The Worst Footballer Ever to Pull on a Boot.

by Philip Gardner

"He was the worst footballer ever to pull on a boot," said uncle Dan at one of our family birthday parties, and for once uncle Jim agreed. Bluey Hughes was, without a doubt, the worst footballer anyone in our family had ever seen.

"I still can't forget that sensational match late in the season " started Dan.

"I know the one! It was the first semi final " interrupted Jim, as was his habit when Dan was telling a story.

"And Bluey was about fifty yards from goal "

"It couldn't have been more than thirty!" corrected Jim.

"And he knew the siren was going to go," said Dan.

"Yes, the bell was just about to go." On that they agreed. Whatever else changed in the story, the bell was always just about to go.

"He started to run for the goals. We were kicking into the wind that quarter, and it was blowing at ninety miles an hour

"It was blowing a gale!" emphasised Jim.

"There was only one man between

"No, there were a couple at least"

"between him and the goals. He dodged, he weaved. He started to look like a real footballer! He got to within twenty yards of the goals"

"He was practically in the goal square!"

"As I was saying, he knew that bell was going to go, so he didn't have time to run any further. He had to kick the ball. And you wouldn't believe it

"I couldn't believe it!"

"he kicked the ball too high, and the wind blew it straight back over his head! We lost by four points!"

"One point, it was. One lousy point. We could have won the flag that year."

It was this story which brought out the greatest resentment against Bluey, because the Killarney Hills Football Team had never won a premiership. All my family played for the team - whole generations of us. We all blamed Bluey for the team not rising to the glorious heights of a premiership, even though he had only played half a season for the club. As the years went on, his exploits became more extraordinary as various family members added to the stories about him. But what I'm about to tell you is the truth, just the way it really happened.

Bluey had come down from the bush somewhere. He was tall and rangy, and when he turned up at training one night, he was warmly welcomed. We were always short of good players. Bluey ran enthusiastically around the oval that night, so we put him straight into the team for Saturday. It was the middle of winter, and a few of the team had dropped out with the flu.

On Saturday, we had our first taste of Bluey's style. He was picked to play in the back pocket. We thought he'd help out our defence, which hadn't been too good in recent weeks. In the first half, we were doing well, so Bluey didn't see much of the play. The trouble started after half time. It started to rain, and Bluey put on his raincoat and carried his umbrella! We couldn't believe it! When Bluey saw the ball coming, he'd put the umbrella over the fence, then take off in pursuit of the action. He managed to clear the ball a couple of times, then tripped over that stupid raincoat. His opponent swooped on the ball, ran in and kicked an easy goal. I'm not sure which were louder - the howls of indignation coming from our team, or the derisive laughter and exultant cheers coming from theirs. Bluey just picked up his umbrella and stared blackly ahead.

Next week, Bluey was shifted to the forward line. It was felt that his style of play might allow him to escape from his opposition (some thought they'd be laughing so much they wouldn't be able to run). For a while, things went well. Bluey did all the things we liked to see our players do. He niggled the opposition, he stood on their toes, he gave them a whack as they were running for the ball, he jumped into packs. The one good thing about Bluey's play was that he knew no fear. He ran in a straight line for the ball, no matter who was in the way. If Bluey was coming at you, you were gone. Even players twice his size couldn't stop him. He seemed to be all knees and elbows, and in any clash he was the one able to stand up first. You just had to hope he didn't grab the ball, because if he did, anything was likely to happen. He could head in any direction with it, kick it anywhere, handpass it to anyone. If you were lucky he'd kick it to you, if you weren't it could go straight to the opposition or out-of-bounds.

As if that wasn't bad enough, Bluey also had a black mongrel dog that he used to bring to all the matches with him. If, after a savage tackle, any of the opposition retaliated and tried to whack Bluey, the dog would race onto the field and snap at that player's shorts. He seemed to react to anger - he could smell it. There were a couple of very embarrassing incidents which held up play for a while. Only the spectators thought these incidents were funny - players on both sides could've killed Bluey for not controlling his crazy dog.

And it was that year, uncle Jim firmly believes, that Bluey lost us the premiership. How could anyone kick the ball over their head when they were so close to goal? And with the bell just about to go!

FMy uncles have long memories, and when Jim was made captain for the next year, Bluey didn't have much time left with the club. For the first match of the year, we only had the required eighteen players, including Bluey. But Jim took the field with seventeen men, and made Bluey nineteenth man. He had to sit on the bench. Even when Bob Sutcliffe left the ground just before quarter time with a crook knee, Jim didn't call on Bluey. He told him he was saving him up for late in the game, in case the team needed someone fresh. We lost the match by five goals, but Jim still didn't think the team needed Bluey. Bluey took the hint. He went back to the country. Last we heard of him he was playing football for the South Sandhurst seconds, but even they wouldn't give him a game if rain were forecast, because he still liked to run out of the back pocket wearing that stupid raincoat!

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