HE appeared at my side about 10 minutes into Saturday’s local derby.
Dirty old Wallabies cap, saturated Driza-Bone, squinting through tired eyelids as City and Emus battle for early ascendancy in the miserable drizzle.
“You must be a journalist.”
I look down at my pen and notepad. Nothing escapes you, eagle-eye.
He settles uninvited beneath my umbrella, gradually nudging me aside so that the raindrops start dripping down my neck.
He doesn’t waste time introducing himself.
“What’s all the fuss about? These are great conditions for football. It’s a day at the beach compared to what we used to play in.”
I don’t know which Pride Park he’s looking at. The one in front of me has been lashed by winter rain. Lower grade games have torn the surface to shreds so that pools of water almost outnumber patches of grass. The downpour shows no sign of letting up and I struggle to imagine any place colder on earth.
I don’t respond. He wants an audience, not a conversation.
“Players today have no idea how to play wet weather football. It’s about tactics and strategy, not fancy tricks.”
Emus, camped on their goal line for the last two minutes, finally force an error and win a scrum. Fullback Isaac White sends a towering kick towards the halfway line and into touch. The men in green show their relief as they jog upfield and prepare for the lineout.
He pinches my elbow.
“And forwards these days. Where’s the guts? Where’s the toughness? They’re all too busy hiding in the backs to do the hard work.”
Orange City win the lineout and gather around second-rower Mitch Pearce in a rolling maul. Twenty seconds and five metres later, Emus bring him to ground. Short ball, hit-up, crash. Short ball, hit-up, crash. Short ball, hit-up, crash. No ruck is uncontested, not one possession easily won. When play eventually moves on, City front-rower Nathan Short emerges looking like he’s taken a dive into a vat of gluggy chocolate.
“Derbies are about pride and passion, playing for your teammates and club. These blokes just want to score tries and see themselves on the news.”
The referee identifies a City knock-on and calls for a scrum. The two packs collide with a jarring force but collapse to the ground before Emus scrum-half Harry Fardell can feed the ball. There’s another two renditions of “crouch, touch, pause, engage” before play moves on. When it does, 16 men collect themselves from the slop. The mystery of why forwards are called pigs is solved.
“All right, I’ll leave you to it. They don’t make them like they used to, do they?”
They do if you’re willing to look.