Goalkicking: The Art and Desire Lost In the Modern Game

In the dying seconds of the 1977 Grand Final, Collingwood’s Ross ‘Twiggy’ Dunne prepared to kick, requiring a goal to level the scores. Despite being only twenty metres out, he chose the kick usually reserved for the long distance roost: the technically difficult and notoriously inaccurate torpedo punt. Continue reading “Goalkicking: The Art and Desire Lost In the Modern Game”

A Carnival of Sporting Clichés

While discussing sports related brain injuries, Canterbury Bulldogs captain James Graham commented recently, without irony or attempt at humour: “For me, concussion is such a grey area”.

The wordsmith and intellectual all-rounder Stephen Fry believes true identity resides in language. When another rugby league prop Jeff Lima uttered the words: “I put my head down, bum up, did the hard yards, and worked my arse off” there was no doubt as to his true identity, and the special group to which he belonged.
Given the very physical nature of their enterprise, it’s not surprising that feet and movement feature prominently in the language of sportsmen. ‘Putting your best foot forward’ is very popular as is ‘stepping up’, ‘filling someone else’s boots’ and ‘keeping on your toes’.

Nor is it surprising to hear physical injuries being used to describe mental setbacks: “You can’t get a bigger kick in the guts than being told you have brain damage”, said a UFC combatant with brain scarring who got the biggest emotional kick in the guts by taking repeated blows to the head.

Other body parts are given game-time [sorry about that] and there is the interesting use of “doing” for damaging. ‘Doing a hammy’ and ‘quad’, have been joined recently by ‘doing a glute’. There are the metaphors ‘copping a kick in the guts’, and ‘copping it on the chin’ too.

There are no qualms over borrowing from other sports: non baseballers use phrases like ‘stepping up to the plate’, ‘on the canvas’, and ‘champing at the bit’ with gay abandon [sorry again].

Inter-sport phrasing eventually leads to the absurdity of a metaphor being used that is literally true such as a jockey announcing his intention to take control with: “I’m taking the reins”.

When Canberra Raiders’ prop Brett White was asked what weight he intended to play at, he replied: “I’ll have to weigh it up”. After buying Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas, Super League coach Brian Noble said: “He brings a wealth of experience that you just can’t buy”.

With all these expressions flying about it’s easy to choose the wrong one, as (another league forward) Ben Cross once did: “But I know what I’ve done in my career, and what I’ve put myself through to get to where I’ve got, so until they’ve actually done that, their word isn’t really worth a grain of salt”. (I had been expecting “a piece of sh*t”).

The most prolific users of sporting language , of course, are journalists, although to be fair, after more than one hundred years of rugby league correspondence, originality is a difficult task..

Sometimes they get it wrong like the Sydney Morning Herald describing Bronco Matt Gillett’s response to the news that his close friend had died after being punched in the head: “Gillett was stunned. His head was spinning.”

It’s wonderful that the inspiration for some of the more popular similes and metaphors in sport – like describing finals matches as cauldrons or pressure cookers – came from the kitchen. These two though have become a little outdated – cauldrons are ancient, and pressure cookers were in use when kitchens were tiled in pale green.

The Age’s Jake Niall, referring to the ordinary pool of players available during the recent AFL trade period remarked: “The car yards are filled with Cortinas and however much you spray them and wind back the speedo, they’re still Cortinas.”

We know what Niall means by his use of the Ford Cortina – the mid-sized, middling family sedan – as a metaphor for an average footballer but it ignores the fact that some of the earlier models were handy racing cars.

Cortinas with mag wheels and six cylinder engines were quite impressive machines – and lethal, as the family cat found out one day when she was run over by my brother’s souped-up powder blue TC while sunning herself in the driveway.

Poor Fifi, at the ripe old age of seventeen, burst like an overripe tomato as the low-profile Yokohamas ploughed a furrow through her.

It was visitors, not my brother, who discovered her an hour later. Like the characters in John Carpenter’s The Thing they were unsure of what they had come across. Staring at the congealing pulp they muttered: “What is it … is that a cat in there?”

The AFL Unlikely All Stars

Australian poet Les Murray once said he had never seen a decent poet who actually looked like a poet. It’s amazing how many champion footballers don’t look like footballers.

To that group add those players who don’t look good enough to be playing, those with extreme eccentricities, and those who fail to fulfill their enormous potential and you have:-

The Unlikely All Stars:

BP: STAN MAGRO: actually an excellent back pocket player who represented Victoria. Unfortunately he’s here because he was short and bandy-legged. Also I can’t get the footage of Kevin Bartlett waltzing around him on the boundary in the 1980 Grand Final out of my head.

