Some moments in time are frozen into the human consciousness, burned into the collective memory of man. May 5, 2007 will forever be remembered as one of those days.
The air felt crisp and cool, alive with the first hint of winter pushing north from Southern Tablelands. A new day was being born and Moorebank was the centre of the Universe.
Darren yawned. He opened his eyes to meet the soft orange light streaming through his bedroom window and stretched, turning sideways and dropping out of bed. Refreshed and ready to face the prospect of another splendid Saturday morning he gently kissed his wife. Silently Kim stirred without waking and he smiled as he watched her participating in the last few moments of a fading dream.
On the other side of the city Adam was already awake, sitting at the breakfast counter, black coffee steaming hot and toast half eaten. He’d been up for an hour now and had already jogged the four kilometres to the paper shop and back. Although once an athlete, nowadays he ran for the pleasure of feeling his muscles strain against the resistance of the road, the rushed caress of the wind against his sweat glistened skin.
Both men eased into their days as if nothing stood in their way. Confident and assured yet anticipating the challenges which lay ahead.
Little did they know that today’s events would entwine and shatter their lives, perhaps forever.
The hour approached ten and Darren, having completed his daily ritual of Tai Chi followed by long periods of deep meditation, lay back in a deck chair seated on the balcony overlooking his Hammondville estate. Black and white currawongs busily screeched overhead and, in the yard below, his children played noisily.
Kim approached him from behind. She startled him a little and his body jerked reactively. He forced himself to turn away from his happy musings.
“George is on the phone”, she said handing him the portable unit. She drifted back inside.
As much as he enjoyed his conversations with the likeable Club President Darren also knew that a call so early on Saturday could only mean one thing. George was passing on some bad news about the team. His plans for that afternoon’s clash with the students of UTS might be in disarray.
“G’day mate” he said hopefully, “Everything OK?”
“Yeah, not too bad”. Darren noted George had emphasised the ‘too’. “Sorry to interrupt your thoughts.” They’d known each other for over thirty years and George had always accepted Darren’s differences.
“I’ve got some good news and some bad news.”
Darren almost whispered. “Give me the bad news”.
George hesitated for a few seconds. Finally he just blurted it out, unable to stand the suspense he had created. “Tracy and Marty have pulled the pin.”
Darren understood at once the awful implications. The Rock and the Shock both outed in one blow.
“What’s the good news?” he asked.
“Ello’s back!” Darren’s slumping figure stiffened noticeably. It had been the news he’d been wanting to hear for days now. Despite the absence of two of his main men Darren knew that a man like Ello could prove to be a match winner.
“That’s fantastic! When did he let you know?” Darren was standing now, leaning on the balcony railing oblivious to the birds above and the kids below.
Adam Ellison, Ello, was a First Grader, a man of experience and built of solid stock. Most importantly, however, as Darren knew intimately, he was a goal scorer.
Ello’s forte was his speed and it was the missing link in the Moorebank Fifth Grade chain. With Filthy Phil Dobe making progress as an out and out striker Darren knew what his side needed was a target, a ‘go to’ man up front to provide the opportunities for Dobe to convert. Ello was that man and Darren had been desperately hoping he’d come out of retirement for days.
“Just this morning” said George, happy to hear that the good news had enlivened his old mate. “He rang about 5am, the cheeky bugger”.
Darren’s plans were coming together. He’d been the driving force behind the re-emergence of the squad of ’94. He longed for the glory days again after a decade in the Grand Final wilderness and this, it seemed, was Darren’s last shot.
Already the Fighting Fifth consisted of some of the legendary names of Moorebank. Flack, Bosley, Christiansen, Walters, Foord and Roussell. They were all names which flowed off the tongue of fans of the Red and Blue easily, with pride, with wonder.
It had been a good year. Three wins from three, goals galore and Moorebank sitting atop the premiership table. But the season was young and Darren knew he needed a squad full of depth as well as determination to take out September’s great prize.
He walked inside lost in the jubilation of the moment. He’d calculated the changes, worked the bench and fashioned the attack all before slapping Kim’s backside playfully, grinning from ear to ear. This was going to be a day to remember. He was right, of course, but for all the wrong reasons.
He thanked George and hung up.
Grabbing his gear Ello made his way outside. The Audi had been washed, as usual, by the staff and parked in the front driveway. He tossed his bag in the boot, jumped in, revved the engine ferociously and spun the tyres in the gravel. Ello loved to drive, it was his other passion. But hockey came first and the decision to re-emerge from a short retirement had been easy.
He remembered the instant he made that choice and he loved replaying it in his mind’s eye.
Showing up two weeks ago, unannounced, at his beloved home ground, where once his name alone had inspired a generation, he casually took in the familiar surroundings.
It wasn’t long before he was spotted, however, and the memories of past glories came flooding back. In his head he heard the chant again. ELLLLL-O! ELLLLL-O! The words resonated through his mind like the low roar of a jet engine. His fast twitch muscles flared and jerked. When Darren sidled up said “hello, hello, Ello” he’d already made up his mind. He missed this too much. He was back.
As he drove to Homebush that afternoon he felt as if the world was at his feet. Unfortunately it also brought him to his knees.
Fate often deals out a cruel hand and this day was to turn out to be the cruellest of all.
As the team gathered in the change room before the game Ello strode into through the door. He was slightly late, as always, the delay simply raising expectations. As he entered he heard the whispers begin. Heads turned to him and then back quickly to the man alongside. “He’s here” they said to each other in hushed tones. It was an unintended symphony but sounded like sweet music to Ello’s ears.
His shoulders drew a little higher as he eyed off a space on the bench and marched towards it. Dougie Walters looked nervously around as Ello approached and then hurriedly shuffled his gear to one side. His street clothes spilled out but instead of reaching down Dougie stared straight ahead, as if transfixed by Ello’s approach, and silently swept them under the bench with his feet.
Darren had, of course, already passed the word around that Ello had arrived but the reality of it far outweighed the advance notice.
When the room had returned to some normality Darren said some things about the game. He finished with little time to spare, for the players, keenly sensing something different in the air, rushed headlong out into the fight.
They could not know then but had they waited for him to complete his talk things may have been different.
With determination etched on their faces Moorebank faced off against their mortal enemy, chest to chest they stood, not bending, not bowing, not straining under the weight of the stare of their younger opponents. UTS had speed, they had skill, they had youth but Moorebank had Ello. In Ello they trusted.
There would be no prisoners today.
The shriek of the umpire’s whistle sparked life into the legs of the Moorebank men and they ran into the belly of the beast.
Unfortunately UTS raced to a 3-0 lead in just eight minutes and from there it was a procession.
By half time it was 4-1and, by the end, no-one believed anything Darren said anymore. In fact, having gone down 7-2, most of the guys were blaming Ello for the loss. Funny how things work out.
~ Damon Brooks