Here’s a fun footy story that seems to have taken on a life of its own. The Footy Almanac and australianrules.com.au ran it earlier this season, back in June, and then the St Joseph’s Old Collegians magazine ran the story in September.
In 1973 we had French before footy. We had masculine and feminine nouns before running around on the Frere Jacques Hamilton Oval. We had singular and plural verbs before scratch matches amongst the boys of Form Three at le college de le Saint Joseph, dans Geelong.
Of course, no-one in the class really cared for French. It wasn’t Francais a la Bridgette Bardot . It wasn’t Francais a la Audrey Tatou . It wasn’t Francais a la Julia Zemiro. And it certainly wasn’t Francais a la Patti La Belle. (Remember the hit song ‘Voulez-vouz couchez avec moi, ces soir?’ ?)
Non, it was French from the nicotine-stained teeth and lips of Mr George Nulley, a man who wheezed his way through French vocabulary and grammar, alternately hitching up his shiney strides, buttoning his bleu cardigan and brushing back his greying hair with brune Capstan fingers.
Thirty boys knew that the bounce of the ball and the touch of the Sherrin was only 45 minutes away and one boy in particular was doing something about it toute de suite. Mark Sczcesny, or Skeeter, used the French lesson as his change-room. He wanted to be first out the door and first onto le terrain d’Australie de les regles as soon as the Pattie La Belle rang. So, quietly, methodically, surreptitiously, Skeeter would change into his footy gear while Mr Nulley wheezed and coughed his way through the day’s French lesson.
Skeeter sat a few seats in from the back row, and well clear from the window, where a passing principal with a sharper eye than Mr Nulley might detect something was up.
As the class progressed, for want of a better word, Skeeter undressed and dressed, all the while being seated and being sure to keep his eyes on le professeur de le Francais.
Firstly he would reach into his SJC schoolbag and take out le jersey de le ballon d’Australie de les regles, a light bleu cotton jumper with yellow collar and wrists. (We wore ‘house’ jumpers. Mine was rouge with jaune trimming.)
Skeeter would manage to leave on le jersey de le college while removing his rouge, noir et jaune cravate and his grey shirt. He would then bend over and pretend to be looking for un stylo or a rubber or la regle while whipping off his school jumper, tossing on his footy top and pulling his school jumper back on.
Then, of course, he would sit upright, a model etudiant. If Monsieur Nulley had noticed anything, he didn’t let on. Or didn’t care. There would be a wheeze or a cough. Or a hitching up of the shiney pantalons. As much as we were champing at the bit to play some footy, Monsieur Nulley was wishing he could fumer un cigarette sooner rather than later.
Skeeter knew when to play it straight, when to sit still and feign interest. The clock was ticking but he still had plenty of time.
Next came les bleu et jaune chausettes, a simple task after the manipulation of the jumpers. From a few seats away it looked like Skeeter was just adjusting his laces. He would nimbly slip off his school-shoes and school-socks, pull on the footy socks – easily hidden under his long school pantalons – and then slip his shoes back on, the laces left undone.
Admiring classmates sneaked glimpses of Skeeter’s efforts, working harder on stifling laughter than on French pronunciation.
The switch from long grey school pants to blanc footy shorts and the swap from Bata shoes to les bottes d’adidas had to wait til time-on in the French quarter.
For about dix minutes we actually did some schoolwork. Skeeter might have written in his French exercise book or even volunteered an answer to a question from Monsieur George.
With deux minutes to go to the end-of-period bell le professuer de le Francais would begin his wrap up of the lesson and list the day’s homework. With restless students all around him – loose men everywhere, you could say – Skeeter slipped off his school shoes, swapped the long pants for the footy shorts, pulled on les bottes d’adidas and tied the laces.
The coup-de-grace was when Monsieur Nulley bid au-revoir, already reaching for his Capstan cigarettes, and Skeeter sprung from his desk, fully attired, arms raised in triumph, boot stops clacking on the floor and called out: “Voulez-vouz jouez le ballon d’Australie de les regles avec moi?”
As we cheered Skeeter, le professuer de le Francais continued out the door, tapped a cigarette on his Capstan packet and reached inside la poche de le cardigan for his lighter, keen fumer un cigarette before the next class.
On le terrain de Frere Jacques Hamilton we chased le Sherrin, no-one keener than Skeeter. He was a good player, Skeeter. Tres bon.