Living for their footy (realfooty)

Rosy

Tiger Legend
Mar 27, 2003
54,347
3
I thought this was a nice read and a reminder of what grass roots footy still is to communities.

Living for their footy
Martin Flanagan | June 20, 2007

GREG Whinfield, the 30-year-old president of the Macorna Football Club, is a farmer with bright eyes and a grin that flickers about his face as he speaks, which he does at about 60 km/h slower than anyone I've heard in the city lately.

Last week, the Macorna Football Club had a men's health night. I ask him why a football club is becoming involved with issues such as men's health and depression. "You come through Macorna to get here?" he asks. "There's not much there."

Macorna, the town, is gone. It used to have a butter factory, a store, a pub. Rail crews camped there. Not any more. Heather Ladson is the wife of former player Wayne Ladson. "This is the community," she says of the footy club and its longstanding partner, the Macorna Netball Club. "We're it."

Macorna is about 20 kilometres from Kerang in the north of the state. Flat land, irrigation farming. They're coming off 10 years of drought and are dependent on water allocations. Next year, for some farms, there may be no allocations. Footy around here forces men such as Wayne Ladson to take a break. "Otherwise, you stay at home and work a seventh day," he says. "And that's bad."

Wayne Ladson coaches the under 17s. His son, Matthew, the fifth generation of Ladsons to play for Macorna, is the club's young hope and, at 15, already in the seniors. I watch him train with Macca, a farmer who doubles as club trainer. "Does he get knocked around by the older blokes in other teams?" I ask. "Nah," says Macca. "The days of *smile* footy are just about done."

Macorna's a friendly club; it invites people in. Its former president, Pat Quinn, is a small man with red hair who I may have met at a racetrack on the west coast of Ireland during any of 10 previous lifetimes. Ned Kelly's mother was a Quinn. Pat has interesting stories in that regard. He also tells me how, when the Macorna Town Hall fell into disuse, the footy club bought three old portable classrooms and re-erected them beside their clubrooms to create a new community space.

Macorna's got interesting players such as Erik Siderline, a Dane working on a nearby farm. Erik — Ekka to his teammates — plays half-back in the twos. He's got a shaved head and a pale, lean frame and is as willing as they come. Ekka says he wishes he'd grown up playing footy. The club president, Greg Whinfield, is also one of the players. He's a father of three who says footy's one way of "keeping my mind off things".

About 50 men of all ages attend the men's health night, which was organised by the Northern District Community Health Service. First speaker is a GP, Peter Barker. He's been at nearby Cohuna for 20 years and is wearing a coat trimmed with the fur of seven foxes he shot. He's a straight talker with a humorous edge.

He hands out a fake scrotum for the audience to feel — the rubber balls it contains have lumps like those that develop with cancer. It's quite a moment. Not all Australian males are at ease with the idea of scratching a scrotum other than their own in public, even when it's make-believe. Nonetheless, the bag is passed around.

He goes through different illnesses, showing on a cutaway model of a male torso how he tests with a finger for signs of prostate cancer. Then he gets on to depression. "It's going to be a hard time out here. Everybody knows it's going to be a hard time. There's no way around that." He says if you feel depression getting to you, be pro-active, lock your guns away. If you see it happening to a mate, say something. "I know you don't like interfering but imagine how you'll feel if it happens and you've done nothing."

I've been asked to speak about Weary Dunlop and courage. In one sense, Weary and courage are an odd subject to speak about since he was less than normal in that respect. He told me he was only scared twice in the war. Blue Butterworth, his batman, once found him sitting on a wharf watching a German air raid go on around him as other people get the best seats when they go to the circus. What I tried to say was that Weary is remembered by the men who were with him for, in equal measure, his courage and kindness. Maybe kindness is courage of a sort.

The evening ends where it began — talking footy … drugs in sport and the Cats' chances of winning it from here. At the end of the night, I ask the club president if he thinks the event has been worth it. "Yeah," he says, in his deliberate way. "I think we got something out of it." A footy club without the town it was named after looks for ways to survive. "We want to attract new players and young families," he says.