Back in the mid-nineties I was on my first official trip to Australia (official=non-military-related). It was my first time in Melbourne, and I wanted to visit a friend in one of the suburbs despite the rain that wouldn’t let up my entire trip. (Is it any wonder I prefer Sydney?)
So I jump on the tram/trolley/train/whatever and end up sitting next to a lady in her 60s or so, with whom I amuse myself by pretending I’m a local and checking out how well I can do the accent.
When I got to my stop and said goodbye she looked surprised, at which point I realized I’d forgotten the accent. “Bloody Yank!” she laughed and waved as I dropped off, a nice memory as I searched for the right address to find Christina.
A few hours later I was back at the station, though in no hurry, as I had nothing planned for the rest of the day, just wandering downtown. This time I was sitting next to a big blonde guy who would not be out of place in a boxing ring in Russia or Germany, but his cheery “Good day, mate!” left no doubt he was in his natural habitat. We spent the whole ride talking, mostly on the differences between our countries, and then he asked me if I’d ever heard of Australian Rules Football.
Oddly enough I had, which surprised him. I’d actually only caught a glimpse of it on a sports news show, where a player was sitting on the grass with his right kneecap somewhere in the vicinity of his lower shin. The amazing part was that he didn’t seem to be in any pain, simply staring at this weird circumstance. . . until he drops his hand to try to smack the damned patella back into place. Still the strangest sports moment I’ve ever seen. . .
He agreed with a huge laugh, then said he was a player on a local team named St. Kilda—the Saints, as one might expect—and invited me to come watch them practice. Having found the game an interesting mix of soccer, American football, a touch of basketball, and possibly some others, I heartily agreed, and was happy I did when we walked into the stadium and the team manager asked if I wanted to dress up and play, despite not knowing what the hell I would be doing.
So of course I said yes!
It wasn’t easy. The hardest part was getting used to the ball, which was more or less shaped like an American football, but quite a bit bigger. Having been a wide receiver and kicker in high school, I eventually made some good catches, though I had no idea it was okay to whack your opponent in the back or climb all over him. The kicking was a bit more difficult, as I was used to booming it as hard as I could, not aiming at a teammate thirty meters away. The hand passing was hard too, never having seen anything like it. But I was really excited to score a goal, even in practice, because this sport has by far the best scoring salute by a referee.
My best moment was going on a long run through the midfield, barely remembering to dribble that silly-shaped giant ball, dodging a few tackles with a couple of spin moves, and then kicking on the run in the general direction of the goal. Turned out to be a forty yarder right over the last defender, and as I tried to slow down I pictured the umpire in my mind with his double-gun salute. . .
It was magical. . .