4

The West End Brewery and me

To this country kid life often appeared binary. Lillee or Thommo, Holden or Ford, Port or any other team, and my Dad, no, all dads, drank West End Draught or Southwark beer.

I remember our back lawn, the old Buffalo grass with microscopic leaf barbs that’d make your legs itch. Summer and the sprinkler would be on, with that comforting hiss that was anything but reptilian. By the swing was an ancient lemon tree and down from this I’d play backyard cricket with my sister even though she’d insist she was not out caught behind by the automatic wickie if in her crease. Every time. She was persistent and Mum having refereed the argument, I’d then race in to bowl as fast as my pool-cue legs would allow.

Late afternoons wandering about the garden, watering his tomatoes, Dad would sometimes open a Southwark echo. The green of the label was intriguing; almost emerald, almost regal, vaguely Germanic with the stylised stein and almost many different evocations that were beyond my mind’s innocent migrations.

*

Nowadays, at the Broady in Glenelg South, with fifteen beers on tap, I always scan the offerings before getting the usual, and for that brief moment the cluster of choice is faintly paralysing, in a hugely privileged, first-world way. But from my late teens I recall that there was no real choice. I just ambled into the golf club bar or the pub and, like everyone else, had Draught.

My only decision was glass size and the Kapunda Golf Club was a butcher (200ml) venue while after cricket each of the six pubs- The Prince of Wales, Sir John Franklin, Clare Castle, North Kapunda, Railway and Allendale- was schooners or mugs with handles (285ml) and only with West End Draught. All of this was barely considered. I may as well have wished for the sky to be another colour.

We’d get up in the dark for the Adelaide Oval one-dayers on the Australian Day long weekend. It was the triangular series era so Saturday might be New Zealand against the West Indies and then on the Sunday and holiday Monday they’d play Australia from 10am.

Three or four cars- maybe Woodsy’s 180B, Bobby’s Torana and my HQ Holden- would go from Kapunda to Gawler in the gloom, and we’d train from there (through Womma), walk down King William Street, and line up at the Victor Richardson Gates as the heat was climbing from the bitumen.

Once in we’d scramble to the southern mound about half-way up, and down from the Duck Pond. This was a marquee erected annually just inside the mesh fence at long-on, and it signalled that along with our foam eskies loaded with vodka-infused watermelon (we are all fruitarians, Officer), greasy bottles of Reef Oil and Adidas Mexico shorts all was right at Adelaide Oval for another summer.

Adelaide Oval during the summer of 1985

Although we didn’t frequent that part of the ground, from the Scoreboard Bar there’d be the day’s first factory whistle as the stem was eased out of a barrel. First keg done! This was always by 8.05am and there’d be a bigger roar than a Roo Yardley screamer at point, or Rodney Hogg trapping David Gower plumb. And this’d continue, every few minutes, sounding like Proud Mary steaming down the Mississippi. Every eighteen-gallon drum was West End Draught.

In 1992 I flirted with Southwark. It was a nostalgic, almost ironic phase, but a nod to my past. The bottle had been rebadged with a dark blue motif replacing the green death label, and each carton came with a (free) glass mug. I still have two of these and they’re the best beer tumblers I never bought. On hot afternoons I sometimes fetch one out of the freezer while I’m on the tongs. Southwark has never been poured into one.

Then one day in a pub, maybe in Kimba or Kapunda, other beer taps appeared. Suddenly, they were just there. Foreign lagers like XXXX and VB (Queensland and Victoria are different beer countries) and extra-terrestrial beers like Boags and Cascade. It was also when Coopers first entered my world. Suddenly, the old dichotomy had collapsed just like Skyhooks v Sherbet. I didn’t glance back. West End Draught was now a black and white tele with a coat hanger antenna next to the Jumbotron of Sparkling Ale.

*

Recently at the Glenelg Footy Club I ventured to the bar during half time on a sunny April afternoon. It’s a Lion Nathan premises (unlike Norwood Oval which is Coopers) and standing behind a beanied Centrals supporter I noted a specials poster

West End Draught cans $5.

It’d been decades so feeling sentimental I bought one, returned to my spot on the grass just down from the scoreboard and flipped the top. Can we locate meaning in beer? Some would argue not. I’d suggest that the answer is unquestionably.

I glanced around to make sure no-one was watching. A sip and it was 1986. Metallic, coarse, antagonizing. I remembered the words of my old mate Nick: “Some of our best times have been on West End Draught.” I tried to taste it as a country boy or my Uncle Des or as that dreadful default, a patriot. But my evaluation was clear. The can of beer, the inescapable Red Tin, was muck.

With the news of the brewery’s 2021 closure I thought of squinting farmers and dusty golfers and young fellas in utes and B-grade footballers in distant change rooms after a scrappy match, all tipping it in. But Adelaide’s a powerless town and the world now cares little for Holdens or Thommo or West End Draught.

Then, I think of Dad and our Kapunda backyard and a dawn train to watch a January one-dayer, and those simple, secluded times.

Glenelg North, later today
2

This exquisite, unrepeatable moment

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Driving Alex and his mates to Adelaide Oval last Sunday I’m reminded of the final line from 1986’s coming-of-age film, Stand by Me, in which the narrator ponders his distant childhood with affection and melancholy:

I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?

We’re heading to see Glenelg contest its first SANFL final since these boys were toddlers. I’m keen for the Tigers to secure a spot in the grand final, but by sunset I’ll have learnt, all over again, that at best, football should only be a happy distraction.

It’s an archetypal early spring day: fluctuating between encouraging sun, blustery breeze, and quick showers. On our way to Hindley Street the car radio’s on. As it better matches where these boys are at I’ve changed stations from Triple J to commercial pop music. The songs seem immediate and disposable, but my passengers are more interested in rapid chat about teachers; food both healthy and not; exotic classmates; a recent school camp in the Adelaide Hills.

tigers
We see the fourth quarter of the Norwood and Crows match. Despite a spirited finish by the Redlegs, the tricolour interlopers advance to the preliminary final. Sitting in front of the Sir Edwin Smith Stand, of course the boys spear straight down to the fence, so they can get as close as possible to the action, although for most of the afternoon they enthusiastically ignore the footy.

They eat. They chat. They laugh. They do whole mobs of stuff except watch the action.

For them footy is mere situational context; Aristotelian theatre of minor consequence; a fuzzy backdrop to their endless, summery banter.

MCG
Glenelg and Port is pulsating. The Magpies are taller, bigger and dominate aerially, but the Bays appear to quicken as the shadows lengthen. The boys’ chat continues.

“Our grade five camp had way better food! Don’t you think Ty?”

“I met Steve Smith at the Cricket Warehouse when I was six. Mum let me have the day off school.”

“Jacob, are you going to do karate next year?”

I love the easy egalitarianism among them. Each takes his turn, enjoys his moments in the sun, is allowed his voice. There’s no clear pecking order or obvious Alpha male. There’s esprit de corps.

It’s gladdening.

At half time they dash behind the stand onto the lawns for some kick-to-kick while I watch their black backpacks, bursting with snacks as we arrived, and now mostly empty like deflated tyres.

boof
Stretching my legs too I wander down to the ornamental grass. There’s an irresistible puddle. The boys are bunched by the statue of Boof Lehmann while Alex skims his footy through the water and at them, again and again while they squirm and shriek. However, they’re wet and it’s fresh so I ask them to stop. They do. Maybe I should’ve left them to it. Boof is spared further drenching.

In the gathering gloom (literal and metaphorical; tending towards pathetic fallacy) Port win by four points over a fast-finishing Glenelg. The boys exclaim their vague despair, but it’s vaporised before we exit the Southern Plaza and their natural natter then pings about, as it should. We cross the footbridge.

