The beauty of loud voices in the racing game. At least we’re never boring.

May 11, 2013

Imagine being part of an industry that puts people to sleep. Where participants are comfortable in beige. No thanks.

We racing folk, we’re nothing if not vibrant. Everyone has a voice. Usually raised.

It seems everyone has been yelling this week. Major spats in two states.

The Singo and Gai show will be a mini-series one day. Scribes better than me have documented every juicy bit. You don’t need that again today.

What I will say, is that there was passion at every turn. It’s what racing does to us.

Whether it’s at the bar, or in front of the Stewards, nothing is held back. No punches pulled.

In Brisbane, it was Rob Heathcote v Larry Cassidy. My mate the trainer, against the Group One jockey.

I’m still scratching my head over that one. We all know they don’t like each other. So what? Could it not have been sorted out before an official inquiry?

The fact that Brisbane’s leading trainer was fined for speaking his mind on a private blog, puzzles me. If things were that bad, take it to court. If not, move on.

No-one does more to promote the sport in Queensland. He doesn’t mind letting people know what he’s thinking. There should be more of it. It’s easy to stay out of strife, if you don’t open your mouth.

The beauty of these spats, is that we all get over it. Racing types are great at moving on. With or without grudges. We have to. There’s a race about to start any minute.

Listen to the old blokes this arvo at your local. Best of mates, will go toe to toe over the merits of the ride on the topweight.

No thoughts for feelings. Because we have hides like rhinos. Throw your best insult. Then pass the peanuts.

In our game, strong opinions aren’t confined to millionaires. The strength of your argument isn’t measured by the thickness of your wallet.

Don’t get too concerned the next time you hear about a racing blow up. As long as it’s not about cheats ripping us off, then laugh if off. Worse things happen at sea.

And one more thing. If you’re off to the track today, don’t wear beige. It’s just not our colour.

Good teachers making a difference. How one man has improved hundreds of young lives.

December 18, 2012

One of the best teachers I’ve been involved with is a bloke who has been known to wear a skirt.

Not always, mind you. Just special occasions. And no one dares to snigger.

He’s a Pacific Islander. One of those Samoans built as wide as he is tall. With a neck ready to serve as a tree trunk if needed.

His passion, outside family and footy, is teaching. He has a gift. The ability to educate. And to get through, where others fail.

Visit him at school, and you’ll find a classroom that’s alive. There is learning in every corner. And fun in the air.

We met him a few years back, when The Teenager was lucky enough to be put in his class. It remains her favourite year of schooling. And her most productive.

He encourages students to achieve, in whatever field they can. Not great at maths? Have a go at music. Do your best, and you’ll be on the end of a High Five.

There would always be songs played in his room at lunchtime. Someone would get a guitar out. The boys would be dancing. No time for bullying or bitching.

They had a pact, the students and their teacher. One in, all in. If someone was doing the wrong thing, they’d all suffer the consequences. The power of teamwork, on show in Grade 6.

Away from the classroom, his influence was even greater. If there was a game of touch football happening during the day, he’d be part of it. The footy coach, of course. He was a leader of the cultural group, so important in a school full of kids with so many different backgrounds.

Lots of them do it tough at home. So he would give them hope. And something to do. Keep them busy.

I know of so many youngsters who’ve been given a path to succeed, thanks to his perseverance. Making them believe. Walking out of that school gate, feeling good about themselves.

It’s crucial. Even when parents are on the job too. Together, it gives the kids every possible chance. They enjoy their schooling.

Daughter Two was crushed when she was allocated a different teacher this year. So were we. She would have done so well under him. But even in another class, he helped her. A wisecrack in the playground. An encouraging word. Sometimes that’s enough to make the day a little brighter.

We said our goodbyes to him, at last week’s Year 7 graduation. The end of an era. The school has been home to a daughter for the best part of a decade. Next year, the girls will be back together, in high school.

I shook his hand, and thanked him for all that he’d done. Not just for our children, but all the others. It didn’t seem enough. His giant hand crushed mine, and he smiled. Sadly.

It was his last week too. He’s been moved on. The Education chiefs, in their wisdom, have decided he needs to move in a different direction. To a small school, many hours away. I wonder if the parents there have any idea how lucky they are.

He was wearing a necklace made with lollies, carefully constructed by his class. It was straining around that giant neck. I got the feeling that he won’t be eating them any time soon. Like us, he’ll want to hang on to the memories.

Thanks Mr T, for believing in so many young people. We’ll never forget the bloke in the skirt.

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.