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Bellarine Rd 12 - Torquay Tigers v Anglesea Roos

 Harder than it looks

Amongst all the to-dos that arose for my parents in the course of their change of address, their 'out of the box' move to Torquay, transferring allegiance to a new local football team hardly registered. For my brother and I, Saturday marks a first visit to McCartney Oval to watch the Torquay Tigers at feeding time in almost a year of our folks living within easy earshot. The hapless prey, on this afternoon, the Anglesea Roos.

In a broader, somewhat shameful sense, it’s also the first community-level game I’ve visited for a while, but I’m quickly recalling the gist. The unguarded back entrance takes us past an echoey netball clash, where the support of sideline matriarchs seems fiercer than the on-court battle – perhaps because the blue concrete has a dangerous layer of rain. Thirty metres apart, across gluggy grass, is the football match. I ask Ben if McCartney Oval definitely awards its naming rights to the prominent local real estate agent or if it could, in fact, commemorate a club legend. We decide it’s very much within the realm of possibility a club legend became the real estate agent, in later life. On field, it’s mid second quarter and the Tigers are three goals in front, kicking with a favouring breeze. Their supporters are arranged on the concrete concourse, most clumped around an open bar that looks a little ‘Wild West’ by its colours and timber. Supporters are also packing the elevated ‘Roger Boak Room’, an egalitarian lookout that has the décor and ‘level two’ view elsewhere reserved for cordoned members’ areas. Goes without saying Roger must be a close relative of Travis. Rumour has it today’s teeming multitudes are at least partly owed to a pre-match address by one Luke Hodge, although the quarterback himself, premiership captain and dux of the super draft, is never spotted and I feel it would be sycophantic to ask after him. By far the most exclusive spots to watch the game are the trays of utes (esp. Hiluxes) belonging to those who might be reserves or under 19s or chums who, by their early twenties, have announced early retirement. I’d been a member of the last group, yet haven’t taken up spectating a local club in afterlife. On the opposite wing, which has a slope rising to the cusp of the Surf Coast Hwy, other vehicles are arranged across various tiers, jutting their faces, creating a view like something from a Pixar movie. After Tiger goals, many of these characters toot affirmation. Is it unfair to assume fans of such passion might also be among those who lean too passionately on their car horns in traffic?

But to the match itself. I don’t like to cast aspersions about the Anglesea staff – particularly given they’re showing the rate phenomenon of a playing coach – but the Tigers appear better drilled. Precise ball movement opens avenues on the home deck only they may know. Additionally, chaotic plays resolve to their advantage. Much of this, of course, is also to be explained by the wind. By contrast, Anglesea are lobbing the ball, Hewitt-esque, to outnumbered forwards. The breeze is sticky at such a height, and trajectories are stunted. There are brief flare-ups of emotion (read: mild violence) that suggest a serious rivalry has been invented between the coastal neighbours – one in serious danger of becoming a Melbourne suburb, the other adamantly still a bushland Melburnian holiday spot.

Half-time is wannabes (mostly juniors) kick-to-kicking with similar unchained elation to Auskickers on the MCG. Ben and I take part as we discuss, among other things, his recent rock-climbing holiday. I have an idea for second-half entertainment – what if we keep mental note of where all behinds in the next quarter are scored from, and then use the final change and the blessed access to McCartney Oval to see if we’d been able to do any better? I’m pleased Ben reacts like this is a stroke of genius. I imagine this stunt at first proceeding quietly between ourselves, then gaining interest, momentum, and becoming a popular break-time fan engagement ploy in even the big league, with cash prizes and plane tickets on offer.

We watch quarter three behind the Anglesea bench. In contrast to stereotypical Diet Coke, a few surplus members of the ‘coaching staff’, among that playing coach’s ‘eyes and ears’, drink cans of Stone & Wood. The Tigers have a trace of ungracious hospitality I also remember from my high-school team: there’s an elevated platform, a small contraption of scaffolding, that gives their own coaching panel a surer view, yet such a structure isn’t provided to the opposition. By this, and usual underdog preferences, I do feel my own allegiance shifting to the Roos, even though characters and real storylines remain unknown to me. They mount a challenge in this term, sneaking early scores, including a hopeful loft a Chapman-domed forward offers to a now-approving breeze. At the other ‘Geelong’ end, a strong Tigers pack mark earns a shot less than twenty metres out. It should be a goal against the tide, but the ball skews horribly off the Tiger boot, gets a gasp from the crowd like it’s an off-colour joke, something offensive. It becomes an obvious candidate for our goal-kicking rectification project and I remember its spot. The scoreboard continues to creep almost invisibly in Anglesea’s favour, separate to the action on the field, as if its operated manually and the wind also turns its mechanism in the underdogs’ favour. Indeed, it is later proven some of these scores were notched in error. There are neat passages down our wing where the Roos make plodding ‘fast’ breaks, but then a single mis-timed handball appears to sap fifteen minutes of momentum. The Tigers, with lowered eyes, re-establish themselves, thread difficult shots, will go-on to win easily. The previous ‘neighbours at war’ dynamic defuses into something more Ned Flanders – there are, at times, treasonous signs of intraleague friendship.

Prior to eavesdropping the huddles at three-quarter time, Ben and I hurry to the Geelong end. There’d been several behinds in the quarter just gone, but most were rushed, and the only one of significance was the horrible Tigers miss from easy distance. There’s already a gaggle of kids crowding the goal-square, taking shots of their own, favouring the improbable. There’s tall netting to prevent anyone’s windscreen getting punished by a score. Ben generously stands behind the goals and I look for the spot where that Tigers forward had faltered. It seems so easy a kick that it mustn’t have been taken seriously. The posts are dizzyingly close, but the shot’s still a shade beyond the range of ‘point blank’. Standing near the spot, whatever had risen up from the mud to humiliate that man similarly gets a hold of me. The off-shore wind suits surfing, perhaps, but not edging Sherrins infinitesimally north. My run-up is ill-practiced (even when I’d played, it wasn’t great) and, wearing runners, I’m worried of slipping onto my arse. Worried, too, about the ball clobbering one of those virtual toddlers near the posts and fence-line. It’s often discussed how the yips have a power to infect a team, and so perhaps I’m influenced by the same malaise that’s come over my AFL mob at times this year. My kick, from 17 metres out, doesn’t drastically skew, rather never takes the right course in the first place. It heads north-east, slowly, loftily, and barely earns a point. I grimace throughout the four-five seconds it takes to land. I pray nobody in the vicinity, or aboard a Hilux, or spilling from the ‘Roger Boak Room’ had seen it, fixated upon it. Most of all, I hope it hasn’t been followed by Australian Rules’ answer to Tom Brady himself. I can’t hide from Ben, though, who looks over to me like he’s wondering if I'd been trying. I clap for the ball back, line up, miss again. Sneak it through on a third attempt, which hardly stands to reason I could get a game for the Tigers. It's an inglorious start for what I maintain should become a break-time tradition.

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