It was 10:30pm on a Wednesday night, and I was working my way down the spiral ramp at ANZ Stadium having just watched one of the most dull games of rugby league ever played. Reaching for my phone to read the Twitter barbs aimed at NSW players, I noticed a message from Tristan.
“Muzz, we’ve got a spot for you on the trip to Redland this week. You’ll be the rotation manager. Leaves 5pm Friday. Are you keen?”
After five seconds of careful thought, I responded in the affirmative. The situation must have been dire if I was needed, so I couldn’t say no. Details were passed on and all I had to do was arrange to leave work early on Friday to get to the airport. Naturally, as a public servant I was already planning on skipping out mid-afternoon anyway.
As the day drew nearer and it came time to pack for the trip, I consulted the weather forecast for Brisbane. It did not make for pleasant reading. Heavy rain. Storms. Flood warnings. During the season there’s trips up to the Gold Coast and Darwin on offer, yet I’ve agreed to hold a magnet board at an oval in suburban Brisbane during a severe weather event. Decision making has never been my strong point.
On mid-Friday morning, my role was upgraded to Team Manager as Sam had fallen ill and couldn’t make the trip. Perhaps he had seen the forecast. Barely being able to board a plane on my own without assistance, the thought of having to organise a whole group of people and all of the equipment for a travelling football team was enough to make my chest tighten ever so slightly. This could be a complete disaster.
2:00pm: I arrive at the airport and check my phone. I see an email that says the gear will be arriving at about 3 o’clock, so I don’t need to be there at 2 o’clock. The Swans NEAFL team stroll through check-in, grab their Gatorades and bottles of water and are whisked through to the Virgin Lounge by their Team Manager. I do not have Gatorade, nor can I guarantee entry to anywhere. Ten minutes in and I’m the worst NEAFL Team Manager at the airport. What are the odds! I’d assumed the team would have to arrive before I earned that honour but apparently not. I move outside and hope desperately that they didn’t notice me sitting alone in my Uni shirt.
3:00pm: Jack and Mitch arrive with the van full of gear. It’s a mad dash to unload it all before the security guards patrolling the drop off point finish their cigarettes and tell us to move on. We take it all inside. Bags of gear, cases full of medical equipment, milk crates. Milk crates? The lady at the check-in counter is frazzled as I give her the list of 30 names. She asks questions I don’t know the answer to – this is my first time, love – but we eventually get through it all and I’ve got the boarding passes in my hand. They are distributed as the players arrive, along with the new socks I’ve been promising for weeks. As we pass the agreed meeting time, I still have a few passes left. Frantic, I ask Tori to contact the missing few. They’re already in the Lounge. I didn’t know this was a thing they could do. I’m the last one through security, with a projector as my carry-on luggage. As is the custom, I get swabbed for explosives and mutter swears under my breath.
4:00pm: Whilst a number of the players have Lounge passes, those that don’t have worked out that if you take your boarding pass up they’ll let you in anyway. The power of matching polo shirts is not to be underestimated. I scan the room and see weary business people, relaxing with a drink and readying themselves for the flight home. I guess we are on a work trip too, so I grab a beer. Everyone else has fruit and sandwiches. I admire their professionalism as I plough through my second bowl of chips.
5:00pm: We board our flight. The team are scattered all over the plane. I’m sitting next to Zac and he puts his headphones on straight away. Good move. I wouldn’t want to talk to me for an hour either. I watch a movie – the 2015 remake of The Vacation, god Chevy Chase looks terrible – and before I knew it the credits were rolling. I look at my watch and see that we’d been on the plane for near on two hours. Have I directed us onto the correct flight?