With my headlights cutting through the murk I again steer along Anzac Highway and think of Stand by Me. Alex and these mates will have next year in their snug, neighbourhood primary school, and then move on. They’ll likely attend different high schools. Maybe their bond will endure, maybe not.

But, for the moment, this exquisite, unrepeatable moment, Alex and his eleven-year-old friends, bouncing between childhood and adolescence, are deep in the greatest of simple gifts: each other.

carlights

2

Adelaide Oval in the Eighties: Rodney Hogg, Adidas Romes and Mondo Rock

Davo, Rocket, Stephen, Trish, obscured Kapunda youth likely Kate, Trish and your correspondent

I remember the sweet, coconut aroma of tanning oil. It made us glisten like boxers or glamorous full-forwards and accelerated our baked so we were flapping roast chooks on the sloping grass. Applied upon arrival to our skinny selves it was a blessing if we forgot to re-drench our arms and backs during the second innings. Best let the sun inflict its damage without encouragement. Today, detecting its distinctive smell I’m instantly at Adelaide Oval during the summers of my youth.

With headlights peering into the warm dark our convoy of HQ’s and 180B’s would make its way about Kapunda’s streets and then steer south to Gawler. We’d load eskies and bags of food and a couple of our Mums’ blankets onto the train carriage ready for the roughly hour-long ride.

I recall Rocket and Chrisso and Woodsy and Nick and Claire and Trish and Crackshot and Lukey and Kate and Gert and Stephen and Jamie and Tommy and Boogly and Davo and Bobby and Brendan.

old oval

On the red hen sliding past Womma station there’d be a sudden fizz as someone like Davo opened a Southwark stubby, while secretly hoping the guard wouldn’t appear. Meanwhile, our parents would yawn and empty some cereal into their bowls.

There was always a queue, but at 8am we’d burst into the ground, and rush the open space on the south-eastern corner’s hill. Here the blankets became important as they were thrown out like magic carpets and we claimed our territory half-way up the mound.

Although the world wobbled on a different axis back then I was always astonished when at precisely 8.05am I’d hear the first industrial whistle from under the scoreboard. Accompanied by a satisfied roar, it was the spear being pulled from breakfast’s first empty keg. Across the day these would punctuate the air as a gassy summery score.

scoreboard

Many wore those blue shearers’ singlets which were an oddly ironic uniform, even among those of us who’d never wrestled a sheep. Our hats were barely functional rather than chic. Most didn’t bother. Our hair was unfashionable in the cruel way that only teenaged hair can be. The perms could be especially devastating, and high school yearbooks confirm these vicious facts. There were double-plugger rubber thongs and Adidas Romes and youthful enthusiasms.

I’d see a neat sign on the back fence declaring that under its small tarp was the “Duck Pond.” Pleasingly, I never knew the etymology for this. Nor did I bother for some mysteries are best unsolved. The equivalent of permanent residents at a country caravan park, this was a comforting citizenry whose annual presence was as welcoming as the first sighting of a beer snake being paraded about the crowd as if it had been transported from an Asian street festival.

beer snake

There was an innocent charm in the catering. I suspect the total combined menu was pies, pasties, chips and hot dogs. I fear that sausage rolls were a culinary omission, and don’t think chicken salt had yet been discovered in the pans of Adelaide’s barren north. Tacos or stir fry? Scarcely conceived.

The only vaguely healthy option was fruit although this was largely confined to a whole watermelon, injected with Smirnoff the night before, behind someone’s Dad’s shed.

I recall that Brendan always smuggled in drink. At the forefront of innovation for clandestine imbibing were his bar-noculars, which appeared to security guards, parents and the constabulary as a set of binoculars doubtless used by a cricket tragic. Happily, these were optically useless but alcoholically tremendous as each black tube held a neat quantity of neat spirit. It was perhaps the sole technological marvel of that decade.

At 9.30 the teams appeared on the heritage scoreboard. Which bustling Rodney would open the bowling: Hogg or McCurdy? Would Roo Yardley deliver some offies with his high, tidy action? Which Kim Hughes would turn up? The swashbuckler or the drunkenly swinging? Surely David Hookes would finally get a run on his home ground?

As part of their sports science-free warm-up the players might slow jog a lap, and I recall the crowd commentary on IVA Richards. “Check out the shoulders on him! He looks like a middle-weight!” And, I can still see Clive Lloyd, all hunch-backed and huge, laconic and cat-lazy.

roo

The late Bruce “Roo” Yardley

Back then 220 was a handy score, and the Windies and England often had us covered. Lillee and Thomson and Marsh were near the end while AB was bracing himself for the torrid decade ahead. I also remember Sod O’Donnell and Henry Lawson and Kepler.

After the match we’d play cricket in the Creswell Gardens or head to the SA-FM Sky Show by the Torrens or maybe take refuge in the Cathedral Hotel or venture down to Glenelg for a swim.

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Your correspondent and Trish about to line dance in the Creswell Gardens

On the train, we’d rattle homewards and then pile into our cars with their Pioneer cassette decks and Mondo Rock blasting through the open windows into the still dark. We were worriless for tomorrow was Monday and the Australia Day long weekend. School and uni were weeks away.

Our world was still wonderfully small, and for a few days every summer Adelaide Oval was at its centre.

deck

2

Round 7- Adelaide v Carlton: Come, Come Mr Bond

radio.png

 

We have radio wars in our car when the boys, wife and I travel together, and I’m annihilated, acoustically.

Despite my best attempts to provide a robust musical education, as the Subaru backs out of the garage, voices from the back seat holler, “Mum, can you put it on NOVA?”

Or, “Change it over to MIX.”

To which I respond, “What do you say?”

From behind me a reluctant, “Please” then chirps across.

MIX self-describes as, “Adelaide’s widest variety of music” but if there’s any truth in radio station slogans it’d be, “Adelaide’s widest variety of Pink.”

Saturday night viewing is providing similar conflict, at least for me. The footy is winning the battle, but only just as 9 GEM is showing all the Bond films, having started a month ago with Dr No which, given our youngest’s current oppositional defiance, is a domestic theme.

However in a rare nocturnal excursion, for the first time this season, I found myself on the bottom deck of the Chappell Stand, taking in the Crows and Blues. To alleviate any clash concerns The Blues are wearing their John Howard-inspired gray guernseys. Really? You’d find greater similarity in the vocal stylings of Taylor Swift and Taylor Walker.

gray

It’s a glorious autumnal evening by the mighty River Torrens – warm, still and clear. Both sides are missing many of their big names and given how many have moved between these clubs, out on the turf it must be like the first hour of a school reunion, you know, before the Brandivino works its liquid magic.

Carlton find space early and vital big rooster Kreuzer snaps to give the Blues their first, and only lead for the encounter. Adelaide then settles and slots the subsequent six with alliterative forwards Josh Jenkins and Mitch McGovern each scoring an appropriate two goals.

On TVs across the ‘burbs Thunderball is also away and SPECTRE has stolen some NATO bombs, and is threatening to destroy a US or UK city, later revealed as Miami which seems a little unambitious, given they’re working in the Bahamas. Why not be lofty in your aims and lob one at Luton, although, to be fair, it’d be difficult to tell.

In his first match against his former mob B. Gibbs (Bryce, not Barry) has continued his silky form and is accumulating possessions across the ground like MI6’s finest collects casino chips. During the break I get out my Texas Instruments calculator and start punching in cricket scores to see how far up the table the Crows will be by midnight. This arrogance guarantees the Blues (Grays) fightback is on.

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Skill execution errors, even from diminutive half-back assassin Rory Laird means the visitors enjoy a dominant quarter with some clever work from Levi Casboult whose hulking presence could be handy in Thunderball as things get desperate in the Aston Martin. The game is poised at the half and I get approval from our bank to undertake some Goldfinger action of my own: I buy a beer and some hot chips.

