As a junior, Patrick Matthews ( middle row, 2nd left ) played for Ramsgate RSL J.A.F.C under the erratic directorship of his coach Mark ‘Seals’ Sealy ( back row, grown man, white v-neck ) for six seasons. As an adult he played bass guitar for The Vines under the erratic directorship of lead singer Craig Nicholls for roughly the same period of time. During his time with The Vines, Patrick toured the world, appeared on the covers of US Rolling Stone, NME and The Face, performed on Top of the Pops, had gold records in the US, UK, Canada and Japan, platinum records and ARIA Awards in Australia, and was part of a legendary appearance on the Letterman Show. After leaving The Vines he joined Youth Group, where he has enjoyed many more career highlights under much calmer circumstances. He certainly deserves his Most Consistent award.
When I first discovered Aussie Rules it was called the VFL. In those days the VFL was only shown once a week on Sydney TV. I got to see it on Saturday afternoons while waiting for Great Mysteries of the World, one of my favourite TV shows, to begin. My Mum supported St. Kilda in those days so I supported them too. Their murderous name and the fact they looked like Neapolitan ice cream intrigued me. “Following St.Kilda” as an eight-year-old amounted to occasionally watching them play while they were beaten on a spectacularly muddy oval in what looked like freezing Melbourne rain. Therefore I looked to the sport of Aussie Rules as rugby league’s drab relation.
My parents were Victorians but I grew up in New South Wales so I placed rugby league above the other codes. I liked the fun of watching Sunday morning’s Rex Mossop-hosted footy show where burly footballers would appear after playing on a Saturday and arm-wrestle each other for a token prize like a meat tray. I would ask Mum to buy Big League magazine for me if I was home from school sick. I would cut out pictures of rugby league players like Mick Cronin from the Herald and glue them in exercise books. But as much as I loved league I don’t think my Mum would have let me play it.
Then came Aussie Rules. In 1982 a VFL team, the South Melbourne Swans, had relocated to Sydney. They struggled for a couple of years until in 1985 when a helicopter-flying businessman called Geoffrey Edelstein bought the club. Tom Hafey came to coach the Swans and all of a sudden they had a gun team. Aussie Rules was in the air in Sydney. In 1985 my Mum took me to a park one rainy weekend where half a dozen of these new-era Swans players were holding a coaching clinic. After they showed us how to kick a drop punt I got a signed Swans poster. The only player I remember from that day is Mark Bayes because he popped his falsies out to give us kids a fright.
The next year I was in Year Five at a new school. At show-and-tell a boy called Nick Brooke-Wood said he played Aussie Rules on the weekends. I must have talked to him about it and he asked if I’d come to training because he got two bucks if he brought a new kid. The man who offered this generous bounty on new boys was the coach of the Ramsgate RSL J.A.F.C. Under-11s, Mark Sealy.
Mark Sealy turned out to be a memorable man. He had a coarse red face and curly hair. He wore untucked T-shirts and shorts all the way through winter. He smoked Winnies. An ex-player (there were rumours he’d played reserves for Carlton) he limped around on misshapen knees that he’d hurt playing footy. His mangled joints weren’t being helped by having to hold up a large beer gut. He wasn’t afraid of swearing in front of us kids. He chewed his words up before spitting them out. The best thing about him as a coach was the fact that he really cared about us, by which I mean that he’d get really, really angry if we were losing.
Over the seasons I played for Ramsgate I saw how ‘Seals’ would fulminate from the sideline. He had his catch cries. “One up, one up!” he would shout if the ball were kicked toward a pack, meaning not all were to contest the mark. “Man up!” Mark would scream when the opposition had the ball. “Who to?” he would shout if we kicked downfield without looking up. I was repeatedly responsible for that indiscretion. “Who to Pat Matthews?” he’d shout. It came out of his mouth as “Hoodoo Pat Maffews”. (I was always known to Mark as “Pat Maffews”, never as “Patrick” or even “Patrick Maffews”). If you really wanted to go beyond the junior footy pale and piss Mark off, you’d kick across the face of goal in the defensive half. “Aw, not across the face!” he’d shout and turn his head sideways and kick the ground. I always wanted to do my best for Mark and avoid this disapproval.