7:00pm: Finally we touch down and make our way to the baggage carousel. I am half expecting our gear to have been forwarded on to Melbourne, so I’m relieved when I see that everything has arrived. Is that everything? I didn’t think to take a count of how many pieces of equipment we checked in, so close enough is good enough I guess. The bus is a further walk away, and when we get outside we are greeted with sideways rain. We load the bus and it is time for roll call. Again, unprepared, I have no team list. Due to us running late and given that the upcoming game will only barely resemble football, Gilly decides to can the planned team meeting. When I announce this I am feted as a hero. Once everyone is accounted for we take the fifteen minute trip to the Hotel Ibis, the finest three star hotel the AFL’s money can buy.
7:30pm: Two and a half hours after taking off we are at the hotel. Dave the strength & conditioning coach is first out of the bus and grabs some luggage to take inside. He promptly slips in a puddle and falls flat on his face. Thankfully he was unhurt and even better for him, I don’t think anyone noticed. We head upstairs to dinner – a spread of pasta, some sort of chicken curry and salad is on offer and it is cleaned out good and proper by the lads. I make a mental note to pick up some fast food later on.
8:30pm: Dinner has been eaten, physio has been done and the remaining socks have been distributed. The players venture to their rooms to watch the game between North Melbourne and Richmond. Despite my claims of seniority, Tori gets her own room and tells me it’s because she is a girl. This is sexism of the highest order. I’m sharing with Killer – the bloke is still recovering from foot surgery and now this. The last few months have not been kind to Lachlan.
9:00pm: Being the clubman that I am, I decide to patrol the Brisbane nightlife to make sure that none of the players have slipped out of the hotel after dinner. After a few hours and about ten drinks I call it a night. I can’t remember spotting any players so that’s good enough for me.
1:00am: Eventually I return to the hotel – after having walked in completely the wrong direction for about ten minutes I hail a cab to get me home. Mindful of waking Killer I decide to retreat to the bathroom to eat the pies I bought at the 7-11 across the road.
6:20am: Unfortunately I’m awake and there’s no getting back to sleep. I look out the window and see, well, nothing because the rain is so heavy.
6:30am: Oh no. Is that the beep, beep, beep alert tone of the fire alarm? This expertly trained Fire Warden says yes. Are we going to have to evacuate? In this weather? Just how angry is standing in the rain in his pyjamas for ten minutes going to make Gilly? About five minutes worth of bad thoughts go through my head in the ten seconds the alarm is going. I’m now convinced it was a ploy by TR to get the boys to wake up nice and early.
7:00am: The run sheet I have says that breakfast is from 7:00 until 8:15. Naturally I assumed that you had to be there at 7:00, so I was surprised upon arriving to only find Stuey working on his laptop. He kindly informed me that you could come and go as you please, so long as you were ready by checkout time. I probably should have checked on that before I got myself ready an hour earlier than I needed to. On the plus side, I got to eat with the early risers that arrived at about 7:30. TR inhaled about six poached eggs while I had a chocolate croissant and a hash brown. There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere.
9:00am: We board the bus to head to Tidbold Park, situated about 40 minutes south of the city. We do the roll call again, and apparently I was supposed to collect the lunches that are provided for the team. It was news to me. If not for Tristan’s quick thinking, the team was going hungry. We eventually depart, and the journey allows us time to go over my role as rotation manager. As TR explains the task, I nod and smile to give the impression that I have a vague understanding. Then there’s the list of manager things which involve team sheets and a hard drive. I have no doubt I will forget to do something.
9:45am: Pulling into the carpark, we are greeted by the sight of a heavily drenched oval. The bus is unloaded and much to my relief we have brought everything from the hotel. With a while to kill before the game, Chas and I head into the palatial clubhouse to grab some coffees for those in need. I’m suitably impressed by the venue, and even more impressed by the old duck sitting by herself playing the pokies over a glass of white at ten in the morning.
