A BALLCOCK SPECIAL DISPATCH

From Hon. T.S. Lyttleton-Thorpe in Melbourne

My dear Sirs

Many happy returns of the summer to you. Even though the sun may be shining down on you at home, let me assure you that here in the Southern Hemisphere, it is entering the period of Autumn, and a firm chill there is in the air for sure. I fear my chilblains shall resume their wretched hold upon my little pinky-perkies and tear my hopes for a calm and joyous festive period asunder. Nonetheless one can prevail upon you that despite my approaching bout with ill-health, I have nevertheless managed to venture out of the venerable home on a couple of occasions, and it was on one of those sojourns that I came across a most peculiar sight – that of a game of football, played with both hands AND feet, by men matching the description of our own ‘soccer players, but clad in the skimpiest of shorts and sleeveless vests.

It is said that everything on this Antipodean isle is similar to what one would find at home, but at the same time completely different, and so it is with their football. A curious mix of our association game, played with an oval ball as in rugby, with touches of the Gaelic Games thrown in, it can be truly said that it is a thrilling, violent, yet vulgar and barbaric sport, symbolic then of much of our Australian cousin’s traits. Should rules exist for the game, it was hard to tell, such was the speed and flow of the match one witnessed.

’Twas upon the grounds of the Melbourne Cricket Grounds that I partook of the action, where I was told that I was witnessing a ‘grudge’ match between two local sides, the Hawthorn ‘Hawks’ and the ‘Magpies’ of Collingwood. At first, it appeared that I was viewing a re-run of the 1911 Cup Final betwixt Bradford City and Newcastle United, but as soon as the ball was pitched in the air by the referee, I could see that the only similarities were in the colours of the two competing sides.

Instantly, the fans were immersed in the game. ‘Kick his fucking teeth in!’ cried one supporter. ‘Give him the fucking elbow!’ cried another. Whilst I was startled, and somewhat offended by the crude use of language, I decided to err on the side of caution when making any complaints, lest I should be marked out as an outsider not knowing of their strange game. ‘Aye! Indeed! Incur the wrath of the foul, base simpleton! Come on the ‘Hawks!’’ I cried, hoping desperately to fit in. All went silent around me, with knowing looks glanced in my direction, and I knew that I had assimilated myself perfectly.

By the end of the first ‘Turn’ the ‘Hawks’ were leading by six points, or so I gathered. One must be honest here and admit that the scoring system defeated me, given that there seemed to be three different numbers affixed on the scoreboard. At any rate, the board read Hawthorn 1-5-11 Collingwood 0-5-5, so I’ll leave it to more knowledgeable men to decide if I was accurate in my scoring.

Come the end of the half (the contest being divided into four quarters, mine hosts informed me), the ‘Magpies’ had completely turned the game on its head, leading by an impressive twenty-two points (or so I gather), and I was so full of stadium food and a local concoction called ‘Fosters’ that I had quite forgotten myself. ‘That referee’s a complete arse, he knows not the rules of this game’ I remarked to the fellow next to me, a hulking, sweating, swearing mass of humanity I later got to know as Dave. His shrug and resigned swig from a hip-flask confirmed to me that Dave was in agreement.

Alas, I regret to say that I didn’t make it through the third ‘Turn’. A combination of funny-tasting food and too much local swill did for me in the end. My last memories concern a Hawthorn ‘Behind’, me calling forward Jack Gunston a ‘Coward who would trill at the sight of an Englishman in full flight’, Dave’s right fist, Dave’s left fist… and then darkness… blissful, ignorant darkness. I awoke back in my lodgings, knowing not how I had managed to repair hither, with the taste of stale beer in my mouth, blood – my own, I now realise – covering my frock-coat, and a new-found love of this Australian sport in my heart. Already, my plans have been made to attend a tie between St. Kilda and Geelong.

And so I close this missive by beseeching that upon receipt this finds you well, and looking forward to the new season. I fear mightily for my cursed ‘blains, but accept and regret there is not much I can do to abate its speedy process. I bid farewell, and look forward already to your reply.

As ever, your most humble of servants,

The Rt. Hon. T.S. Lyttleton-Thorpe