As published by The Footy Almanac, 20 June 2012
Nunawading High never faced St Anthony’s Buddhist School in the treacherous 30 mile hop, as featured in the Ripping Yarn ‘Tomkinson’s School Days’. But it might have been preferable to facing Bayswater High a little over 20 years ago.
Given we’d never ventured to the western or northern ‘burbs, truth be told our softness rating veered closer to Meadow Lea than Western Star. I doubt any of us had visions of an outer eastern badlands, after all ‘Bayswater’ sounds rather benign. Although it does oversell a suburb whose nearest waterway is the piddling Dandenong Creek (a far cry from Perth’s Bayswater near the Swan River).
So the bus ride was brimming with teenage bravado until our entrance was heralded by a wailing air raid siren. The ‘bell’ to mark lunchtime’s end was followed by an extended roll call of student felons earmarked for detention announced over the PA. This is just how they roll we thought. So what? The penny had yet to drop on our naïve pubescent brains.
When we took the field, to our slight bemusement and disappointment, our opposition had failed to rustle up a full compliment. Perhaps it was the Friday afternoon timeslot. In any case we underestimated Bayswater’s capacity to provide a stern test of our boyhood.
It’s pertinent to note the Bayswater High motto is ‘Tant que je puis’. Literally translated this means ‘As much as I can’ (full marks for keeping it modest). Though I dare say circumstances over time had encouraged a more liberal interpretation, along the lines of ‘Whatever it takes’. Notwithstanding the original sounds like ‘Taking the piss’, an MO also embraced that afternoon.
True to Bayswater’s free wheeling maxim, what transpired certainly jolted my relatively innocent understanding of how life works on the other side of the Belgrave line tracks (which provided the inspiring backdrop at one end).
The first ace up the Bays’ sleeve was to second one of their Year 12 students to umpire the game. For the purposes of the story I’ll call him Roger Rogerson, for he’d granted the home side as green a light as Neddy Smith ever enjoyed.
To half time I’d made the unusual mistake of exerting some influence on proceedings at full forward, which put me at the top of their ‘to do’ list. Whilst a golden rule of football is to keep your feet, I’d venture that being used for kicking practice is a harsh way to learn.
The other ace up Bayswater’s sleeve was their soccer team which returned from their round robin obligations at the long break. Among the motley cavalry was one joker who took the field wearing tight acid wash jeans. His notable contribution was a hit on Howie Wu comparable to Denis Banks on David Rhys Jones.
They would never bridge the seven or so goals we had on them, but facing a half crazed full deck we were in for a torrid second half. Had Lord of the Flies been on their syllabus I wouldn’t have been surprised, for the reinforcements appeared to draw inspiration from the closing chapters.
My opponent had clearly been instructed to up the ante, for he proceeded to use his stops in new inventive ways, much to the amusement of their goal umpire. I was never an overtly physical player, but early in the last quarter I managed to inflict some ill advised retribution (within the rules mind you). Their rabid ruckman charged forth and repeatedly spat the f-word in my face, which aroused the interest of his teammates (but not umpire Rogerson). Unfortunately my teammates’ strategy was a path of least resistance, as had been mine until moments before. So standing there as one, besides ‘fear’ other four letter f-words now concerning me included ‘fist’, ‘foot’ and ‘face’. Just before they merged to become reality coach finally heeded Slug Jordan’s famous words and ‘took the boy off’.
Safe at last on the sidelines, darkness of two kinds descended on Bayswater High. ‘They all went ratty’ to borrow another favourite line from footy commentary’s Pleistocene era, which is where half their team belonged. Coach belatedly approached his opposite number with an offer of early stumps. The poor bugger, who was probably an arts teacher who’d drawn the short straw, was only too happy to acquiesce.
Back on the bus we compared war stories and contusions. Beating them on the scoreboard was the easy part, but were we proud of our performance? I can’t remember to tell the truth. With his aching jaw and migraine, Howie Wu might have appreciated a few of us waving the flag rather than a meek white handkerchief.
Bayswater High (now Secondary College) has doubtless changed for the better. Perhaps the events described did just represent an ‘off day’. As for my school, it became a housing estate 20 years ago. It was probably another unwinnable fight but I don’t recall Nunawading High cum Forest Hill Secondary College putting up much resistance over that either.
“To serve, to seek, to find and not to yield”. Yeah, whatever…