An Ode to Footy – New England Style

It didn’t matter: You were always outnumbered
Julian Morison

Didn’t matter where you came from when you got to Armidale, one thing you could be sure of was, you were in a minority. Didn’t matter if you came from Sydney or Newcastle, Dubbo or Moree, Bordertown or Ballina, Rocky or Rochie, didn’t matter. And it didn’t matter if you went to Geelong Grammar or Rockdale High – you were definitely outnumbered. And if you did Ag Ecos or Rural Science, Arts with a major in Drama or Psych, again you were one of a few. And this was the beauty of the place. Sure, there were enclaves of ethnicity; left footers in ‘Albies, bluebloods in Robb and girls in Mary White. But even these bastions of homogeneity would eventually mix and sometimes even integrate with the wider morass. Not everyone who went there left with the piece of paper they went for, but the majority learnt a lot, even in a short time, and most of that was life not academic.

If you played Aussie Rules, you were a definite curiosity. Kick the ball funny, bounce it, run all over the shop and those South Australians with their quaint lace-up Guernseys, not sure if they were stuck in the last century or cashing in early on the heritage concept. These were all things to look at and wonder about. Now Aussie Rules was very odd, the transitory nature of team makeup – amalgamations and recess, birth and rebirth – an odd evolutionary path where both extinction and abundance were constant possibilities. But even odder was the make up of individual teams. Half a dozen players with Aussie Rules in their blood and passionate about the game. Another half dozen, some with a background but not passionate, others from rugby and other codes who’d dabbled. Then there was the third half dozen; passion definitely lay elsewhere but had been conned by the passionate to give up their Sunday afternoons to engage in the fruitless chase of the elusive leather rabbit.

Many things moulded the unique nature of the Armidale game. Rugby (both codes) had an influence – for instance, southerners learnt how to be tackled properly, even if they could never get the hang of it themselves. But rugby was not the only code to contribute to the flavour of New England Aussie Rules. Soccer also played a role. In 1979 the Uralla Wanderers FC secured the services of one Frank O’Connor, who claimed to be a dashing forward flanker from Bankstown. It transpired he’d only ever played soccer, knew nothing of the southern game and was forever screeching “Offside!” to a nonexistent linesman as his direct opponent ran off with the ball. But Frank was a passionate young man and knowing nothing about something never inhibited his desire to tell others of his novel insights. And on Aussie Rules, like everything else, Frank had a theory (see opposite); and it was a theory you fancy, would even raise an eyebrow of Kevin Sheedy.

Kick ’em like O’Connor
An ode to footy – New England style
Julian Morison

It were quarter time back in ’79
The Wanderers a puffin’,
Pitched against the lads from Coffs
Their efforts had come to nothin’.
“The umpy’s crook,” complained the Coach
“The wind, it ain’t real fair”,
An ugly stoush around quarter time
And Teddy’s lost his flair.
Drew and Dave can’t tie their boots
And Youngy’s all a haze,
Pitto’s been on the grog so bad
He’ll be no good for days.
“We gotta lift”, implored the Coach
“Get in and have a go,”
But the second stanza were no better
And no more score to show.
Half time blew, the Coach were desperate
“You’re a mob o’ useless tools,
Where’s ya heart ‘n where’s ya soul
Ya playin’ like friggin’ fools.”
“I got an idea”, came from the corner
“Ya might think it’s a shocker,”
But leaping to his feet Frank roared
“Let’s play the game like soccer!”
Amid the uproar that ensued
The Coach he called for calm,
“He’s on to somethin’ here me lads
Frank’s plan can’t do no harm.”
Back on the ground the Wanderers strode
With an evil, inner grin,
“We got the buggers now,” they thought
“With Franky’s stratagem.”
Run it wide and hold the ball
A simple plan to honour,
Then cross it over, atop the square
Just kick it like O’Connor!
Cret ran it wide and held it in
Before dishin’ off to Glover,
Cammy marked, and kicked a goal
And then he kicked another.
It were early in the final term
When Burpo took possession,
“What we need”, the ruckman thought
“Is physical aggression.”
He tucked the ball under one big arm
And down the field he ran,
Then a mongrel punt that went nowhere –
He’d forgotten Franky’s plan!
The game were over and it were lost
The Wanderers left to ponder,
If only they’d stuck to the maestro’s plan
And kicked it like O’Connor!
So if you pass the ground one day
Just give a thought in honour,
Of that innovative soccer player
The bloke they called O’Connor.

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