The View from Afar


It’s a hot and muggy evening in Darwin for the footy. And it’s a hot and muggy evening here in Singapore too. Both cities are former colonial outposts, and I’m watching West Coast and Melbourne in an apartment fourteen stories up, and can see across to the famous suburb of Little India. After the game we’ll head down there for a Rogan Josh Kennedy.

There’s a boisterous crowd in at TIO Stadium, and a grassy mound behind the goals. Both teams get an early goal, and Melbourne’s playing with welcome vigour. Coming to the Demons from Glenelg in the SANFL Billy Stretch collects some early possessions. It’s also the suburb to which I’ll return next week after I fly from here. Today the Tigers won consecutive matches for the first time in, well, eons after last week knocking off current premier Norwood.

I’ll soon be on the Glenelg Oval terrace, or in front of Snout’s Bar, named for 1970’s cult Tiger John “Snout” McFarlane. My mate Bob coached twelve year old Billy Stretch in SAPSASA, the fabled week long carnival for primary schoolers. He told me then Billy would play at the highest level. He was on the field with thirty-five other kids, but playing his own game.

I’ve been lucky enough to watch the footy in some fun places. I saw my Crows get flogged by Essendon in Barb’s Bar in the east of Bali a couple seasons’ back. The highlight of that night, apart from Barb’s rissoles and chips, was Black Caviar’s win in the William Reid Stakes; shown at half time.

I was in Singapore’s Boomarang Bar for the Adelaide and Hawthorn preliminary final of 2012. This was Tippett’s valediction before homesickness forced him back to the Gold Coast suburb of Sydney. I was strangely relieved when Cyril got the Hawks home in the final minute as I was to be at a Hong Kong conference the following Saturday. Barely into my new job, I didn’t think I could be suddenly stricken by illness, and seeking alternative treatment in a Kowloon bar.

During the second quarter West Coast exerts their dominance in front of the vibrant Territory crowd. I think of my only trip to Darwin, again for a training workshop (No, I’m not just a conference attendee!). By the final afternoon I’d had my fill of multi-literacies and neo-Marxist interpretations of Hamlet, so headed out to the Adelaide River for the jumping crocodiles and termite mounds. How many chooks are annually dangled off boats to coax the reptiles to leap up like Nic Naitanui? I couldn’t pause for a Darwin stubby at Humpty Doo, but there’s always next time.

I’m always keen to see how Shannon Hurn performs. The prodigious kicking Eagle is from Angaston which is in the Barossa and Light league along with my home town of Kapunda. Shannon’s dad William was a solid footballer with Central Districts in the SANFL.

Angaston is the scene of my own football misfortune. The season after I finished school the association changed the age rules for senior colts footy. To be eligible you had to be under eighteen at the start of July. A premature baby, my birthday’s in June so, both happy and forlorn, I watched on as my mates won a flag on Angaston oval. I didn’t play in one ever. My friend Trev took what we still reckon is the best mark ever taken by a Kapunda Bomber. A lanky lad, Trev rose impossibly to the crest of the pack, grabbed it and it stuck! This got the loudest roar when the video was shown at their recent reunion.

I spent most of that season in the B grade. We hardly won a game. In the huddle at three-quarter time of the final match we were down by truckloads. Our coach’s address was less Barack Obama than drunken barracker. “Well boys we’re in trouble. Again. And we’re out of excuses. I don’t know what to say. Just go and run a lap. Or something.”

With the West Coast comfortable victors, the crowd spills out into Darwin’s balmy night. And we head down to Little India to continue our balmy night too. My last Saturday in Singapore.

This story was first published in Inside Football. For more go to http://digital.insidefootballonline.com/#folio=1



The Frog and The Footy


Ordering rissoles in Bali is a sign that I need to go home to Adelaide.

