Monday, April 03, 2006

The Football Chronicles: Part 3

Jonathon "Mox' Moxon: If we go out and half-ass it 'cause we're scared, then we'll always wonder if we were really good enough. But if we go out there and give it all we've got... that's heroic. You guys wanna be heroes?
"Varsity Blues"

This story is a lot similar to Varsity Blues – with the small town obsession with a sport side of things anyway. Anyway, there are a few chapters left in this so lets get back into it

I don't think I told my parents about the conversation I had with the assistant coach. I don't think I believed it myself, and I was trying really hard not to get my hopes up. But I couldn't keep it inside me. I had to tell someone.

I told my best friend at the time, himself coming from a footy obsessed family similar to mine. His uncle was a very prominent player in the second highest competition in the country some years ago, and he was just as obsessed with the game as I was, even though he played for our arch rivals, South. He would understand what it would mean to someone like us to play A grade footy for our club.

He was in the grade below mine at school, and at lunch time I pulled him aside to have a chat away from everyone else – as I still didn't want it to be common knowledge lest I not get called up and look like an idiot. I don't think there was anybody in my grade at school that was equally into footy as we both were.

I told him what had happened, word for word, to see what his take on it was.

"Fuck man, when do you think you'll find out?" He seemed pretty confident that I the conversation meant I HAD been asked.

"Well, they do selections Thursday night, so I guess Friday morning".

The teams trained on Tuesday and Thursday nights, then the coaches gather after Thursday night training to pick the teams. The teams are posted on a notice board in one of the pubs that sponsor the footy club that night and then appear in the Friday morning local paper. Since I was still only 15, the pub was out of question so I just assumed I would read about it in the paper on Friday.

He too was excited for me, but assured me he would keep the information to himself for now. It was only Monday after all, still five days before I would find out.

That afternoon, I mentioned the conversation to mum, and she got a bit excited. I said I wouldn't know until Friday when team selections would be announced. I grabbed today's paper and headed for the toilet – for some reason I wanted to see if there was a write up about the reserves on the weekend in there, even though there never had been ever before anything besides team selection in the paper about the reserves.

A few minutes into my dumping and reading ritual, mum knocks on the door and says I have a phone call. I would love to answer, but I'm kinda in the middle of loosing a few pounds so lets give them a call back. It's probably just one of my friends talking crap anyway.

When I finished, I got out and ask for the message and who it was from, and mum gives me some news that shouldn't have been unexpected but was – it was the A grade coach calling. I was like a kid on Christmas morning, just waiting to see if Santa had actually visited.

He called back a few minutes later, and had a very quick chat. Basically it was the same chat I had with the assistant on Saturday, only this time he added something to the end.

"(After asking me the same questions as before) We'll after the game last week, we're going to put you in the A's this week, how do you feel about that?"

I guess he was a little concerned on how a 15 year old would handle the game. But as if I was going to let this chance go by..

"Sure I'll play. Of course". I wanted to say so much more, but just couldn't find the words and they would have probably been inappropriate at the time. The call ended with him asking me to train with the A's the following night – and that was it. I had been picked to play in the A's on a Monday. In hind sight, it was a really great thing for him to do – to tell me on the Monday instead of the Friday that I had been picked. It let me enjoy it and look forward to it all week.

I still didn't say anything at school that week about it – half because most of my friends were not into the footy as much as I was (save for my friend from before, I told him of course) and also because in my mind anything could happen from now until Saturday, and I could still miss out.

At training on Tuesday, I felt bullet proof. Apparently everyone already knew about it. The older players were keen to make me feel welcomed and comfortable, and I was fortunate that there was a certain other 16 year old in the team who the town was crazy over which took a lot of the focus and pressure off me (or so I felt). He was expected to play A's every week, I was a surprise.

Later in the week, talking with a few other friends at school in our little group, the topic turned to footy and someone mentioned that I was playing A's that weekend. A female friend in the group asked me to explain – and I said it was true, I was playing A's this weekend.

"You mean you're playing the in the same team as (the 16 year old child prodigy)? Bullshit!"

I didn't know how to respond. I guess it was an insult, but a back handed compliment in a way. I sort of laughed a bit, and said yes I was playing in the same team as him.

"Don't lie Heath, that's bullshit!" She said again. Why would I lie about his, when in a few days I could have been proved so wrong?

At Thursday night's training session, the coach asked me to follow him into the change rooms while the rest of the team was still training. He went through the general team rules or game plan, and told me what position I would be playing. He gave me a list of "team rules" just to give me an idea what to expect.

As the rest of the team came in from training, one of the most senior players saw the rules in my hand – dubbed the ten commandments of our game plan.

"Yep, you have to know each one of them backwards by Saturday" he joked.

One of the other players asks me what my birth date is – which is a bit of a weird question. What happened was he just learnt that I was only 15 – and he was only 15 when he played his first game of A grade. Currently, he had the record as the youngest player in the 98 year history of our footy club to play League footy, and was concerned he had just surrendered it. After a quick calculation, I found out that I was 1 month older than his record, which though was good enough for second on the list. Dad was about 5 th.

