LEAGUE —IT’S JUST TOUCH WITH TACKLES
Who is that in the mist, on his hands and knees. Ahh, it’s Wairimu,
“Kia ora darlin’”.
Wai’s been adjusting a standard to tighten up the fence line, can see from the gravel calves have been getting under it and on to the road. We walk homeward together, Wai telling me stories, points out where the road used to run down the hill past the pub, as a boy he would deliver papers to the publican and get a bag of peanuts. I love Wai’s stories. At the memorial gates I ask, “what do people call this place Wai?”
“Football club,” he tells me and I tell him, I’d been down here yesterday watching my first ever #league game. “That right.” said Wai.
Club rooms, old #Taheke school where we voted once in a general election when we first came to live here. Tennis court, often someone’s horse grazing out the front. Roly used to ride a horse to school along with his sisters from Mahuri and they’d leave them in the field at the back of Wai’s house. School long since closed down and the whole place for community recreation these days.
It was Aggie’s daughter Jackie who gave me the idea of going down to watch league, we’d bumped into each other in the supermarket. Jackie was full of beans, got a new job as the cook in a shearing gang, that got me started- told her all about working as a rousie in Garth’s gang, till I got too old. Loved it, Jackie loving it too, awesome job she said, awesome. Playing league on Saturday she added, so I said I’d go down to watch and bring my camera.
I liked the idea of writing a story about the women’s team playing, women’s sport doesn’t get nearly as much coverage as mens. Had to ask Mick to tell me the rules of the game given I had never watched league in my life.
“In a nutshell?” asked Mick. “In a nutshell,” I said, “and tell me the difference between league and rugby.”
“Fewer rules than rugby, rougher, thirteen aside, in rugby you look for the gaps, in league you go for the big hits, very rarely take a drop goal and only worth a point, but it can be the decider then it’s called a golden point.”
I’m taking notes, trying to keep up, sitting on an upturned bucket in the doorway of Mick’s shed, the morning is hot. Going to be really hot this afternoon.
“It’s a simpler game.”
“Mick, that sounds a bit patronising.”
“Spoken by a good middle class boy who played against Eton at Twickenham,” is what he says next.
“Not many people know that about you.” I say.
“Yes, but it was a sevens tournament, and a loophole meant we played upperclass teams like Eton, wouldn’t have otherwise.”
“You’ll hear players shout ‘D up’, defence up.” Mick calls from the door way as I bike off, and on the way down the road I am thinking about my late brother Hedley who wrote about sport all his working life. Last thing he said before he died -asked who was man of the match in an All Black’s test against France. Mick didn’t know the answer but said Sebastian Chabal. I am thinking about my maternal grandfather too who was selected for the All Blacks early in the last century for a tour of Australia and turned it down to stay at home with his pregnant wife. Hero amongst the women of the family. “But imagine if you could say your grandfather had been an All Black,” Mick had said when I first told him. Imagine that.
I half pie expect Jim to be on the gate but no sign of him. A game last year, a car load of young fellas rolled up, asking how much to park and Jim said, “Five bucks,”
“Five bucks? must be the All Blacks playing that price!”
Jim’s round the back sitting behind the old school room and further along there’s Jake with his camera. Moana says, seeing me turn up with mine, “Kia ora, ahh, we’ve got two photographers today eh,” so I ask her if she minds me taking photographs and writing a story and she says, “Nah, you go girl.” and I sit down next to Jake and we talk, and talk. Talk about cameras, his new Nikon, how we feel, what we do best, what it means to us.
“I go all dreamy when I’ve got the camera around my neck.” I say, and Jake nods, he understands. Got myself in trouble more than once,” he says, and I tell him, “I’ve been told to F off a few times.” We’re laughing and talking, happy sitting there.
I tell Jake about my brother Hedley and he mentions Peter Bush the photographer. He and my brother were old friends I say. Jake has brought his own stool. Later on I tell his wife Margaret how much I liked talking to him and she says, “Oh, Jake, he loves taking photographs.”
“How you Miss Elizabeth?” asks Aggie and I ask her when the game is going to start. Women’s game might not go ahead, been two mate in the other team, not sure if they will show.
“Other team decided to fold,” said someone else.
“Got a tangi on, oh yeah, whatever. Nah, they’re just scared of us.”
I’d told Mick I wouldn’t stay for the men’s game, but if the women aren’t playing I will. Friendly game of mixed touch while the fellas get ready to go.
I can smell liniment , I am watching the tamariki on the side line playing, all that life going on waiting for the game to start. A little fella tells the younger ones not to take their drink bottles into the wharepaku.
“Leave them outside,” he says.
I’m watching the big children watch over the smaller children. It is hot and getting hotter, people walking around with umbrellas, fanning their faces.
So busy watching off the pitch I don’t notice the game about to start. Valley United Crushers versus Waikare. Waikare have Bay of Islands bakery on the back of their jerseys, two players short so a couple of #Otaua fellas join in. It’s all good, all whanau. It’s the second of the pre season games, twenty minute quarters. Teams playing under the umbrella of Te Taitokerau now, haven’t got the fancy fields and stuff but it keeps the travel costs down. Grass roots league, someone tells me. All Whanau. All good. Some of those #Waikare boys come from really old sporting families. Old sporting names.
“Come on fellas, let’s go/organise your runners Whare/one more boy, one more/pull Clarkie back to the middle bro/see what’s happening out there, not fit eh, fitness always at the end of everything/put Clarkie in/talk it out crushers, talk it out.”
Game begins, crowd gets bigger. Recent rain and the field has greened up. Cars and utes parked up along the fence line where the avocados grow and Daisy a house cow grazes. Every time a try scored there is a chorus of tooting.
“Take inspiration from those fellas out there, at least they’re out there/run some water in/ tell them to get their game back up/get back out there and wake those boys up eh/last twenty minutes brothers, let’s go hard.”
“Anyone else wants a burger?”
I’m leaning up against the kai counter, a fund raiser for the club, money for training equipment, first aid gear and instruction.
“We take it in turns,” James tells me, “James Makiha, that’s my name but it’s my Mrs mainly who does this,” and I ask what her name is and she laughs saying, “Miss anonymous,” that’s me, “nah, she’s Aroha,” James says.
Aroha joins us, asking her sweetheart, “here I am, do you need any help my darling?”
“Sweet as” says James, flipping a burger while a little fella waits, watching, along side some bigger fellas, watching. They’ve got a reggae mix playing. I tell them it’s my first league game and I had to ask Mick how it was played.
“League,” James tells me, “it’s just touch with tackles.”
“And they do that thing where they stop and put the ball back between their legs, a dainty pause.” I like that bit.
Some one asks for a fried egg to go with their burger and James cracks one over the hot plate. It sizzles, the afternoon is hot, the sun sizzles.
“Half time, people come in for a kai, then we’ll turn it off eh.”
I wanted to write about the women’s game and said I wouldn’t stay for the mens. Stayed till the end.
Mick asks me who won. “I don’t know,” I laugh, “and I didn’t hear anyone shout ‘D up’.”
Too busy taking photographs. Too busy thinking about my story.