By Guest blogger Simone Kerwin
“Sim!” A time-worn finger beckons my attention from the perimeter of the WJ Findlay Oval, where it’s owner perches on a bench seat, leaning on the fence.
Of course, I think. Why wouldn’t he be here in spirit, at the culmination of the competition played in his name.
“Hi, Pa. You’ve been watching?” I manage, as I step towards the ghost of my grandfather, who nods, as he peers out towards the middle.
“Terrific. Another generation’s in love with the game,” he says, gesturing towards his great grand daughter, who’s loving every minute of this as her team moves steadily towards a grand final victory.
“Things have changed since my day, but that’s the way of things,” he says.
I smile. Sometimes we forget that our forebears, as much as they would shake their heads in disbelief at the speed of the world’s progress, were the innovators who brought places like this very ground into being.
“The girls more than hold their own,” he says of the mixed contest playing out before him, “and the boys don’t bat an eyelid at the fact they’re there. Great!”
“First wicket of the day – straight through the dangerous opening bat,” he rubs his hands together, recalling Grace’s conquest, and probably the thrill of his own on this ground, years earlier. “I loved that. And she batted so well yesterday. Brave.”
He puts a hand up to shield his eyes from the glorious autumn sun.
“It’s a Yarra team they’re playing, did I hear?”
He nods again: “Would have been a rep game years ago.”
“Yeah,” I say, “the landscape’s changed. Not as many playing these days, so they’ve adapted – Dad drives as far as Mansfield to score for Rovers-United Bruck now.”
It’s almost as though he’s copped a jab, the way he flinches at the mention of the combine.
“Still can’t get used to that name,” he says grimly.
“What do you think about your great grand daughter playing for Wang-Magpies, then?” I ask, as I lean on the fence next to him.
“Ah well, whatever it takes; s’pose I was a Magpie once upon a time.” He glances over at the assistant coach, who’s following every ball as though he’s facing them himself. “She was never going anywhere else, and nor should she; he’s her hero, I reckon. That’s as it should be.”
“You’re his hero,” I say, directing his gaze to the figure on the other side of the oval; Dad’s circling the ground he’s traversed countless times throughout his life, lost in the contest and his grand daughter’s imminent success.
“And he’s one of mine, for sure,” he says.
A final wicket, and the 2019-20 Len Hill Memorial Shield lands safe in the hands of the Wangaratta-Magpies under 14s. I look over to catch the reaction of the man himself, but he’s gone. Gone, but definitely always here in spirit.