Anyways, Friday rolls around and the team is announced in the paper. And right there, in the second name listed is one H.Eddy . I cut that out of the paper and kept it in a photo album, which I am sure Mum still has somewhere. All week I had family friends calling the house, and other people who I had never spoken to but were friends of Dad calling to congratulate me. I had a week to build up to it, and I loved every minute of it even though inside I knew I would play maybe one game or two and then be dropped back down to the colts.

When playing Reserves, for the colts players it means playing Friday night and then backing that up with Saturday morning. But when you are playing in the League team, the A's, they don't allow you to play Friday night in case you get injured. But I wasn't going to miss the game, I had to be there anyway. It was weird, being in the change room in normal clothes, while all my team mates were in their uniforms. Normally I would be sitting alone in a corner, silently psyching myself up for the game, but instead here I was in jeans and a t-shirt shaking hands with all the trainers who were congratulating me. Even the coach interrupted the pre-game pep talk to point out my achievement. I was just enjoying the moment.

The Child Prodigy's father had played footy with mine, and as such both families were part of a larger group that often held dinner parties together and the like. So we had been playing footy together with the rest of the kids from these families since we were 3 or 4. I think he appreciated the fact that there was another player in the team now under 20, and I appreciated the fact that I could stand next to his spotlight for just a fleeting moment. We would go to the game together, which made me feel a little more at ease, and maybe him as well though by this stage, week 6 of the season, I think he was used to it all.

Players still have to pay for admission into the ground, as that is really the only way the grounds make any money, but players get a discount. In order to get the discount, you had to pick up a "players pass" from a local sponsor before the game, and the passes were different colours for League and Reserves. If you were under 18 you got in for the same price, but I felt pretty cool going to pick up my pass regardless.

We rocked up to the ground early – we were back at our home ground this week – and I was there before the reserves started. It was a special round this week though, a promotional round for the competition and both A grade games featuring all four teams would be played back to back on the same ground. This meant that the crowd would be double what it usually was (over 1200 I found out later, which is big for a small country town game of footy).

I went down to the senior player who told me to remember the team rules back to front by Saturday. Firstly, he too congratulated me in which I responded:

"Something create to try and handball or short kick don't long ball the kick doubt in if".

He looked at me funny, and then I told him that was the fist team rule backwards. I'd work on the other ten.

I went into the change rooms a lot earlier than needed, but that was so I could be in there when it was nearly empty to settle myself. One by one, more players filed in. I could see these guys I had been watching on Saturdays for the past few years come in and grab a jumper out of the same box I had just grabbed mine. One or two of them had even played footy on the same team as my Dad and Uncles.

I was playing in the same position I started in the previous week as a supporting role in the forward line, while the Child Prodigy was a focal point in the same area. As we ran out onto the ground from the change rooms directly underneath the grand stand, you could hear the larger crowd. I felt 10 foot tall and bullet proof.

I took my position and gave a customary hand shake to my immediate opponent. I recognised him as one of the better players on the other team – good enough to make the "combined" team, a team made up of the best players from the four clubs to represent the city against others. And to make it worse, he knew it was my first game too – he said as much when we shook hands. I would learn later that he also worked on the mines with Dad.

Early in the game, as the ball was coming towards us, CP saw me head for it. I can hear him clearly shout encouragement as I went for the ball, and marked it easily before giving it off to a running team mate. The ball went through a few more sets of hands before resulting in a goal for our team. Even though I was a very small link in the chain for that goal, I was a link none the less and started to feel comfortable.

I took a few marks, had a hand in a few goals though kicked none myself. I even managed to out position my opponent a few times and took some tough marks. We were getting beaten – not that I had noticed all that much.

By the end of the 3rd quarter, we were down by 42 points, which is like being down 30 points after the 3rd in basketball. You could still win, but it is highly unlikely. I was a little disappointed as I really wanted to win my first game, but I was just happy to be there.

Kicking with the breeze in the final term though, we had a chance. The coach said he was switching the team a bit to over stack the forward line, as we had no chance on winning unless we could score more than 43 points in this final quarter. I figured I would be sent to the bench, being my first game and all. But alas, he had left me in my position unchanged. Well ok, that's not too bad.

The final quarter was a beauty, and I did my part without being a star or a passenger. The Child Prodigy however kicked four of his five goals for the day in that final quarter, and when the final siren sounded we were ahead by just 2 points. Not only was it a big game for me, being my first, it was a big win for the entire team to come from so far down. The game was faster and harder than I had been used to, but I felt I held my own.

Singing the club song in the change rooms was fantastic, as myself and one other guy who also played his first game had to stand in the middle of the circle for it. We went back to the footy club rooms (basically a bar and function room owned by the club across the road from the ground) in great spirits. The Child Prodigy, another guy from our colts team and myself got us a bottle of Vodka and headed out to a small party. At the party, among others, was the same girl that doubted me so much the days before. I asked if she believed me now, and I guess her surprise was another back handed compliment. That night was the first night I ever got drunk, even though it was three of us sharing the one bottle of the cheapest Vodka we could get someone to buy for us.

Continued in the next post, the rest of the season.

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