“Righto boys, it’s a bit wet outside, so do you wanna play basketball or indoor soccer?”
“Basketball, soccer, basketball…” the sporting options were parried back and forth until Cameron, the captain of the A-grade Rugby team and thus favourite for future school captain, muttered his decree.
“Ok boys, Grella and Kalac, can you get the goals?” directed Mr Brosnan, as he went to collect the ball.
“Oi, it’s Wogs vs Aussies boys,” declared Cameron, and the students dutifully arranged themselves into a team of Caucasian students and a team of ‘ethnic’ students, as they had done so many times before. Mr Brosnan pursed his lips around the whistle before deciding that Yr.10 boys could referee themselves, and as long as no one broke any bones he could enjoy a coffee on the side line.
“Blakey, go up front,”
“Yeah, you’re our White Wog,” joked Woods, “at least someone on our team knows how to play soccer.”
With that, I took up my customary position at centre forward and hoped that my fellow Aussies would this time secure enough possession and open space to provide me with a realistic chance of slotting that ball past Kalac in the goals.
We’d never beaten the wogs in soccer, indoor or outdoor, and even though I was pleased with my exalted status among the cool white kids and rugby heroes of the school, I still felt the pressure to earn this status by scoring goals.
The fact that a lot of my friends were on the ‘other’ team didn’t really occur to me – in Sydney in the early 1990s this kind of casual racial division was just a bit of fun – or a quicker way of picking teams. To be honest, I never questioned it. The casual racism was buried underneath the testosterone fuelled atmosphere of a PE lesson at a school whose reputation was built firmly on sporting prowess.
Just then, I caught a glimpse of Eldridge and for the first time ever, I felt a morsel of his inner conflict. The product of a white father and Thai mother, he seemed to hesitate in assigning himself to the Wogs or the Aussies, as he had never done before. I was forced to consider whether his increasing maturity and self-awareness, which descends upon every teenager, had prompted him to examine his own identity more deeply. I mulled this over in my mind until Maxwell screamed,
“Ello, go to fullback, hurry up” and Eldridge’s search for identity was put on hold.
At that, Mr Brosnan glanced up from his coffee cup and blew the whistle, we were off.
Bresciano fed the ball to Postecolglou who nutmegged Johnson before skirting around the burly prop and flicking the ball across to Vidmar. The little magician weaved his way past Woods, Maxwell and O’Sullivan before stepping over the ball and completely bamboozling Stevens in goal.
“Orale pues joven, que golazo!!!!!,” exclaimed Ortega, as Vidmar thrust his shirt over his head and celebrated his goal with arms outstretched.
Ortega himself had dabbled in Rugby, which apparently made him less of a wog, but he still had an ‘ethnic’ surname and spoke in tongues when feeling excited or cheeky. He hadn’t quite reached the status of Aussie – a wog who was so Australianised they cease to be a wog.
Perhaps it was his father’s single silent protest which set back Ortega’s entry into the mainstream. At an official school function, Ortega Senior refused to stand for the toast to the Queen, because the memories of the Falklands War were still far too real. We didn’t realise this of course, and only learned once young Ortega gave us a short history lesson.
I remember thinking, at least he has a reason for remaining seated. I only stood up because the teachers told me to, and I know my classmates didn’t truly know or care why we toasted the British royal family. We also didn’t know or care why we called wogs wogs.
“Come on boys, what’s goin’ on?”, admonished Johnson, “let’s smash ‘em, they’re not that good.”
Bresciano this time fed the ball to Popovic who directed a lovely through ball past two awestruck Aussies and towards Santos. Santos plodded toward the ball and took a massive air swing before falling on his back side. The debating champion attempted to shrug off the failure with self-deprecating laughter, before Fallon asked,
“How are you so bad at soccer Santos, you’re a wog?” and the Aussies enjoyed a chuckle.
Should I laugh? Is Santos truly shrugging this off as friendly banter? Did these ‘harmless jokes’ seep beneath the skin when the boys got home? When Wogs vs. Aussies was transferred to the Rugby field, my incompetence, and that of Cleary and Stevens, was not linked to our skin colour or racial background.
Cleary was teased that he was hopeless despite being built like a prop, and everyone accepted that Stevens was allowed to ‘suck at Rugby’ because he was an academic genius and computer whiz. That’s also why he was always forced to play keeper.
Me, I was just ‘too skinny for Rugby’. So skinny in fact that my Aussie teammates told me how they wished I could be a wog for a day because they’d love to tackle me and drive me into the turf.
“He is a wog, he’s good at soccer,” they’d say, but their jokes didn’t cut through me like they did the real wogs. Even if I was a wog for a day, it was only a day. I could still return to the White Side and survive the school playground in relative anonymity.
In the meantime, the little master had stepped and swerved his way past the Aussie defenders for another easy goal.
Mr Brosnan sipped his coffee contentedly while the teenage boys battled for football supremacy. My blustering teammates took advantage of the game’s self-regulation and ‘tackled’ some of the wogs so fiercely that they took possession and managed to feed me the ball. I dodged Rossi and swivelled past Zelic before placing it into the back of the net.
My teammates went wild and hurled insults at the wogs with such passion that you’d think they’d won the World Cup. Guys, it’s only one goal. But apparently a goal for the Aussies was worth more than a goal for a wog.
A few more stern challenges and violent toe pokes succeeded in advancing the ball towards Kalac in goal, and a blind thundering kick from Taylor smashed into the hands of Kalac and out the other end.
7 – 2
“Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole,” sang my teammates and I joined them heartily. We were mounting the greatest comeback in the history of world sport and it deserved extravagant celebration. Then the tone of the chanting changed. The universal football chant was distorted with derision and mockery and was peppered with random ‘foreign’ words the Aussies had learned from their multi-cultural classmates. It was as if my teammates had appropriated this ‘ethnic’ chant and were ridiculing it to put the wogs back in their place despite the scoreboard.
Maybe this silently enraged the wogs, and they responded with an all-out assault on our goal. Poor old Stevens was sent diving and gaping for thin air as Vidmar, Bresciano, Arzani et al scored goal after goal.
“Righto boys,” called Mr Brosnan, “time to get changed.”
The massacre had ended.
12 – 2
Yet again, the wogs won, on the field at least.
Image: Pascal Swier