― 136 ―

Far Inland Football.

‘FRIGHTFULLY dull, isn't it?’ said the Doctor.

‘Dull's no name for it,’ said the Clerk of Petty Sessions; ‘this is the awfullest hole I ever was in.

‘Never knew it so bad,’ chimed in the Chemist and the Saddler, who were on this frosty night drinking whisky hot in the shug parlour of the Shamrock Inn in the little township of Crupperton.

‘I tell you what,’ said the C.P.S. presently; ‘I see by the paper they've started a football club at Cantleville. Why shouldn't we do the same? It'll help to pass away the time, anyhow.

The Doctor pricked up his ears with interest. The Chemist seconded the motion enthusiastically.

‘A capital idea,’ said he, ‘and, although I never have played, I'll go in for it. It's simple enough, I should imagine.’

‘Simple!’ said the C.P.S., who had once seen a match in Sydney. ‘It's as easy as tea-drinking. There's no expense, except the first one of the ball. It's not like cricket, you know, where your always putting your hands in your pockets for something or other.’

  ― 137 ―

‘I'll give ten shillings, Mr Brown,’ said the Doctor softly.

‘Same here,’ said the Chemist.

‘How do you play it?’ asked the Saddler, and the Blacksmith, and the Constable, who had just dropped in for a warm and a yarn that chilly evening.

‘Well,’ explained the C.P.S., who had ideas, ‘first you get your ball. Then you put up a couple of sticks with a cross one on the top of 'em. Then you measure a distance, say one hundred yards by, say, fifty, on a level bit of ground, and put up another set of sticks. Then you get your men, and pick sides, and pop the ball down in the middle, and wade in. For instance he continued, ‘s'pose we're playing Saddlestrap. Well, then, d'ye see, we've got one goal—that's what they call the sticks—and they've got the other. We've to try and block 'em from kicking the ball over our cross-bar, and do our best, meantime, to send it over theirs. It's just a splendid game for this weather, and nothing could well be simpler.’

More men came in, the idea caught; a club was formed, and that very night the C.P.S. wrote to the capital for a ball ‘of the best make and the latest fashion.’

But it was a very long way to the capital. So, in the interval, the C.P.S., who was an enterprising young Native, procured and erected goal-posts and cross-bars of barked pine; and very business-like they looked with a little pink flag fluttering from the summit of each.

  ― 138 ―

At last the new ball arrived. But, to the secret astonishment of the C.P.S., in place of being round it was oval. However, he was not going to expose his ignorance and imperil the reputation already earned as an exponent of the game, so he only said,—

‘I sent for the very best they had, and I can see we've got our money's worth. I'll take her home and blow her up ready for to-morrow.’

For a long time the ball seemed to go in any direction but the right one, kick they never so hardly; whilst, as a rule, the strongest and most terrific kickers produced the least effect.

They tried the aggravating thing in every position they could think of, and, for a considerable period, without much success.

It was a sight worth seeing to watch the Blacksmith, after scooping a little hollow in the ground and placing the ball perpendicularly therein, retire and prepare for action. Opening his shoulders and spitting on his hands, he would come heavily charging down, and putting the whole force of fifteen stone into his right foot, deliver a tremendous kick; then stand amazed to see the ball, after twirling meekly up for a few yards, drop on his head instead of soaring between the posts as it should have done.

‘I'm out of practice myself—haven't played for years, in fact,’ said the C.P.S. when explanation as to this erratic behaviour was demanded. ‘It's simply a matter of practice, you know, like everything else.’

But all the same for a long time, deep down in

  ― 139 ―
his heart, there was a horrible misgiving that the thing was not a football at all—that it should have been round. At last, by dint of constant perseverance, some of the men began to kick fairly well—kick goals even from a good distance.

The first difficulty arose from a lack of sideboundaries. Hence, at times, a kicking, struggling, shouting mob might be seen half-a-mile away, at the far end of the main street, whereas it should have been in front of the post-office.

