The weather turned, at last. Anzac Day dawned cold and steel-grey and the weather deteriorated into the afternoon.
Two football teams shivered onto the Melbourne Cricket Ground to play a game that Collingwood was always going to win and Essendon was always going to lose; especially when, after two minutes in, ruckman Hille landed awkwardly after a leap, smashing an anterior cruciate ligament. He weighs a ton. Cruciate ligaments are built for gazelles. So Ryder has to take over. Ryder is a footballer in a high-jumper’s body. Remember Bob Beamon in ’68? No, wait, he was a long-jumper. Ryder should be over the road at Olympic Park, flopping over a bar onto the mat, not here in the middle of the Melbourne Cricket Ground trying to fend off eighteen grown men by leaping and flopping. Impossible.
The sky grew darker. The game laboured on. The score see-sawed. Late in the game Collingwood lifted, moved ahead. A three-goal break. You know the game is over when people move like ants towards the exits and out of the colosseum and into a frozen Jolimont Park. The game was over. Except it wasn’t.
Then the rain came, pencils of light reflecting back at the fluorescent flyswats in the sky. A few minutes left. The electricity seemed to flood the field; brought down by the wash. Something happened. A figure in red and black - Jetta? Davey? - grabbed the wet ball. Ran, ran. Collingwood players looked left and right, fell away. The figure in red and black threw the ball to a leg and the ball flew, wet and glistening, to the arms of another red and black figure which turned and goaled, as easy as putting the cat out for the night.
Tick, tick. Two minutes on the clock. Still impossible. The rain kept on pixillating the light and the ants moving out of the stadium kind of hesitated and looked again at the field - no, they couldn't win, could they? - and red and black figures on the grass returned to formation like fighters after an attack. Anzac Day was a day of infamy, thousands sent to their deaths, needlessly. What a day for a national celebration. Or is it a remembrance? I forget. Don’t interrupt.
One minute thirty. Now the ball crosses the half forward line, rolling and spinning maniacally like a wheel fallen off a sportscar at speed. Red and black figures swarm, eyes alight with something new; black and white figures fumble, drop, skid. The rain glistens on red-black skin. That’s the skin of the islands. Now Dyson has it, a mile away from the goal, in the right corner of the field where you are blinded by the flyswat and you have to guess where the goal is and kick into nothing. Someone in the commentary team yells ‘He’s a left-footer’ and Dyson’s left foot gives the angle an extra five degrees and the ball drops into the five degrees: an impossible goal, but a goal. But the play has cost time. Seconds remain.
Bounce in the middle. Dribble. Splash. A flash of light on red leather between a flay of legs. Two brown hands reach. A red and black sprinter – it’s the full athletics team on the field today – flashes and carries. Over to Zaharakis, who has never kicked a goal, let alone here on the hallowed MCG turf, let alone with four seconds left in a transcendent Anzac Day match. The ball rises, floats, flies. A roar rises, echoes around the arena.
It’s just a game, but sometimes a game unfolds with the carefully studied precision, the taut drama and the stark beauty of a poem. I don’t know, Robert Frost?