Any lingering tension quickly evaporates into the May sky as Adelaide registers a pair of majors in the opening minutes. Eddie Betts is involved, but his form and his season are simmering, not Bond-movie-speedboat-explosions, just yet. Footy itself has been strangely subdued thus far in 2018.

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Mitch McGovern doesn’t so much mark the Sherrin as pluck it from atop the pack in a way that startles everyone. He elevates himself onto Liam Jones’ shoulders and completes the catch as if Q had lent him the famous jetpack. It provides some frisson on a night when the narrative arc is as predictable as a commercial radio playlist (Up next we’ve got some Captain Beefheart).

Cam Ellis-Yolmen continues his steady progress and is stringing together games in his much-interrupted career which began way back in 2011, when you could sneak your track-suited self into a Blockbuster and borrow Kung Fu Panda 2 for a fiver.

I admit it’s been a minor treat to see Carlton’s Cripps and Curnow in action. They’ll drive the Blues bus for the next decade, or half a dozen coaches, whichever comes first. Their win/ draw/ loss tally now reads:

007.

Despite another obligatory hamstring injury Adelaide moves confidently to the next instalment of the Showdown franchise next Saturday in the twilight.

There should be no televisual conflict with Casino Royale beginning just on the final siren. I best iron my new tracky-daks.

jetpack

 

 

 

7

NYE in Adelaide Oval’s Bay 135

ZD

I’m calling it.

My fellow lovers of confected cricket, we need a national conversation. I ask this plainly: why has the Zooper Dooper been banished? In case you’ve not heard, it’s been replaced by a chewing gum brand for the BBL wicket celebrations. Won’t someone think of the kiddies?

-Dad, it’s really hot here in Adelaide Oval’s Bay 135 for this important NYE fixture. Can we have a sugary iced treat?
-No, have a stick of chewing gum.
-But I’m dehydrated.
-Chew faster.

I’m also reminded of my favourite graffiti, seen on a condom-vending machine: This is the worst chewing gum I’ve ever tasted.

*

So, we’re underway in the traditional NYE 6.40pm time slot. Despite his early-tournament successes, former GWS Giant Alex Carey misses a straight one from Lalor. Shortly after fellow opener Weatherald also plays around one and travels back to the sheds.

Unlike Trump’s twitter-feed the Strikers are circumspect. When everyone’s favourite Colin, he of the tribe Ingram, comes out, all four batters have been non-right-handers. Thus far not a great evening for the sinistrophobics, and I wonder what’s the collective noun for left handers. A Hooksey, I decide.

Jono “Orson” Welles comes in, fresh from swiping a monstrous six at the SCG a night or two back, but he pops one to extra cover in a feeble dismissal which reminds me of PJ Keating’s description of John Hewson’s parliamentary performance: being flogged with a warm lettuce.

Lehmann the Younger contrasts with his dad who, despite his finesse, particularly against spin, always looked high-vis and Old Bushman Hotel front bar. With an ironic moustache upon his peculiar dial Jake is foppish and dandy; part Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, part Adam Ant, part Caddyshack gopher. Metrosexuality aside, he is dropped first ball and then twice more in collecting a useful twenty-odd. Brisbane’s inability to hold catches would prove to be a significant difference.

*

Of course, the BBL isn’t only a cricket contest. It’s an ethnomusicological event with the between balls stabs central to the entertainment, but the playlist is now tired. I suggest themed evenings.

Sinatra

In the games leading up to Christmas let’s have only Yuletide tunes by the Rat Pack. What could be better than acknowledging a Bradley Hogg wicket than with an immaculately-phrased grab from a Frank Sinatra song? After all, they’re from the same generation.

Imagine the excitement of the punters gushing into the Gabba knowing that play will be punctuated with excerpts from Ripper ’76. Going from Supernaut to Sherbet to Split Enz. And to complete the experience why not get Molly to do the ground announcing?

But let’s also go beyond the rock and pop staples, to broaden the auditory appeal.

-Dad is it true? Is tonight Miles Davis night at Bellerive?
-Yes, it is son.
-The second great quintet featuring Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter?
-Of course! How could the Melbourne Stars now not win?

MIles

*

Michael Neser bats with intelligent aggression in assembling forty, including a lusty blow which lands in an adjacent bay. Impressive Afghan youngster Rashid Khan arrives with mere deliveries remaining, hits a six (I’ll never use maximum: oops, too late), but then holes out in what is surely the most eventful two-ball innings conceivable.

In our final over Neser skies one, and a volcano of Heat fielders converge, but with home-town luck running nicely, its lands, splat, right in the crater.

As is now tradition with the Strikers batting first, they’re about thirty runs short.

*

Returning to the Eastern Stand as desultory half-time rituals take place across the turf our eldest asks:

-Dad, it’s hot, can we have a Buckethead?
-But these offer no protection. As hats they fail.
-Please!
-No. Every time one is worn, somewhere a koala gets an unpronounceable disease.

bucket

*

Brisbane Heat has a menacing batting line-up: think Goodfellas with Kookaburra Kahunas, but tonight they’re the ones getting wacked. Within the opening over Brisbane loses a wicket.

Lynn in, carn Khan. Gorn! The Heat’s most exhilarating bat is dismissed for a Mr Blutarsky: Zero…point…zero to the quickish leggie who, three games in, has the competition spooked.

The violet sky then hosts fireworks from across the river/lake in Elder Park and the booms and bangs echo and shake the Gavin Wanganeen Stand, and I wonder if the batters notice these seismic blasts. When former Striker Alex Ross is bowled the scorecard reads as a distinctly Under 9’s-like 4/15.

It’s still light and there’s a chance the game could finish early. I hope not for Adelaide Oval’s fireworks during daylight would lack spectacle and pizzazz, like bringing out a brussel sprout birthday cake at a Macca’s party.

Curiously, Heat allrounder Ben Cutting is out cutting (caught at gully) in what must represent a major disappointment to his family. Still his is a bright innings while those about him fall meekly.

Jake Lehmann takes his second smart catch out by the rope to remove Brendon ‘Baz’ (I prefer Mungo) McCullum for an atypically sheepish tally.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province’s finest  strides out and playing the first ball Yasir Shah’s agonised leaping at the crease convinces me that he’s stepped on a piece of Lego.

Soon, it’s a numerically-attractive 9/90 and then all out. Tellingly, the Heat has not registered a single six. The Strikers head (sorry) to 2018 top of the table.

We enjoy the 1970’s disco funk medley and pyrotechnics and then drive carefully, west along Hindley Street.

alex poster

2

Round 20- Adelaide v Port: Barney 43

hill

I blame the shameless brewers of that most horrific muck West End Draught. Where were the dissenting voices at that fateful marketing meeting? Here we are, into the third decade of the state’s biggest football event and it’s still, somehow, called the Showdown, as determined by the fifteenth best beer manufacturer in Adelaide.

However, it’s also another example of American linguistic imperialism. If we were talking about Ole Miss and Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl then the word would work, but here in South Australia we should’ve gone with Dust Up, Yike, Blue, or my preference, Barney.

“We’re underway in Barney 17.” Or-

“There’s the siren. Adelaide has won a thriller in Barney 31!”

For the first time this millennium I’m on the Hill, just down from the world’s best scoreboard. We’re in a tidy quintet of chaps. There’s ferocious rain and wind and the sky is like an aubergine. The mud and slushy grass is tundra. Old mate behind us has on a Power scarf and is in shorts. My phone says it’s eight degrees. Jason pulls out his sunglasses, “Reckon I’ll need these soon.” We laugh, and Chris asks, “Did anyone bring the 50+?”

With a significant wind-assistance Adelaide traps the ball within their arc, and like an over-zealous debater, makes point after point after point before The Hoff collects his own kick and soccers cleverly. This, I’m delighted to report, would be the Power’s sole major until about ten minutes into the third quarter.

