Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Monday 14 August 2017

Melbourne football poem, 1858

There are very few examples of match description in the early days of Melbourne football. However, this poem, written in 1858 and published in Melbourne Punch (30 September) gives us a very good sense of the way football was played in Melbourne in its early organised form.
If the poem (written by a local journalist about identifiable historical facts and figures) is to be believed, early Melbourne football involved a hell of a lot of kicking and not much catching or running with the ball.
Aiming at iambic pentameter but usually getting only as far as doggerel, the poem is a remarkable document that has escaped notice—perhaps because of a prejudice against poetry as an inadequate form of documentary. This is a shame because the verse is as thorough as any other contemporary match description.

Harp of the South, whose mildewed chords unstretched,
All idly and ingloriously have dangled
Since erst the sporting minstrel boldly fetched
Those chords a wipe, and softly disentangled
Melodious strains, sweet woven, quaintly fangled,
Singing how Ireland raced with Frank the fleet,
A race that o'er their laurelled brows bespangled
Pedalian glories—once again we'll beat
Thy tuned-up strings in praise of nimble-footed feat.
By Walsh's clock 'twas half-past two
And the bard had nothing on earth to do,
But grateful felt that laggard loon
For the idle Saturday afternoon,
And drowsy, dreamy, dull, and drony,
That literary lazzarone,
Sipping his pale Martell and water
Long pondered how the time to slaughter;
Then sauntering down the street, he lags
Awhile about the Collins flags,
Where drapers lure with artful tale
Of dreadful sacrificial sale ;
(Poor souls, how sorely it must ring 'em
To immolate their silks and gingham,)
He marks new photographic faces
Unkindly gibbeted in cases.
Round goldsmiths' shops he flirts and flickers,
Takes inventories of the tickers,
With power observing strongly schooled in
He notes the holes each watch is jewelled in.
At last nose-led by ruling star
He nears the hail of Richmond car,
The driver speedily divined
The yearning of the minstrel mind,
For new sensation—" Sir," said he,
The kicking match begins at three,
I know you're going, jump up quick,
« I'm right away, the fare's a kick."
The bard he pictured lively image
Of larks about a football scrimmage,
A moment, and his hands were busy
To make quite sure he'd got a tizzy,
When finding that he was'nt stumped,
Upon the crowded car he jumped,
And squeezed as tight as barrelled haddock
Was driven to the Richmond paddock.

A score of swells were garbed in blue,
As many more in motley blue,
The first, South Yarra's careful pick
The other Melbourne's men of kick
    And on the ground they pitched
A wondrous spherical affair
Of India-rubber filled with air,
    In leather neatly stitched,
Right startling fact for human ken
How there did fifty gallant men
Their hopes and passions altogether
Concentre in a lump of leather,
Two goals at either side they fix,
Two simple unpretending sticks,
A cotton fogle torn to rags
Supplied those sticks with four small flags
    And strongly it behoves
That azure-shirted fellows should
Defend their own two bits of wood,
    And that the other coves,
The party-colored mob, should fight
With all their calcitrating might—
Each twenty men with forty soles,
Safe guarding their respective goals.
And now the kicking fun begins,
The battle of the toes and shins ;
Down went the ball, and, crushing thick,
The strife was great for primal kick,
Long scuffled then the blue and motley,
Long waged the battle fierce and hotly ;
The patience of a very Job
Was tired to get that leather globe,
Well free from strife of blow and bru'se,
And wilderness of boots and shoes,
And when at last the ba'l emerged,
Amidst their heads it skyward surged,
    Bobbing around around,
Till some one gave the thing a hoist
(In kicking skill that man rejoiced,)
    And sent it out of bound.
But swift again the springy sphere
Did midst the warrior host appear
    That host of skilful legs.
If one blue clansman's swift attack
Far sent the ball with pedal whack,
A motley foeman kicked it back,
As sure as eggs are eggs.
And as the storm of football tricks
    In wild confusion mixes,
Did many a kicker slant his kicks,
In other people's kicksies.
With varying prospect sped the day,
As blue or motley's changeful sway,
    Compelled the lively ball.
The betting ran upon the blues,
They had the heaviest pairs of shoes
    At their commander's call;
But midst the party-colored swells
There was a party, rumour tells,
    Whose well directed toes,
Unless 'tis an ex par'e statement.
To be received with some abatement,
    Were worth a score of foes,
Which seems a boastful tale, but then
It might mean either toes or men.
Now thrice the blues were nearly licked
For thrice the Melbourne men had kicked,
The ball, where rightfully afraid,
South Yarra firmed a barricade
Of chosen kickers, men in rows,
With stout resolve and stalwart toes ;
    When Wills, the Melbourne chief,
With picked-nut men of lively shin,
Banded to make a rush and win,
    And bring the blues to grief.
The rush was made, with boots embrued,
In mud, the motley men pursued,
    The nimble-bounding ball;
South Yarra's fortune then and there
Hung trembling on the merest hair,
    A fate that might appal.
The stoutest heart—'twas touch and go—
"A Fellows to the rescue ho !"
    And lots of fellows rushed.
Perspiring in cerulean shirt,
And trousers dashed with trophied dirt,
    They struggled, fought, and crushed.
But men on whom South Yarra pinned
Their faith, proved rather short of wind';
And, not to tell the truth by halves,
Some blue men kicked each other's calves;
Which muscular employ, of course,
Was wasteful exercise of force.
However, as the story ends,
The Melbourne mob out-kicked their friends,
And fair within the fatal stick,
With one triumphant joyous kick
And mad delight, still waxing madder,
They sent the India-rubber bladder.
The goal was passed, the day was won
South Yarra was completely done;
And each blue-coated player wins
A brave repute and plastered shins,
And every motley-colored kicker
Betook him to a special liquor.