iDad the Eighth

Move over Maradona.

By the time I had become a proud father of five I was nearing my late thirties. Unfortunately I had gained weight with each and every child that came along and my physique was no longer the bronzed Adonis of my early adolescence. My body had matured, like a fine wine or mouldy cheese and had slowed down to the speed of a turtle wading through treacle. I was in shape though. ‘Round’ is a shape after all. However, at the insistence of my partner, I returned to the sporting arena.

Standing in the Colosseum as rambunctious Romans bayed for Christian blood, shortly before the lions were let loose, was an exhilarating experience.  A crisp breeze dispersing the scent of blood before fear and defiance set in. At least that’s how I imagined it. The indoor soccer grounds at the local gym smelled more like old sweat and dirty socks, and the kids had come along to laugh at poor iDad as he waddled around breathlessly trying to compete with men not much more than half his age.

I lasted twenty minutes that first day.

As I stopped and spun anti-clockwise so as to kick the ball back into the field of play I heard a muffled gunshot. A millisecond later and my left knee could no longer bear my weight. The referee’s whistle blew and the young official approached me.

“Are you ok mate?”

I had no idea. Pain hadn’t set in yet. Nausea on the other hand…. Something was wrong.

“I don’t know. What happened?”

“Your knee popped. I heard it from over there. You need to go put ice on it.”

As I hobbled off the pitch for my ignominious exit I saw the man from the food shop walk round from behind the counter. He was carrying a bag of frozen peas, which he threw towards me.

“Get this on your knee quick smart mate or it will blow up like a balloon.”

“Did you hear it pop too?”

He grimaced at me before replying.

“Everybody heard that mate.”

He was right. The entire gymnasium had gone silent, and I was off to hospital.

Glory, Glory to South Sydney

Being an armchair athlete and the son of a Rugby League referee helped instill a passion for sports, and my favourite team is the South Sydney Rabbitohs. To date I have never seen them play in a grand final, let alone win one, but with Russell Crowe on board as the owner, iDad is quietly confident.

Rugby League is the dominant winter sport played across the eastern seaboard of Australia with the local competition boasting clubs from Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales and New Zealand. It is played in over thirty nations throughout the globe with annual Test Matches between international sides and a Rugby League World Cup competition, with fourteen representative nations, held every four years or so.

It is a full contact, tribal game with some teams (and their fans) harboring grudges that go back over one hundred years. The annual State of Origin series pits New South Welshmen against their Queensland rivals, many of whom play in the same local sides together. Friendships are forgotten once the athletes walk out into the cauldron and the punishment these men put their bodies through needs to be seen to be believed.

The South Sydney Rabbitohs are the most historically successful Rugby League team of them all. Unfortunately our glory has been few and far between in recent decades and it has become a sad reality that our supporters seem to have a mortgage on disappointment. This is reflected in our club mottos including:

The very popular, ‘oh well, there’s always next week.’

The seasonal, ‘oh well, there’s always next year.’

And the most frequently used of them all – ‘bugger’.

The love we have for our team can never be questioned though and in the year 2000, a crowd of 80,000 people marched on Sydney Town Hall to protest the way News Limited were treating the game and to demand that our club be reinstated back into the national competition. No. 1 was there with me. God Sakes and Granny had stayed at home. Fans wearing club colours from new teams, old teams and extinct teams vented their frustrations to the media; and the Rabbitohs went to court with a fire in their belly. We have not enjoyed much success since winning our case and resuming our playing status in 2002, but a true supporter never gives up.

One day, after a particularly bad beating at the hands of the New Zealand Warriors, three sad little boys came to have a chat to me. No.1 was the spokesman,

“Dad, we love you.”

I could tell right away that this was not going to go anywhere good. God Sakes and Granny looked at their shoes as No.1 continued.

“But do we have to keep going for Souths?”

iDad was speechless.

“They never win dad.”

God Sakes was right.

“They suck dad.”

Granny was too. I nodded sagely.

“No boys, you don’t have to keep following Souths if you don’t want to.”

It hurt for me to say it, but I felt I had no choice. Then they delivered the coup de grace.

“We’re also going to start going for Queensland in the State of Origin. New South Wales never wins that either.”

As the terrible trio toddled off to cause chaos in the rumpus room I slumped back into my armchair and watched wistfully as another Warrior was congratulated for his part in decimating our once beloved red and green footy team. My knee throbbed from the recent reconstruction and I wondered how I would tell their grandfather of the betrayal.

Then a cunning plan formed in the grey matter of my cerebellum. Time for a Chinese meal.

Power to the People.

Stuff of legend...John Sattler, suffering a broken jaw, is chaired off by Bob McCarthy after Souths beat Manly in the 1970 grand final. Source: The Daily Telegraph

The South Sydney Rugby League Club in Redfern had arguably one of the best Chinese restaurants around. Nothing flash or fancy, just plenty of prawn cutlets, gow gee and fried rice. It was inexpensive, tasty and kid-friendly, which made it the perfect ‘westwomp’ as the boys had come to call it. Generally we would go as a family unit with uncles, aunties, cousins and grand-parents. Our table was large and round, and the Lazy Susan was kept incredibly busy.

