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Discussion in 'General Discussion Forum' started by Guest, Jul 31, 2010.

  1. Guest

    Guest Guest

    +0 /0

    FEBRUARY 27, 1982. Saturday afternoon. Behind the grandstand in a chauffeured hire car with the engine running is Johnny Lewis.

    Tommy Raudonikis walks off Henson Park muddied and spent and goes straight in to the dressingroom. He grabs his kit-bag, goes straight back out again, gets in the car and pulls the door shut behind him.

    And he sits there, still in the mud he's just played 80 minutes of football in. He hasn't even had time to put his teeth back in.

    "I'll have a shower when we get there," he says.

    Alongside Johnny in the hire car is Jeff Malcolm. Tommy has made the match for Malcolm to fight Thomas Americo at a promotion he is bankrolling at the Sydney Opera House. The co-promoter is millionaire Sydney ad-man and Newtown benefactor John Singleton, Raudonikis's great friend.

    They met more than two years ago when Singleton invited Raudonikis into his office and told him he wanted him to play for Newtown.

    Tommy couldn't do that, he said. He had just been awarded life membership at his own club, Western Suburbs.

    Singleton explained the virtues of playing for the Jets, who had just run last but had great plans, and Tommy sat there completely unconvinced.

    Then Singo pulled out the greatest sight a semi-professional footballer can see, for rugby league was still semi-professional in those days: a paper bag filled with money. Tommy didn't need to count it, just weigh it. Suddenly the Jets had their biggest signing in years, the current Australian Test halfback.

    Now Singo and Tommy are promoting fights together, and the publicity run for the Opera House card is about to begin.

    Malcolm will spar an exhibition four-rounder at Griffith, in southwestern NSW. He comes from near there, so it is billed in town as something of a homecoming.

    First, though, they need to get to the airport.

    The driver starts towards Bankstown Airport and Tommy leans forward and peels the electrical tape from his football boots, sprinkling mud across the floor. He pulls off his boots and, finally, his socks. Naked white feet contrast with his muddy legs.

    Then Tommy leans back and finally begins to relax. All of a sudden, he sits up and tells the driver to divert.

    It sounds urgent.

    When Tommy finally tells the driver to stop, they are in front of a bottle shop. Tommy walks into the bottle-o still dressed to play football and comes out with a carton of Tooheys cans. He plants the carton at his feet and sits back and cracks his first ring-pull. Now he is right.

    It is no more than a two-can trip to Bankstown Airport. They drive right up alongside a small four-seater plane on the tarmac, and Johnny looks at the pilot, thinking, "He looks much younger than I thought he'd be". Next to them is Paul Ferreri, the Commonwealth bantamweight champion, who is also coming to Griffith.

    Ferreri's job is nothing more than to wave to the crowd.

    He is smartly dressed, politely spoken. He comes from Melbourne, where they don't play rugby league.

    So Ferreri has no clue who this character might be in a rugby jumper, caked in mud, getting out of the car with a kit-bag under one arm and a carton of cans under the other. All he knows is they are late.

    They all get on the plane. Johnny is sitting on one side of the plane, facing Ferreri, with Tommy and Malcolm facing each other on the other side.

    Now, Johnny flies as well as most, which is not very well at all, and certainly not any better than Ferreri and Malcolm. When they finally get in the air, the pilot turns and tells them that he's actually a trainee and has only enough hours to get them to Bathurst, but not to worry, once they land, someone else will fly them to Griffith.

    Johnny sits back in his seat. How many different ways can you say Jesus Christ?

    The only one unconcerned is Tommy. He is about four cans in, sitting back carefree and painless. He doesn't care about the rookie pilot or the impromptu stopover. And he doesn't notice Ferreri, who is staring hard right at him.

    No, Tommy drinks.

    Somewhere about now, nobody is sure exactly where but it must have been somewhere over the Blue Mountains, Tommy realises there is no toilet on this little four-seater. Never mind. He picks up an empty can, awkwardly manoeuvres to the edge of his seat, and pulls the leg of his shorts to the side. He positions himself as best he can and lets go. Ferreri, who has never heard of this man, and so has had no chance to fall in love with him like the rest of us, can only watch.

    This worries Johnny. He can see Ferreri is real unimpressed.

    Tommy shuffles and starts his business and it is here, well, one aim is good, and one aim is missing. A mischievous side stream shoots off and, as you would have it, all over a startled Ferreri.

    He reacts like a boxing champion might.

    He lunges towards Tommy. As he does, Johnny leaps between them. Ferreri is angry. Angry and wet, which for a proud man like him is the worst kind of angry.

    Johnny talks him down, and he sits back in his seat, unhappy, but no longer with murder on his mind.

    Eventually the rookie pilot touches down in Bathurst and everyone gives a small prayer. If nothing else, a full-grown pilot was waiting to take them the rest of the trip to Griffith. Or so they thought. The new pilot takes one look at them and walks away.

    "Mate, I can't take four. They told me there was only three," he says.

