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The Night The Lions Came

 

 

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I was dozing fitfully by the fire, the evening TV news was churning out its usual rubbish, when I sensed a disturbance. The Controller was sitting bolt upright, staring at the TV. “Magnificent” she said. “What’s that dear? “ I asked.   “The British and Irish Lions. Magnificent.“   

I looked at the TV.  Pasty Scots,  ruddy Irish,  pit pony Welsh and supercilious English, sharers of our genetic heritage, were meeting the media at the airport. The beginning of the much vaunted 2005 British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand.  

The fixture list scrolled up the screen.  It included a game against  Otago at Carisbrook, The House of Pain, our local ground. “I want to go to that game” the  Controller said slowly and forcefully.   “But dearest,” I said,  “you don’t like Carisbrook,  you said it’s cold and dirty.  You said it smells and there are dark corners where horrid things take place. You said that it’s a rough place, for rough people”.  I was met with silence.

Saturday, June the 18th duly arrived.  An evening kick off saw us heading to Dunedin in good time, winding down the bay road as the night darkened and the mid winter temperatures dropped, the city glittered in the distance.  We parked in deepest, darkest South Dunedin, happy to walk and take in the pre match atmosphere.  A number of parties in private houses were in full swing as we headed towards the ground.  Music thumped out onto the streets.  A woman’s screams came from one house followed by the sounds of breaking glass or crockery.  “Stop fucken hittin me” yelled a woman who tumbled out of a front door followed by a heavy set man.  They danced around each other exchanging half hearted, drunken blows, before falling into an inebriated embrace and heading giggling back through the doorway into the numbing music.

As we approached Carisbrook we began to pass parked buses whose livery indicated they were from distant parts of the South Island.  Behind a bus from Invercargill a group of beer filled women squatted and urinated into the gutter.  They laughed raucously at their predicament.  A large blonde woman stumbled as she tried to get up.  She crashed to the ground, her legs entangled in her knickers and track pants.  She was stuck firm, trussed like a BBQ pig.  Her fat white buttocks mooning the cold night sky.  Her fellow urinators howled with laughter.  The woman began to be sick.  Tears and blood from her nose mixed in the gutter with her vomit.  A girl of about 10, presumably her daughter, helped her up, pulled up her pants and wiped her face with a tissue.  A group of men standing nearby jeered.  One of them said “I’ll give her a hiding when we get home, she always fucks up like this”.  We moved on.

Beside a bus from Middlemarch a group of a dozen boys, probably ranging in age from 10 to 15, were sitting on the pavement with their backs to a corrugated iron fence.  They seemed happy.  As we passed we noticed they were drinking from cans of beer, each taking a swig before passing it on to the next in line.  Another group of beer drinking men stood watch nearby, almost willing anyone to intervene, staring down disapproving looks, looking for trouble, overseers of a right of passage.

We got closer to the ground and the horrors of the Hogarthian Beer Street faded with the brighter lights and a police presence. 

We made our way to our seats and were pleased to find that we had a good view, close to the pitch and not far from halfway.  The ground buzzed with excitement.  Not an empty seat anywhere.

A group of men directly in front of us were rapidly filling up with beer.  They joked good humouredly with those around them and were keen for everyone to know they were on an overnight trip from Ranfurly, a rural service town on the Maniototo Plain, about 2 hours from Dunedin.  Otago through and through.

Kick off approached and with it grew a palpable hostility towards the visiting team.  When the Lions ran onto the pitch the stadium roared its disapproval.  The whistle blew, the game began.  A short man from the group in front of us, as wide as he was tall, stood up and began yelling “GoHomeYouBastards, GoHomeYouBastards, GoHomeYouBastards”.  And he kept going, shouting the same phrase relentlessly over and over again.  Sometimes, when the play was at the opposite side of the ground, “GoHomeYouBastards” would be a low rumbling chant, but whenever the play approached our part of the ground the volume and vitriol would increase.

