Not exactly sporty
My blood ran cold when I heard the word ‘‘sport’’ mentioned.
Although raised on the farm and having been subject to the rigours of early mornings, the occasional long day and having three brothers, I was of the more gentler persuasion.
It all started when the visitor to our new Rochester farm was standing on the back patio, explaining the benefits of the junior football club to my mother and father.
Some of the most interesting conversations occurred here.
Farmers seldom went into the house for a good yarn and never went into the lounge room.
They were always more comfortable sitting in the ute, leaning on a fence or standing on a verandah; not willing to make the commitment to a formal conversation, but going with the flow of the weather, the government and the footy.
Some of the most remarkable news unfolded in the backyard or near the back door.
When I was in the kitchen (where all the important farm decisions are made) I overheard the bad news about a fatal road accident just up the road. I must have been open-mouthed as I digested the conversation.
So it was with some interest that I heard about the suggestion that I might like to play football.
Up until I was 12 I had never played much and, because of my slight physique and lack of aggression (I’d never even broken a limb by then) which were painfully obvious, I put the suggestion down to pure charity on the behalf of the hospitable farmer.
But the dream of finding a good footballer among his four sons lingered in my father’s heart, so he had me signed up for the under-16 seconds.
Curiously, although I was very apprehensive about the idea, I enjoyed the experience.
It was more of a tribute to the community than any determination of mine that kept me going.
I found the camaraderie infectious, the discipline of training a good experience, and the odd success was heartening.
Despite my lack of total commitment (footsteps thundering behind me turned my heart cold) the slightest hint of praise on the field was encouraging and oddly enough the team went through to win a grand final.
Thankfully, I never did figure out the whole deal.
When the opposition knocked me down, I felt personally affronted, and I found it hard to demand a pass from my team-mates — ‘‘over here would be good thanks, chaps’’.
I remember one winter’s morning waking, and hearing rain on the galvanised iron roof, thinking: ‘‘good, won’t be any footy today’’. Dad laughed.
I also developed a great deal of respect for umpires as I frequently was asked to turn my football jumper inside out and run the boundaries. I thought all teams did that.
But the dads running the club were a good bunch who took care of us all.
Author Steve Biddulph, who writes about men’s issues, would call it things like role modelling and bonding.
At the end of the season when the trophies were handed out and I thought only embarrassment would come my way, the club executive must have tried extra hard to be creative.
The last one to be awarded had my name on it: ‘most improved’.
Me, pointing out to my younger brother how sporting endeavours can get you into a load of trouble.