It’s a Friday night, and I’m in Barb’s sports bar for the Crows season opener. With an Adelaide Crow tattoo on his arm, mine host Ian ambles by as the club song choruses from the TV. He mutters, “It’s got a good beat, but I reckon the kids won’t dance to it.” He’ll say that another twenty one times before September. There’s a galaxy of Indonesian dishes on offer, but I inhale a plate of meaty patties, chips and veggies. The footy is streamed from Channel 7 in Perth and, frosty long necks of Bintan aside, when I find myself getting misty-eyed about the Bunnings ads, I know the score.

Then there’s the frog. He lurks in the grounds of our Singaporean condominium, and he’s seeking a mate. After dark his thoughts turn, as Barry White may have sung, to making a little love or as HG Nelson certainly said, to “wielding the night tools.” His call is a loud, resonating, metallic honk. He honks nightly into the cruel fug. His throbbing desperation wakes us up, and keeps us sleepless. Nightly. The wife and I want to escape his amphibious ardour so we’re heading to South Australia for a June holiday.

Despite living on the equator I love winter. The endless summer here delivers an effortless lifestyle of shorts and swimming, but Adelaide extends her charms. I like dressing for the cold; faded jeans and my boots- indestructible Blundstones bought in Kimba twenty years back. Include Dunlop volleys and a pair of dusty thongs and what other footwear is there? The Southern Ocean often lashes its wind at us so I’m a convert to the hoodie. We’ll stick a pair of rubber boots on each of our boys Alex and Max and they’ll be right. Cousins are often among our first friends and, happily, they’ll all soon be running, yelling and settling their necessary disputes.

We’ll relax in Adelaide, but I’ll also tour the Barossa, McLaren Vale and Coonawarra – viniculturally. Confirmed by one ignoble episode, tropical life and cabernet sauvignon simply don’t combine for me. It’ll be superb to plonk down with some old winter friends from Turkey Flat, d’Arenberg and Katnook, and discover what they’ve been up to. I’m confident that every bottle will burst with stories as I sit at assorted tables with Dad, my wife’s Dad and the brothers-in-law, and uncork some robust conversations about footy, the Ashes tour and everything else.

Winter back home often hosts cloudless, still days of pale sunshine; ideal for beach walks and parks. Blokes occasionally label their pubs; Rundle Street’s Exeter is, “The X.” The boys name their preferred coastal playgrounds- the Nemo Park, the Buffalo Park and the Rock Lobster; baptised for the B52’s song I unthinkingly played them once. They also have to climb some trees with their mates.

Enthusiastically standing on the terraces as Glenelg play at Brighton Road could placate my football pang. Contemporary AFL spectators have little opportunity to appreciate the contest, as it should be enjoyed. Standing, skilfully, allows for better talking, laughing and barracking, and also expedites what Roy Slaven described as, “drinking in concert.” Unlike modern colosseums, I can wander to Snout’s bar or the BBQ while maintaining an eye and an ear on the ball, without burrowing down a concrete hole, like a rodent, seeking a snag or a pint.

Improbable footballers such as cult Roosters full forward Grenville Deitrich charm me. Treasured exceptions who, despite their prohibitive shape, advance to a high level. Thankfully, these survive in the SANFL. Just. I favour this over the AFL as the national competition is increasingly conquered by charisma-free robots, automatons manufactured into facsimiles of footballers like an Asimov dystopia.

A fire is vital. Both sets of grandparents have wood fires. Grumpy’s Brewhaus at Verdun boasts a German-inspired microbrewery, wood-oven and combustion stove. A golden pint of Tomcat pilsner and a few slices of Funky Chicken pizza on a Sunday and I’ll be set. I taste it all now, and can smell the drifting eucalyptus smoke as Alex and Max scurry through the last of the autumn leaves on Grumpy’s lawn.

Life here in the endless summer is fine, but like gravity, winter at home exerts an indisputable pull. It will be a languid exhalation but, ultimately, we’re hoping that when we return to Singapore, our amorous frog is on his honeymoon.