Outside the restaurant, but still within the building, was the South Sydney Football Club Hall of Fame where photos of players that had gone on to represent their state or country, were hung with pride. The most memorable of all was the picture of John Sattler, South Sydney’s captain in the late sixties and early seventies, being carried off the field after wining the 1970 Grand Final against Manly-Warringah. Blood coursed down his chin from a badly broken jaw he received in the opening minutes of the game. In spite of his horrendous injury he not only played on, but captained his side to one of the most courageous Grand Final wins of all time. As I told the story to my boys their eyes widened.

“Souffs are cooool!”

Once again Granny was right.

One Little Girl hadn’t arrived yet and Mini Me was still bottle fed, so it was just the five us at the table this night. The staff were amazing in spite of the mess Granny made with the ‘chomp-stinks’. God Sakes had given up on them ages ago. He just couldn’t stuff the food in quick enough.

By the time dinner had ended there was a fine layer of rice coating the carpet like sago snow and no more talk about supporting rival teams. To this day my boys are all still members of the football club, waiting patiently for success.

As my boisterous boys embarked on another brouhaha in the brasserie, possibly high on monosodium glutamate, I noticed that there was a minor commotion in the kitchen. Curious onlookers peered from the double doorway as the head-waiter approached me with a purpose.

“Are these all your children?”

For one horrible second I thought we may have finally outstayed our welcome.

“Yes, they’re all mine.”

He turned to the scullery and nodded prompting ‘oohs’, ‘ahhs’ and eyes widened with awe. Then I was posed another question.

“They are all boys?”

“Yes they are.”

More vigorous head bobbing evoked a round of applause from the chef and his crew.

“You must be a very powerful man.”

With that last comment he left to process my credit card. He was right you know, but he still got a big tip.

Happy 103rd Birthday to the Mighty South Sydney Rabbitohs

Souths Logo

It was on this day in 1908 that the South Sydney District Rugby League Football Club was founded at Redfern Town Hall, giving birth to the most successful professional Rugby League Club of all time.

South Sydney – also known as ‘The Pride of the League’ – was the third Rugby League club founded in Australia after Glebe and Newtown who unfortunately no longer exist at the elite level.

The Rabbitohs have won 20 premierships over the past 103 years including the inaugural Grand Final held in 1908 where they beat North Sydney 11 – 7 at Birchgrove Oval.

With strategic player recruitment, a strong and successful pool of junior talent, plus healthy corporate and celebrity backing, the Rabbitohs are heading in the right direction to claim premiership number 21.

Glory, Glory to South Sydney! Share

Pine Gap Teaser 01 – Derailed

Here’s a small snippet from my first novel – Pine Gap. From time to time I will place ‘teasers’ on here for people to read, enjoy and comment on. If you have any criticisms or suggestions please post them as my novel has not yet found a publisher so there is still time to get on the acknowledgments list 🙂

Colonel Gabriel Drax had left the blazing, shattered remains of the Pine Gap Express strewn over the desert far behind him. He was the sole survivor of the catastrophe and needed to get to higher ground in order to call for help. The hot sand scorched his feet through rugged yet well-worn military boots and he struggled to maintain momentum, sinking to depths as high as his calf muscles with every single strength-sapping step. The centuries-old hole in the ozone layer had superheated the desert floor so that it was like wading through molten rock and although his footwear could withstand this sort of punishment for a while, they would not last forever.

The rocky outcrop on the horizon looked like an oasis and Gabriel knew it was his only chance to find safety from the Sand Sharks who were beginning to circle. These amazing marsupials had evolved over more than a thousand years to adapt to their hostile environment. With strong legs they are able to ‘swim’ through the loose earth while their round flat tails tune into the vibrations of their prey on the surface. Although the juveniles can only hunt at night, the adult Sharks possess a unique body cooling system that prevents their internal organs from boiling inside them and their tough hides are practically resistant to the baking temperatures of the sunlight. Colonel Drax had encountered these creatures only once since leaving the wreckage and had come off second best.

Time passed slowly as Gabriel trudged forward grasping his laser pistol tightly in his left hand; his right having been torn off at the wrist several hours earlier. He had done his best to close the wound with the remaining strips of cloth left over from his medikit but eventually he had to cauterize the stump with a white hot blast from his gun. Years of military experience had taught the Colonel how to survive in the worst possible environments however hunger, thirst and fatigue were beginning to take their toll and the pursuing Sharks knew it.

The oasis was looking more like a mirage.

