As you enter its tight confines, you are greeted by the principal of “Mario Solimo Footwear”, a noisy, outgoing, purveyor of wisdom, who, without provocation, is willing to offer a forthright comment on everything that is going on in the outside world.
He also doubles as a Salesman. Blokes used to joke that they’d take a pair of shoes in to Mario for a minor repair and he would launch into a convincing sales spiel: “Why’d you buy this s……. .You need a pair like this”….. Then spend a while extolling their quality, before digressing onto other subjects.
He’s a character, Mario. And as loud and boisterous as he is, his son Justin is as quiet and self-effacing. They’re a rare combination.
I’m pretty sure that Justin didn’t inherit any of his cricket ability from his old man……
Loyalty is the name of the game for ‘Slimma’.
He has been with the City Colts throughout a career that began when he joined the Under 14’s, and moved through the grades.
There was never any consideration given to shifting camp. It’s the same with his footy. He started and finished with Moyhu despite offers to move elsewhere.
He’d be one of the most identifiable players in local cricket. Firstly it’s his stature. Small and now rather on the rotund side, he is at the stage of his athletic metamorphosis where he is placed in one of the least conspicuous spots in the field.
His journey to the crease is Bradmanesque. With a business-like waddle and flourishing the bat freely, he gives the impression of being ready to take immediate command of the situation.
One of ‘Slimma’s trademark shots is the one he tucks behind square-leg whilst he’s half ‘on the run’. He likes to get a couple of those away early in his innings,as well as the cut shot that he squirts behind point.
But you know he’s on song when his off-drive pierces the field a couple of times. It’s been responsible for a good share of the 4794 WDCA runs he has accumulated.
And all the better if the shot races to the boundary, because it conserves valuable energy which can be easily expended in running between wickets.
It’s amusing to watch Justin head towards the bowler’s end in running a quick single. He has almost reached the crease when he effects the perfunctory glance over his shoulder to see where the ball and fieldsman are situated. It seems almost a relief that he won’t be required to run too many brisk two’s and threes early on.
‘Slimma’ has played 8 Thirds games and 20 in the Seconds. In 1992 he made his senior debut and last Saturday chalked up his 253rd First XI game. By his own admission there have been some pretty tough times in those 22 years.
City Colts have developed something of a ‘Colliwobbles-type’ reputation since they won their first- and only – flag in 1986/87. They have contested six Finals since – including four in a row at one stage- and for one reason or another have been the bridesmaids on each occasion.
Justin has been involved in five of these. Besides the fact that he loves cricket, the dream of winning his first premiership is probably the thing that motivates him.
He has had plenty of other highlights, including 5 trips to Melbourne Country Week. A memorable innings of 87 came against Gisborne in 2007 and the following year he participated in Wang’s Division 3 win over Yarra Valley at Preston.
And his two visits to Bendigo Country Week with the WDCA included a triumph in the Final, over Kyabram in 1999. He also belted a terrific 120 for the now-defunct WSCA against Horsham at Bendigo when he represented them in 2003.
When Justin scored his first WDCA ‘ton’, 126 against Beechworth in 1996, he probably thought there were going to be plenty more. But, as all but the very best come to realise, they are hard to come by.
He has scored just one more in club cricket, 101 against Whorouly, and that came 14 years ago. But there have been 18 half-centuries along the way.
It’s unrealistic to expect ‘Slimma’ to be the key man to deliver that elusive flag this season. His days of being the king-pin are in the past. He was captain for six seasons and had to shoulder plenty of responsibility in some difficult times.
Now he can just play his part, with the odd well-crafted cameo, as he did with his handy knock of 30 in the opening round last Saturday.
You realise how long this old evergreen has been in the game when it is revealed that he began his career in the company of blokes like Maurie Braden, John Hill, Brian Carr and Mick Lappin.
They have hung up the whites long ago, but their sons have enjoyed lengthy stints playing alongside ‘Slimma’ and learned heaps from the way that one of cricket’s good guys approaches the game.
There wouldn’t be a soul in the WDCA who hasn’t got the utmost admiration for Justin Solimo.
In fact he’s my nomination as captain of the WDCA’s Italian-Australian Team of the Century !