I ended up playing footy for six years at Ramsgate RSL, most of them with Mark as my coach. We only ever made “the Granny” (as Seals called it) once in those years. That would have been my first year of under-13s. The day of “the Granny” we ran through a 2×2 metre blue and yellow crepe paper banner. Unfortunately that was the highpoint of the day as we got absolutely toweled up by Croydon Park, 106-6. Our star player Ashley Carter cried in the sheds after the match. Part of the reason the game was so lopsided was that their team featured future 200-game AFL ruckman Greg Stafford (Sydney and Richmond) already a gangly, six-foot-plus marking machine. Their side also featured a rover nicknamed ‘Shorty’ who I had to “man up” on when he came down to their forward pocket for rests off the ball. I remember the ball was up around the wing area when ‘Shorty’ nonchalantly elbowed me in the nose and jogged off. I didn’t do anything and it’s stuck in my craw so much that a quarter of a century later I can still remember his name.
Mark was, as they say, an old school coach. He had a temper. He could get angry at training. He wanted us to kick proper drop punts not our New South Welshman-style mongrel punts: “Drop punt Pat Maffews, drop punt!” I remember an under-11s training session where he thought we were being too absent-minded and too many marks were being dropped. As a sort of punishment Seals lined us up and had us do a handling drill where we collected a ball rolled on the ground. We all had to concentrate really hard because he was angry and hurling the footy at us. A miss would have irritated Seals even more. When it was my turn I gritted my teeth, determined not to fumble the pill. Seals threw the ball to me. But instead of it rolling along the ground, it flew a foot off the ground straight at my face and smashed into my nose. My eyes flooded over. Someone walked me over to the mums. One of them chided Mark. “Oh Mark.” Tears may have been coming down my face. That age is when you’re learning not to cry, but I’m not sure I managed to hold on.
Still, I wanted to follow Mark into battle. I wasn’t much of a player. Mark played me in the back pocket most weekends, sometimes moving me up to the back flank if we were short a player or two. In professional footy the back pocket is the home of pugnacious competitors like Kevin Sheedy. In junior footy the back pocket is where you hide less athletic players. According to my dad I was slow, unlike our star Ashley Carter, who always “showed the opposition a clean set of heels”. What’s more, the old man observed, I had “no killer instinct” which, I’ll admit, was accurate if somewhat deflating.
You may be asking, since this is a music/football website: what’s any of this got to do with music? Nothing really. I wasn’t that into music until footy was over. But footy, like music, is an abstraction of life. Part of why we love footy comes down to hardwiring. Footy supplies a deep human need to be part of a unit; part of the clan. Some of us too (the mildly neurotic) find in footy a balm for the feeling that we are doing things the wrong way. Like Germans we enjoy someone telling us what to do. We appreciate a coach who’ll tell us what to do and an arena, like the footy field, in which to do it. Mark was a good coach/Fuhrer because he was very clear about what he wanted.
Mark would explain to us how to play defense: “You stick on him like shit on a boot. If he goes down the shop for a sausage roll I want you to follow him down there.” I understood Mark’s hyperbole but at the same time I remember daydreaming about the corner shops of the area. Would it be the one on Ramsgate Road near the RSL? Or was there on near the primary school at the north end of the oval? Would either of the shops have a pie-warmer? I had a chance to follow Mark’s instructions about close-marking when, in the second year of under-13s, we played a grand final rematch with Croydon Park, this time on our patch of dirt. Mark had me “tag” their star on-baller Craig Eckersley. I knew about tagging from watching televised football, perhaps from watching the exploits of scrapper Tony Liberatore. Tagging was a role in footy I found I could do well. All that was needed was to build up a store of animosity and stick to the player exactly like shit on a boot. Since Craig Eckerseley was a show-boat who would oil himself up before matches there was no problem hating him. So, if the ball came near Eckersley I punched it away. If he got the ball I’d tackle him. We won the match, the first time we’d ever beaten Croydon Park. I remember some mums on the hill screaming. Craig Eckersley was so frustrated by the siren that he (like Ash Carter the year before) cried. It was great!
