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After last year’s victorious six pack of Cooper’s on the sofa, this year Bruce decided to watch Man Utd’s Champions League Final match against Barcelona with a crowd. The Charles Dickens Tavern, in Collins Street, seemed to have the best reputation for liveliness when it came to early morning football and, rocking up at 2.30am to find it rammed and rowdy – and not too dissimilar to an unpleasant episode in Blackpool watching English football fans’ latent yobbishness explode in the build up to a match against Germany – its reputation was deserved; by 3.15am they’d stopped anyone else entering while 1001 Man Utd Goals played on the screens surrounding the pub as the singing got louder.

A vivid dream the night before had Man Utd winning 2-0. That full back Patrice Evra scored the first with a mazy run past three players from inside his own half should have been warning enough that the dream was unlikely to be matched by reality. When the ball turned into a giant choc chip cookie as Ronaldo rolled in the second (the cookie being too big for the goal and requiring Ronaldo to jump on it to break it and ensure all parts of it were over the line) the alarm bells should have been ringing loud and clear. Still, the bookies in England were offering 250-1 on Evra to score first and 2-0 so why not have a dabble?

Another omen appeared shortly before kick off; Irish actor James Nesbitt walked in. In town to shoot a film, he soon confirmed the opinion Bruce had formed from his TV persona – i.e. that he’s arrogant and charmless – by announcing he was on the phone to Sir Alex Ferguson the night before and would have been in Rome were it not for his shooting schedule. However, Bruce passed the moment off as a mere coincidence rather than a harbinger, like the time he and Fran met Nick Cave wandering around the Him exhibition.

Several hours on and inspiration drained by the heavy defeat and the after effects of several nasty pints of Tetley’s (the other choice was Carlton Draught so what’s a man to do?), G’day, G’day will have its first guest contributor: Bruce’s younger brother, in the form of the texts detailing his descent into despond…

“That’s what I wanted to hear. 2 nil you reckon. I like your ball s.” 2.32am

“Excellent work! I am putting a bet on that then. Not sure if cookie bet will be available!” 2.43am

“That sounds amazing! Nearly home will let you know odd s!” 3.34am

“That’s too good! I have been watching a lot of united clips of late! I forgot to say how good park s birthday was. Random yet brilliant.” 3.40am

“I am trying to recreate our old pro evo team on fifa at the moment*” 3.45am

“What does grouse mean.” 3.45am

“Right bet s on. 250 to 1 for evra first and 2 0.” 4.16am

“Thanks. Smack him for me i hate that c***.” 4.40am

“I like that even though he s a c***.” 4.45am

“Anderson and giggs off tevez and dimi on. Why the fuck is he playing giggs wayne and ronaldn out of position.” 5.39am

“Fuming. Wayne should be up front ronaldo can fuck off buy ribery. Carrick been poor fergie got team wrong. I am miserable.” 6.36am

“Iniesta is the man. I will happilz see the back of ronaldo. Get ribery. Fucking wank.”  6.47am

[* The team in question being:

GK – Michael Jackson (for his famous white glove)

RB – Lemmiwinks (for his startling similarity to Gary Neville)

CB – The Beast of Bodmin Moor (toughness)

CB – Gandalf (height)

LB – A Peter Kay / John O’Shea hybrid (one a fat doppelganger of the other)

RW – Timmy (?)

CM – The Radical MC HP (versatility)

CM – Bruce

LW – Jimmy (?)

CF – Rooney (then at Everton, but we loved him already)

CF – Bruce’s bro

Nothing like a misspent youth… except a misspent mid-20s.]

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In the wake of Bruce’s announcement that he and Fran were pinning their flag to the Collingwood mast after attending the 14-goal smashing of Geelong last year, they were warned to expect a rollercoaster ride (and were met with equal levels of scorn and delight from non-Pie and Pie fans).

The following weeks seemed to bear it out: defeats when they were expected to win; a decent streak ended by North Melbourne in a game that they had led handsomely after half time; a comfortable finals victory away in Adelaide followed by a depressing defeat at the MCG to the Saints on which Bruce had splashed the cash to attend.

Still, this season started with hope. Admittedly, the cack-handed McGuire did himself and the team no favours by declaring the flag was there for the taking (followed almost instantly by the NAB Cup Final demolition at the hands of Geelong, as if the likely Premiers were saying: “What was that, Eddie, you bumbling buffoon?”).