The Crows dominate across the ground and despite the conditions are clean and sure in disposing by hand and foot, which is a happy contrast to their dismal first half at the MCG last Sunday. Tex Walker appears impatient with his side’s inability to punish the Power so, both as captain and big forward, monsters his teal competitors in taking strong grabs and slotting telling goals.

Paddy Ryder has been in colossal form and various denizens of the Hill voice their anxieties about how Sam Jacobs might handle the Power star. They needn’t have worried for while their aerial and ruck duels are spirited, the boy from Ardrossan is also outrageous at ground level and kicks a great pack snap for a rooster who’d bang his red-combed head on the hen-house rafters.

Despite now missing his appendix Eddie Betts kicks some amazing goals, including one from his pocket just down in front of us. As the ball bent through, the heaving crowd about me leapt and there were ponchos and scarfs bouncing and flapping like a Latino dance party. The only deviation from the Happy Days script is when yet another goal-of-the-year contender is deemed by the evil umpire to have been touched by an evil Power player.

And what of Port? They’d appeared to be entirely unlike Port such is their pedestrian spectating. They seem disinterested, and must be waiting for The Choir Boys to reform. In the sheds at half-time only Robbie Gray has earnt his hot cup of Milo.

September looms and pleasingly Sloan finds plenty of it, and creates well. On the Hill, I spy a gent wearing a bespoke shirt featuring a picture of Rory’s blonde bonce with this accompanying prose-

Men want to tag him

Women want to shag him

The crowd is boisterous and enjoyable. I see lots of Crows fans standing with Power faithful, and the banter is lively. Not Disney channel, but not Tarantino either.

Suddenly, Charlie Cameron has it and he accelerates through the middle. It’s among our game’s most exhilarating sights, but while his pace is Lamborghini, his kicking is still often Holden Gemini.

Then Brad Ebert gets one, but unlike last Saturday against the Saints, it really is too late, and the Port supporters are shuffling towards the gates like an Alabama chain-gang. The Nissan Urvan will soon be pointed towards the Lefevre Peninsula, and I just hope that Uncle Ernie managed to fix the heater when he popped round yesterday.

Adelaide records its biggest winning margin against the INXS wailers, and after two decades now lead 22-21 in these most magnificent of contests, the Barney.

I must get back to the Hill again.

nissan

 

4

Round 3 – Port Adelaide v Adelaide: A Moment

tex

In contrast to the previous torrid energy it was an uncontested mark with nothing in the way of opposition pressure, such as a spoil, or a sudden, secretive fist to the ribs.

Resulting from a David MacKay disposal it was an unhurried and simple catch; the kind associated with circle work at a country oval’s Tuesday night training, while inside the glowing clubrooms volunteers squeezed pies and pasties into warmers.

In January 2015, many were surprised that Patrick Dangerfield wasn’t appointed captain of the Crows. However, with a likely acceptance that their star player would soon wish to return to Moggs Creek, there was a quiet nodding of sage heads at the news that the role had been assigned to Taylor Walker.

A key component of the Phil Walsh legacy, he was about to demonstrate the wisdom of this decision.

Having taken the grab Walker wheeled around like a rattling cattle truck and assessed his options. He made a quick, barely perceptible scan of the landscape and decided.

Despite his Barry White/ Stephen Kernahan/ Dad joke baritone possibly suggesting otherwise Tex is an astute footballer who knows intimately the ecosystem of Adelaide Oval. With the Riverbank Stand towering taller than the MCG he knew that its surrounding microclimate, largely windless and advantageous on this autumnal evening, would assist his endeavours.

Watch now as into that rare real estate, sufficient space, he strides, not as a gut-busting midfielder, but as sizable, agile forward. Yes, he thinks, the time is right. The fifty-metre arc slides into distant view.

He balances and connects.

Despite the infantile and myopic scrabblings of the game’s rules committee and cash-drunk administrators and the carnivorous stadium vendors and the grasping media outlets and the petty trivia of the footy news-cycle, it’s these moments that’ll endure, that’ll guarantee the endless charisma of our game.

For lesser footballers, this spot on this long, lean ground might be no man’s land, an uncomfortable location where the options are crippling. Do I pass to a leading forward? Centre the ball? Aim for the top of the square? Handball to team mate on the burst? However, at this spot, seventy metres from goal there’s another possibility, but it’s only available for an elite few.

Tex Walker has a kicking technique that’s akin to a David Warner pull shot. Elegant in its simplicity, it marries outback power, untainted physics and Mick Jagger arrogance.

Now launched, the ball spins in a somewhat ungainly fashion, lurching through the air, slinging itself goalward with hungry velocity, rather than with the pure, fizzing momentum of, say, a Luke Hodge pass.

It travels through the roaring night and there’s now a sudden, muted quality to the stadium soundtrack that’s universal disbelief, Port Power horror and Adelaide Crow awe. The ball travels and travels and continues to travel. The pregnant seconds stretch onward, invested with everything we love about our mighty, Indigenous code.

Unlike a Malcolm Blight torpedo, it traces a low parabola across my screen as the crowd rushes past in the background, a smeared Monet. Walker’s drop-punt is at once sublime, but also gigantic. It taunts the line between possibility and impossibility.

It’s a goal.

As the Sherrin thuds into the turf midway between the goal line and the fence, leaving a crater in the Santa Ana, the clock announces that four minutes remain. Adelaide is three goals up.

Now, for all present at the ground, or at home or in a pub across Australia, or peering at a screen in midday London or Auckland or Albuquerque, all is denouement.

The necessarily curved narrative of football is concluded. We’ve had a moment.

oval

 

http://www.afc.com.au/video/2017-04-08/highlights-r3-tex-seals-it

 

2

December 5 2006 in Adelaide

SK

Adelaide Oval is among my favourite places. Prior to redevelopment, it was uncluttered and open and big country-townish; more like the St. Lawrence Ground in Canterbury than a modern Australian stadium. Its boundless space and light have been replaced by vertiginous, curved shapes.

It’s the final day of Adelaide’s 2006 Ashes Test. Earlier, in the twilight of my teaching year, between tortuous enrichment activities, I’d watched the cricket in the staff room with some chaps, leaning in towards the screen, increasingly enticed by the grip of the action. Across our city in offices, shops and factories folks were getting itchy. Some mates and I volleyed texts at each other. Let’s get in there. Sorted.

I’d gone on Day 2. Like most I went home assured of an inconclusive match as Paul Collingwood accumulated a double century, while SK Warne struggled to 1/167, in an analysis cheerlessly reminiscent of his 1992 debut at the SCG. Then, after our first innings, the draw appeared more certain.

Indeed, the first four days suggested nothing else.

My most recent Test match experience had been September 2005 during the Ashes at The Oval. Down from Hertfordshire on a sodden Saturday I watched as rain repeatedly forced Langer and Hayden back to the sheds. The urn we’d held since 1989 was slipping away. The Barmy Army’s affectionate Shane Warne back catalogue offered musical entertainment when the sport provided little.

I love speculating about cricket’s fascinating relationships. The Waugh twins. The Chappell brothers, educated at the primary school my boys attended. And SK Warne and pretty much everyone he encountered on the pitch, and off. Like many of exceptional talent he was attracted to those with approximate, but ultimately different cricketing arsenal.

With his infuriating confidence and bird-poop splattered hair, Kevin Pieterson had a curious affinity with our leg-spinner. Shuffling forward and attempting a sweep, he swatted crudely at one outside leg stump. Lobbing in the rough, it stole behind his limb like a spy, and his feebly listing front pad, before spitting poisonously. In yet another wholly engrossing single-act production, the Kookaburra finally, fatally bit his off peg. It had spun several feet. It was the summer’s most compelling moment. KP had been schooled by his elder, and England was in trouble.

