As published by The Footy Almanac, 19 June 2013
A nagging regret of my life is giving away football in my early 20’s.
Sure there were circumstances at the time which made the decision easy. Didn’t care much for my club, nor the busted ribs, back, knee and dislocated shoulder maladies which plagued my last season of 3rd division thug league. Yep, the cons had the pros outnumbered – in more ways than one.
Nevertheless, as every year passed and life happened, sadly the faded glow of my active footy days mirrored the Voyager satellite’s diminishing view of the Sun. Apart from a couple social games, my competitive outlet this millennium has amounted to a lot of touch footy and basketball. But the commitment to playing ‘fast food sport’ is not the same, and consequently the reward is similarly lacking for nourishment. And besides, footy was, and still is my game.
Now my boy has started Auskick, and should he choose to play on, I hope his career enjoys a longer and more satisfying journey.
Which brings me to a funny thing which happened last Saturday morning whilst waiting in line for a sausage in bread.
One of the dads asked if I wanted a run with his Super Rules side the next day, being desperate for players. I gave a lukewarm half-yes, as you do when put on the spot. And to be honest, a little fire cracker went off somewhere inside of me. In fact, it was pretty much all I could think about for the rest of the day.
That night the captain-coach phoned. It was actually on, there was no backing out now.
In the pantheon of football comebacks, mine probably sits in the bottom drawer with Tony Lockett’s, notwithstanding Plugger boasted 1300 more AFL goals and a Brownlow to vindicate his ill-advised return. Actually, given the time lag, me playing was more akin to a Bjorn Borg or Mark Spitz delusion.
Given the week’s deluge, the prospect of football as mud wrestling did little to improve my plunging positivity levels. It had been too long since I challenged myself though, and here was my last chance to have that one final fling before it was too late. Besides, if old man Fletch can play at the highest level at a similar vintage, time I just hardened the f**k up.
So I arrived somewhere in Greensborough at a ground I’d never seen, with a club (Plenty Valley) I didn’t know existed to play with a bunch of guys I’d never met. The final unknown was the standard of ‘Premier Division O/35 Reserves’. Whilst I’d been assured it was good natured fun, my instinct told me top side Essendon District, who’d previously dealt Plenty Valley a 20 goal hiding, didn’t sing Kumbaya with herbal tea after winning.
Pre-match was low key – our side kind of materialised ten minutes before we ran out. Several players would actually spread themselves across two games. Conditions were superb and my teammates seemed like a great bunch of guys, however getting through in one piece without making a dill of myself was my foremost concern.
Starting on the wing, the first quarter was a bit of a blur. Somehow I managed to snap a point – which should have been our first goal. Damn, no fairytale! After 15 minutes running around like a headless chook, I was dispatched to centre half back to play on a Barry Hall lookalike. Thankfully that’s where the similarities ended. After a couple good deeds I grubbed a kick that ended badly. At quarter time scores were even, coach ‘Itchy’ was very pleased.
The skill level was up and down but the intensity hit me right in the face, literally. I’m not sure how it came about but our full back and myself used our heads to enact a demonstration of atomic fusion. I’d never felt impact to my face like that before – poor Rob was sprawled on the deck spurting blood from above his eye. My first reaction was to feel around my cheekbone and eye socket, which somehow remained intact. Really, we both escaped lightly with mere flesh wounds – even though Rob was done for the day and fast resembling the Elephant Man.
Essendon District took control of the centre and put a few goals on us in the third term. Most confronting was their size and strength, my tackles repeatedly brushed aside. The pain of an elbow to my Adam’s apple was enough to make a shy bald Buddhist reflect and plan a mass murder*. Late in the quarter I relieved ‘Crazy’ in the ruck.
We continued to frustrate our usually dominant opponents as much as ourselves in the final stanza. Out of nowhere a mad brawl erupted involving roughly 14 players. Thank Christ there was a ball up 50 metres away which provided an excuse to vacate the crime scene. The freedom of the ruck was definitely to my liking. All things considered, a 23 point loss wasn’t too bad. I was more ‘fill-in’ than ‘ring-in’ but I went OK.
Some of these weekend warriors are remarkable – our wiry old centreman ‘Kirbs’ resembled Charlie Watt’s head on Mick Jagger’s body, but geez he was tough, and good. My respect for them, and players risking their bodies at any level every week, was reaffirmed.
Just the notion of being ‘a footballer’ again, albeit briefly, was nice. Despite the near death experience I think I had fun. The kids were impressed with my battle scar and I have new found respect on public transport, though my initially supportive wife offered to balance the ledger on my other cheek if I play again.
Was it my last match in Midlife Crisis League? Hmmm… It’s the risk versus reward question I might answer when the headache clears.
*Couldn’t resist the temptation to plagiarize one of my all-time favourite Morrissey lines. Sorry Moz.