Life Cycle, For Big Jim Phelan
by Bruce Dawe
When children are born in Victoria
they are wrapped in club-colours, laid in beribboned cots,
having already begun a lifetime’s barracking.
Carn, they cry, Carn… feebly at first
while parents playfully tussle with them
possession of a rusk: Ah, he’s a little Tiger! (And they are… )
Hoisted shoulder-high at their first League game
they are like innocent monsters who have been years swimming
towards the daylight’s roaring empyrean
Until, now, hearts shrapnelled with rapture,
they break surface and are forever lost,
their minds rippling out like streamers
In the pure flood of sound, they are scarfed with light, a voice
like the voice of God booms from the stands
Ooohh you bludger! and the covenant is sealed.
Hot pies and potato-crisps they will eat,
hey will forswear the Demons, cling to the Saints
and behold their team going up the ladder into Heaven,
And the tides of life will be the tides of the home-team’s fortunes
— the reckless proposal after the one-point win,
the wedding and honeymoon after the grand-final…
They will not grow old as those from the more northern States grow old,
for them it will always be three-quarter-time
with the scores level and the wind advantage in the final term,
That pattern persisting, like a race-memory, through the welter of seasons,
enabling old-timers by boundary fences to dream of resurgent lions
and centaur-figures from the past to replenish continually the present,
So that mythology may be perpetually renewed
and Chicken Smallhorn return like the maize-god
in a thousand shapes, the dancers changing
But the dance forever the same — the elderly still
loyally crying Carn… Carn… (if feebly) unto the very end,
having seen in the six-foot recruit from Eaglehawk their hope of salvation.
Australian Soccer has no poems like this. No poems that romance the game, mythologise it, treat it like a sacred process, see it as embedded in Australian life. Why?
Is it because soccer has never had that kind of centrality to Australian lives? Because it has been peripheral? I think no and yes.
At times and in places in Australian history soccer has been central. Think of: the image of train loads of 100s of red bedecked and noisy Wallsend supporters travelling to Sydney to take on the metropolis; the social rhythm of the game in Western Sydney and Ipswich and elsewhere; the thousand or so dead soccer ANZACS forever in some foreign field. Thousands of images and stories were developed that could demonstrate just how close to the mainstream this game has been in a cultural sense.
But in terms of cultural memory it is nowhere. At every turn Australian culture (and Australian soccer culture, more particularly) has intentionally, accidentally, incidentally, malevolently or incompetently lost track of the narrative of this game.
We have lots of stories. Many soccer histories have been written in Australia. Fair Play publishing is the latest press to produce and distribute soccer narratives.
Yet do these stories take? Do they embed themselves in the consciousness of many Australians. Or does the kitchen sink of Australian stories get drained too easily when it periodically fills up with soccer tales?
Do we have any stories that would help demonstrate a sense of soccer's historical continuity, one that most Australians cannot yet perceive? Unfortunately just about every narrative we have speaks of disconnection either by intent or effect.
So what does an 'Australian story' contain?
- nature as a threat
- taciturn or emotionally stunted masculinity
- boys having fun
- A problematic reflection on aboriginality
- women cooking
Classic Australian stories contain many or most of these elements. One of my favourites Wake in Fright contains almost all of them.
CLANCY OF THE OVERFLOW - A.B. "Banjo" Paterson
I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better
Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,
He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,
Just "on spec", addressed as follows: "Clancy, of The Overflow".
And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,
(And I think the same was written in a thumbnail dipped in tar)
'Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:
"Clancy's gone to Queensland droving, and we don't know where he are."
I can think of nothing in soccer literature that emulates the mood or content of this poem. Our writers are, generally, reluctant to adopt the confidence (if not arrogance) needed to claim a central place for this sport. (I think that Paul Nicholls is an exception here and as he demonstrates, we do have the material for soccer stories to become legend.) Think of Indigenous man Casey Wehrmann growing up in Cloncurry becoming a socceroo. What kind of impossibility is this? Think of the Mount Isa team in the 1950s travelling 2000 km to play one game and Ingham returning the favour the following year. The loneliness of the long distance soccer players, indeed. Think of Perkins, Moriarty and Briscoe growing up together in a boys home in Adelaide and the magnificent careers that blossomed from that most unlikely of situations. Think of war hero Coppock getting struck dead by lightning on Weston's home ground shorthy after surviving the rigours of WW1. Think of the two women's teams who 101 years ago played in front of 10,000 at the Gabba (the then Brisbane home of soccer).Think of Sam Kerr.
As you can probably guess, this absence depresses me somewhat. So imagine the extent to which the following story cheered me when I found it a few weeks ago. It meets many of the criteria I outlined before.
The Homesick Miner
Daily Telegraph (Sydney), Monday 22 September 1941, page 8
Backstages Of Sport
By HUGH DASH, SPORTING EDITOR
A Sydney newspaper was flung from a train window near Mount Isa, Queensland mining town, two weeks ago. A fettler picked it up, read it, and passed it on. The paper finally came into the hands of Theo Love, 42-year-old mining prospector. In the sport page he read that after 28 years Leichhardt had won their way to the State Cup Soccer final. Thirteen years ago Love played as a forward with Leichhardt. In years of gold quarrying around Mount Morgan and other fields he got his first taste of homesickness. He inspected his bank balance, found he was comfortably off, and looked up train timetables. He reached Sydney on Saturday after a 2000-mile trip by train and coach. Leichhardt were beaten in a premiership game, and he nearly wept when the final whistle blew. A home-coming party given him by 100 Leichhardt supporters at Croydon Park on Saturday night made him feel better. He will stay "to see Leichhardt win the Cup final against Granville next Saturday and to see High Caste win the Epsom." Love has money to back Leichhardt. But as for High Caste— he says betting on races is just gambling.
Just where did this ethos go?