For a time I wrote articles as The Ghost of Optus Oval for the Carlton football club - thought I'd post some of them over the ensuing months (etc) so that they aren't lost.
here is one I wrote for an player on his retirement (Darren Hulme - the 'Pup') - later Darren contacted the club to tell them he was so happy with the article he had it pinned to his fridge.
All kids dream, all kids spin the ball over and over; their eyes glazed
as they drift years ahead and see themselves taking the field for the
team they support with all their youthful hearts. All kids yearn to don
the jumper of their chosen team but the truth is it doesn't happen much
nowadays. This is a vital dream, the blood of this great game. As long
as kids dream the game is safe. It is a powerful dream but one not
everyone can achieve. I dreamed the dream; oh how I dreamed as I watched
Ragsy run the flanks or Gags duck that head of his and spin out of a
tackle. My eyes glazed over as Craney burrowed in and visions of an
adult me filled my mind as Quirkie ran the wing. I lived and breathed
that dream yet I was small and slow with little skill, what hope did I
have. Yes I burrowed in, yes on wet days I had a chance but my dream
slowly lost its colour and faded like an old leaf.
Pup must have had that dream too as he played the game a wee lad
determined to make his mark. To reach the elite level and simply play a
single game of AFL is an achievement most of us would die for. To play a
hundred or more games means you've shown class. To play those hundred
odd games for the team of your youth shows the Gods smiled favourably
upon you. Pup has been blessed. What he lacked in size he gained in
heart. His heart rivals Phar Lap's; it pumps a steely resolve. The Pup
never shirked, never sidestepped, never wavered in his desire to achieve
his boyhood dream. How wonderful then for him to don that jumper, to
run out onto Optus Oval the first time, to push through the banner on
his hundredth game.
Yes Pup's time at Carlton is over but he gave us
many moments, many games, many things to be proud of.
In some ways Pup was a footballer from another era. Small and tough as
an old boot, he burrowed in and then would escape the clutches of
opposition teams by taking off, those small, strong legs of him pumping
like pistons to extract the maximum amount of acceleration in the
shortest possible time. Then the kick forward and the bluebaggers were
off. Pup played some great games and I feel his time was just starting
when his leg injury cut him down and robbed him of a bit of that
explosiveness that drove him out of the packs. Never a long kick, that
injury also stole some precious distance off his kicks, distance he
could ill afford to lose. Yet on his strove, on against opponents taller
and faster but no one displayed more heart, more desire than the Pup.
The Pup gave this game his all, every game. Watching him run around you
could see it in his eyes, that resolve to extract as much out of this
dream of his as he possibly could. No opponent, no opposing coach's
strategy was going to stop him from living this dream to the fullest.
Pup showed us not just how we might play this game but a way to live our
lives as well. To put everything we have into those things we most
cherish, to not be denied, to give it everything we had and then some
more. And we supporters loved him for it. He was hard, dedicated, brave
and usually the smallest man on the field. He was one of the small but
proud band of short men whose height disadvantage was worn like a badge.
He strode onto the field in the shadows of the giants yet strove
against them on equal footing because his desire and resolve more than
matched theirs. He might not have been our star player but his 27 was
emblazoned proudly on any number of coats and jumpers.
All us small blokes marvelled at him. And how hard he must have worked to
force the recruiters to notice him when we know their eyes rarely see
anything below 182cm nowadays. How he must have bashed and crashed and
collided to get himself noticed in those faraway days when he was just a
school kid chasing a dream. He must have got leather poisoning, worn
out several pairs of boots a season, copped whacks and head highs a
plenty to show he deserved his chance in the main game. Pup obviously is
one of those rare individuals that doesn't take no for an answer. He
demanded a spot on our list and then week in and week out showed he
The dream at Carlton has ended for the Pup as all dreams must but what a
dream it was. His name now permanently on that 27 locker directly after
Des English: No one can take that achievement away from him. He is a
hundred gamer, and a hundred games meant you belonged, you were worthy,
you lived your dream as well as any.
Pup must now find other things to occupy his time but he can leave this
club proud of what he has done, of the games he has played, the
footballers he has matched his skills and endeavour against. The crowd
shall be a little lost for a time. How often we sought out his frame
when we were in dire need. How often we yelled, 'Chuck pup in the middle!'
when it seemed we could not extract the pill. How proud we were when
Pup squared up against an opponent undeterred by their size or
reputation. Pup was an everyman, he was one of us, a bloke you'd want
to share a beer with.
So this then is just a little message, a farewell, a thank you for
everything, a salute to a warrior. Bravo Darren Hulme, Bravo and well