It wasn’t all good times. One game, we gotten smashed in the first half by Bangor, a team we’d usually expect to beat. Mark took us off the field, up the hill, to give us a spray. He sat us down in a circle, what may have been called a “truth session” in the NRL a few years back, and let us have it. He singled me out. Why wasn’t I going in for the ball? Why was I hanging back? In a moment of over-honesty I replied: “Because I’m scared.” As soon as the words were out my mouth they hung there. I was determined to make good. The rest of the game I dived into rucks head first, a shame still burning my cheeks.
Seals stopped coaching the team for some reason when I reached the 15s. That year we instead had a coach called Schultzy. He was OK but I didn’t enjoy my footy as much. I remember Schultzy would occasionally take us down the dark part of the oval, where the mums couldn’t see us, to “practice fighting”. In the shadows of the pine trees, he had us spar with a pretend opposition. He thought we were too soft on the weekends; I thought he was being ridiculous. I remember too, Schultzy was fixated with the idea that a particular old man who used to walk his dog through Tonbridge Park in the evenings, who’d stop to watch us train, was a paedophile. I got sick of footy around then and quit to play baseball instead with a friend from school.
It turned out I was a woeful baseball player. Mum and my brother Michael said I should come back to Ramsgate – Seals was coaching again and the 17s needed players. So I came back for another year. In between I’d gotten a girlfriend and started having durries with her up at Hurstville Station. The season had already started when I signed up. Due to Mark’s chewed-up speaking style, by which he pronounced the words “Lincoln Oval” more like “Lidcombe Oval”, I didn’t arrive at the correct ground until the game was well underway. I’d been away from footy for almost two years and ran straight into a game where everyone had gotten much bigger and faster. I made the mistake of going backwards with the flight of a looping ball and I copped the man-sized knees of the centre-half-back and centre-half-forward in my chest. By the end of the game I’d never been more out of breath in my life. I vowed to quit my nascent smoking habit after that game but it was good to be back.
As I said, I wanted to follow Mark into battle. I remember a particular game against Penshurst RSL that we played at Olds Park in the under-17s. Olds was a huge ground, the size of the MCG. Sometimes we played, by agreement, 15-a-side games to help the struggling teams field sides and be competitive. This was such a game and great deal of it had become twenty or so boys chasing after balls that had been kicked into the acres of open space on the opposite wing. Their forwards must have been winning the foot races to the ball because at half-time Mark’s instructions were: “Backs, if your man’s running off, grab a handful of his guernsey, hold him back”. Mark said ‘guernsey’ with a hard “g” (instead of jersey) like a man from some other era. This tactic, for the unschooled, is against the letter and the spirit of Australian Rules and I remember having a hand-wringing internal ethical dilemma in which my desire to please Mark (or avoid displeasure) eventually won out. Next time someone switched the play to the open side I grabbed a handful of guernsey of my opposing “man” (actually a lad playing up from the 15s) and we won the match.
I hadn’t ever won a trophy at “prezzo night” (as Mark called it) til the 17s. Year after year Ashley Carter won best and fairest. He eventually made the Swans reserves but never made it to the AFL. His hamstrings you see. Those blue Thermoskin thigh bandages he’d worn for years turned out to be no more effective than placebo in reducing recurring muscle tears. But in that final year at Ramsgate I finally earned some praise from Mark. He gave me a trophy for Most Consistent (yes, not a glamorous prize) and the words: “He’s one of the boys I’d like to see up at St. George next year.” And so I went and played 19s at Saint George.
I don’t ever see anyone from Ramsgate these days. I haven’t Seals since I finished up U-19s at St. George. I asked my parents last night what happened to Mark and they said he’d been living in a boarding house down the street from them until he’d left for Wollongong a few years ago. He was a man who may have needed a woman in his life. I never won him a flag but he did finally get to taste the ultimate junior footy success when he coached my brother’s U-18s team to victory. My parents have a nice photo of him jumping on the team in celebration. I hope he didn’t hurt his knees on the way down.