In my mind he became GoHomeYouBastards.  I looked at him more closely.  I speculated. I could see the harsh Maniototo sun had burnt the skin on the back of his neck and the side of his face a dark mahogany hue.  His eyes were permanently narrowed from squinting into the harsh elements.  His shoulders were muscle bound from a hard rural life of fencing and sheep wrangling.  He smelt faintly of a mixture of lanolin, animal fats and Speights beer.  But no matter how hard I looked or speculated I couldn’t begin to understand the origin of his intense loathing of these rugby playing guests to our country. It made no sense.

 A Lions’ line out just in front of us saw GoHomeYouBastards excel himself, he screamed his hatred at the top of his lungs, his skin turned purple with rage, spittle streaming out over those in front of him.  He was so loud that the Lions’ hooker was taken aback, glancing uneasily in our direction, unnerved he made a hash of the throw, resulting in Otago gaining control.  The crowd roared.  GoHomeYouBastard’s mates thumped him on his back in their excitement.  He needed no encouragement.  For a full 40 minutes he kept up his moronic, racist, demented bellowing.  At the half time whistle he collapsed in his seat, exhausted.  He sculled 2 cans of beer in quick succession, ate a meat pie and sucked on several rollies.  The score was 13 all, a close game but GoHomeYouBastards was ruining the rugby experience for me.

I hoped that he might have given up for the second half, but no such luck.  As soon as game restarted he was at it again.  At that moment I hated this man I had never met before, who seemed intent on imposing his narrow minded bigotry on all around him.  I stared at the back of his head and sincerely wished him dead.  He sucked in another lungful of air and began to belt out another round of “GoHomeYouBastards”, but he only got to “Home” when he inexplicably stopped.

Years of rollies, pies, burgers, fry ups and salt laden fish and chips washed down by too much alcohol, had built up thick layers of plaque in GoHomeYouBastards’ narrowing arteries.  A fragment of plaque broke off and raced brainwards, lodging in a blood vessel, stopping the blood flow.  Millions of cells began to die. 

He turned, confusion written across his face. He swayed. His left hand dropped the can of Speights it was holding.  Urine pooled around his feet.  The left side of his face began to droop.  Then he muttered experimentally “HomeGoBastardsYou”, then “GoYouHomeBastards”.  He slumped in his seat.  Silent for the first time since kick off.

Shocked and feeling a pang of guilt.  I tapped GoHomeYouBastards’ nearest mate on the back.  “Reckon your mate is sick, I think you should get him some help”.  His mate looked at me with utter contempt. “Fuck off faggot” he said.

I concentrated on the game for a bit and began to enjoy it.  The score yo-yoed for a while before the Lions’ scrum took control and the crowd grew restless.  A brutal fist fight broke out a couple of rows behind us.  A nose was broken and blood fountained out, spraying all around.  The crowd roared.  Then the students began their favourite trick. Tomorrow's leaders, amongst them future lawyers, doctors, businessmen and politicians, pissed into empty beer cans and sent them spinning into the night sky.  Urine, highlighted by the floodlights, sprayed out like sparks from a catherine wheel, dampening the crowd.  The Lions pulled away to win 30-19.  The whistle went.  Time to go.

We edged into the departing crowd, I looked back at GoHomeYouBastards, still slumped in his seat.  His mates were trying to get him to stand up. We moved off. 

The walk back to the car was a gauntlet of pools of vomit, domestic disputes and running fist fights. We finally got to safety and locked the car doors.  I expected to be blamed for the barbarism, the danger, GoHomeYouBastards and everything else.  I looked across at the Controller.  Under the street lights I could see her flushed cheeks, a spray of blood on her face, a strange light in her eyes.  She smelt of stale beer and urine.  “Well, how was that for you dear?”  I asked, expecting the worst.  “Fantastic” she said.  “I can’t wait for the next game”.

 

Possums End,

November 2016

 

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