans say that they were made to feel uncomfortable in their own ground. Hate the visitors all you like, but give them points for having hides like rhinos.

They also don’t care what others think of them. Joke all you like about their lack of dental care. Who needs front molars when the boys are kicking straight?

Even our giant modern stadiums can’t dampen the enthusiasm. Suncorp Stadium is one of the world’s best. But you’ll still find Broncos fans making life hell for anyone wearing opposite colours.

All that pride and passion will be on show in coming weeks, as State of Origin consumes us once again. The only thing better than cheering for your home town, is screaming for your home state.

If you’re an over-the-top fan, I take my coloured hat off to you. Keep waving those flags. I’d whistle with you, but I can’t find my teeth.

A childhood spent outside. The beauty of having a big yard and a slobbering dog.

September 20, 2011

As a kid, I lived my life outside. Nothing much of interest happened inside. The backyard was my playground. It’s what we did.

Every minute of daylight was put to healthy use. And some moonlight. Mum would call more than once to get me inside for dinner.

People of my vintage tell these stories. The younger generation delivers a collective yawn and advises that we don’t ‘get it’. Which is often the truth.

Something beyond dispute, is the quality and importance of the backyard. The ancient times of my youth is a clear winner.

Blocks are shrinking. More and more places have no yard at all.

Our family moved a few times during my childhood. We lost our first house. Dad’s building business crashed. The bank made him sell the home that he’d built for us. It knocked him around.

For a sports-mad youngster, there was a bonus. Our new rental place, humble as it may have been, had a ripper yard. Complete with Hills hoist and outside dunny. It was long and spacious. The yard, not the outhouse.

During winter, Dad and I would spend hours throwing the footy around. Catching, and kicking, and commentating on future glory. Mum would call fulltime and drag us up the back steps.

But it was summer when our outside arena came to the fore. It was an ideal backyard cricket ground.

Over our fence was a dirt lane, and then a spare block of land, overgrown with grass and weeds. Just the sort of wide spaces that encouraged lusty on-side shots.

We positioned the stumps at the far end, so the batsman had to be careful in his decision-making. To the right, was the dunny, and Dad’s shed. If you hit in that direction, you had to make sure it was along the ground.

The value shot was to the left. Anything loose from the bowler would be dispatched over the fence, into that spare block.

Dad would bowl over after over, in fading light. He’d still be in his work clothes, after toiling on a building site somewhere. But he would send them down, without complaint.

I think back, and wonder how I ended up such a crap batsman in adult years. It was certainly not through a lack of practice. Possibly a lack of talent.

Someone else loved that yard, and those endless summer arvos with bat and ball. Our dog, Tess.

She was a beautiful black border collie. I can’t remember where we got her, or how we paid for her, given money was so tight. But we adored her.

She lived for our cricket games. Our best fieldsman by far. She could catch. And importantly for the weary bowler, she could chase.

Whenever I’d whack one deep into the spare block, she’d be galloping after it. Thanks to her efforts, it was rare for us to ever lose a ball. It would come back covered in dribble, but that was a small price to pay.

After Dad’s death, we moved a few more times. Nowhere was quite like that backyard.

Now, I have a yard that is tiny by comparison. There is a rusting swing set, and a trampoline that doesn’t get used much anymore.

Our dog Coco is only a little bigger than the tennis balls Tess used to chase. I get home after dark, so there’s no bowling to be done. The girls hate cricket anyway.

There is hope, however. Daughter Two is now playing touch football. Finally, a reason for our family to own a footy. And to get outside.

This weekend, we’re going to spend some time in our yard. A short break from laptops, phones, and i-pods.

If we had been given access to so many gadgets all those years ago, maybe we would have stayed inside too. Or maybe not. Tess would never have forgiven me.

So, my daughter’s not good enough? Round two between Father and the Boy.

September 13, 2011

After weeks of planning, Daughter Two was having her eleventh birthday party.

A house full of school friends. Games and loud music. Enough sugar to send a Bundy farmer on a Pacific cruise.

Oh, and one other thing. There were boys.

Two in particular. The object of my precious daughter’s affections, and his mate.

You may remember me mentioning the lad in question a few weeks back. From memory, I was calm and laid back about it all. Despite suggestions to the contrary.

At least he had his shirt on this time. Unlike in that ridiculous dancing video. He had a mop of shaggy blonde hair, that was in need of a date with a brush.

He had a go at the hula hoop competition, but was no match for the girls. I almost felt sorry for him.

Defeated, he sat down to watch the others. The opportunity was too good to ignore.

In a classic military move, I came in unsighted from the right flank. No escape path.

We shook hands. He seemed tiny, and uncomfortable. I asked him about footy. He went a shade of red.

All the while, I could feel a pair of eyes burning deep into my back.

Daughter Two was watching my every move. The potential for embarrassment here was deep into the red zone.

I was trying to be cool. No boring dad stories. I didn’t even break into song. But there was a problem.

The last time I’d checked, they were about to be the Year 6 version of boyfriend and girlfriend. Everyone seemed happy. Not counting me.

I’d heard nothing more, and assumed that they were, indeed, an item. Apparently, this is something one needs to check before engaging in conversation.

The girls, all ten of them, were sleeping over. Madness, I know. But the boys were being picked up. Departure time prompted a flurry of activity from the young ladies present.

There was a rush for the door, with a squeal common at sleepovers. They were screaming things like “Don’t you have something to ask the birthday girl?”, and “You still have time!”

I was confused. Nothing unusual for a Friday evening. Until the Treasurer took me aside.

She explained that there’d been a hitch. He hadn’t asked her out yet. The girls thought he would muster enough courage by the end of the party. They were wrong.

It then dawned on me. This kid who I’d been interrogating, was only Boyfriend (pending).

The girls ran inside laughing. It was Pass the Parcel time. For just a second though, I thought I detected a hint of sadness in the eye of my beautiful daughter.

This was an outrage. What was this pint-sized cad thinking? Standing up the most eligible eleven year old in the school?

Because one of the young gum-chewing party guests had taken my comfy black chair, I pondered the situation briefly from the deck. My life till now has been about keeping boys away. Now I wanted one to come back.

I decided the best thing I could do was to go to another room and watch the footy. A sacrifice that fathers make on such nights. I hope you understand.

The rest of the party seemed to go well, apparently. Except for the girl with the allergic reaction to the guinea pigs.

I’ve been told that such matters take time. The boyfriend thing, not the allergy. Although I have given thought to training up the little critters  to attack him during his next dance performance.

Daughter Two just laughed when I asked for details the following day. She said all was ok, and that I should ‘chill’. It seems the family is getting some perverse satisfaction from my suffering.

I hope he realises that this isn’t over. Fathers have long memories. He’ll have to answer my questions again one day. Just as soon as the game  is over.