By now, each delivery from SK Warne was Vegas show business, but pure in its fizzing, hypnotic joy. And then Ashley Giles registered a duck to a monstrous delivery, while the supporters continued to splatter the ground, as if populating a Monet.

I contemplated my friend BJ O’Sullivan at home in Harrow. Barry identifies as Irish, and had significant quid invested in Australia triumphing in the series 5-0.  At mammoth odds, too, so he’s enthusiastic from afar. Incidentally, I once hosted a party in England, and among the guests were the same Barry of Norf London, Jimmy from Glasgow and Paddy from Ireland. True.

England is skittled in the penultimate session. Australia bowls cleverly in pairs with the blonde one taking 4/49; not spectacular in the seismic sweep of his career, but within this Test, and this series, it’s contextually huge.

From our members’ bench, we look eastwards towards the low, brown Adelaide Hills, noting how these continue the topographic theme established by the squat stands of this cricket ground. With school holidays, Christmas and a languid summer approaching, our mood is brash and buoyant.

The intrigues and narrative complexities gone, Australia is presented with a simple plotline: 167 from 36 overs. Langer clubs the first ball through mid-wicket for four. Vivid as ever, Bill Lawry bursts, “He goes bang. Four. It’s a one-day game.” As should happen the match is to be decided late, in its fifteenth session.

When Hayden goes it’s 2/33, and there’s some frisson. Questions murmur beneath the fig trees, and we bristle, momentarily. But, Michael Hussey is authoritative with 61no, and declares in an interview that he, “Bloody enjoyed it!”

oval

As the winning run is clipped through midwicket Bill yaps, “Look at the seagulls flying about. They’re saluting the Australians!” Beside a second Ashes victory it’s the locals’ ninth consecutive Adelaide Oval victory. The players rush down the steps next to us in a celebration as demonstrative as a football festivity.

The leaden sky of the previous London summer has vanished somewhat, and with lingering sentimentality, I feel at home, in this, my tiny, flat city, which clings to an inconsequential gulf. Transitions, especially the ones back to familiar places, can be angular and troublesome.

Later, among the eddying ecstasy, Damien Martyn, surely our most picturesque bat since Mark Waugh, clarified his feelings about his spot within this coterie. Richie Benaud had noted that at some stage everyone looks in the mirror, and on this most magnificent of Australian cricketing days, Martyn retires instantly, but with a stylish absence of extended tabloid explanation.

Adelaide Oval has been vividly reshaped. December 2006 was the last time I would see McGrath, Langer and SK Warne play Test cricket.

Nonetheless, December 5, 2006 was a really good Tuesday.

 

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NYE in Adelaide Oval’s Bay 134

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Is there anything more disappointing than a soggy pie?

No, there’s not. The expectation of firm pastry and the meaty joy within was instantly ruined. No sooner in his seat and having slid his pie from its bag, it collapsed in our eldest’s lap like a Home and Away extra during a Summer Bay disaster.

Our members’ tickets are in Bay 134, at the bottom of the Fos Williams Stand, and about six rows from the fence. At about backward point it’s a top spot.

With noise and music and fireworks and the ceaselessly moronic countdown our innings begins courtesy of the hoopla-free off-spin of Johan Botha. He played for the Strikers and the Redbacks but is now with the Sixers. Every confected cricket event needs a villain, and Botha swishes his black cape for the crowd.

The civilised world’s favourite sporting Hodge opens briskly, as does his partner Jake Weatherald. We progress at a goodly clip, and when Dunk comes in he takes seventeen from one over of former wig salesman and current outlaw-bikie impersonator, Doug Bollinger.

*

Is it possible to drown the week between Christmas and New Year’s with too much cricket, both televisual and backyard? With Alex and Max receiving a cricket set and some Zing bails, we’ve gone close.

Balls have lobbed over the northern, eastern and southern fences and into the neighbours’ like F- bombs in a Tarantino flick. Our house is on the western side of the modest backyard and balls: tennis, rubber and various assorted have cascaded down into the gutter like stones across a holiday-camp lake.

*

Brad Hodge (at 42, the competition’s second oldest Brad) holes out, and to the wicket sprints Travis Head, hero of last year’s corresponding fixture. But his lean tournament continues and he’s rapidly back in the sheds.

Looking like a participant in a slo-mo beer advertisement is Jake Lehmann and he then takes careful block and three balls later is bowled for zero. Perhaps next time they should strap a set of pads to his moustache and just send it out for a slog.

When his stumps are disturbed and the bails flash and dance, the hoardings and screens light up with animated Zooper Doopers and I’m suddenly aggrieved for the great loss of 2016. Bowie? Cohen? Prince? Bah. Hang your head for the demise of the great summery ice-treat, the Sunnyboy.

I know the between-balls musical stabs are highly orchestrated, like elevator muzak and shopping centre soundtracks, but tonight’s seems improved with Wilson Pickett’s “Land of a Thousand Dances,” and The Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy.” A highlight is “Shout” by the Isley Brothers, although for me and many of my generation the iconic version of this 1959 classic is by Otis Day and the Knights, as performed during the toga party scene in Animal House.

The sun sets beyond the Chappell Stand and the Strikers go to sleep before Pollard and Jordan rescue the situation with some controlled bludgeoning. It’s a beautiful batting deck and I reckon we’re about twenty runs short. For the Sixers Sean Abbott is impressive taking a Michelle.

*

Human creativity is eternally astonishing, and our boys find limitless ways to argue on the backyard pitch. A couple times this last week some cricket has even broken out between them. Mates who’ve brothers tell me it’s common.

Over Christmas lunch I ask Mum about my childhood cricket. “You’d come home from primary school and play every afternoon with Brett.” Brett was two years older and lived down the road. “Did we argue?” I ventured. “Like cats and dogs,” Mum replied, “You never stopped.” I was instantly reassured. I was normal.

During the break, there’s a win $500 if you take a catch competition for those caught on camera with a KFC bucket on their bonce. It’s criminally inadequate compensation. However, the security guard/ cult hero from the Strikers’ first home game joins in, and with his final attempt completes a nice overhead grab. It’s no John Dyson on the SCG fence in 1982, but still, it’s tidily done. We loves it. If KFC was available at Adelaide Oval I’d buy thirty-eight pieces, inhale them and wipe the grease through the hair of my loved ones.

*

Hughes and Roy (Surrey import, not Slaven) get the visitors away brightly, but then the wickets fall regularly. Lanky Queenslander Billy Stanlake bowls with pace and penetration taking three, including that of Brad Haddin, who in stomping on his stumps, appears to have taken his midnight cups prematurely.

Test discard Maddinson arrives and departs limply. His year concludes bleakly, but with national selection logic proving impenetrable his two from eight deliveries may be sufficient to earn him a recall or a position on Turnbull’s front bench.

With O’Connor and Laughlin operating in tandem the Strikers are attacking with Anglicized forms of Gaelic, and this is effective as they snare four collectively. “Jump Around” by House of Pain, everyone’s beloved Irish hip hop collective (if LA’s a Belfast suburb) blasts out and O’Connor takes a sharp return catch from Abbott to make it seven for not-nearly-enough.

When the wickets aren’t tumbling, the bowling is so economical there’s more dots than a Morse Code Festival (email me for details). Like octogenarian Port Power fans clapping every single fecking disposal the crowd now applauds each maiden delivery. Our boys are really excited.

Sixer Sam Billings swots a couple into the western stand named for benefactor and KFC-devotee, Sir Edwin Thomas Smith, but with his departure the required run-rate accelerates like Zimbabwean inflation and the game is over.

Doug doesn’t even get to face.

