|A symphony of car horns - Country football in Tasmania|
|Written by The Licorice Gallery|
|Tuesday, 07 July 2009|
Former Richmond VFL star and ex-Tasmanian Michael Roach was once asked what he thought the biggest difference was between playing in the big league in Melbourne to the quiet backdrops of rural Tasmania where he began. The roar of the crowd compared to the tooting of car horns after a goal is scored was his reply.
Roach played on the wings of the Longford ground in Tasmania’s north before signing with the Tigers of Punt road and becoming one of their greatest ever goal kickers with more than 600 majors. It certainly would have been an eye-opener for the skinny kid from country Tasmania, running out onto the hallowed turf at the MCG in front of tens of thousands of hysterical fans.
Having the club boot-studder scrape the mud from his Adidas three stripe specials after another bag of goals had sealed a famous Richmond win would have been something Roach was un-accustomed to after a game at Longford either.
Not having those luxuries is a part of the charm that you’ll find with country football in Tasmania. There are the obvious differences between the game; whether it’s slotting one through from tight on the boundary line beneath the roof at the Docklands Stadium, or having a member of the local netball side toss the waterlogged ball back in after another goal has interrupted play on the adjacent court.
The passion of the game is as evident on the edge of a bike track surrounding Campbell Town oval in Tasmania’s midlands, as it is in the outer at the ‘G’ grasping a four’n’twenty and a can of VB.
Campbell Town was once home to one of Tassie’s finest footballers and certainly the most flamboyant.
Brent ‘Tiger’ Crosswell was charging through packs and terrorising brittle defences in the local competition in and around Campbell Town before making his name in the VFL with Carlton. He went onto to play over 200 games with three clubs and played in four premierships, two each with Carlton and later North Melbourne.
That’s the beauty about country football. You never know what you are going to get. A trip to Mole Creek to see a round of the Leven Football Association in the north west might mean lop-sided games and full forwards kicking 21 goals; bringing up their century just past the half-way mark for the season.
They play double-headers as there are no reserves but teams can still be left short. Recruiting can be as simple, and as quick, as club officials and volunteers walking around the ground knocking on car windows in the hope that a star on-baller may be unearthed. It could also mean free tickets in the home-side’s meat raffle being sold around the ground to anyone who wishes to pull the boots on!
From one-sided affairs to northeast nail-biters; The Winnaleah Magpies played host to arch-rival the Branxholm Wanderers in a round of the NEFU (North East Football Union). Rivalries between townships, separated by a spearing stab-pass, can be found in competitions all around the football mad state and this one was no exception.
Winnaleah and Branxholm share a dislike for each other like a best mate who has stolen you girlfriend, only to find out their relationship lasted just six weeks.
When either side starts to poach players from each other however, things can become even more uncomfortable between the neighbours.
It’s a competition that features both the footy and the netball at the ground each Saturday. A township like Winnaleah can be deserted on game-day, especially when you’re up against a rival like the ‘Wanderers’.
You would be able to hear a pin drop at the local pub all afternoon - everyone would be at the match - but when the side had a function on later that night, like a fancy dress or player’s revue, the pub would be rocking well into Sunday morning.
With half-back flankers streaking out of defence in one game and goal-attacks shooting with precision in the other you can’t help but understand just how much this all means to the life-blood of communities out here.
Branxholm have jumped out of the blocks and despite some errant shots on goal manage to claw their way to a four-goal lead at half time. But the home side receive a good old-fashioned rev-up in the sheds and whether it was that or the smell of the pasties and saveloys wafting out from the nearby canteen that generated their willingness for the ball again only they will know.
Winnaleah got themselves back into the game and the last quarter went down to the wire.
By now the netball was over and the home side had their own cheer-squad behind the northern goals. The late afternoon sun stretched the shadows over the ground and made the players look like lanky American basketballers rather than weathered country footballers of all shapes and sizes.