10:45am: It’s time for the team meeting – the projector is set up and working which is a good start. Gilly talks to the boys about what he expects from them during the game. Three hours of effort and having nothing left in the tank. The game style will be fairly simple, every metre critical in these conditions. He shows three minutes of footage from the last wet weather game, the highlight of which was the build up to a goal by Nick Winmar. Gilly downplayed the end result by saying “Winners got to lick the ice cream, but it was the repeat effort leading up to it that we need to focus on.” I giggle and immediately add “lick the ice cream” to my lexicon. Wait, three minutes of footage? I lugged the projector up here for that?
11:00am: The team heads onto the field to prepare. Two minutes later they are covered in mud. I make a mental note to order dark coloured warmup shirts for next season. I distribute team sheets to the appropriate people and go to clear out the ‘coaches box’ for Gilly and the team which is full of soft drink cans and pie wrappers. Maybe I could be a coach one day. The only way of getting into the box is by scaling a few wooden rungs nailed onto the side of the ‘bench area’. I am a bit dubious about sending four people up into this structure that clearly offers absolutely no cover or protection. Can it take that much weight? I’m not saying they should go nuts but for a club with eighty pokies I would have thought they could afford a window or two and perhaps a ladder.
12:00pm: It’s game time. I’m standing on the boundary line in a waterproof jacket that apparently I didn’t fully zip up, and my front is drenched. I’ve decided to go barefoot because shoes are a waste of time and my thongs keep getting stuck in the mud. TR and Tristan have been given the unenviable job of being the runners. Chapter is standing further down the boundary, soaked to the bone. I am not sure what he is doing, and neither is he. Killer can’t make it up into the coaches box as he’s on crutches, so he lucks out and gets to stand under cover in the canteen. Tori is huddled in the leaking dugout trying to keep her hair dry under a hat and two hoods. Redland win the toss and kick with the howling breeze. Between trying to keep on top of the magnet board and with the rain driving into my eyes, the game itself is a bit of a blur. It is legitimately freezing and I am wondering what on earth I am doing here. At quarter time we’ve had as many inside 50s but they’ve kicked 4.0 to our 0.2. Gilly is pretty calm, confident that we will claw our way back when we are running with the tide.
12:40pm: The second quarter turns out to be a mirror image of the first, with all of the scoring being done at the swimming pool end. JD kicked a pearler of a set shot from right in front of the bench to trim the margin and the boys were up and about. Redland were impeccable in front of goals, and despite having half the scoring shots we’d had, they were up five points at the long break. At least the rain had stopped.
1:15pm: Rather than go into the rooms, I wander around the ground looking for hot food. There’s a few young kids out on the oval kicking the footy. One slips over and is drenched. “Dad’s gonna kill me,” he whines. I laugh heartily.
1:30pm: The third quarter starts, and so does the rain again. The intensity has gone up another notch. Skirmishes are breaking out around the ground and we have had four guernseys torn. I am horrified. Redland, you monsters! After having earlier been on the receiving end of a crude attempted spoil that resulted in a report, Damien Bonney has got a target on his back. At one stage he has three blokes chasing him for fisticuffs, and nobody on the bench can quite understand why. Somehow we get a free kick in the goal square out of all of it, and we reduce the margin to eight points at the last change. We’ve been on top again this quarter with five scoring shots to three, but they’ve kicked 7.1 to our 4.11. The message at the break is simple – keep doing what we are doing and the rewards will come. Chapter is still none the wiser as to what he is doing.
2:10pm: As if on cue for the home team, the rain stops and the whistling gale disappears just as play resumes. The task at hand just got harder without the advantage of a wind that could flip a car. Gilly rings a few positional changes to revitalise the side and we are feeling good about ourselves. We are going to finish over the top of these blokes. Then disaster strikes – they jag a couple in quick succession and the lead balloons out to 20. We claw one back and are down by 15 points with half a quarter to play, until one of the Redland forwards pulls one from the top shelf – an incredible snap from the boundary line that he couldn’t kick again if he tried. The heads drop ever so slightly as the game is out of our reach. The final margin of 24 points is in no way reflective of the effort or the closeness of the game. Indeed, we had more scoring shots and had the better of proceedings for long periods of the afternoon. They just took their chances. Incredibly Redland registered over 100 tackles and 100 hitouts for the game, which suggests to me that the Champion Data computer was probably water damaged up in the timekeeper’s box.