Fran even delighted Bruce by presenting him with a Collingwood guernsey on his birthday, 24 years after he last owned a replica shirt:

Man Utd 1985 home shirt - memorable for the pointy white bits on the shoulders

Man Utd 1985 home shirt - memorable for the pointy white bits on the shoulders

Perhaps this in itself was a portent of things to come: after all the Man Utd of 1985 – Jesper Olsen, Remi Moses, Frank Stapleton, Arthur Albiston to name but a few Old Trafford legends… – was another team that consistently flattered to deceive; a club with a big past and a colourful, but rarely successful, present.

Round 7 of this year’s AFL season marked the one-year anniversary of Bruce and Fran’s Collingwood odyssey. Fittingly, it pitted them against St Kilda, the team they had originally decided to follow by virtue of living there when they first arrived from the UK, only to decide after attending some early matches that the Saints fans lacked even a modicum of passion and that they would look elsewhere.

Going against conventional wisdom (and reason), Bruce even tipped the Pies to finally bring the Saints’ winning run to an end, despite the knowledge that Stumpy (Didak) and Dead-Eye Dick (Anthony) would be missing and that Travis T (Cloke) would again be starting. Had he known that Davies and Medhurst would also be missing, well, who knows, but still, is it any wonder the promising start to his fledgling tipping campaign has becalmed in recent weeks?

On the subject of Cloke, despite constant assurances that he was a remarkably promising teenager and does have the natural goods, his performances since the aforementioned flag-to-mast nailing session bring to mind nothing more than this (just insert “Travis T Cloke” for “war poems”):

Sady, despite the 88-point drubbing, it appears Bruce has already been infiltrated by Pie-fan myopia – the affliction that Arsene Wenger suffers worse than most. As soon as the game had ended, he entered into text debate with a dismissive Crows fan insisting that, really, Collingwood weren’t as bad the the score suggested and, had they been able to score more goals in the first and third quarters instead of behinds (or more usually missing by 30 yards – looking at you, Rocca) while St Kilda pinged over everything from all angles then it would have been far more respectable.

Straws. At. Clutching. Rearrange.

Going back to the Man Utd shirt, however. The season after that particular shirt was replaced, Alex Ferguson joined from Aberdeen. He’s been pretty successful since. Could Buckley have a similar effect when (if?) he takes over in 2010? (And would it be too much to hope that McGuire goes the same was as another joke head honcho – Michael Knighton?)

And rollercoasters do have to go up as well as down, don’t they?

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So, my second full season of AFL is almost upon us. After a ponderous start, I attended seven live games (six at the G after the flat atmosphere of our debut at the Dome) last year and ended up a Pies fan. To keep the fingers ticking over – and to offer an outsider’s view – I’ve decided to add a new page to G’day, G’day in which I, Bruce, will write about footy.

Here goes…

*  *  *

aflImagine this: at the start of the 2009/10 English Premier League season Tottenham Hotspur are drawn to play Newcastle United in the first game of the season: two of the country’s biggest underachievers – no league title in decades, regular flirtations with the lower reaches of the table – yet both still clinging to past glories and able to attract the odd star player.

Then imagine them being asked to play the game at Wembley – and attracting a sellout crowd of more than 90,000 people, with the tickets going three weeks before the game despite the match being shown on free-to-air television.

Sound implausible? Impossible, perhaps.

Well, in less than two hours, a sellout crowd of more than 90,000 people will gather at one of the world’s greatest sporting stadia to watch the first game of this year’s AFL season between teams – Richmond Tigers and Carlton – that finished in the bottom half of the table last year and who haven’t come close to winning a title in years.

Both still cling to past glories and can attract the odd star yet play a sport that is only played professionally in one country in the world – Australia – and has only a tiny percentage of the worldwide pull of football. In fact, the sport is only really popular in two of that country’s eight states (including ACT), coming a distant third or worse in the most populous state (New South Wales).

It’s remarkable by any standards, even more so when one considers that the two teams represent two suburbs of the same city, suburbs only separated from each other by a couple of kilometres; in this respect it’s more akin to Aston Villa vs Birmingham City, perhaps. Again, can you imagine 90,000 turning up to watch them play the first league game of the season?

It’s down to one thing: an obsession – media-driven, but in the blood of most footy-loving Australians anyway – with the return of Ben Cousins: once the greatest player in the game, then a junkie who got caught, now on the road to redemption (the fans of Richmond Tigers hope, at least). Admittedly he is up against the man with whom he once dominated the sport while at the West Coast Eagles, Chris Judd, who will captain Carlton, but it remains incredible that the sport and stories such as this can have such a pull on Australians or, more specifically, Victorians and a few others.

For me, only one story from the many rehashed over the past months needs retelling. It was the day Cousins arrived in Melbourne after being told he could play again after a (very brief) one year ban. No team appeared willing to touch him; even Collingwood, so long a home for the waifs, strays and fallen idols of the game, turned him down, their president Eddie McGuire later claiming footage of an as yet unseen documentary on the player’s destructive lifestyle prevented them from making the expected move.

