When you live in a small town like Robe SA there’s only a certain amount of ‘stuff’ you can get involved with. By ‘stuff’ I mean those things that you do outside of work and family like hobbies, interests or extracurricular activities (the G rated version thanks). The very nature of a small town isolated at the bottom end of South Australia dictates the kind of ‘stuff’ you can do. For example I can’t, all of a sudden, decide to take up contemporary dance apart from the obvious reason that that would be akin to watching a ruptured ‘chook’ trying to put on a wet-suit. Those kinds of options just aren’t available here.
I do some volunteering, a bit of tourism stuff, some writing, loads of reading and enjoy time with the family but on the weekend things are different. Every Saturday, in the frosted early hours of the winter season, donning thermal underwear and embroidered hoodie I transform myself into a tape wielding, Deep Heat smelling, fanny pack wearing trainer for my local footy club.
Now before you get too excited let’s have a look at the details. I trust you’ve seen an A.F.L trainer on the television? You can picture it now if you like. See me sprinting effortlessly onto the field. Marvel as I seamlessly assess the player and make a split second diagnosis. I marshal super swift hand signals back to the bench alerting my fellow trainers, coaching staff and the medical team to deploy a motorised cart to my side. The injured player smiles weakly at me with earnest gratitude and follows every instruction I give them with a humbleness that would make Pope Francis weep. With the assistance of four other trainers, a physiotherapist and a doctor I stretcher the gallant player off the ground to a standing ovation by the fans.
Now picture the reality – it’s a little simpler than that and not quite as pretty. Lets explain it in third person just for effect. The trainer is a middle-aged, 75 kg woman. It’s seven degrees and raining sideways. She is dressed heavily and wearing, badly fitted, white weatherproof pants that guarantee her a indeterminately deep wedgie. She jogs ineffectively (perhaps lumbers is a better word) towards the injured player. The oval is a churned up, treacherously wet, cow paddock. She stumbles occasionally as the functional instability in her right ankle from years of champagne and high heels is exacerbated. She can see the injured player has spotted her, holding the side of his head, he watches her through squinted eyes, bracing himself in a winded position. Profanities abound. She mentally revises the clubs concussion policy as she approaches, her heart racing, adrenalin surging through her already heaving bosom. The ‘mob on the hill’ are watching, she reminds herself, stay calm and try not to fall over. She reaches out her hand to touch the inured players shoulder and then…..yep, you guessed it…..the player jogs away.
There she stands. Stranded in the centre of the ‘oval’. Heaving for breath, she watches him run effortlessly away from her and towards the action. ‘Fucktard’, she thinks, and begins her laborious journey back to the bench.
There’s no point in chasing them. Apart from the fact that you look a little bit desperate and a whole lot like a loser they’ll often say, “nah I’m right” even if they are running sideways in the wrong direction and can’t quite recall who they are. Did I also mention that the return journey is just as treacherous? Try being completely breathless and crossing an oval whilst avoiding one piece of red pigskin and 36 thundering footy players. Oh, and you can bet your life, whichever way you head that’s where the ball is going!
‘So why do you do it’, I hear you ask. Sometimes, when it’s raining sideways and the score is twelve goals, five behinds to nothing I ask myself the same question. The answer is always the same. My father played for the Robe Football Club, my great grand father coached and his wife oversaw the making of the guernseys in the 1960’s. Great uncles, aunts, cousins and a myriad of other relations have all volunteered, played or been involved in some way. I do it because ‘footy and netty’ are a vital part of what stitches a rural community together. There’s a camaraderie among the players, their families, the members and the fans which stretches not only through my home town but between the other small towns in the league. Sure, there’s a bit of he said she said around and not everyone is perfectly behaved all of the time but when it comes to the crunch we support each other. I sometimes find myself sitting with a teary ten-year old boy after his first ever competitive game, his concerned mother by my side, explaining to them how best to manage that savagely corked thigh while he tries to be as tough as a ten-year old boy can be. Then when I see his mother again in the supermarket a few days later, we talk, catch up and shake our heads in unison at the ferocity that is Aussie Rules. It’s a privilege to deal with people at this level, it’s a small contribution back to community I love and it’s a pleasure to watch.
So cheer, cheer the red and the white….onward to victory.