My relationship with sport has always been ambiguous. You'll remember I once wrote about the only race[^] I ever won. The fact is that for the most part sport has much the same interest for me as does sawdust. It exists but it's not a source of fascination.
I've been known, on the last Saturday in September, to settle down in front of the TV with a bottle of wine to hand and watch the AFL Grand Final. But that's about the extent of it.
I've tried Cricket. When I was in grade 5 (1964) they tried an experiment to interest me in the game; they made me the captain of the third grade team one Friday afternoon. A signal failure. I was out for a duck, bowled by some little turd half my height!
In grade 6 (1965) they tried to spark my interest by making me a goal umpire in our weekly football game against Spotswood State School. A singular game. Our team won 22/22 to 1/1. I swear I called the game honestly but it was felt by everyone else that the experiment was a failure.
Form 2 (1967). This time it was baseball. Yes, we played baseball at Footscray Tech, Melbourne, Australia. I was fine if I was allowed to stand in far left field (or was it far right field, or was it???) you get my point. But standing with that pitifully inadequate bat clad in that pitifully inadequate armour against that ginormous chunk of whatever it's made of being thrown at my head as fast as possible...? streeeeikeeeeeee threeeeeeeeeee youuuuuuuuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrreeee out!!! What a relief!
The same year an attempt to appeal to my Australianism! Play, rather than umpire, in a game of Australian Rules football. I played wing. That's midway between the opposing goals and right out at the edge of the oval. Somehow, whenever those big rough players came my way, it always seemed better to be on the other side of the white line marking the playing field! Again, after some chewing out by some moron who seemed to think it was important that I understand how to kick a ball, it was given up as a failure!
Athletics? Nope! Tell me just why I have to shinny up that rope? Is there anything up there that I want?
1968 and we had a choice of games. I could play squash (raquetball) or Ping Pong. At first I chose squash; there were always the masochists willing to take ones timeslot - those of us who relinquished our spots would argue about the Rolling Stones latest album or the Beatles latest effort, or talk about the girls we hadn't slept with but pretended we had. I was young then!
After a while I swapped to Ping Pong. It was a lot better. I still didn't play but I did get to catch the train every Wednesday afternoon from Footscray to North Williamstown station. There was a wonderful fish shop at each end of the journey. Potato cakes to die for! Ping Pong itself was played in a cream brick building, still there, very close to the Williamstown Botanical Gardens. I think it was once a Cinema. I think it's now an ethnic club. Heino knows the building I mean; just up the street from the Williamstown Baths recently remodelled into a chic restaurant.
By this time they'd given up on me as a sportsman - thankfully. But Ping Pong returned in late 1980 when I was working for Hewlett Packard Melbourne. Every night after work we'd gather around the company table and play - sometimes for upwards of two hours. I never really did master the art of countering spin but I did learn to put spin when I served. We had one guy who was an absolute master. He'd give me a 20 point (out of 21 points) lead and STILL win. Sometimes he'd even let the score get to 18 him, 20 me and then deliver the coup-de-grace! Bastard!