It was hard to avoid getting a little emotional. A lump in the throat as senior coach David Hynes addressed the entire playing group at Charles Riley Reserve at training last night.
Hynes, in his first year at the club, said that even in his short relationship at North Beach he had been impacted by the existing culture. He had been involved in the football industry for as long as he could remember and the Beach was unique.
Already he felt part of the family.
This would be the last training session on the ground as we know it. Before the excavators intrude and rip up the hallowed turf. And ‘the old girl’, he said, would also be knocked over after Saturday’s round of fixtures.
‘The old girl’ is, of course, the living, breathing, bricks and mortar on the hill. She’s more than a little tired, the old clubroom. Her mission brown doors opening into a modest bar, beer stained floors and blotchy paint job. In her day, she would have been grand, but alas recent cosmetic changes have been merely superficial. Laying on the make-up with a spatula, no longer hides the cracks.
Now it’s time to upgrade. There’s no doubt about that. It’s progress. But that does not preclude one from reflecting.
Hynes then deferred to A-Grade co-captain Anthony “Chooka” Ingham. The baton was handed over, one sensed, without notice. Chooka was asked what Charles Riley had meant to him.
A powerful man, with a steely jaw. Broad shoulders supporting a bull’s neck. You’d love to play alongside this bloke because you just know he’d have your back. He paused for a moment. Chose his words carefully. You could almost hear to cogs ticking over, looking for a succinct, but poignant message.
“Mateship,” he finally uttered, his voice breaking the silence of the chilly night air. After another short pause…”When we were winning those flags, we weren’t always the best team. But we were the closest team. We won because we were all mates.”
As Chooka then led the boys off to their warm-up, the pull to turn and gaze at The Old Girl was irresistible. A couple of blokes were standing on the dilapidated verandah, having a beer and a yarn. They might have been reminiscing about days past. You would never know, but they were two mates sharing a frothy.
And that social element has been a significant part of life at the Beach.
As more than one person would say, after the players had left the track, showered and made their way into the social hall ‘if only these walls could talk.’
Truth is, they did speak . They spoke of success, with the premiership tributes adorning the crammed walls, where virtually every millimetre of space provided a reminder of triumphs.
The floor spoke, too. Spillage over the years had meant that the carpet colour/pattern was difficult to visualise, but that was party of its purpose.
On Tuesday night, before training, senior players helped pack away the mountain of memorabilia. Last night they splashed a little paint around in readiness for a big, fluorescent farewell.
On-field, the plan is to leave Charles Riley with a bagful of premiership points. Off-field, it’s about leaving our traditional home with a bang!