*

A few years’ ago, during the Boxing Day Test our eldest began shrieking from the lounge. “Dad. Dad! Come quick!” I burst in. What was happening? What had I missed? “What is it?” Alex looked up at me, his toddler’s eyes wide. “Dad, Peter Siddle’s about to bowl!” Ah, the enthusiasms of the child. Not many could get excited by that.

Not even Mrs. Siddle.

*

In our car, we venture home and into the new year.

*

The following is fantastic. Voiced by Richie Benaud it captures what we love about cricket and summer.

 

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Round 23 – Adelaide v West Coast: Optimistically and Misty-Optically

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I’m at the game tonight, but would’ve been happy at home as it’s the last Friday night, minor round clash to be called by Dennis Cometti. With his 1970’s AM radio drive time vocal stylings he’s become a cherished feature of our game. Combining this with precise description and fabulous wit has made him iconic.

“Gasper, the unfriendly post” is his best line in a galaxy of gems. Imagine his joy as the Sherrin was launched by the star Tiger and banged into the upright. How long must he have sat on that?

My personal metric indicating his influence is that every time I say in my head, “West Coast Eagles” I can only complete it in the voice of Dennis. And now like the famous definition of an intellectual: a man who can listen to the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger, I challenge you to silently repeat, “West Coast Eagles” but not in the honeyed tones of Dennis. See? Impossible.

We saw the 2006 preliminary final at Footy Park between the Crows and Eagles in which we were ahead comfortably at half-time. Probably cursing us, a friend texted- We’re going to the GF. As Ben Cousins gathered disposals at will and shrugged off desperate, lunging Crows in the second half, and the result became certain a mate grunted, “Bloody Cousins is killing us. It’s like he’s on drugs.” Mmm.

Drafted as an emergency ruckman former Kapunda boy and church minister offspring Jonathan Giles is at his fourth AFL club having been at Port, Essendon, and most productively, the Giants. He enjoyed an interregnum at Sturt where he won the 2010 best and fairest, while his SANFL life started at Central District. I’d like him to next go back to Kapunda and win a flag, then go to Glenelg and do the same before finishing his career, like many a road movie, in Fort Lauderdale. His “Places I’ve Played Footy” Facebook app is busy.

Giles is brilliant tonight, and makes the Crow ringleader appear tired. Interviewed after the match, Sam Jacobs confessed, “The only one who could ever outreach me was the son of a preacher man.”

As has been the season’s pattern the home side is sloppy early, and save for a couple clean bursts, this endures all evening. The Eagles apply good pressure across the ground and we make catastrophic quantities of errors in every facet of the game from kicking to handballing to dropping easy marks to unplumbed decision-making, most notably when Lyons snapped at the Riverside goal and missed, instead of getting it to a team-mate in the square. I’m also certain that for their post-match meal some of the Crows even went the tofu option.

It takes the Crows twenty minutes to register a major and this comes through McGovern. At the other end the Coleman Medalist is murdering us, continuing the long relationship between grassy expanses, deadly accuracy and Kennedys. He gets five in a solid outing.

Gaff, Priddis and Shuey are getting industrial volumes of ball, and we don’t seem to be doing much about this. Having reinvented himself as a half-back flanker, former Hoodoo Gurus guitarist Brad Shepperd is going well. Good times for him, indeed.

Local highlights are rare, but Tex offers some after midnight insights with his deft footwork in the centre before it lobs to Eddie who goals. The competition’s biggest scoring forward line has a Bolivian prison evening with but two majors to its members.

Our third quarter is goalless. Someone later comments that the match felt like a forfeit. Let’s hope the Adelaide Crows’ 600th game was an exorcism.

Leaving a sullen Adelaide Oval as the West Coast Eagles song plays I realise where I’ve heard it before. It was in 1985 during the final credits of a (bad) Andrew McCarthy film.

steeple

 

 

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Courtney, cabernet and camels

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“Boxing Day Blues

I know that I let you down

You’re not keen on what you found

Courtney Barnett has many musical skills. Blistering guitar and compelling deadpan vocals, but chief among her gifts is crafting exquisite lyrics. The Melbournian uses sparse, arresting questions with potency.

When’s the funeral?

Do you want me to come?

I like how within a couplet she creates a backstory of considerable heartbreak. The questions speak of a sudden schism, destruction visited upon an intimate relationship. It’s sad.

Questions hang, and generate an ocean of regret. Courtney knows when to provide space for her listeners. The song breathes and gently sobs. It’s stunning.

*

In the days after we flew back from Queensland I chaperoned into our house a dreadful Clare shiraz. It was as if the grapes had been grown unnaturally out the back of a chip shop and the wine made, even more unnaturally, in the shed of an Ipswich car detailer.

I then ventured to the safer cabernet country of Langhorne Creek. Bleasdale is a ripper winery and its Mulberry Tree from 2013 is most companionable on these bracing evenings. The luscious fruit was an insulating treat, and I’ll engage it again soon. Friday looks likely. In Singapore it’d cost one of your limbs: prosthetic or God given. Here there’s change from twenty. Genius.

*

Despite being well beyond its sesquicentenary Adelaide continues to grow up. It’s moving from big town to city. An example of this is how the Torrens Parade Grounds was recently transformed into the Alpine Winter Village.

Borrowing heavily from German Christmas markets there was mulled wine, bratwurst and sauerkraut. Decidedly warmer than Munich in December it was brief fun under last Sunday’s pale rays. As it was booked out we couldn’t go ice skating (probably not me anyhow) but found a table and drank (and ate) in the continental troposphere.

And as you’d expect in this wintry European enclave there was a string of camels! The huge, silent beasts were led through along the village paths, their bulbous, poop-matted knees brushing my shoulders as they went past like noiseless, coffee-coloured combi-vans. Just like Bavaria!

Of course, our boys scampered off about the village to do some exploring. They returned, fresh camel turds smeared and speckled across their coats, ready for our evening at the football.

We look forward to the return of the Alpine Winter Village. But the camels can go back to the desert.

The Gobi will do.

courtney

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Round 19 – Adelaide v Essendon: Dons’ Party or Don’s Party?

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And a polite patter of applause is hird (sic) for Crows coach Don Pyke on defeating Essendon. Congratulations to Don on another first in his debut year.

Like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters, the spectre of the disgraced 1996 Brownlow Medallist looms large. With which metaphors do we now designate this fallen figure? Is he a cultic prophet who fabricated his own Waco? Macbeth is probably too obvious a motif, so could the golden one now be the spectral illuminatus?

But, he was an astonishing footballer. When the Bombers stole a flag in 1993 I became a fan. However, it wasn’t until this millennium when I finally watched him at Footy Park that I became certain of his genius. His grace, immaculate skill, and tellingly, preternatural vision made him among the best I’d witnessed.

*

Roy and HG once considered the sledging skill of a rugby league player, who’d run around with the Lithgow Shamrocks, under the gruff tutelage of Grassy Grannall, expertly baiting his opponents, while using subordinate clauses.

The boys and I begin our afternoon on the Northern Mound at the Adelaide Oval, a secular temple of colossal beauty. We’re adjacent to the heritage scoreboard. With its elegant lines, and yellow and white lettering evoking Bradman and Chappell and Ebert, it’s a majestic icon. I hear no insults of lexical prettiness.

*

Despite the negligible obstacle of being delisted in 2009, a disappointment is that former Crow Robert Shirley isn’t in the side to tag Bomber Jayden Laverde. Who wouldn’t love the match-up of Laverde and Shirley? Happily humming, “Making Our Dreams Come True” I skip to the bar and request refreshment from Milwaukee’s finest, the Shotz Brewery, but instead am presented with a West End Draught.

Adelaide gets one within thirty seconds courtesy of McGovern, but then the footy is marooned for six turgid minutes in the Bombers forward line. It’s much like spending Christmas in Iron Knob: unexpected and increasingly disconcerting. Then, out it pops, and Eddie is scampering across half-forward and the crowd response is customarily seismic. He bounces thrice and goals.