As part of his readmittance into the game that made him, it was announced that he would undergo an unprecedented number of urine samples (dozens throughout the season) and could even be tested through a hair sample up to three times a year. For this – the most effective way to test for drugs – to take place, a hair sample must be at least 2cm long.

The moment when Cousins walked through Melbourne airport, hair freshly shorn to a number two crew cut (6mm) and, we later learnt, with his body freshly waxed all over was priceless.

“Come test me then, fuckers,” he seemed to be saying. “Oh, you can’t. Ha!”

So, while most experts are tipping another titanic battle between last year’s finalists Geelong and Hawthorn (cheers for the $23 profit in the Grand Final, chaps) for the flag (they were fresh out of trophies when this all started out so had to make do with a flag), the intrigue into whether a raging cokehead really has cleaned up his act could prove just as enthralling.

As for me, much as I’d love to see Collingwood challenge for the title as they’ve boasted they will, I can’t see it. I stand by my comments made after the Pies – Crows match at the G in the second half of the season that, on their day, they have enough star players to beat anyone. Sadly, their day is never often enough. For what it’s worth, I think they’ll finish third.

While we find out, I’ll try and learn the rest of the terms I didn’t pick up last year, hope to work out what is meant by various tactics and, with any luck, pen some wry observations on the game from someone who wasn’t born into the game but, quite unexpectedly, was won over by it in just one season.

My forecast?

Geelong

Hawthorn

Collingwood

Western Bulldogs

Carlton

St Kilda

North Melbourne

Richmond

Adelaide

Brisbane Lions

Essendon

Sydney

Port Adelaide

Fremantle

West Coast

Melbourne

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f1

Hanging out the first of the day’s many washes in advance of tomorrow’s royal visit from Mr and Mrs Bruce Snr, Bruce’s ears were filled with an unfamiliar sound. There, in the background behind the welcome tootin’ of the Khamun birds that moved to Collingwood from the Yarra Bend around the time of Black Saturday (don’t worry, Tutan, we’ll look after ya!), was an unfamiliar, yet persistent, drone.

Yes, folks, it’s grand prix time. Woo hoo! Time to see which mega-shilling firm can make the fastest multi-million dollar car with which to propel their own highly paid personality void around a load of tarmac quicker than another 19 voids. Never quite understood it, really, although Bruce’s cousin did point out that his Sunday ticket also allows him to watch from afar as a geriatric with a guitar makes big windmills with his arm (don’t forget the cortisone injections, Pete).

The thing is, Bruce and Fran had assumed that, having left St Kilda behind, they’d be done with it. When you live just off Grey Street, you accept the benefits (lots of twisted hookers, unsubtle tracksuited pimps and fantastically hairy hobos to ogle day and night) will be balanced by the negatives, such as the four days of racing at Albert Park.

When you move north of the river that divides “US” from “THEM” you expect a bit of peace and quiet when Bernie’s circus rolls into town. Alas, it seems even the top end of Collingwood (we’re practically in Clifton Hill, ferchrissakes!) is not immune.

Admittedly, the additional 7km breathing space has altered the sound of the engines from that of a swarm of pissed off hornets into a herd of mildly peeved Friesian cows but, when all’s said and done, is that really an improvement?

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Where's the racket, Jim?

Where's the racket, Jim?

With Sky and Setanta having bought up the rights to screen all live sport in the UK barring the annual Sheep Dog Trials, the lesser of the two Darts World Championships and U12 Kabaddi, its something of a pleasure to live in a country where a Government ruling keeps a large proportion of live sport screened on free-to-air, terrestrial telly. In fact, were it not for the sport (OK, and the Simpsons), Bruce and Fran’s telly would do nothing but gather dust (although Fran does appear to be falling back into old ways re: Neighbours

That said, viewing the main summer sports has been far from painless thanks to the prevalence of two men.

Take the cricket: you can be settling down on your incredibly comfortable, three-metre long sofa knowing there’s probably work to be done, but accepting that another five overs never did anyone any harm; Richie Benaud’s pearls of wisdom are floating nostalgically on the air, interspersed with the odd bit of entertaining banter from Warney TM or Tubs, when there’s a change in the commentary box and in walks Mark Nicholas. The slimy bastard politician, having landed jobs with whichever channel has been showing the cricket in England over the past few years despite being an utterly unbearable presence, has now followed poor Bruce and Fran across the globe.