The ‘Wanderers’ held on to win a thriller by five points; players shook hands and retreated to the sheds for hopefully a hot shower and a cold beer – and maybe a pastie or saveloy smothered in sauce.
Down at Parrot Park in Bridgenorth in the north of Tasmania, the crowd was so big they ran out of hot food by half time in the main game. The home team needed a win to consolidate their place in the top five and opponents Bracknell needed one to force themselves into it.
It was division one in the NTFA (Northern Tasmania Football Association) and there wasn’t a car space available around the boundary line, not unless you wanted your view blocked by one of the four light poles around the ground.
Bridgenorth play in green jumpers with a red sash, hence the Parrots. They flew out of the sheds and slammed on six goals to one in the first term to have Bracknell on the back foot. A major highlight was a speccy by Parrot’s player Chris Savage rising high over his Bracknell opponents to pull down an absolute screamer. The crowd went wild. Car horns tooted.
In the second half misty rain fell and conditions became greasy. Bracknell had fought their way back into the match and was now revelling in the wet and cruising towards a spot in the top-five. Most of the crowd had retreated to the warmth and dry of their vehicles.
Viewing of the match was interrupted by windscreen wipers; with the heater thawing my toes, i wondered how the Bracknell defenders were feeling.
When play was within earshot I would wind down the window to listen in on the game’s sounds. Take in some atmosphere and check the score before too much water got in and the heat escaped into the Parrot Park air.
At Campbell Town the home side were taking on southern counterparts Campania in a round of the Oatlands District Football Association. The ‘Robins’ had only just reformed to join the competition after a lay-off of a couple of years due to lack of numbers.
Previously they had played in a division of the NTFA competition around Launceston but decided to withdraw due to the travel commitments and costs involved.
Under the condition that they were only required to field a senior team, they joined the ODFA (Oatlands District Football Association). Supporters are glad to have their team back, and although there are some tough times ahead; recruiting of players old and new, as well as sponsors back to the club, the enthusiasm and spirit required can be seen from high in the old grandstand that overlooks the ground.
It was one of those typical chilly Tasmanian winter Saturdays. The steely clouds were hanging low over the ground and even grazing horses nearby were rugged up against the cold. A slight breeze favoured neither side and both captains could have been excused for winning the toss and promptly ordering his side back into the sheds!
A clump of locals had finished their morning duties in town or on the farm and parked their utes on the half-forward flank. A forty-four gallon drum was plonked between vehicles and quickly filled with wood and lit before a stubbie could be opened. By time on in the first quarter the fire was warming the local’s spirits, unlike their team’s fortunes on the field.
Campania were never troubled in their clash with the ‘Robins’ and despite a more determined second-half from Campbell Town, won by 10 goals.
Supporters dissected the game beside the fire, and umpire’s decisions were reflected on in the hope of perhaps coming out of it with an unlucky loss, the conversation quickly turned to a counter tea at the local.
It didn’t matter to the Campbell Town full forward, starved of opportunities in front of goal and now ready to hit the pub to feed his other hunger. He was philosophic about their loss. At least they were having a crack, getting out there and playing footy in the spirit of the game, whacking into bodies and slapping leather on leather, getting muddy, doing hammys, taking speccys and feeling the cold deep in defence. He finished his cigarette, slapped his boots against the side of the grandstand to remove the mud, and trudged back into the rooms.
Country football in Tasmania goes back a long way. Deep into Australian football history like a soaring torpedo from well outside fifty.
The roar of fifty thousand screaming fans may not be here, but the passion of the game can still be felt from behind the wheel of well a travelled Holden or standing beside a drum of fire with a beer in hand, the smell from the canteen tickling you nose as the goal-umpire reaches for the flags.
The helpless defender with two different coloured socks, a sore neck from watching the ball sail over his head, powerless to stop the onslaught. The symphony of car horns reverberates into the darkening winter sky.
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