2:50pm: The boys return to the rooms, beaten but unbowed. It’s an honest post-match talk by Gilly with some help from Youngy and you can feel the disappointment in the room. It’s frustrating for them to be so close but just unable to get over the line in these big away games. Redland are certainly a worthy opponent given their standing on the ladder, so there is no shame in pushing them to the brink for four torrid quarters on their home patch. Everyone tidied themselves up in readiness for the trip home and files out. Tori’s hair has remained dry so at least we had one win on the day. Oh good, it’s raining again.
3:30pm: The bus is loaded and we are ready to go. Gilly asks if I’ve got his Hard Drive with the game on it. I stare blankly at him. Whoops. I quickly get off the bus and begin the search for it. Who did I give it to in the first place? Was it their Team Manager? Was he the guy with glasses? Finally I identify him with the help of a friendly local, and he points me in the direction of the camera man. After being told that the file was still writing and it would be another ten minutes, I take the opportunity to disappear into the club. Chas is heading down south to a President’s Function and I spy him standing solo at the bar. I order up for the two of us. What’s a trip to Queensland without having at least one Bundy and Coke?
4:15pm: We get to the airport and check everything in. We’re in the home straight and I haven’t managed to faff anything up yet. Despite the result and the horror of the ripped guernseys I’ve had a good time. And nobody’s yelled at me yet. Again, I lug the projector through as carry-on luggage, and the weird box with cables sticking out of it leads to me being swabbed for explosives. As I’m given the all clear, a security guard hustles past and inadvertently hits me right in the d***. Hard. I hate Brisbane.
4:30pm: The trick of walking into the Lounge and waving a boarding pass works again, and we’re all inside. I head to the bar while everyone else piles ham and cheese onto sandwiches to be toasted. Well everyone except for Barto, who is shoveling small chocolates into his bag and pockets. I immediately join him. We have an hour to spare and the boys unwind after a tough trip. Mitch leaves his phone on the charger as he grabs a drink at the bar when a text arrives, which attracts Chapter’s attention. Two minutes later a photo of the message is on social media and Mitch has earned a new nickname, ‘Snooki’. Apparently he is going to din-dins with his better half and shouldn’t eat too much on the trip home. Everyone is delighted.
5:30pm: We are called to board and the group makes its way down to the gate. I’m sitting down, hoping that the complimentary snack is not disgusting pretzels again when a smiling Tristan approaches me and asks if I’ve got the projector. I knew I’d forget something. Just as I’m about to turn the air blue, Tori pops out from behind him with the bag. Good one guys, very funny. We get to our seats and poor old Zac is next to me again. He is cursing his misfortune. I lighten the mood by inadvertently knocking a cup of water onto my groin.
7:30pm: The flight is uneventful despite the weather, and we arrive in Sydney slightly ahead of schedule. We collect everything from the carousel, or at least I think we did. I still didn’t remember to do a count before we checked everything in. Even the milk crates made it back. Ayts asks me if I’m going out for a beer and all I can think about is lying down. I am buggered. Mercifully, Tristan and Barto deliver the gear back to the shed so I can head home. The team goes their separate ways and the day has come to a close. Oh, there’s trackwork and I have to catch a bus. These public transport people…
I’d really like to thank the team for making me feel welcome on the trip, despite the high probability that making me responsible for anything would end in shambles. Whilst the result was ultimately not what we went up there for, I couldn’t have been more impressed with everyone both on and off-field. The club is lucky to have such a dedicated and professional group representing it. Any time you need an extra pair of hands away from home, I’d be more than happy to help out. Unless it’s in Canberra. That place sucks.