Delivering a stream of neverending hyperbolic bollocks seemingly read from a checklist of superlatives he’s drawn up the night before in an ever-rising, nasally whine, one can’t help but wonder if it’s possible to arrange some form of fight to the death between him and Ian “Mate Mate Mate Mate Mate Mate” Healy in which both participants die. At least he doesn’t come across as a potential sex pest, however, which brings to mind the tennis…

Now, Australia, could you not find one of your own to head up coverage of the men’s tennis at the Australian Open? OK, so in Roger Rasheed you’ve unearthed a moron best kept to 10-second blurbs from courtside, but Todd “Woody” Woodbridge won a shitload of tournaments and seems up to the task. That way, there would be no need for Jim Courier, a man who was as palatable as a weeping boil in his playing days but who has been omnipresent of late.

His commentary is bad enough but, while it lacks any insight, humour or power of description, is merely a taster for the post-match interviews. He sidles onto court, left arm outstretched as if just dying to stroke whichever sweaty victor he’s interviewing, and launches into convoluted, elongated, tautological questions that seem designed solely to get the players to tell him about their sex lives, perhaps to compensate for the lack of his own.

In his ideal final, he pictures Federer walking on court wearing nothing by seatless chaps and a cowboy hat, trailing Nadal on a leash in full gimp suit and snooker ball get up while he works up a sweat in the commentary booth in an attempt to replicate the latter’s one bicep bigger than the other look.

“Well, looks like we’re in for a good one tonight,” he says breathlessly. “Need me to come and help out, boys? I’ve got lube. And chickens!”

“Hey, Jim, where you going?” yells Woodbridge, as the ginger Yank leaps through the window and over spectators’ heads, shedding clothing as he goes. “Come back!”

“Fuck off, I’m gonna get me a real Grand Slam,” cries Courier. “Don’t worry though, I’ll be back with my own woody later.”

‘Shit,’ thinks Woodbridge. ‘Who can I get to co-commentate now?’

In races Mark Nicholas:

“Don’t worry, Woody, I’ve just signed up with Seven as well! And HERE. WE. GO! With a scintillating forehand, Courier thrusts himself into the action, sending the 15,000 vociferous spectators running for the nearest phychiatric ward. Devastating. Simply. Incredible… Oh, hang on, they need someone to cover the surf fishing championships – gotta go….”

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homeless

Bruce has been idle. Well, actually, he’s been rather busy, resulting in this site being inexcusably neglected.

However, Bruce has also been at the Homeless World Cup, a thoroughly enjoyable experience that anyone in Melbourne should check out before it finishes tomorrow. He’ll be there for the quarter-finals this afternoon, praying that the Scots can beat the English.

In the meantime, here’s what he made of the tournament so far (although some waggish sub-editor appears to have put a false name on the article…)

HOMELESS WORLD CUP

The Cambodian kids celebrate an unlikely win

The Cambodian kids celebrate an unlikely win

While the Nigerians threaten to bring down the temporary stands with their exuberance

While the Nigerians threaten to bring down the temporary stands with their exuberance

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It had taken a fair bit of sneakiness for Bruce to get his bet on Hawthorn past Fran for the AFL Grand Final. Didn’t stop her claiming it was then OK for her to spend his winnings afterwards, mind you…

There was none of her hesitancy over splashing the cash come Melbourne Cup day (the Irish genes coming through no doubt) as Bruce was dispatched to the TAB where, despite some early misunderstandings of the “Each Way” system Down Under (you place two separate bets to win and to place, rather than one each way one, apparently, novice punters), he walked away with a fair share of bets placed.

Fran, showing a women’s intuition, opted for the horses whose jockeys were wearing purple. Bruce, equally scientifically, went for nags whose names he’d heard before. They then decamped to the Edinburgh Castle, in Brunswick, for the promise of a post-race band called Graveyard Train who played chain gang blues (and actually hit chains with a hammer) and a selection of good beers on tap.

Fran collects her ill-gotten gains

Fran collects her ill-gotten gains

The former promise came through in some style, the latter – after the pub was itself hammered over the pre-race weekend – did not. Coopers and Buckley’s were off on arrival, Goat’s Hightail followed soon afterwards. It was a pre-cursor to the success of the pair’s picks in the big race – not a single one finishing amongst the first three.

Thank Christ then for the pub landlord who pushed the sweepstake with some persistence, aided by a megaphone. Out from the jug came Viewed, our way (after the slimmest of nasal margins) came $77.

Fran was giddy for the remainder of the day, convinced (the Irish genes coming through again, for sure) that gambling was the way forward. Footy tipping here she comes (although whether you can win that by picking pieces of paper out of a plastic jug remains to be seen…)

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