Former Norwood boy Orazio Fantasia replies and Essendon are away too. The early period is characterised by a tussle before the Crows begin to assert themselves and the inevitable occurs. Watching Adelaide mechanically dismantle their opponents is largely joyless. Among the many negatives of the Essendon drug saga is the loss of narrative. It’s difficult to locate a compelling story.

But, footy fights back and presents Joe Daniher. With his moustache and oddly laconic dial, he looks like he should feature in the slow-motion action of a Carlton Draught advertisement. He takes multiple contested grabs, and must be the Bombers highpoint in this most wintry of winters. With less grace than the sacrificed buffalo in the last scenes of Apocalypse Now he stumbles on the grass, but somehow goals. Daniher’s high marking is exhilarating, but his kicking is more Travis Cloke than Travis Cloke.

At the other end of the paddock Charlie Cameron is also generating joy for his club. Like David Cameron his last month hadn’t been flash, but unlike the Tory lizard Charlie triumphed today with clear public approval in getting four majors, and keeping us in Europe.

The last quarter is forgettable until Josh Jenkins- he’d been quiet, possibly fiscally pre-occupied, marks assertively and goals. A dreary Festival of Fifty Metre Penalties ensues, but only the umpires have bought tickets. Eddie earns a free and handballs to ex-Magpie Paul Seedsman who again converts from the arc with a penetrating spear. Thank you Collingwood.

Tomorrow’s a school-day for the boys, and Escape to the Country is due to soon begin, doubtless featuring a smug empty-nester couple from Middlesex who’ve convinced themselves that they really do need seven bedrooms, so we start our Riverbank Stand descent towards basecamp. The Bombers get three late goals and the Crows remain outside the top four. It’s an evening carved with Baroque shapes.

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Round 14 – Adelaide v North Melbourne: Thursday

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In the truly tremendous Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy the central character Arthur Dent laments, “This must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays.” Shortly after, and with effervescent style, the planet Earth is destroyed.

Thirsty university students refer to Thursday as the new Friday. If American paint-by-numbers rockers The Knack was the new Beatles, and sauvignon blanc is the new chardonnay (or is it the other way round?) and burger joints are the new burger joints, then let’s agree that Thursday can imitate Friday.

With light snow forecast for our state’s upper ranges the fixture begins, and following a few scrappy minutes Rory Atkins kicks a cracker which is reviewed, extraterrestrially, to a behind. However, soon after, like Arnor Ingvi Traustason in Iceland v Austria, the good Tom Lynch soccers it through.

The Crows padlock it in and Dick Douglas (did he star in a 1940’s Hollywood musical?) snaps accurately. North move the ball without method or fluency, and this increases the spectacular early lack of spectacle.

My Barossa shiraz is jovial in a rumbling, earthy, Thursday way, and it shields me against Ziebell’s goal. Still, it’s the first opposition score in nearly a fortnight. Yet another Crows’ goal review degenerates into circus with the process seemingly being timed-out. As my first-ever boss might say, “The AFL couldn’t organise a root in a wood yard.”

Good Eddie jags a point, and with five consecutive minor scores Adelaide lurches into wastefulness. It reminds me that once there were two British parliamentary committees simultaneously investigating pointless governmental duplication.

The Kangaroos can’t twine together possessions, while the Crows are better in close, especially by hand. Of course, I’d just confidently completed that previous sentence when North get two goals in a minute, and my keyboard is abruptly stricken.

*

A shiraz-aided recovery allows me to now type that Tex ghosts unaccountably to the front of the pack. He grabs it, and slots it to shove the lead to a couple goals.

Lindsay Thomas drops the ball as if it’s an allergen, and to the crowd’s predictable umbrage, he attracts a free. Shortly after there’s a goal by Mason Wood- didn’t this golf stick debut at Troon in 1926 along with the Mashie niblick?

Half way through the second quarter the Kangaroos have impetus and the lead, and then when kicking at goal Adelaide is Ernie Els on the first green at Augusta, tapping it everywhere and really often, but never fecking straight.

After the main break Crouch crashes through a hasty torpedo punt and we’re away. Good Eddie follows within a minute. It’s a frenetic start and typing maniacally requires my shiraz to sit abandoned. Tex tyrannosauruses one from sixty and my glass and I reunite. Just now.

With the wife and boys abed I scramble back into my chair and Thomas sneaks the opposition in front again. Our sixteenth behind. No, make that the seventeen. Spare me. Then, good Eddie triangulates it through, and we’re just up.

Following more frisson from Charlie Cameron in which he’s has moved the ball with scintillating pace, but crude disposal a video review goes against Tex, and as an eye laser surgery beneficiary glaring at a big TV, I’m sure the stinking camera is lying. Why am I watching this atrocious Australian farce? I turn over to ABC 1 for Rake and its superior Australian farce. Cleaver, Barney and company are at their ridiculous best.

No, I don’t. How could I?

A furious scoreless epoch ensues. Buck Roo Ben Brown continues to display deliberately maddening hair. To use a cliché, which is itself a cliché, the next goal is crucial. And the digital ink isn’t dry when it goes to Adelaide, right now.

Suddenly, the Kangaroos are twenty-eight points, and eighty grand down. It’s peculiar to think that these two haven’t played a final since the 1998 decider. September may see these two again clash, and it would be ripping.

*

My wife and I didn’t meet, nor were either of our boys born on a Thursday. However, these happened on Thursdays: as a United Kingdom resident I voted in their 2005 general election (sadly just once); at Thebby we saw a raucous Violent Femmes; and one summer’s evening at the Tower hotel I had a tidy earn with a Hobart greyhounds trifecta.

You see, Thursday goes alright.

burger joint

 

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NYE in Adelaide Oval’s Bay 127

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Late December 31, 2014 we watched Thunderball in our St Mary at Hill hotel room by the Thames. Outside, in the brisk, cider-drenched London night several million folk pressed onto the riverbanks to enjoy the fireworks while we slept. Twelve months on, having taken our boys to Europe, seen some more of Asia, and farewelled Singapore, we’re back in flat, kindly, unhurried Glenelg.

Tonight contrasts with the previous NYE: it’s hot, we’re in a public place, and we’re more likely to see Troy Bond than 007. We’re at Adelaide Oval. It’s the first time our boys have been to a cricket game of any sort.

I’m not sure why our local Twenty20 franchise is called the Strikers. Is Adelaide a particular focus for industrial discontent? If so, then what would The Don think? Would the Piping Shrikers be better?

We’re up against the Sydney Sixers, and I can’t uncover any deep etymology concerning their name either. To paraphrase Butch Coolidge from Pulp Fiction: “We’re an Australian cricket franchise. Our names don’t mean s**t.” Others under consideration were the Sydney Edge and the Sydney Rocks. I’m trying to locate meaning or symbolism where there is none. I need to adjust my headset.

We’re with some dear old friends in Bay 127 at the bottom of the Riverside Stand, so-named because it’s adjacent to the Torrens Lake.

This contemporary form of our game has many critics who suggest it cheapens the skills, offers no narrative arc, and is shamelessly disposable. But I prefer to celebrate the unique situation of there being three distinct versions of our sport. I’m not sure they’re cannibalising each other.

Whilst it’s now only an oval in name my memories dart about the towering arena like friendly, swooping phantasms: the astonishing Day 5 victory in the 2006 Ashes, Mark Waugh’s century on debut, and Australia’s one-run defeat when Curtly Ambrose dismissed Craig McDermott in 1993.

I hope tonight becomes the first in a lifelong succession of cricketing reminiscences for our boys.