To remedy this state of affairs, the C.P.S. drove in pegs at what was voted ‘a fair thing' to serve as guides. When the ball was sent beyond the pegs no one pursued, and little boys stationed there kicked it back again, Also, the cows, pigs and goats of Crupperton, who must have imagined that a lunatic asylum had taken possession of their feeding grounds, returned, and henceforth fed peacefully about the grass-grown streets and allotments at the lower end of the township. Presently, to vary the monotony, the Cruppertonians got up a match amongst themselves for drinks—East versus West was the title of it. But it never went beyond the first scrimmage, if that can be called a first where all was one big scrimmage, caused by two compact bodies of men fighting for the possession of a ball. Out of this quickly emerged the Chemist with, as he averred, a fractured wrist. Anyhow, he wore a bandage, and played no more.

Then the Blacksmith accused the Saddler of kicking him on the shins, wilfully and of malice prepense. For

  ― 140 ―
some time past there had been bad blood between these two, and the fight that ensued was so gorgeous that the game was quite forgotten in the excitement of it.

Presently, the village of Saddlestrap, a little lower down the river, in emulation of its larger neighbour, started football also.

The Saddlestraps mostly got their living by tankmaking, were locally known as ‘Thicklegs,’ and were a pretty rough lot. So that, when a match was arranged between the two places, fun was foretold.

The rules of the Saddlestrap club were, like those of the Crupperton one, simplicity itself, consisting, as they did, of the solitary axiom—‘Kick whatever or wherever you can, only kick.’

Therefore, as remarked, fun was expected. The C.P.S. chose his team carefully, and with an eye to weight and size. Superior fleetness, he rightly imagined, would have but little to do with the result of the day's sport.

With the exception of half-a-dozen of the townspeople, the Crupperton players consisted of young fellows from a couple of stations adjoining. Therefore, the Saddlestraps somewhat contemptuously dubbed their opponents ‘Pastorialites.’

The Doctor pleaded exemption on account of his age, and was, therefore, appointed ‘Referee.’

For a while the play was somewhat weak and desultory, and lacking in effect. The ball was continually being sent outside the pegs, and the urchins stationed

  ― 141 ―
there were kept busy. But, at length, to the delight of the spectators, consisting of the entire population of the two townships, there was a hot scrimmage. ‘For all the world like a lot o' dorgs a-worryin' a 'possum!’ as one excited bystander yelled, whilst the crowd surged around the mixed-up heap of humanity, the outside ring of which was frantically kicking and shoving at the prostrate inner one, serving friend and foe alike.

‘A very manly and interesting game,’ remarked the Doctor, placidly ringing his bell for ‘Spell, oh!’ whilst the Chemist ran to his shop for plaster and bandage.

Presently, the undermost man of all was dragged out, torn and gory, and spitting teeth from a broken jaw.

Him the Doctor caused to be carried to the nearest house, and, after attending to his wounds, returned hurriedly to the field, where his coadjutor was looking to the minor casualties, and both teams were refreshing themselves with rum, and boasting of their prowess.

The Doctor rang his bell, and play was resumed. It was, he explained, unhealthy to dawdle about in such weather and after severe exertion.

As the C.P.S. pointed out very eloquently that night at the banquet, football was a game in which people must learn to give and take, and that, until this had been fully understood and practised, the game would never get beyond an initial stage.

This was probably the reason that on a Saddlestrap in full pursuit of the ball being deliberately tripped up by a ‘Pastorialite,’ and sent headlong to mother earth, which

  ― 142 ―
was hard and knobby, in place of rising and going on with the game, he began to punch the tripper.

Five minutes afterwards might be seen the curious spectacle of a ball lying neglected in the centre of the ground, whilst outside raged a big fight of thirty.

For a time the trouble was strictly confined to the two teams. But when it was observed that Crupperton was getting the worst of it, partisans quickly peeled off and took sides; so that, directly, both townships were up to their eyes in fight, and the Doctor seriously contemplated sending for professional assistance to Cantleville.

