This article was originally published in The Age, December 23 2007.
WHEN spring arrived, and a young-at-heart man’s thoughts turned to backing up for another season of cricket, Nick Seymour encountered a problem. His wife, who was about to give birth to their second child, said no.
“I said, ‘Cricket’s on again, training’s starting’,” says Seymour.
“Well, how about I just go down to training once a week? It can’t be a bad thing … I’m getting old, it keeps you healthy.”
Desperate times called for desperate measures, so he negotiated. “What I came up with was, ‘During the week, you go to bed at eight o’clock and get a decent sleep, I’ll sleep with the baby’.
“And she said, ‘All right’.”
Seymour has no illusions about his cricket. He plays for Seddon’s fourth XI, trains in a white T-shirt and pants cut off below the knee, and when he turned up at Yarraville Gardens on his bike last season, hadn’t played competitively since school. “Other than a couple of social games at buck’s turns. And with my brothers on Christmas Day.”
Having caught the bug, he couldn’t imagine doing anything else; he took a game off recently because one of the two Saturdays clashed with his three-year-old’s birthday, and was depressed to think he might go almost a month without a hit in the middle. “It’s just such a luxury to be out there on a Saturday afternoon with 10 other blokes, having a laugh and sledging the bastards from St Albans.”
Seymour was part of a wave that crashed on Seddon’s unique home — touted on the club website as boasting “the western region’s most attractive grounds” — on the back of the 2005 Ashes series in England. Battling to keep the fourths going, flyers were put up around the area, and suddenly 20 new players appeared through the trees, blokes who, as Seymour puts it, “had been sitting on their couches, drinking beer, watching this cracking series and thinking, ‘Jeez, that looks like fun’.”
They picked a club that is wonderfully representative of its community — proud of its history and working-class roots, culturally diverse, committed to giving everyone a go. Its claims to aesthetic grandeur are valid too, in a distinctly inner-western suburbs kind of way.
The main oval, home to the firsts, seconds and practice nets, is a former quarry now ringed on one side by a bluestone wall, punctuated by steps leading into the gardens. The thirds and fourths play below, down through the palm trees, on a tiny ground dwarfed by the cranes and shipping containers of Melbourne’s docks. If they’d written a cricket scene into Bastard Boys, it would have been shot here.
Training is underway, and club coach Jim Tzambazakis is taking catching drills, bat in one hand, thumping balls at a ring of fielders. Each new arrival jogs a two-lap warm-up, then takes instruction from club stalwart Rolf Tamburro to either pad up, have a bowl or join those in the Tzambazakis firing line. Each batting pair that completes its net trots off to the centre-wicket square, running a three, two and one, then a one, two and three.
Somewhere in his decades at the club, “Rolfy” played “about a dozen” games in the firsts, but has worked his way down the grades and plans to bow out via the thirds and fourths. “The bottom line is if I wasn’t playing I’d be up there in the bar,” he says, pointing across the street to the clubrooms, “either serving or drinking”.
The firsts and seconds use a different net to the thirds and fourths, but otherwise this is an outfit of striking egalitarianism. “That’s something we’ve always prided ourselves on,” says Tzambazakis. “It doesn’t matter which team you play in, you’re part of the club. We’ve got lots of blokes who’ve been at the club for a long time, have played in every grade. It’s easy to make a connection with everyone.”
One such veteran is treasurer Ian “Dougie” Walters. Nearly 58, he started in the under 16s in 1965, prompting his father, whose Seddon days had begun in 1947, to make a comeback. Now “Dougie” is retired, hating it, and tries to have a hit at training twice a week. It is scant compensation. “There’s nothing beats being out in the middle batting, I really love that.”
Conscious of competing forces in the summer market, a decision was taken this year to waive all fees for senior players under 23. “We understand the battle to keep them,” says Walters, pointing to the Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan students from nearby Victoria University who have in recent years made the club their home.
