The Fitz Files
Illustration: John Shakespeare
Forget the rugby, the cricket, the drugs in sport, the suspensions and all the rest for a bit, OK? Think instead on Kurt Longford. A good man, a 27-year-old who lives in Narrandera with his single mother, Kurt is autistic, on a disability pension, and has not necessarily always found it easy to fit in. Generally, however, sport has been the exception and this year, after a long time with the Bidgee Hurricanes, he joined Wagga's rugby league club Brothers, slotting into their reserve grade side and usually coming on from the reserves bench near the end. No, he's not a world-beater, but he's dead keen, plays his heart out, never misses a training session or a game, and his fine mother, Pauline, is thrilled at Kurt being with them, as she knows that both the Brothers players, and even the opposition, look after him.
And he doesn't mind a chat, our Kurt. He can remember everything about every game he's ever played, who was in his team, and the other, and exactly what happened. And to his dying day, he'll remember what happened last Sunday . . .
See, late in the game, the Brothers bolter, Buddy O'Neill, bursts through one opponent and dodges another before the men from Junee – Laurie Daley country, after all – close in on him like mad things and hit him hard. Still, somehow, Buddy gets away the miracle pass to . . . someone who is looming on his left, and charging like a runaway steam train.
It is KURT LONGFORD!
Kurt hauls the ball in, steps left, steps right, and despite the defence again closing hard, smashes over the line and gets the ball down.
Try! Try! TRY!
A TRY FOR YOUR LIFE!
The Brothers' boys go crazy in congratulations, as do the Junee Diesels. In fact, all 25 men on the field crowd round to shake his hand, give him a hug and a pat on the back. Kurt walks back for the kick-off, suddenly the tallest man on the field, as in the stands it is not just his mother who is weeping. For the whole grandstand is rising in acclaim, as he salutes them in turn.
At the end of the match, won by Brothers, Kurt leads the team victory song in the dressing rooms and then it takes him no less than an hour to get to the car park, as everyone at the ground wants to talk about his try, and he wants to talk to them. At length! That evening, at Wagga's Vic Hotel, the Brothers and Junee players gather around, roaring out I love to have a drink with Kurt while his mother waits in the car outside to get him safely back to Narrandera.
The next day, the Wagga Advertiser publishes a superbly crafted article by Stephanie Muir featuring the star of the day.
Good on you, Kurt, and congratulations. Great try!
THAT'S THE SPIRIT
Here is one for all those getting fed up with the sense of entitlement oft exhibited by modern "Gen Y" sports people, where, despite everything being laid on with a trowel for them, with hot and cold running assistants on every front, still nothing is good enough – and they still don't put in.
Not all of them are like that, however. This week the Australian Wheelchair Rugby League competed in the World Cup in London, where they came a very creditable fourth, after losing narrowly to Wales in the play-offs. No matter. With a day off, the entire squad decided to go into town to enjoy the sights of London, and got off the tube at Victoria Station. Alas, extraordinarily for such a sophisticated city – no less than the 2012 Paralympics city – this major station proved to have no wheelchair access or lifts. No matter, our wheeled warriors just got on with it. Abandoning their chairs to the able-bodied officials to carry, each bloke crawled up the stairs on their hands and knees, inch by gruelling inch, right to the top. Not a whinge, not a whine, they just got on with it, still delighted they were overseas and representing their country with honour. Bravo, you brave bastards.
IT'S THE SAME OLD
Who wrote this in a moment of quiet reminiscence? "We trained hard, but it seemed every time we were beginning to form teams, we would be re-organised . . . We tend to meet every situation by re-organising; a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation."
Was it a Wallaby, batting four wins from the past five Tests; a member of the Australian cricket team with no wins from the last nine Tests . . . or another?
Actually, I am informed by a reader it was Gaius Petronius Arbiter, pro-consul at Bithnyia, at the time of Nero, about 60AD.
But I tell you what, it has some modern resonance.
Adam Scott's triumph this week in the Barclays tournament, and his ascension to No. 2 in the world, has prompted reader Ian Crawford to recall the time when Scott was just a keen teenager who used to come into the golf buggy shop where he worked, off the main street in Sanctuary Cove.
"A mate who ran it and I," he recalls, "set up an old paper towel tube cut down and fixed to the wall at ground level, to fill in time practicing our putting. We used to putt from all directions along a well weathered concrete floor with an old nylon carpet as a major hurdle. To see if we could land balls in the very tight fitting. Boys will always be boys. And the sun never sets!
"Years of youthful delinquency in billiard halls gave me a good eye, and putting was always my forte. To see young Adam pick up our grungy old putters and try his luck – like being at a roll-up stall at a fairground, was something else. And if he hit a winner his joy was no different to that he displayed at the Masters! A truly genuine guy."
