Two nights before Christmas

A low centre of gravity helps in footy, cricket and golf.  Neil Crompton had it.  He played footy for Melbourne and cricket for Victoria – and he was a very good golfer.  His whole life changed in one moment at the 1964 VFL Grand Final.  Collingwood had just edged ahead of Melbourne in an arena that bordered on madness – before the disbelieving eyes of me and my mum, who were in line with both Gabelich goals.  The Frog, as he was called, played in the back pocket and followed his rover into our forward line.  And kicked the goal that won the match. 

After that, the Frog could not go anywhere without being told or asked about that goal.  Even across the Strand in London.  Even by supporters of the Pies.  It was in its own way unsettling and belittling. 

You can see it on YouTube, a slice of history – and the presentation of the cup to Ron Barassi – with Ray Gabelich beside him.  A different era. 

So, what did Melbourne do?  They fired their best coach ever and entered a new dark age.

The composer Mascagni would have known all about how the Frog felt.  His opera Cavalleria Rusticana smashed box office records.  It is quintessentially Italian – more so than me with roof back on the red Alfa and a Zegna scarf.  But Mascagni never even came close later.  It’s all you hear of him now. 

Well, he was better off than Catalani.  He wrote the aria Ebben ne andro lontana.  It is my favourite song, and made famous by the great French movie, Diva.  I may be the only person in Melbourne to have a full recording of the full opera, La Wally.

They are getting the Twenty/20 cricket game right.  They are learning the tactics and the strategy.  It is now a very respectable form of entertainment.  Greg Chappell said that the century by Kohli against Pakistan in the World Cup made the game respectable.  The solution is I think to drop one-day 50 over games and focus on test cricket and the very short game. 

And the new mode of cricket is affecting test cricket – for the better.  The English have discovered that you can play better cricket if you enjoy yourself.

The TV coverage by people like Isa Guha, Kerry O’Keefe and Ian Smith is unusual – it is very good.  (Some former players are not so good.) 

One game yesterday looked like it was at Ballarat.  It was not.  It was at the Junction Oval.  A mate and I were taken there for a session in the nets in about 1958 by Jack Hill, who had played for Australia.  The big boys – the adults from the District cricket side that what would become the home of Shane Warne – were practising in the main nets.  The speed was horrific that close up.  So was the fizzing noise of the ball at your eye and ear line.  Ruggles and I were terrified.  Fortunately, we got let off with the younger ones and also-rans. 

Ruggles could bat; I could not.  (Ruggles died more than ten years ago.  My mate the Smiler was dying in a hospice when he got the news.  I can remember a big nurse getting on the bed to nurse the Smiler physically as he cried pathetically.  We Anglo-Saxon boys are not good at that sort of thing.)

The evening game last night was in Brisbane where the home side would end a losing run of eight straight.  As is not uncommon, the match was not decided until the last over.  One highlight was Rashid Kahn, a gift from God to Box Office, a striking Afghan man with a beard who is probably the best spin bowler in the world.

After the first ten overs, I adjourned for dinner with my Jim Barry Nurse Series Coonawarra Cabernet sold with the McGrath Foundation.  I put on the Mascagni, a new version of which I had played the night before.  (It only runs just over an hour.)  I had forgotten how sumptuously orchestral the music was – even on a $60 boombox while the Marantz is in for service. 

It was the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing in a concert version at home – where I have heard that band.  The sound is gorgeous.  The orchestra is silky and the soloists are flawless.  Muti does not take it at the same tempo he uses for Verdi. 

It occurred to me that the tempo for the theatre may not be the one you want at home – with no stage, and just the sound – just the music.  One journal referred to an intoxicatingly exquisite version by Karajan.  I can imagine it, but that kind of thing raises the aura of the cult of the conductor.  And that is annoying.  Sporting teams have to combine well to produce a good result, but you don’t see the program notes ascribing that consequence to the coach.

Either way, the cricket and the music were a relief from aspects of the news.  Like the cold in the US and UK, and the strife in the latter. 

It all seems so obvious.  Governments have to keep the peace, defend the nation, and provide the welfare that the people reasonably expect – and to raise money for that purpose.  Our governments are not doing that – because they are scared and because as a result they can’t think beyond the next election.  One European politician got it did right – ‘We all know what we have to do – but we all want to be re-elected.’

Well, some big sixes were hit in the second match.  Bat on ball produces a gorgeous click on a big one, and the crowd erupts in awe.  The accident-prone lead in the opera could have described the sixes as generoso, the word he used to describe the wine he had before being topped for topping.  I had grown up listening to Jussi Björling sing that aria, especially after the Demons lost, and I nearly laughed out loud the first time I heard it sung in situ.  You could do with a stiff drink, Comrade, because you’ve been caught with her pants down – and in these parts, that means good night, sweet prince – and bugger the flights of angels.

Whether you prefer the stage to the sporting arena is, I suppose, not so much a matter of taste as upbringing –like religion.  But last night, I got something from both.  And the Jim Barry.

Even if my heart rests with the Frog.

Well, it was all a relief from the impact of canon law on Roman law jurisdictions in medieval Europe circa 1300 AD – which I had been reading and which I am driven to conclude was gibberish.

But the thing I enjoyed most last night was the sight of young kids having the time of their lives at the cricket so close to Christmas.  Particularly at the Junction Oval where Ruggles and I nearly wet ourselves.  That’s a good sign of old age, because it’s their turn next.

Happy Christmas – and all the best for the new year.

4 thoughts on “Two nights before Christmas

  1. Merry Christmas to you and yours, GG. May your New Year bring happier things to write about. Cheers, Walter.

  2. Christmas greetings Geoffrey

    Always good to hear from you and to read your podcasts.

    I still have my 45 recording of Jussi Bjorling and Robert Merrill singing “ In the depths of the temple”. It brings tears to my eyes.

    All the best, for happy, healthy and prosperous, 2023.

    Best wishes., John

  3. Prima facie evidence that we are both still above the ground.
    A truly beautiful recording.
    Try YouTube for Kaufman and that Russian bloke with the very long name. Right up there. Good looking bastards too.
    The old recording made another Melbourne supporter cry – although God knows we had reason.

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