«« PreviousNext »»

Talk About Football
Paul Shields (Griffith University, Australia)



Take note. These things happened —

One. My grandmother died, and I skipped her funeral.

Two. I bought a red nineteen-ninety-two Corolla with Sade’s Smooth Operator stuck in the tape deck with my share of what money she’d left.

Three. My aunty died.

Four. On the long drive up to her funeral I was involved in a twilight car chase through Belanglo State Forrest.

Five. That whole funeral affair was an extended-family-shit-show like only we could pull off.

Six. On the way home I stopped into Redfern to watch the grand final and talk about football.

In my head those things are contingent, so when I started writing about them, I thought, great, there’s my story arc straight out of the box. All I needed was a hook to tie it all together, one arriving gift wrapped in my opening paragraph —

The drive up is long, and the New England highway hills aren’t doing the Corolla any favours and its hard to tell the speedo and the temperature gauge apart and the radio is busted and missing out on all the talk about football.

That last bit sounded like a Bob Dylan song, or a Raymond Carver short story, and it didn’t matter that I didn’t start at the start, I could always flashback, so I keep at it —

When I arrive everyone is too cheap to pay for a motel, so we all stay on Uncle Mick’s farm — tents in the paddock and swags on the floor and vans in the drive and look, the Blackwater Diehards have turned up with a year’s supply of grog to feed the bottomless talk about football.

Again —

I find Cousin Joe alone in his room. It’s awkward and we don’t talk, not even about football.

But if we don’t talk, how can I tell you he was the only one there for the whole foul thing?

So instead, he is strumming a guitar, and we argue about whether The Foo Fighters or Nirvana was Dave Grohl’s best work to indicate he is happy for the distraction, alluding to a deeper emotional river that runs underneath, and thank Christ his older sister Cousin Alison knocks and says hurry up, the sausages are getting cold and the coleslaw’s getting warm and we are missing all the talk about football.

And again —
When Cousin Joe finally talks in real life, he tells me there’s been a rush of weddings and funerals and baptisms in town so we’ve had to settle for the scraps — a dud Sri Lankan priest who doesn’t talk about football.

And that bit works because I caught the words smirk and grin and sneer before they could hit the page —

Now it’s his older half-brother Cousin Rod’s turn to be introduced, as he sticks his head in and says hurry up, eat something now dickhead, hurry up, we’ve got to go in to smooth things over and while I am at it could you make sure that shirt sees an iron this century? Yeah, nah, of course we can all take separate cars, to save on the shit talk about football.

By now, instead of just holding things together, that hook has started half-backing play as I write —

Later at the Leagues Club pokies, Cousin Rod tells me the smoothing over was needed because of the scene his younger half-sister Cousin Chantelle had caused. I ask him what scene.

But I can already tell this paragraph is going to be too long, ungainly with too many commas and maybe, Christ, even a fucking semi-colon, and it only gets worse when I drop the all-too-jarring word cunt in —

Precisely that scene in front of the dud priest where she told her dad Uncle Mick to go and shove those crocodile tears, and if mum was still here, she’d still think you were a useless, cheating cunt, no better than dog water, and boot you out of any grave you laid next to her in, to chew her worm-eaten ears off as you eternally talk about football.

See? The word cunt was too jarring, why didn’t I just use cockhead? He comes from a long line of cockheads. His father, and his father’s father, and his father’s-father’s-mothers-mother on the First Fleet or Second fleet before that. And why am I highlighting my dead Aunty’s ears? They don’t exist anymore, she was burnt not buried, that line doesn’t make sense —

Cousin Rod has a win but keeps playing, wedging a pick they gave him at the bar with a drink on the house into the machine’s play button so now it rolls on, rolls on, rolls on, rolls on automatically. Freeing his hands for smoke rolling which he’ll enjoy as soon as the veranda is clear of people only wanting to talk about football.

Does the rolling allegory even work there? To reveal the inner truth about how Cousin Rod just lets his whole life slip by? Perhaps I just need to get to the hook more efficiently —

The seating arrangements near the carvery are strained but one thing is crystal, none of the Aunties want to sit next to you-know-who, where, if they’re lucky, they’ll only have to talk about football.

By now it’s clear that this has all gotten away from me and so much of what I set out to include doesn’t seem to fit. Like —

Good looking Cousin Candy asks me why I wasn’t at my Grandmother’s funeral, you were her favourite, you’ve always been her favourite, you knew you were her favourite.
I don’t have an answer or a suitably bleak excuse to retrofit here. So instead let’s concentrate on how dull her posh wedding was and thank fuck Uncle Trev dragged me up to the free-bar during the shit-speeches so we could engage in some murmured talk about football.

