Royce Kurmelovs takes a seat in the Ron Penn Bar of the Rosewater Football Club, where Jay Weatherill is number one ticket holder, to see if an underdog can get back on its feet.
The hero of this story is a man named Trevor Greig. He’s younger than most hanging out at the Ron Penn Bar after the game but he’s the guy the Rosewater Football Club put in charge to help rebuild it from the ground up.
“It’s about respect,” Trevor says as he leans against the bar waiting for a drink, his voice coarse like gravel. He may be club president, but he also doubles as assistant coach and it was one hell of a match. “It’s about earning back the reputation we lost,” Trevor says between sips of his beer.
“This is a start, but it might take 30 years to build it back up again.” Trevor is talking about “the incident”, shorthand for what happened in June 2016 when an old timer got a little too zealous, walked onto the pitch, took a swing at a ref and nearly took down the club with him.
The Rosewater Bulldogs has always been a club for labourers, construction workers and skilled tradesmen, and it always had a certain reputation. Education and money may define success out in the rest of the world, but walk onto the football field and none of that matters any more. All that counts is how hard and tough you are on the ball, and the Rosewater Bulldogs were always the hardest and the toughest.
The incident changed all that. The day it happened, bigshot city reporters made the trip out north where they stood in front of the clubrooms and called them thugs on state-wide television.
Politics made the story big news. Premier Jay Weatherill played for the club as a kid and the club’s website boasts how the man who runs the state is the number one ticket holder. Sometimes he even comes down for a game. He still lives around the corner from the grounds and when he comes down, he usually sits alone, mid-pitch and watches.
So when the club was deregistered for most of 2016, the media read it as some kind of metaphor for Weatherill’s own political fortunes, a dark foreshadowing of his own future at the next state election and his albatross.
The club and its supporters never cared about any of that. As soon as they were out, all that mattered was getting back in for the 2017 season, but the year didn’t go as planned and the club were now facing relegation.
Outside the bar, the families cluster and the children play, but from the start, the real action is inside, by the taps where beer pours for six bucks a glass.
This is where the club veterans drink, about a dozen or so, their faces weathered and worn. The B-grade team was flogged about an hour before by the Pooraka Bulls and as soon as the siren sounded, the players streamed off the pitch and into the bar.
Over on the other side of the room, near the cafeteria, sits some Bulls supporters, but no one speaks to them. The A-grade teams are playing and until the second quarter started, no one had really been paying attention to what was happening out on the pitch when the Bulldogs started to pull in front.
As the second quarter winds down, Rosewater pulls ahead, drawing the old men and their glasses away from the bar, closer to the window where they can follow what is happening on the other side of the grass.
“If we can kick four more goals,” one of the old men says to the guy standing next to him. “We should be clear.”
Hope blooms for the first time in a long time as the third quarter comes and goes, and a win feels possible. Everyone had gone in expecting a loss, but Rosewater are holding their ground.
As the clock starts in on the final quarter, another old man comes right up to the window. He peers through his glasses trying to see the score.
“How’s ya eyesight?” he asks.
“Not bad,” I reply. “Yours?”
“Fucked,” he says. “What’s the score?”
Rosewater are ahead by four goals I tell him.
“Jeez,” the old man says as he turns back to another leaning up against a table. “You can’t just trust the stats.”
All they have to do is hang on now, but the Pooraka Bulls aren’t making it easy and the closer the clock gets to zero, the murmur falls away. All eyes in the place are on the pitch and the line of men who are gathered by the window inch closer as they try for a better view.
Pooraka catches up. The other side picks up two goals in the last few minutes to get out ahead and the tension is starting to rise.
“Settle down, don’t panic,” a man yells more to the room than the team. He leans over to the guy next to him, beer in hand.
“These pricks are on a roll,” he says with grudging respect.
Someone asks how much time is left, but no answer comes. With three points between them, the bar falls silent until the answer finally comes that there are four minutes left. Everyone prepares for the worst.
It stays like this all the way down to the final minute and then Rosewater score. It puts them in front and the pressure in the room explodes.
“Blow the fucking whistle,” one of the old men yells at the refs through the glass.
“Bars closing in 10 seconds.”
The joke doesn’t pay off. The tension is too high for that and each second hits like a sledgehammer. When the siren sounds, a roar erupts. Rosewater have won, just, but it is a win and no one is going to take that away from them.
After Trevor makes his way across the field and into the bar, he embraces his wife and holds his children close. Then the handshakes start.
Not dead yet, not by a longshot.