FOR LOVE OR MONEY

“Macca..Macca..Macca..ya hot…ya hot……..”

The familiar sounds of footy training greeted Jim Weston as he eased his tall frame out of the car. Squinting in the glare of the late November sun, he scanned the surrounds of yet another country footy ground.

It was only a couple of months since he’d been de-listed, but Jim felt he’d spent an eternity talking to bush clubs keen to sign an ex-AFL player.

It felt like the draft all over again, only this time he wasn’t a wide-eyed 17 year-old. He’d learnt enough from footy to know that everything, even the game he’d always loved, now revolved around money.

As he ambled towards the modest Clubrooms, Jim spotted a burly man with ginger hair striding purposefully in his direction.

This’ll be the President, for sure,  Jim thought. He’d seen enough clubs lately to know where people slotted in.

” G’day Jim. I’m Dan Reynolds – we spoke on the phone, ” the man said, his massive hand enveloping Jim’s.

After introducing him to the group standing around watching training, Dan invited Jim inside.

Entering the foyer of the Clubrooms, Jim tried to appear interested in the rows of premiership photos. He hated this part – being smothered in the club’s history and future plans, as he waited for the touchy subject of payment to arise.

He’d already had a couple of offers from teams in the same League, and doubted the struggling Wattlevale Wanderers could top them. But it didn’t hurt to listen.

Dan Reynolds ushered Jim up a flight of wooden stairs, and into the Club’s social rooms. As they entered, a phone started ringing, and Dan excused himself, to answer it.

“Won’t be a tick. Make yourself at home, mate, ” the big man said.

Jim strode across the threadbare carpet to the window overlooking the ground, and took in the ancient scoreboard, rickety wooden seats and basic shelter of Avery Park.

” It mightn’t look like much, but it’s home.”

Jim was startled by the rasping voice, and turned to see a stocky bloke standing behind him – beer in hand.

” Sorry. Didn’t mean to frighten ya,” he grinned. ” Young Weston, isn’t it ? I’ve heard ’em talking about you. They seem pretty keen to have you for next year. Dunno if we’re your cuppa tea, though, mate – you’re chasin’ cash aren’t ya ? ”

Here we go, Jim thought….. “Just a game of footy,” he snapped back.

” Fair enough, fair enough,” the man said, and took a sip of his ale. ” Just that we’ve seen a few ex-league players here lately, and they all had the same idea…….you know, turn up, do a couple of flashy things of a Sat’day, and collect the dough at the end of the season.”

” Footy’s about a lot more than that around here.”

Jim took a breath and steeled himself for an ear-bashing.

“Yeah, it might sound a bit dramatic to you, son, but in a town like this, footy’s all a lotta people’ve got. The Mill’s all but closed, the drought’s taken hold, but they can forget all that when they turn up here, ” the man said.

Directing a gnarled finger at a frail bloke leaning on the fence, he smiled sadly.

” Take Perry Finn. His wife died last year……love of his life. Never had kids, the two of ’em. But anyone who pulled on a Wanderers jumper was like a son. Now Adele’s gone, it’s the footy that gives old Perry a purpose.”

Jim glanced in the direction Dan had taken, hoping he’d return to save him.

” Yeah, yeah, I see that look, ” the old man said. “You’ll be just like the others. Couldn’t care less who you’re playin’ for as long as there’s a buck in it. That’s the trouble with you young fellas – ya got no sense o’ loyalty, no passion for the game. It’s just somethin’ ta do between drinkin’ and chasin’ sheilas.”

Jim had heard enough. That wasn’t him. He’d grown up around a country club, knew its place in the scheme of things. He really did just want a game of footy, but he’d been advised to earn as much as he could in the few playing years he had left.

” Make the most of your name,” his mates had told him.

As Jim composed an angry retort, the old man’s gaze softened.

” You might feel like you’ve had it tough, mate. S’pose ya feel like a piece of meat trotted out on market day. But this place has a habit of rewardin’ the ones who stick around. You could do worse than settlin’ yourself in Wattlevale……Got a bit o’ magic about it, this place. They’ll look after ya’ if you look after them, trust me…..”

Jim was struck by the old man’s sincerity, but the moment was interrupted by Dan’s return.

” Sorry, Jim. That bloody phone…Now, where were we ?” Dan asked.

“I was just having a chat to…..” Jim began. He turned to see that he and Dan were alone. “….There was this old bloke, tellin’ me about the place.”

“Ah, right,” Dan said. “Well, let’s tell you a bit more….Come through.”

Jim walked past another row of team photos, doubling back when he noticed a familiar face.

“That’s the bloke who was in here before, ” he said, as he pointed out the man standing proudly alongside the 1971 Wattlevale premiership team, as its President.

Dan looked over his shoulder. “Nah, couldn’t have been, mate. That’s old Jack Trewin. He’s been dead about 15 years.”

Jim felt a cold prickle down his spine, as Dan continued. ” He was a champion for this club. Played a coupla’ seasons in Melbourne, then got an offer to come here, and smashed just about every record in the district.”

“He coulda’ gone anywhere in the country leagues, they reckon, but apparently he got some sorta’ sign that this was the place for him. He was a legend around here…..good bloke, too, although he didn’t mind sayin’ what he thought.”

Jim followed the club President into the Boardroom, but he already knew what his plans were for next season.

He belonged in Wattlevale.

( Thanks to Guest-Blogger Simone Kerwin )

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