In grim sporting times for Australia, Scott is now, officially, our Shining Light.
My thanks for your many warm messages of congratulations re my legal win over Tom Waterhouse in the defamation proceeding this week. And my sincere thanks to Fairfax and my editors in backing me from first to last on the exercise, and never wavering. You can read about it here.
WHAT THEY SAID
Phil Tufnell, talking on ABC Test cricket coverage about the spread of cricket into Europe: "They'd be good appealers, the Italians, wouldn't they!"
Former AFL footballer and now commentator Dwayne Russell on Jude Bolton, who announced his retirement from the Swans at the end of the season, after a supremely successful career: "Looks like Jane, plays like Tarzan!"
Olympic cycling gold medallist Anna Meares tweeting on Tuesday: "Wonder what the response would have been if Lance Armstrong was demoted to 9th for doping . . . AFL . . . Seriously? What a joke."
Outgoing US Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich, a few months ago, to the chairman of the Greater Western Sydney Giants, Tony Shepherd, on his first impression of Aussie Rules: "It looks like a prison riot, into which someone threw a ball."
Matthew Hayden: "The fact that Michael Clarke was promoted at 21 to be the next captain was a mistake. What we've seen recently, for example in India, is a bunch of guys just doing what they wanted to do, that just reeks of a poor leadership culture . . . "
Mike Tyson: "I want to live my sober life. I don't want to die. I'm on the verge of dying, because I'm a vicious alcoholic. I'm a bad guy sometimes. I did a lot of bad things, I want to be forgiven. I haven't drank or took drugs in six days, and for me that's a miracle. I've been lying to everybody that thinks I was sober, but I'm not. This is my sixth day. I'm never going to use again."
Shane Warne reminisces: "We had this ridiculous thing Steve Waugh brought in. It was just silly. He said that everyone in the first hour has to wear the green baggy cap. I said to him 'I don't have to wear my green baggy cap to say I enjoyed playing cricket for Australia. I want to wear my white floppy, I feel more comfortable in it.' He said 'no, we're all doing it.' I said 'rightio'."Warne continues: "So we used to do it and I used to sit there and sulk at first slip for the first hour wearing this silly baggy green cap." Sacrilege!
Gallen — ludicrously — maintaining it was his father who used his Twitter account on Monday to respond to criticism from Brian Smith and other Twitterati that he had been running scared of Easts player Dylan Napa, and in any case owed his strength to peptides: "haha u people are so sad u have no meaning in life so u follow mine LOOSER."Shades of Warnie's mum and the diet pills. Oh, and Paul? It's spelt "loser."
Andrew Purchas, chair of the Gay Rugby World Cup launch at Parliament House on Wednesday: "The Bingham Cup 2014 will give Sydney the chance to witness the passion with which gay communities from around the world have taken to the rugby pitch. It might also dispel a few myths along the way by showing Australia that gay men can and do play tough contact sports like rugby." The launch was attended by John Eales, Nick Farr-Jones and Bill Pulver among others. The tournament will involve 40 teams and see 2000 players and support staff visiting Sydney for the event.
TEAM OF THE WEEK
Essendon. Had a $2 million fine imposed on them and were kicked out of the finals and lost draft picks for their underhand activities, while coach James Hird was suspended for 12 months. All without the AFL attaching "cheating" or "doping" to their names!
The Balmain District Football Club Under 14s girls team, the Unicorns. A credit to their coach, Jason Bogati, and manager, Angela Young, they won their grand final last Sunday, finishing the season undefeated.
Dan Duffy. The Australian greenkeeper who cut his teeth, and the grass, at North Sydney Oval, has been named English Premier League Groundsman of the Year.
Nathan Lyon. Despite having the honour of being chosen last January by retiring Mike Hussey to lead the Australian cricket team in the team song after a victory, he has not had that opportunity after any of the nine Tests since.
Jude Bolton. The great servant of the Swans announced he would be hanging up the boots at the end of this season — hopefully at the conclusion of a grand final victory.
Burraneer U8 Gold Rugby team. Won the Southern Districts Junior Gala Day. The smallest team in their comp they played with passion and great sportsmanship losing only one game all year.
Parramatta Eels. What is going on? A team cannot get beaten 64-4, as they did at the weekend, when everyone is trying their hearts out. So why weren't they?
Marrickville Red Devils U16 girls team. Retained their title with a goal in the second half of extra time, over a supremely valiant Russell Lea team. Long-time rivals, both teams play with good humour and great sportsmanship.
Bathurst High School. Both its boys' and girls' soccer sides have made the grand final of the NSW CHS knockout competition. Amazing from a school of only 950 students.