With winter loosening its grip on Omaha and the mornings becoming lighter and brighter, it was time to once again commit to leisurely strolling the neighbourhood and the nearby park. I’ve been setting off early to mid-morning with the temperature sometimes hovering around freezing, wearing gym shorts, a The North Face windcheater, and a Footscray beanie pulled down to cover my ears.
Last Sunday, the morning had a warmth in the air that wasn’t there a few days ago, and I crisscrossed the neighbourhood streets with a quickened pace to get to the park to enjoy the beginnings of spring as I walked. Even though it was early morning, the park was a lively place. Tight buds on the forsythia and dogwood branches were straining to open, and now and then, a dog owner would throw a tennis ball for their dog to catch in its mouth, and occasionally a parent strolled the pathway with a little one in a pusher. We were strangers together, sharing the lukewarm rays of the sun, and when we passed, we shared a slight nod of the head and a chirpy good morning.
There was nothing unusual or different about the young father with his two boys by his side ahead of and approaching me. The younger boy was skipping and running ahead as all boys do, the other boy was sword fighting the warm spring air with a thin tree branch, and the man was nodding his head to the beat of his earbuds. I let loose with a hearty good morning as we passed, only to be stopped in my tracks by his response.
Father walking in the park: Hey Buddy.
I’m easily confused when I hear Hey Buddy, especially this time of the year, and it seems I’m hearing it more often wherever I go. Now that I think about it, I’ve always been surrounded by Hey Buddy’s, but it’s never registered. It’s the go-to dads use whenever they’re congratulating or talking to their young son; I never pick up on it until the Aussie football season. And now all I seem to be hearing is;
Hey Buddy, Good Job on those hiccups.
The official first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere is the first day of autumn in Australia, and it signals the start of the Men’s Australian Football season. And that’s what leads to my confusion when I hear Hey Buddy. The only time Hey Buddy, Good Job, should be used is in homage and respect to Lance Buddy Franklin, the superstar forward for the Sydney Swans. Buddy is shouted in some way by every swan barracker when he slots it through the big ones for a major from the half-forward flank and when he does some freaky impossible play and scores a sausage. Buddy’s on target to kick a thousand goals this season, needing to kick only five more goals to reach the 1000 mark. He’ll become just the sixth AFL player to kick 1000 career goals and the first since the great Geelong forward Gary Ablett senior in 1996.
Australian Rules Football is a game with similarities to Rugby, American Football and Gaelic Football, with a bit of basketball mixed in. Some say gentlemen from the Melbourne Cricket Club invented the sport to keep cricket players fit during their non-cricket playing winter. They based the game on rugby but made up new rules. AFL football consists of four 20-minute quarters, and it’s played on an oval-shaped field; the oval can vary in width between 120 and 170 yards. The umpire starts each quarter by bouncing the ball in a centre circle.
The game’s a fast-moving, demanding physical contact sport, with players running and sending the ball the length of the ground at blistering speeds. A game of Aussie rules football is played between two teams of 18 players with set positions, but mostly they roam anywhere on the oval. Players try to move the ball to their scoring end of the ground by kicking, handballing or bouncing the ball as they run with it. A team scores a goal, equal to six points, by kicking the ball through the two large posts at their scoring end of the ground without a player touching it. A smaller post is beside each of the large goal posts. A point, known as a behind, is scored when the ball passes between them. The team scoring the most points wins the match.
I spent many a Saturday afternoon at the footie when it was The Victorian Football League. Back then, Melbourne was the epicentre of Australian footie. It provided ten of the original teams, and two local teams relocated, one to Queensland and the other to New South Wales, to form the new Australian Football League. Melbournes ten AFL teams, except for Geelong, no longer play at their old suburban footy grounds; instead, all local matches are played Thursday through Sunday at the MCG, Etihad Stadium and Geelong’s Kardinia Park. I remember when Melbourne came to a stop on Saturday afternoons. Supporters invaded the six sacred suburban home grounds where their teams were playing. North Melbourne’s home ground was Arden Street, Carlton’s Princes Park, Hawthorn’s Glenferrie Oval, South Melbourne’s the Lake Oval, Footscray’s the Western Oval. The other seven league teams also had their hallowed home suburban footy ground.
Being born and growing up in Williamstown, there was little choice regarding who’d be my footie team. If you were born and raised in the working-class western suburbs, you automatically barracked for Footscray. The British Bulldog was, and still is, the Footscray football team’s mascot, but in the western suburbs, they’re known simply as the Doggies. I’ve forgotten the number of cold, dank Saturday winter afternoons I stood on the terrace in front of the grandstand at the Western Oval. I stood with the other brotherhood of Doggie faithful. The air was thick with the perfume of meat pies and tomato sauce and cigarette smoke and beer. It was a penny to a quid that the four-n-twenty was going to be hot enough to burn the roof of your mouth or on the cold side of warm.
The senior faithful were close by, sitting in the front row seats in the grandstand, their sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper and a thermos full of hot tomato soup resting on the crochet blanket in their lap. We roared as one whenever our champions, Gazza, Quinie, Sando, Sockeye, and Roundie, came close to the Sherrin. We drank our beers and cheered the boys on with affectionate insulting encouragements; we only saw red, white and blue on the ground, and they could do no wrong. And we welcomed the last quarter with the tribal ritual of a pie in one hand and a beer raised in the other; our salute to the sound of the siren that started the final onslaught.
And then there was the arrival of our Kelvin, Kelvin Templeton, the young lad from Traralgon; he was to become our messiah. He flew high to mark the Sherrin’s that Quinie and Sando fed him, and we raised our right hands as one, clutching a beer, saluting Kelvin when he streaked away from opponents on his leads and when he tussled for the ball in one on ones on the forward line. After returning from an injury-plagued season, Kelvin booted 118 goals and headed up the goalkicking table, becoming a member of the elite 100 goals kicked in a season club. In one game, he threaded the Sherrin through the big ones 15 times and kicked nine behinds, a VFL record of 24 scoring shots. He was acclaimed as the best footballer in Australia when he won the 1980 Brownlow Medal. Heaps of the golden amber were spilled and consumed, and countless floggers shredded in celebration of Kelvin’s performances on the forward line at the Western Oval.
The AFL is now a national competition with teams from all the mainland states playing in the first-class level of the competition. The overcrowded and unhygienic suburban grounds and the exposed stands that were no shelter from the arctic conditions are a thing of the past. Floggers, being able to bring a few long necks and tinnies to a game, and smoking inside the ground are banned; but you can still buy a beer, a pie with sauce, and bring along homemade sandwiches. In this day and age, some of the new age barrackers prefer a cappuccino, pizza, or a butter chicken and lamb saagwala curry; which are now available at the grounds. Some say the local magic of the game is lost.
And now I’m beginning to wonder how Buddy became the go-to nickname American that dads use for their sons; what happened to sport, champ and chief? I think Buddy became the go-to nickname because of the amount of time young Millennials spent in front of the TV years watching re-runs of Gilligan’s Island. It must have implanted little Buddy, the Skipper’s nickname for Gilligan, in their brains. I think the Good Buddy dads should start using Kelvin instead of Buddy. Imagine the delight a child would experience when he hears,
Hey Kelvin, Good Job on those hiccups.
Or they could go small-scale Aussie by starting with, Hey Fella, Good Job, Hey Mate, Good Job, Hey Digger, Good Job.