You may have read recently over at Can You Fly Like You Mean It? and Much Ado About Sumthin', a couple of very well-written posts dealing with the random menace and even violence we might encounter as part of our day to day lives. Both Rowena and Steph hit quite a few nails on the head with what they had to say, as usual. This three-post series simply describes some experiences of mine from quite a few years ago that link thematically with theirs.
I was 13 and very keen on getting along to see Essendon in action every Saturday afternoon. Attending a school where everybody and his dog either followed Carlton* or Collingwood* didn’t furnish me with a whole heap of football companions. So apart from the odd group from my local junior footy team getting together to head off to see the Bombers when they played at our Windy Hill home, I generally went by myself.
(*I won’t link to their websites or articles about them on principle!)
Footy is something that you can go to by yourself without too much difficulty. Much easier than the cinema. And try asking for a table for one in a restaurant without feeling like a loser.
So for the Round 21 1973 away match, I caught a couple of trains solo down to St Kilda to watch the Bombers do battle with Fitzroy. We needed a win to secure a place in that year’s finals. And Fitzroy were close to the bottom of the ladder, so I’d already pencilled it in as a likely comfortable win.
The attendant in charge of keeping undesirables out of the Junction Oval’s Blackie-Ironmonger Stand was distracted by some players’ wives and girlfriends who weren’t sure where they should be sitting, so I was able to sneak in and sit down. Even in those days, the female companions of sporting identities tended to be pretty stunning.
I was able to stick out the whole afternoon in the stand by remaining inconspicuous. This wasn’t very difficult as the Bombers gave me nothing to shout about, putting in a shocker to go down by about five goals.
And so it was a very disappointed Lad Litter who trudged along Fitzroy St towards the station. I lit a cigarette (yes, I was smoking at 13. It was still thought to be cool around that time).
“Give us a smoke mate.”
Walking next to me was a tough looking little shit, with a screwed up facial expression like one of the Lollipop League Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz, also heading towards the station after the footy. Sensing some menace in his approach, I wordlessly handed him a cigarette.
“What are you smokin’ these poofter cigarettes for?”
I shrugged. “Alright, I’ll have it back if you don’t like it.”
And then he punched me in the face, hard. My lips started feeling numb, and I was taken aback by the shock of the blow.
“Keep your fuckin’ poofter cigarette.” And he threw it in my face. Just then his mates who’d been walking behind enjoying the spectacle, caught up with us and a few of them gave me a shove as they walked past. I hung back, and watched them dish out similar treatment to another unsuspecting victim along the way.
I was pretty shaken by the whole business, not the least of which was my having shown cowardice in the face of the enemy. Fear, indignation, shame, all competed feverishly for dominance as I got on the train. At Flinders St Station, they noticed me and jeered as I waited on the platform. I watched them get on before choosing a carriage away from them. Did I mention that these shitheads were Essendon supporters too? Fancy being under threat from your own kind.
Anyway, we did end up making the finals and two weeks later I caught the train at Ascot Vale on the way to the final against St Kilda at Waverley. I pulled back the door of the train to get on, and there they were. “Hey, there’s that..” I heard as I closed the door and headed down the platform to another carriage.
At the match, where the rampant Saints pulled the hapless Dons’ pants down, they were sitting about five rows in front of me. I thought I might have to deal with them again, and decided that I would just start throwing punches if they approached me, so at least I’d have a chance of inflicting some damage and regaining a little self-respect. But I didn’t see them at all after the game, so my resolve went untested.
Two years later, I’d moved up through the age groups to playing U17 football, and the team was going alright. We were definite finals prospects and I was getting the odd kick to hold my place in the side. But a mishap during a tackling drill at training left me with a broken wrist, and I would miss six weeks. I turned up at our ground, arm in plaster, to watch my teammates play their first match for the season without me.
The opposition ran out on the ground and their captain looked very familiar. It was the little shit who’d punched me! We won easily and our rover, a very feisty character, had been involved in a running battle all day with this captain, his opposite number. They had taken an immediate and intense dislike to each other.
In the clubrooms after the match, I checked the draw to see if we’d play them again. We would. In six weeks time, when I’d be playing my first game back after injury.