*

Juggling the obligatory clappers, pirate hats, battery-powered sunglasses, Kentucky-fried poultry buckets, four and six cardboard signs we take our seats. I doubt this event will be carbon neutral. Following various drills, the Strikers warm up with a few dobs of the Sherrin, and I’m surprised that the Glenn McGrath tripping on a footy at Edgbaston in the 2005 Ashes catastrophe still hasn’t resulted in a Cricket Australia ban. Dizzy should lock the footy in his cupboard.

Since arriving we’d been blitzed by hip-hop music, pyrotechnics, peppy dance crews and other hyperventilating stimuli, and when the Sixers’ innings finally commences, I like that it’s with the placid spin of Travis Head. This is an old-fashioned island in an ocean of now, and I exhale. Three hours later Head would conclude the contest in superbly volcanic style.

Michael Lumb and Ed Cowan use the field restrictions well, and accumulate runs steadily. An early wicket seems as remote as former PMs Rudd and Gillard eloping. Alex Ross takes a great catch at deep extra cover which is reminiscent of Glenn McGrath’s 2002 classic against England. Nic Maddison strides to the wicket, but completes a sharpish U-turn courtesy of a golden duck.

Every delivery is punctuated with a stab of music ranging from “YMCA” to The Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy.” Fortunately, we passed peak- “Eye of the Tiger” a few years back, and are spared. But the administrators might soon realise that our spectator experience is deficient in olfactory spurs, and install clandestine devices which at frequent market-researched points release perfumes called “Sweaty Protector,” “Freshly Mown Outfield” or, for the ladies, “Joe the Cameraman.”

Jon Holland comes on from the Cathedral end, and I’m terrified to check his player profile in case his nickname isn’t Dutchy. Adil Rashid bowls well in taking three wickets, and we stifle the Sixers’ scoring during the middle period of the innings before superannuant Brad Haddin hits out productively at the finish.

*

During the break I focus on the wonderful old scoreboard, and the Sixers’ team. I then amuse myself by constructing various adult-themed, 1960’s-styled sentences using the names Bird, Silk and Bollinger. I’d mentally written half a Carry On movie/ Warney biography when our eldest and I are sent to refill the water bottles.

We make our way to the Gary McIntosh Bar, where, hideously, the line for free water is longer than the queues for beer. As if this weren’t sufficiently cruel, we miss the Strikers’ opening two overs in which Craig Simmons and Tim Ludeman get us away smartly. A crowd highlight is former Redback skipper Johan Botha gifting us four overthrows off own bowling from a delinquent return to the keeper.

Strikers captain Brad Hodge and Travis Head now come together. They’re circumspect, like a Cup jockey not going too early. Doug Bollinger’s bowling is more Cold Duck but still economical, and like Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation, the run-rate is climbing.

At the fifteenth over, they push the button. The chase is on. Sean Abbott takes a great catch at mid-wicket to dismiss Hodge, in the best public display of 2015 by any Abbott (onion-eating aside).

Alex Ross departs, and suddenly the run-rate is a call-the-fire-brigade seventeen. Rashid comes in with the Strikers requiring fifty-four. He faces a solitary delivery for two runs. Head then creates his narrative, a thrilling narrative which is action flick, boys’ own adventure and bed-time story.

As he clubbed the Sixers to and over the fence it became quickly clear that we were seeing something folkloric. Such was his energetic precision that each shot travelled exactly where he wished, as if guided by military software. There was a happy inevitability in the fluency with which he struck Abbott for three successive sixes, the last of which not only won the match, but also brought up his century, while closing the cricketing year.

He’d scored fifty runs in ten minutes. It was blistering punk-rock, but delivered with an elegance that Lords denizen Sir Mick Jagger would have appreciated.

Our boys smiled and waved their cardboard six signs and jumped up and down in their Bay 127 seats. They’d seen something remarkable, something rare.

I reckon they’d just had their first cricket memory.

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Round 17 – Adelaide v Gold Coast: A Pillar of (Chicken) Salt

chiko

Sporting teams are rarely singular, and often present as splintered groups, but wearing the same uniform. Australian cricket is illustrative. Bradman’s leadership caused edgy subtexts between the Catholics and Protestants, while under Ponting and Clarke the dressing room was less camp fire cosy than front bar brawl.

The Gold Coast Suns is a peculiar ensemble. In one corner, gathered in pre-bounce worship, there’s the Gold Coast Sons (of God). Led sermonically by Gazza, the son of another God, they’re a puritanical enclave. And in a night-clubbish nook, under strobing lights, with UDL cans and thin boundary lines of white powder (not the type used at ancient footy ovals) we’ve the Gold Coast Sins.

This is our family’s first footy match. We’ve been back in Australia for a few weeks, and today our boys make their Mitani Chicken Salt Adelaide Oval debut. We take the Glenelg tram in.

For the first time the Crows have three Rorys in their side, but Gold Coast jump early with two brisk goals. Kade Kolodjashnij gets the ball across to Nick Malceski, and I wonder how local commentator KG Cunningham might have managed that with his exotic pronunciation. Soon after the Crows find some fluency with a neat sequence of disposals and Walker gets us away. The scoreboard’s level at the break.

Exploring the revamped Adelaide Oval’s eastern side I discover the Garry McIntosh Bar. In the pit of winter I once saw the iconic Norwood hard man in a Parade pub. Alone on a stool, wearing shorts, singlet and thongs, he looked as if he’d come from the cricket. He wasn’t having a drink, but a large cigar.

I then cross the Graham Cornes Deck, and think it well-named given that there have likely been many who’d merrily deck Graham Cornes.

The golden match-up of Tom Lynch v Tom Lynch hasn’t happened, but Betts is vibrant and slots the stanza’s first. Reminiscent of Nathan Burke with his black helmet, Rory Sloan provides his usual grunt.

It’s a bright and breezy afternoon, and monolithic Sun Chaz Dixon then takes a contested, one-handed grab. But we have Charlie Cameron, a fleet fox in our forward line. Confidence growing, he runs onto a loose ball, collects it and converts.

Our boys enjoy the footy. They clap and cheer and inhale food like Merv on twelfth man duties. The wife gets a chiko roll. It’s disappointing. I think she’s right. Conceptually great, but ultimately an inadequate vehicle for bad cabbage.

Some officiating decisions appear inconsistent, and the crowd boos like we’re at a Christmas panto. They have a point as you’d expect a better affinity between umpires Farmer and Hay.

Behind the grandstand at half time I spot a menu

Entree

Portions of lightly pan-fried fritz speckled with chicken salt

Main

A proudly upside-down meat pie submerged in swampy pea soup, tomato sauce and buried by chicken salt

Dessert

Sponge cake sculpted into the shape of a frog’s head and bejewelled with cream and green fondant icing*

* May contain traces of chicken salt

For the Crows Lever and Laird have been impressive in defence, against the Suns’ behemoths. In his breakout season Laird is magnificent. He’s a solid mark, and composed decision-maker.

Jenkins goals, but he’s got the chassis of a Leyland P76, while under his bonnet is a misfiring lawnmower engine. Mercifully, at the other end Charlie Dixon line is astray, with his kicking affected by the swirling gusts.

At three-quarter time we have a double substitution. Our youngest is done for the day, and he and his mum head to the tram. Both have played well.

Sixteen seconds into the final period, Douglas dashes to half forward and with his deceptively long kick he goals. Harley Bennell has been good in his first game back, but yet again the loss of Ablett is telling. Without the son, the Suns are eclipsed.

Young Crow Knight goals tidily to conclude the game, and just misses the Mitani Chicken Salt hoarding on the Riverbank Stand. If he’d struck it the entire crowd would’ve received a lifetime supply of chicken salt.

After the siren we’re siphoned across the Torrens footbridge to the canary yellow tram. We’ve had a top afternoon in Row X of the Gavin Wanganeen Stand.

It’s great to be home.

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