Footy-playin' neanderthal

Another footy season has passed on and yet again, I didn't know which teams were involved in the grand final up until the week before the big game. Most years I never really know until the day, or I just don't care to find out which teams make it to the final. I've no interest in rugby league anymore although there seems to be a small part of me that remains interested. So much so that if I happen to be watching a game with my cousins at the pub (a-once-every-two-years occurrence), I'm as involved as ever as a tv-pub spectator.

This is because I used to watch the game when I was a ween. I even played it, too. I was put in the team in 1978 and yes, I and a whole bunch of eight year old boys met on weekends with our own coloured jerseys on our local grounds and went through the rounds of playing footy. I don't recall what went through my head at the time - not much really - but something inside of me felt this to be a totally absurd charade. I quit halfway through the 1979 season. I preferred to stay home and watch Scooby Doo after school than have to go to those stupid footy practices with my idiot peers. I told my dad I didn't want to play anymore. I think he said 'ok', and then went to the pub. *Slam*

In 1980 & '81 we all had to play rugby union on Tuesday afternoons as a compulsory school activity. We were divided into 4 teams, ainger, brennan, conlon, tevlen. These were all names of past brethren of the school I attended. I was in brennan, the blue team, and we always came last on the points table. That much I remember; it's likely we came last in no small part because I happened to be on the team. I don't remember much of the activity of actually playing rugby union. To me, union was even more hideous than league because the union centred on perpetual scrums. The idea of cavorting and crashing around with sweaty boys in these hideous scrums just to grab hold of some loping brown, leather, ovaloid (and er, run with it) was just the most ridiculous exercise to me. Still is. I'm on the wrong planet. I was 11 and that was the last time I dignified myself onto a field of rugby. The only thing that'll get me back onto an action footy field is if I carry a machine gun. Fucking neanderthals.

And yet, paradoxically, I took some interest in league. In 1977 I collected footy cards. I wish I'd kept them. They would have lost the smell of bubble gum by now though. I vividly recall watching the 1977 grand final between the Saints (St George) and the Eels (Parramatta). Parramatta had yet to win a grand final. I was barracking for the Saints. I really liked the full-back, Ted Goodwin. The game turned out to be a 9-9 draw. It was a cliffhanger and I loved every second of it. I was watching the game on my own. My dad was probably up the pub (where else). Mum was likely in another room or out, my brother was on another planet. Only my cousin was home hanging out with my sister in her room. I remember periodically going up to my sister's room and excitedly divulging score updates to my cousin and sister. They always turned to me in tandem, grimacing at me with taut amusement. I remember the decor too in that room, there was some fabulous colour and paintings my sister had created. The colours and vibes were very much of the time. 1977 was the year that Elvis died, ABBA was king, Cold Chisel were playing up at the Bondi Lifesaver all the time (I wish someone had told me), and Marcia Hines had a hit with the song "You". That, and the Saints plastered Parra in the repeat game the next week. I didn't watch that game, but I was glad the Saints had won.

I recall watching the 1980 grand final. John Lennon was in the studio recording - after a five year hiatis - the Double Fantasy album. My first nephew Alex was being born. Closer to home it was my team Easts vs Canterbury for the final. School. The teacher asks us on the Friday before the game "who goes for Easts?" Most of the class raise their hand. "Who goes for Canterbury?" About three people put up their hand at the expense of cool boos of derision the rest of us give out. One of those renegade Canterbury supporters was Stephen O'Brien. He ended up with the Religious Studies prize in 1987. He was also a pathological liar and weirdo. After we finished school he kept sending me creepy, anonymous mail. He also sent me a yellow t-shirt and surf shorts. I loved the shorts, thanks Stephen. Yeah, for all of his St.Bernard sheen of benevolence lay a very insecure bloke who lied
all the time. He was full of shit.

But his team won. Canterbury beat Easts 18-4. I remember Steve Gearin's dummy kick that resulted in a superb try that sealed the game for Canterbury. I thought East were a bunch of klutzes. Still do. I've never gone for them again. Easts did beat the Saints in the 1975 grand final 38-0 but I was too young to acknowledge the significance of grand finals and teams and winners and losers and tackles and scrums and running around with the ovaloid brown ball.

1981 was the year that sealed for good my fledgling interest in footy. My dad's team, Newtown, made the grand final!! Against Parramatta. Dad barracked for Newtown because he knew some of the players, and because he worked in the brickyard in St Peters which is down the road, and most of his mates lived around there. Like those little workers cottages in Mary Street & Darley Street, Newtown, yes...

So we watched the game together and enjoyed seeing Newtown leading Parramatta by a few points. We were well into the second half of the game. Newtown coach Warren Ryan decides to swap players, bringing in Geoff Bugden to replace the current front-row forward. That's the end of that. Parra score two or three times near the end of the game to wrap up their inaugural grand final win. My dad was dismayed. So was I. Since then I haven't given a fuck who's made or been in the grand final. Youse can all go fuck yourselves!

Parramatta. Newtown. These are two Sydney locales that have changed a lot in the years since 1981. Parramatta was a gaol-town right in the centre of Sydney. It is also an important historical precinct. It has become a pleasant, livable metropolis with a great food strip, one of the best in Sydney. And inner-city Newtown is now a definitely upmarket locale. It wasn't upmarket in 1981. All those mates of dad who lived in those little cottages just off King Street have all died. Cancers, cirrhosis, the usual stuff. Perhaps it was a timely symbol that Newtown made the 1981 grand final, and that 1982 was their last year in the premiership. Newtown was rapidly evolving into an alternative, student hub and a new subculture was rapidly emerging in the area. This was, and remains, a great thing, but it annoys me so much when idiots like the 'whitlams' singer Tim Freedman make such a thing about moving into Newtown in 1987 (from his cosy Northern Beaches home) as if they've pioneered the place. Have some respect for those who've gone before you, who've had their hands dirtied and sullied by working or living there pre-1970s. And to this day, as you walk down the thin avenues of Mary Street or Darley Street and gaze at the now way-overpriced though tiny cottages, you still feel an ever-so-slight menace in the air. The ghosts of many men who were fucked over financially, working to make the other man rich. You notice this quite palpably as you go south two suburbs toward St Peters, which in some parts of it, has a vibe to it that's downright deadly.

I looked at the State of Origin games sometimes, in the late 80s. There were some funny characters involved at the time like Queensland's Sam Backo. He was a huge hedgehog, and he couldn't talk, except to start saying "fuck" on camera, and always realising he'd just said it after he'd said it. He was built like a brick and played like one. A typical dumb-cunt, but a funny one at that.

There's a part of me that's still attached to this game. Glue me to the screen on a Friday night, beer in hand, and I'll be into it. It's just that I don't chase it or look out for it, so I don't watch it. But I could watch it, and enjoy it, given the chance. And after 28 years I'm still sore about the Newtown tragedy. I cannot forgive and nor do I forget. I suppose a part of me feels that a Newtown win in '81 would have been a good gift for my dad, whose life was cut short a decade later. My dad never had many gifts coming at him, just meager acceptance of putting up with his gruel-like lot. I wish Newtown had won in '81, just for dad, that's all.

See, I'm as just as much a neanderthal as those who openly love and play the game. And in more ways than one.

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