Like many current football players, R.W. King lives in billeted accommodation (in this case with his parents). This suits the modern sportsman, particularly the 5-year-old one, because it enables a targeted level of
encouragement prompting threats to assist in the completion of the match-day preparations.
Two champions of the game repping billeting. And beanies.
Unlike Dane Swan, King has been adhering religiously to his season-long non-drinking commitment. He doesn’t drink either before being at the Barkly Hotel, or after being in the Barkly Hotel, or any other place, unless it’s the complimentary pineapple juice in the Westin on the recent mid-season break. He pretty much Swanny’d that fruity elixir to the point of bed-wetting regression.
But, the tropical juice honeymoon over, King prepared to line up this weekend in a three-club round robin on the hallowed turf at Happy Valley.
Saturday dawned bright and with a hint of being a motherfucking scorcher (hint provided by the Hong Kong Observatory’s issuance of the much misused, but in this case totally warranted, Very Hot Weather Warning). R.W. King methodically (where “methodically” means “with torturous painstaking indifference to time constraints”) went through his pre-game rituals of eating Cheerios, watching a couple of eps of Jake and the Neverland Pirates, stacking a tantrum when it was time to put on his sunscreen, arguing about which drink bottle to bring, and the final superstitious touch of getting literally physically booted out the front door by his dad.
He travelled to the game in a hong-sek dek-si, reading his dinosaur book, oblivious to the exhortations of his billeters/parents to attack the ball, and his co-billetee/sister to show him the picture of the diplodocus again. This is very much his style. Not betrayed by nerves, he controls his pre-game tension masterfully by seemingly completely not realising he’s actually on the way to play footy.
Footy shouldn’t be played in this heat. The game was invented as a fitness lark for cricketers bored during long Victorian winters. The founding fathers could have had no notion that one day it would be played in the Orient, with kick-off at 8am to stave off heatstroke, and spectators wilting in the stands behind culturally incongruent paper fans. Your jeans are meant to stick to your legs at the footy from rain, not beads of humid condensation! You’re meant to drink plastic cups of beer, not Pocari Sweat that you bought with an Octopus card from a vending machine supervised by a 60-year-old lady security guard weighing in at 42kg! But while Up There Cazaly is replaced with regular tri-lingual announcements of “Welcome to this leisure facility, provided by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department”, at least Demetriou is nowhere in sight.
The under-7s lined up for their fifth game of the morning, a bunch of dozy, completely heat-stressed 5-year-olds standing in straggling lumps of red-faced bozos. It hadn’t been a successful day for King and his Cobras. They are used to being shellac-ed in every game, but the Very Hot Weather made it even more galling than usual. The other two teams in the “league” have been together for an extra year; and a year’s worth of match practice certainly makes a difference when such an increment is like a quarter of your whole life to date. The other two teams can kick and handball
with elan almost, and on occasion put together dazzling sequences of passes. They have learned to play as a cohesive unit. King’s team has three or four individual players – including him – who have mastered the mechanics of the basic methods of ball disposal, but even these boys are beset by a quickness to distraction or an inexplicable compulsion to sit down and pick grass. Or talk about dinosaurs.
Diplodocus – scourge of junior sports development.
All the parents sat in the stands, likewise heat-stunned, no longer able to muster the energy even to abuse the junior umpires or rubbish each other’s kids. Even though the games were only 14 minutes long, the giant scoreboard clock appeared frozen, which seemed doubly cruel to the dripping spectators.
But then something miraculous happened.
King, who in this last game of the day was having his chance in the forward line, spotted a tiny chance. Someone had accidentally kicked the ball into the Cobras’ forward “50”. Although King is a developing player, he maintains a crushing height and weight advantage over the rest of the league in his age group, and on the rare occasions the ball comes near him, is able to gain possession by out-sizing his opponents. He plucked up the ball effortlessly, like Koutoufides on the wing, and made for the goals, just five or so metres away. He was harried by the tight Lantau defence, and he lost his nerve to drop the ball onto his boot, opting instead to push further towards the goal line until the umpire had no choice but to penalise him for holding the ball.
It was utterly crushing and if I could have summoned any energy I would have bashed the umpire. Obviously.
Two minutes later, it happened again.
The ball bounced into the Cobras’ forward area. Revitalised by his earlier near-success, he crumbed it and ran at the goal.
From where I was sitting in the grandstand on the other side of the field, I struggled to keep my eyes on him through a combination of bad eyesight and full-on mum nerves. But nearly all bad eyesight. I peeled Zadie off my lap and leaned forward earnestly, interlaced hands covering my face. Of course NOW the bastard clock started ticking, as I watched him prevaricate again. He looked like he was going to punt it, then hesitated and ran in a bit closer, then sort of edged around the goal square as the defenders closed in around him. Behind the goal line, a row of under-10 Lantau players getting ready for the next game bunched up intimidatingly.
He had about another second before he’d be pinged for holding the ball again.
I don’t know if he heard me yelling from across the field, but he found a window of space basically just big enough for his foot and the ball, and he dobbed it, and it was the greatest goal in the entire annals of the AFL.
It was the second goal in the history of the Cobras, and it was magic.
He got to have M&Ms in the taxi on the way home. If we lived in Australia, I’d almost have let him stop in at the Barkly for a jar.