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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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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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Tears of joy, tears of sadness

The Eighties - a decade when sporting fitness reached a new peak

Like his enjoyment of the early works of the Pet Shop Boys and the time he cried in confused anger when Ian Botham was knocked out of the first round of the World’s Greatest All-Rounder competition by Clive Rice (or was it Kevin Curran?), the ability to watch the Indoor Bowls World Championships for hours on end was something a young Bruce used to keep from his friends in order to keep his friends.

Admittedly, he could also lose himself in darts (good old Jocky Wilson dripping in sweat) or snooker (dear, departed Bill Werbeniuk struggling to get his gut over the side of the table), so the lure of greying men in brightly coloured pants that gave off static just by looking at them should come as no great shock. But, now that the likes of That Bloody Tony Allcock* have long since moved on to tend to their gardens and Bruce is a grown man, he thought it was an episode happily consigned to the past. Until the other week…

“Does anyone fancy playing lawn bowls?” asked an Aussie friend. OK, so his hair was grey (prematurely) and he had ample girth, but surely he was too young to be getting caught up in such a thing.

“Yeah, that’d be great,” said another friend, this one still sporting an earring in an attempt to hold on to the last vestiges of his youth.

Bruce couldn’t believe his ears. Two young(ish) men wanting to join the hordes of the wrinklies? Then Fran added to the chorus.

“That sounds ace! When is it?” she asked. (In her defence, it is a sport that doesn’t involve any great exertion hence the attraction)

And so it was that, earlier this week, they handed over their $12, grabbed their rack of weighted bowls and headed out for their debut… with about six dozen others all aged from their mid-20s to early 30s. Turns out “barefoot bowling” is a hit with this generation of Aussies; any wonder obesity’s on the rise if they’re swapping surfing for bowls.

The $12 bought two games, a pot of Cooper’s (who sponsor the weekly session at the Fitzroy Victoria Bowling Club) and a bbq (snags, chicken, lamb chops, salad) as well as the chance to mingle with the characters who inhabit these parts – one team included a man in ninja outfit and another in cream safari suit and matching hat – and the opportunity for such unwittingly hilarious conversational snippets as “Sorry, did I just hit your balls?”.

That they only won one game and lost the other didn’t matter. They’d helped boost the coffers of an old sporting club, met some folk, got some fresh air and all to a backdrop of Curtis Mayfield and sweet Motown beats pumping from an outdoor speaker system.

If only they’d played some early Pet Shop Boys it would have been perfect.

(* Bastard always beat the Scots)

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The End is Nigh!

“And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.” Revelations, 19:20

Earnestly and often have British hands been wrung over what to do about the superiority on the sporting field Australians enjoy over our own ailing teams.

“Put more money into grass roots coaching,” the powers-that-be cry.

“No, build centres of excellence in Burton-on-Trent,” shout others.

“Surely we need to increase the hours they play sport in school,” say educationalists.

“Give them all performance-enhancing drugs,” say the wise and the Americans.

“They’ve got better weather,” says John Kettley.

Well, I’ve seen the light – there is another way: pipe Australian TV into every British home.

“How could that possibly help?” you holler.

Simple, everyone will go running into their streets demanding that they never have to endure such torture again.

“But surely in a country raised on James Nesbitt’s unbearably smug grin, Billie Piper’s talentless omnipresence, Simon Cowell’s too-accurate-to-be-an-impression impression of Satan and 400 variations on You’re a Fat Bitch and Nobody’s Ever Going to Love You, Now Please Cry for the Camera and Show Me Your Poo, nobody has any taste left. Surely the critical function of the great masses has gone the way of the dodo and opposable thumbs on possums?” you say.

Abandon hope

Seriously people, I would have thought the same. But, believe me. Television in the UK is like the peak of the Renaissance in comparison. All of the worst British period dramas and soaps are shown on ABC anyway, I’m A Celebrity is being shown TWO YEARS after it was on in the UK so you can’t even vote and Big Brother manages to be even less watchable. Other highlights include:

  • Breakfast television not in any way subtley switching to paid-for ad features

“So Geoff, from Butt Tweezers Inc, do your tweezers really clear butt hair better than every other butt tweezer on the market?”

“Well, Eliza, yes. Although there are no other butt tweezers on the market as yet. Our butt tweezers, available from all major chemists and supermarkets, come with a three-year no rust guarantee. And, if you buy now you get a free periscope for watching over your shoulder while picking at those tricky in-growing hairs.”

“Wow, that’s amazing Geoff from Butt Tweezers Inc, I sure know how awkward those little buggers can be.”

And so on. Every fifteen minutes. Presented as if it’s a slot in the show. Jesus.

  • Sam Newman makes Rodney Marsh seem reconstructed (Edit: but he has since been booted off the Footy Show. Perhaps Sky Sports would like to take notice?)
  • The adverts. Three breaks in South Park – which is only 22 minutes long! And in films they’re like the signs at Disneyland. There, they tell you the wait will be 45 minutes when you’re only 20 minutes from the front of the queue so that even though you’ve had to wait 20 minutes to sit in a little boat for five minutes while a bunch of wailing mannequins assault your eardrums you think you’ve done well.

Bruce and Fran sat down for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade the other night, deciding to brave the ads. The programmers gave them the first 25 minutes ad-free.

“That’s good,” they said in unison. “Must be showing some respect for Indy.”

By the time the last half hour came around and it was getting past bed time, it was ridiculous.

    “Hey, Junior,” shouted Sean Connery.

    “Yes, d-“

    CUT to ad break… “This movie, in fact everything you see on this TV is sponsored by Toyota and Carlton Draught.” “Hey, what about us at Harvey Norman?”

    “-ad?” said Indiana. “And stop ca-“

    CUT to ad break… “So get on down to your local Holden dealer for our 60th anniversary sale.”

    “-lling me J-“

    CUT to ad break… “With Butt Tweezers Inc’s patented flexi-grip, you too can be free of…”

    And so on.

    • “Hard-hitting” current affairs programmes – Today Tonight, 60 Minutes – are as hard-hitting as Watch With Mother

    So, with the London Olympics around the corner and Britain’s one decent runner tainted by drug allegations, time is running out to find the next generation of medallists. Just follow the example of the good folk Down Under and British sprogs will be running for the playing fields whatever the weather and the Ashes will soon be heading North.

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