For some time victory hovered in the balance. But men fight well on their own ground, and at last the Saddlestraps broke and fled for their horses and buggies. Those who stayed behind did so simply because there was no doctor in their native village.

A banquet for both teams had been prepared at the leading (and only) hotel. But there was only a remnant of one side that felt like banqueting, so the gaps were filled by residents who had been prominent in the fray.

The C.P.S., with a couple of beautifully blackened eyes, took the chair. At the other end of the table presided the Constable, whose features presented a curiously intricate study in diachylon, many of the Saddlestraps having seized a mean opportunity of wiping off old scores.

Speeches and toasts were made and drunk, and football enthusiastically voted the king of all games.

  ― 143 ―
As the Blacksmith—whose arm was in a sling—observed, ‘It was a fair an' square game. A man know'd what he'd got to do at it. There wasn't no tiddleywinkin' in the thing.’

The Doctor had been too busy to come early; but he dropped in for a minute or so during the evening, and with great fire, and amidst much applause, made a splendid speech. In its course he quoted Gordon's well-known lines—‘A game's not worth a rap for a rational man to play,’ etc.; and also adapted that saying of the ‘Iron Duke's’ about the battle of Waterloo being won upon the British football grounds.

It was decidedly the ‘speech of the evening,’ and was greeted with hearty cheers as, concluding, he retired to look after his patients.

But Crupperton was very sore next morning; and for a whole week there was no more football. Then they looked about them for more victims to their prowess. But they found none at all near home.

At last, in despair, and in defiance of the advice of the C.P.S., the executive challenged Cantleville itself— agreeing to journey thither. In due course, and after the C.F.C. had recovered from its surprise, and consulted a ‘Gazetteer,’ it accepted.

Cantleville was a very long distance away. Moreover, it was the ‘City’ of those inland parts, and the headquarters of the Civil Service therein. Therefore the C.P.S. and the Constable discreetly refused to accompany their fellows. One of the pair, at least, had

  ― 144 ―
doubts as to whether Cantleville played the Crupperton game.

So the Blacksmith was elected Captain. ‘You'd better stay at home,’ said the C.P.S., ‘the chaps over there are regular swells, up to all the latest dodges, and they wear uniforms. Besides they may not quite understand our rules.’

‘Then we'll teach 'em,’ said the Blacksmith. But the question of a uniform troubled him. So he took counsel with his now fast friend the Saddler, and the result was that everyone packed a stiffly-starched white shirt and a pair of black trousers into his valise.

‘How about your uniforms now?’ said the Blacksmith, ‘nothin' can't be neater'n that.’

So they went forth to battle, accompanied by the good wishes of the populace; but neither by Doctor nor Chemist. There were plenty of both at Cantleville. Also they were wise in their generation, and had doubts.

Communication in these days was limited. Cantleville news arrived via Sydney, and the newspapers were a week old when delivered. So that the team brought its own tidings home. They had not had a good time. They had also been heavily fined, and they proposed to go afield no more. The Blacksmith and the Saddler, who had ‘taken it out,’ were the last to appear.

‘I suppose you play Rugby rules?’ had asked blandly the Secretary of the C.F.C., as he curiously surveyed the ‘Bushies’ on their arrival.

‘No, we don't,’ said the Blacksmith. ‘We plays

  ― 145 ―
Crupperton,’ and no more questions were asked. But when it was seen what Crupperton rules meant, backs, half-backs, forwards, and all the rest of it, struck and refused to continue. Instead, they took to chaffing the ‘black and white magpies.’

Whereupon, Crupperton, putting the question of football on one side, went at its opponents à la Saddlestrap. Their places, however, they presently found taken by policemen. These latter every man handled to the best of his ability, and had to pay for accordingly.

‘Shoo!’ said the Blacksmith, as he finished. ‘They're nothin' but a lot o' tiddleywinkers up there. Let's have another match with Saddlestrap.’