But as added-on as that feels it’s seamless when compared to —

On the drive up I pull off the highway just south of Sydney looking for a free camp. A pig-headed figure emerging death-staring from the bush to piss into the dirt. I realised as we race through the slanted pine treed light where I had heard the name of Belanglo before, something something something Ivan Milat something something backpacker murders something something — Smooth operator — talk about football.

Fuck me, the story is now officially drowning, not waving, and forgive the singing because there is going to be more, to Jimmy Barnes, his solo stuff, not Cold Chisel, unfortunately, but right now I need to get back to the narrative-present pronto if I am to have any hope and stuff you how I get there —

Later that night, old mate cockhead corners me, and I say yeah sure why not to some home movies thinking the drink had turned him sentimental as his old apprentice cracks another bottle of OP rum. Up on the screen, younger versions of the Blackwater Diehards day-drink and smile and laugh and sköll and pretend to root each other from behind. I ask him when Aunty appears. He looks at me blank like I have asked him for the square root of a trillion and after a long pause more pregnant than she was when they first met, he says she never really was that up for talk about football.

All this long-rambling can be forgiven, I hope, with a change of rhythm here with these quick-fire vignettes —

Later I wake to the tune of the Blackwater Diehards fucking in the van next door, heaving, and breathing, and straining as one hoarsely swears at the other two to talk dirty about football.

And —

The next day at breakfast the McCafé table is jammed with our coffees and teas and sausage McMuffin wrappers and for some reason a half-drunk Hungry Jack’s chocolate milkshake, and the women have tears in their eyes and the men still want to talk about football.

But this shit is depressing. All trope and no hope, so I try my best to end it on —

All the grass is brown and dead and coarse around the gravestones.

That line sings in my head to the tune of The Mamas and the Papas ‘California Dreaming’ but I’ll spare you and keep ploughing —

It’s still morning and September but the sun already has teeth as it bounces off the polaroid finish on Cousin Joe’s wrap-around servo sunnies and someone tells him don’t cry, she wouldn’t want you to cry, why are you crying, stop crying now, you’ll get everyone else crying, don’t you know grief is infectious it’s got feathers and room under the salary cap and a keen eye for raw talent; we’ll go to the pub and it’ll be like this never happened to talk about football.

But that’s no better way to end it than —

Aunty’s brother sensible Uncle Jeff who has been keeping everything together leaves the wake early to go sit in the airport and stare at the horizon, read the paper, or stand pissing at the urinal next to strangers, anything, to not have to talk about football.

But they both feel like lines from a lesser Paul Kelly song. The hook is worn useless and I am sick of writing it just to emphasize all of this working-class-trauma-porn. And why have I left out all the good stuff?

Like the singing, which I could say was around a campfire, to Jimmy Barnes’ ‘Working Class Man’ woah-oh-oh.

See I told you there was more bad singing.

Or the video collage Cousin Cameron made just right, set to Green Day’s ‘Time of Your Life’ and then Eagle Eye Cherry’s ‘Save Tonight’ ending on Darude’s ‘Sandstorm’ as a joke. Aunty Stella would have loved that joke, as she dances in the kitchen on screen, she was always such a bad dancer, such a terrifically, gold-medal-worthy bad dancer. So I try and flip the whole refrain on its head —

A few days later standing in a packed Redfern pub, so busy the rounds had turned into showbags of whatever was left behind the now-abandoned-free-bar — Ouzo and Crème de Menth and Kahlua and West Coast Coolers and fuck that I am not drinking Fosters Ice. The thirsty just needing to stand in the stream of drinks being crowd-surfed overhead. The sticky floor beneath us making bear traps out of all the broken glass and discarded limes and bent straws and I make up something here about losing my phone and my keys and my wallet and who cares? I could sing ‘Glory, Glory to South Sydney’ forever as they replay Greg Inglis doing his goanna try celebration. Forever? For ever, ever, and why would you settle for anything less than talk about football?



Paul Shields (he, him) is a writer living on Gullibal Land. His short stories have featured in Meanjin, Headland, and Northerly. His audio documentaries have appeared on ABC’s RN and Triple J’s Hack. Paul’s film, Crossing has been included in both the Byron Film Festival and Flickerfest amongst others. He is the current Creative Director of the Kyogle Readers and Writers Festival.

«« PreviousNext »»