As he extricated his foot from the sucking soil and plopped it down again for the ten thousandth time Gabriel scanned the desert around him for any sign of the inevitable assault. These specialised predators attacked from below at a terrifying pace, with an insatiable hunger and teeth that can pierce metal. A slight rippling in the landscape ahead of him alerted the soldier to the next challenge and he was equal to the task. Gabriel fired his pistol at the erupting mound of sand and managed to shoot an alpha male in the skull as it attempted to exit its burrow. The extirpated animal silently collapsed onto the dirt with dark crimson fluid pouring from the large laceration. Food was scarce in the desert and Sand Sharks were not afraid to cannibalize their own kind, especially when they were injured, dying or dead.  The Colonel had bought himself some time but he knew that once they had the carcass torn up and delivered back to their burrows he would once again be on the menu.

Gabriel was left in peace for what seemed an eternity yet he was well aware that, with his water supply exhausted and his feet beginning to blister, death was not far away. The smell of his own charred flesh and singed hair made him gag, leaving the bitter taste of bile on the back of his tongue, when the rocky outcrop suddenly materialised out of the heat haze and he realised he was almost there. The elation of relief brought with it a painful lapse of concentration as a hungry Shark surfaced between his legs and tore a sizable slice out of his thigh. The femoral artery had been severed and the blood flow was frenetic. Gabriel fell onto the sand and started crawling towards sanctuary. The pain was intense as burned skin flaked from his fingers, but when he hauled himself onto the first piece of hard ground he had felt since boarding the train in Sydney the grim faced warrior actually smiled.

As Gabriel rolled over onto his back he felt a tugging motion on the leg that had been bitten and looked down to see it was gone. His mortality gushed forth in scarlet spurts as he desperately tried to use his frayed belt as a tourniquet. Three more ripples were moving towards him from different directions so he checked his laser pistol, only to find that the charge was empty. The blissful delirium faded and Colonel Drax was resigned to his fate.

A trio of Sand Sharks surfaced only two meters from where he lay. Gabriel had been found by a pack of hunting females and he knew that it would all be over very soon. The lead Shark walked towards him and stood inches from his face. She was an extraordinary example of creature cunning, strength and intelligence, a being that had survived beyond all odds and, despite her harsh appearance, Colonel Drax thought she was beautiful. He expected her breath to smell of death and decay but instead she radiated an intoxicating mix of perfumed aromas. So incredible was the fragrance that he relaxed and offered her his throat.

Pine Gap © Matthew Green 2004

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Souths v Easts

Oh the humanity!

Last night I witnessed a game of Rugby League with more passion and commitment that any of the three State of Origins played this year.

Souths Logo

The brutal intensity of the clash between century old foes will undoubtedly eclipse the 50 point victory that the Panthers will inflict over the Tigers in the 2010 Grand Final when Benji and Robbie have simultaneous ‘off’ days.

I’m a Souths supporter. Have been all my life. So it really pains me to admit that the Roosters were the better side on the night. But they were. That’s not to detract from our boy’s performance. They too were fantastic. There are six other sides in the top eight, and a couple of hopefuls just outside it, that are sitting back saying ‘Holy shit! If they can do that to each other, what are they going to do to us?’

All thirty four players can walk away without their heads held high and their eyes on the late September prize, and the four point margin was a perfect indication of the difference between these two exceptional teams.

‘Arrgghhh’, or ‘Pardon me for a moment while I vent a little.’

What has become blatantly evident of late is the inability of the match officials to rise to the occasion. Both the Rabbitohs and the Roosters were victims last night of head-shaking, shoulder-shrugging, ‘what the’ decisions that had the propensity to impact upon the final outcome. Easts were robbed of a brilliant try in the first half and Souths were penalized out of the game with two minutes to go.

I’m not suggesting for a minute that my team deserved to win but in these times where Rugby League athletes are earning 3, 4, or $500,000 a season, do we not deserve a better class of referee?

As a fan it frustrates me to see dodgy decisions affect the outcome of crucial matches every week. As a one eyed Souths supporter I can name numerous indiscretions against us. I’m sure you, the reader, can name just as many for you own club.

Give the guy a break.

Ok, now that I have got all that angst out of my system I’m going to change tack. I am not going to turn this post into a witch-hunt because I can tell you dear reader that being a referee of any sporting code is a tough job. I know this from experience. My father refereed Rugby League for some seventeen years (that’s him in caricature) and my two oldest sons have both gone to the park with whistle in hand. I spend every wintry Sunday morning sitting in the stands, grinding my teeth and resisting the urge to punch the blithering idiot next to me who seems intent on denigrating my boys performance regardless of the fact that he is only fourteen and still on his ‘L’ plates.

The referee has a truly difficult task ahead of him, or her. With one pair of eyes they police the ten metres, watch the offside and generally try to keep tabs on twenty six large, fast moving men and the plethora of diminutive, gnat like, trainers that constantly invade the pitch. All the while trying in vain to block out the abusive elucidations from the unhappy, not so sober fan who has the benefit of video replays.

No sir, being the man in the middle is certainly no picnic and although I may disagree with some of their decisions from time to time, I respect what they do and I hope that they get the training, support and whatever else is needed from their association and the NRL in order to do a better job.

Get to the point!

The point is I just watched the best game of Rugby League this year.

Congratulations Roosters.

Glory, Glory to South Sydney.

Matthew Green. 9th July 2010

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