Brian “Redders” Rooney, a former club president, takes up the theme of cultural diversity. “The bloke batting at the moment’s Italian, we’ve got a lot of Greeks, that bloke running in to bowl is Afghani …” The face of the club’s juniors is changing, with more Vietnamese playing every season. Of course, all are Aussies. Better still, all are playing for Seddon.
Tzambazakis knows the value of such awakenings better than most, having started the club’s fourth XI in the ’70s — by rounding up all of his Greek mates. “Most of them had never played before, but we needed a fourths so I came to the club and said, ‘These guys will play if we can have our own side’.” They played two seasons together, their runners-up photos hanging proudly on a clubroom wall.
The fourths is a moveable feast; the coach says 10-12 players across the grades can be unavailable from week-to-week, meaning promotion some weekends, and players missing a game on others. “We’d love everyone to play every week, but if you can only manage three or four games a year, for family reasons or whatever, that’s OK.”
A few weeks ago, James Mitchell dropped back from the thirds and ended up captaining the fourths. After winning the toss he scanned his team and, unsure who could hold a bat, called for volunteers. “Nobody put up their hand, so I asked the wicketkeeper who our best options were, and he said, ‘You’d better do it, mate, and I’d better come out with ya’.”
The ‘keeper is Laurie Krepp, who is playing his first season of turf cricket aged 55. When encouraged to join Seddon’s merry band, Tzambazakis remembers Krepp equivocating. “He said, ‘Oh, I dunno, I’m no good.’ We said, ‘And, your point is?”‘
So Krepp and Mitchell opened the batting, putting on 30-odd before Krepp made way for Barry Richards, a famous cricket name who would feature in a famous partnership. “We were 1-32, and then we were 2-297,” says Mitchell, whose previous best with the bat was “a couple of 50s” at West Wyalong 20 years ago. He finished with 166 and, courtesy of the free bar afforded century-makers, can’t remember getting home.
The Garry Greelish Oval will forever be a special place for Mitchell, as it is for all at Seddon. Neil Greelish first played there when he was 10 and the wicket was coya matting pegged out over stone dust. A concrete base followed, but the local council resisted a push for turf, telling the cricketers they (the club) couldn’t afford it. But they had a well-placed ally; Garry Greelish was a Footscray councillor, and at length the motion was passed.
“When they amalgamated councils he was the mayor elect … he would have been the last mayor of Footscray,” Neil says of his brother. “He was killed in a car accident in 1994, and the club named the oval after him.
“We used that a couple of years ago when the council tried to kick us off the ground. It’s where the club started, and of course it’s named after my brother. It’s an emotionally significant place for us.”
Greelish wants to play at least another couple of years so he can have a game with his 12-year-old son, and admits that while his wife regularly points out that, at 50, he should really stop playing super rules football, she never says anything about his cricket. “She knows I’m never going to give it up, I just love it so much.”
Sometimes the game returns the love, and he can greet teammates filing back to the club with a rundown on an afternoon well spent. Other days, he might step aside to give a kid or newcomer a game, umpiring or scoring instead, enjoying himself no less. “Seeing what they get out of a good score or a bag of wickets, it’s what you play for.”
“Redders” Rooney has seen people collapse from the heat, had to put them in an ice bath and call an ambulance, then watched them turn up ready for more the next week. He reckons the camaraderie is different to that of a footy club, and one of the game’s great lures. “We must be mad.”
Like all at Seddon, he is proud of how they go about it. A young man with an intellectual disability came to the club one year, so they worked with him at training until confident he wouldn’t get hurt, and gave him a run in the fourths. Another kid, from a disadvantaged family, started hanging around, so they took him in and gave him a game. Caring about winning is one thing, caring full-stop is something else.
“This is a community organisation,” Rooney says.
“We’re responsible for the people who are here and their behaviour.
“The moment we neglect our community obligations is the moment we’re in trouble.”