FB: STEPHEN SILVAGNI: Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “What’s the Fullback of the Century, a great overhead mark and an exceptional goal kicker doing in this team?” Well, the answer is long sleeves and bow legs.

BP: JAKE KING: On a football ground, as on a fashion catwalk, short legs are not a good look. Much of what this grim-faced waddler and push-up guru did wasn’t pleasant viewing but was deceptively quick, had excellent goal sense, and was a brutal defender. Being fearless with a diminutive frame comes at a cost. In 2012 he broke a wrist and fractured a cheekbone, and required operations on a broken foot and hand, a strained knee and a torn groin. It was a miracle he made it to 107 games.

B: MICHAEL TUCK: Who could believe a man who looked like this would be the all time games record holder and one of the best players ever? He started out at 60 kgs and eventually “filled out” to a massive 74kgs. Stick-thin, and he wore long sleeves of course.

CHB: DUSTIN FLETCHER: What right did a skinny school kid have winning a premiership in his first year? And how can a man who still looks like a skinny child at 37 years of age be on the verge of breaking Essendon’s all time games record and be considered one of the greatest defenders in the game’s history? Did I mention he is a redhead?

HB: BRUCE DOULL: This halfback flanker had 356 games, 5 premierships, 4 best and fairest awards, bad hair, an awful beard, and a dreadful headband; and was once seen running away from a female streaker.

C: TERRY KEAYS: a Collingwood wunderkind debuting as a 16 year old in 1987. Although strongly built and naturally gifted he never really established himself at the Pies or later at Richmond.

HF: BRETT HEADY: an afterthought in the 1989 Draft, Heady developed into a potent attacking player in West Coast’s premiership teams of the ’90s. Looked like a bellboy though.

CHF: ALLEN JAKOVICH: An extrovert who kicked 209 mainly brilliant goals – and missed almost as many – from just 54 games. The light that burns twice as bright burns for half as long. Jakovich only lasted four and a half seasons.

HF: NATHAN ABLETT: Retired at 21 years of age after kicking three goals in the 2007 Grand Final, citing a desire for a normal life. Realising normal can also mean boring he returned to the AFL with the Gold Coast four years later but was delisted. Suns coach Guy McKenna explained that he was too slow and that the game had passed him by. We’ll never know if his premature retirement cost the game a superstar.

FP:TED HOPKINS: A true Renaissance man. Hopkins – who looked like a poet, and was one – was a junior water skiing champion, a park ranger and an economics graduate who founded Champion Data . More importantly, he was the professional bench warmer with poor eyesight who somehow kicked four goals in the famous Carlton comeback against Collingwood in the 1970 Grand Final.

It’s a shame he didn’t also dabble in optometry, as a pair of contact lenses may have enhanced his on-field performances.

FF:WARWICK CAPPER: No explanation required.

FP:KEVIN BARTLETT: A decade after being undone by a poet/water skier/statistician, Collingwood would be destroyed in a grand final by a chap with a comb over and a lace up jumper. This John Howard-Dick Smith lookalike kicked 7 goals in the 1980 decider to win the last of his 5 premierships. He would later become an Australian Football Hall of Fame Legend.

FOLL:MICK NOLAN: The “galloping gasometer” couldn’t see his feet for his enormous stomach but knew where his rovers were. A great tap ruckman and an important player in North Melbourne’s first premiership in 1975.

LEIGH MATTHEWS: The great man needs no introduction but the AFL’s official greatest player of all time did look, at best, like a porn film extra and, at his worst,  a greengrocer or hardware store proprietor.

TONY SHAW: The Danny Devito of the AFL. Short, plump, slow as a wet week, and struggled to kick further than thirty metres but the 1990 Norm Smith Medallist was strong, tough, and clever.

INT: PETER “CRACKERS”  KEENAN: A real character who appeared to have no teeth.

MARK “JACKO” JACKSON: A possible madman who definitely had no teeth.

RONNY WEARMOUTH: with the worst hair (even for the ’70s) and his rodent-like features Wearmouth just pips John “The Rat” Platten.

JADE RAWLINGS: A player who failed to fulfil his promise, or just an ordinary player?

COACH: ALLAN JEANS: I had to choose between Jeans, a former policeman who often wore a raincoat, and John Kennedy, a former school principal who also wore a raincoat. Both were great coaches, but Jeans was shorter.