My work colleague was aghast.
“You get up just after four to go to a lunch?”
I nodded. “It’s my favourite lunch of the year. There’s significant tradition attached. I look forward to it like a bear does a nap.”
The flight from Adelaide to Melbourne means we’re in the city early with a big day of ritual and rigour ahead. At the Princess Theatre’s Federici Bistro we have a coffee and hot breakfast to open proceedings. The table service is a treat and sets an amicable tone.
For the third year running the weather is bright and sunny although it’s Colorado crisp. We then set off on a much-loved walk past Carlton Gardens, and along Nicholson Street. We pause at a fetching terrace house whose for sale sign and engaging photos catch our eye.
“Righto. Let’s see who can guess the asking price,” suggests Trev.
“Eight hundred,” offers Andrew, a Port Lincoln resident where the real estate agents are often more aggressive than Boston Bay’s great white sharks.
“1.2,” I murmur without confidence.
“1.4,” Trev bids.
I check my phone. “1.6,” I announce. We walk on.
We swerve eastwards onto Rae Street. It’s technically afternoon when we push open the front door of the North Fitzroy Arms, but only just. Perce is sitting at his table with what appears to be a thimble of lager in his hand.
With a galaxy of stars on deck the Footy Almanac lunch is soon underway. Jack Hawkins is generous and humble. Gastronomically, three votes go to the Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Toasted Hazelnuts and Truffle Oil.
It’s a typically terrific afternoon of conversation and cups. Our old school mate and new recruit Andrew is related to half the planet. Of course, he and JTH are second cousins. As I’d expect for a footy community, I enjoy chatting over lunch and then in the bar about Tim Rogers, building schools in Uganda, Battery Point’s Prince of Wales hotel and Paul McCartney, among other topics.
Saturday, we take an Uber to Richmond’s All Nations pub. It’s the first in an endless stream of Toyota Camrys. I think it’s the law. Three votes go to the bangers and mash. It’s perfect pre-game tucker.
We then take my favourite annual bus journey in the All Nation’s slightly battered white van around the surrounding streets to the MCG. And before we can chorus, “complimentary shuttle” we’re on the 50-metre arc for Port and Carlton.
It’s a decent game with the conclusion in doubt until late in the narrative, but despite the affixed occasion of Kade Simpson’s 300th there’s a certitude about Port and their superior weaponry. Absent friend Chrisso’s nephew Justin Westhoff continues his evergreen form while Robbie Gray’s rubbery evasion allows the teal tribe to triumph. Ouch, it hurt my fingers to type this.
We’re then contractually obliged to adjourn to the Young and Jackson pub for the Crows and Eagles. It’s mostly a dispiriting affair and just as the season threatens to scarper to Bali on a cheap Jetstar flight we kick six goals to sneak home. We ring old friend and my cousin, Boogly for his birthday.
Sunday is yet another bright, wintry day and we venture by Uber’s ubiquitous Toyota Camry to Lygon Street for lunch. We get that it’s highly competitive and times are tough, but vow to walk past any restaurant touting for our custom. Complimentary garlic bread fails to win us over. Call us stubborn.
We then find ourselves in the sun at a red-check tablecloth with a glass of Peroni. Our hosts are playing acid-jazz funk while the neighbouring diner has what sounds like Cannonball Adderley tinkling away. Somehow, this mash-up works and we munch our pizza and enjoy a languid hour.
Our weekend traditionally concludes at South Wharf’s General Assembly and in the Toyota Camry on the way there our Uber driver has the radio on Gold 104.3. He talks of its 10k No Repeat Workday as if it’s a triumph of modern marketing- “Just last week Narelle from Nunawading won the 10k!” Perhaps it is.
In the bar we’re sleepy and winding down like clocks. There’s an acoustic guitar duo playing in the corner and they have the rare skill of making every song, including some of rock’s finest tunes, sound like a Matchbox Twenty out-take. It seems sonically impossible.
Still, it’s been yet another fun weekend of footy and giggles, and we look forward to the 2019 edition.