    Apparently, Ferreri had originally planned to make his own way to Griffith, so had not been counted.

    Johnny protests.

    "No way mate, I can't do it," the replacement pilot says, and walks off.

    The trainee pilot is still standing there.

    "Come on, mate, we gotta get there," Tommy says.

    Nobody is happy, least of all the kid who has used up his hours. But he agrees to fly them to Griffith.

    They take off again.

    Things have calmed considerably. Malcolm and Johnny start to relax and even Ferreri leans back in his seat. Not that Ferreri has forgiven Tommy, though.

    Nice and comfortable, now eight or nine cans in, Tommy lights up a smoke. The calm lasts no more than a minute.

    It starts up front, the kid pilot starts checking the instruments in a small panic, trying to determine what's wrong. His eyes scope the engine through the windscreen.

    "Something's on fire!" he yells. He turns.

    "Anyone back there smoking?"

    "Nah," says Tommy. He folds his arms across his chest to tuck his cigarette under his armpit. Right up against the cabin wall.

    The pilot keeps checking the instrument panel.

    "There's something burning," he says. "There's something burning."

    Now, nobody else is all that worried, because they know it's only Tommy smoking, and not that they are happy about it, but they know that the engine isn't on fire, either. They aren't going down.

    But in 1982 the decor can scare a dog off a bone and small four-seater planes are no exception. Running high up the inside wall of the plane is a brilliant shagpile carpet.

    The smell in the air changes. Tommy leaps up. Flames are coming off the wall. Johnny does what any sensible man would do. He grabs one of Tommy's cans, gives it a shake and cracks the ring-pull.

    "Don't do that!" Tommy yells, reaching out. His solution is to pat the fire frantically, trying to smother the flames. Johnny pushes past him and douses the cigarette and the flaming carpet with Tommy's beer.

    While it certainly succeeds in putting out the fire, the mood after is less than cosy.

    Tommy is filthy because Johnny wasted a perfectly good can of beer.

    Johnny is filthy because Tommy nearly set their plane on fire 11,000 feet in the air and then cared more about wasting a can of beer.

    Ferreri is worse than filthy. He doesn't say a word, just sits and looks at Tommy with full-blown evil in his eyes.

    He sees past Tommy to a black scorch mark the size of a garbage-can lid that Tommy, somewhat embarrassed now, thinks he can hide if he turns his shoulder and sort of leans in front of it.

    At the venue in Griffith, the promoters, too, are filthy because they're late. If only they knew, thinks Johnny.

    The main event has been held up waiting for Malcolm to arrive and spar his exhibition.

    By now the crowd has had a gutful. All the goodwill has left the room. Worse, Malcolm's opponent for the exhibition has dropped out.

    Nothing has less patience than a fight crowd waiting for the next bout, unless it is the promoter worrying about a walkout from this very same crowd. Tommy, always brave, volunteers to step in. Now, here in the auditorium, Tommy is swaying and beginning to slow, the soreness from his earlier football game setting in. He puts his arm around Johnny and wonders ahead about this exhibition.

    "This is just going to be an easy spar, isn't it?" he says. "It was gonna be," Johnny says.

    Doing a quick count, Johnny figures Tommy has downed about 18 cans.

    While Tommy showers, Johnny begins wrapping Malcolm's hands.

    Both of them have had enough of Tommy, but they also know they have no choice. Malcolm has to spar him.

    "What'll I do?" Malcolm says.

    "I'll tell you what you're gonna do," Johnny says. "Don't hit him hard in the head. But rip him up the guts. F ... him. He's made this trip a misery for us. Rip him up the guts."

    For three rounds they move around, Malcolm working with Tommy, giving a show for the crowd who, truth be told, are as pleased to see Tommy as they are him. Then Malcolm hits the go button.

    He rips a punch underneath, right into the middle of Tommy's belly.

    He moves around a little more and rips another right. Each time, Tommy swoons and his cheeks puff out like a startled goldfish.

    Malcolm goes underneath a third time, Tommy steps back, raises his chin, and lets go a fountain of white foam. Almost before it hits the canvas, the promoter is in the ring, screaming.

    "Get them out," he yells. "That's f ... ... it!"

    Much later, after the main event, Johnny finds Tommy in a bar at the club, drinking with the locals.

    "Tom," he says.

    "I'm going back to the motel, mate."

    "I'll stay for a little while," Tommy says. "There's some good blokes here."

    "That's all right mate."

    "What room are we in?"

    Johnny pulls the key from his pocket. They are sharing a room at one of those roadside motels where you can drive straight up to the door of your room. The tag says Room 8.

    "Sixteen," he says.

    "Righto, mate, 16. Righto Johnny, I'll see you back there mate, I won't be long."

    Johnny closes the door and, after a day like that, climbs in to bed for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. After the flight and the fire and the fights, it's glorious.

    Next morning, he wakes and pokes his head out the door. There's Tommy, curled up on the concrete in front of Room 16.

    "Tom!" he yells.

    Tommy wakes immediately.

    "Mate, I've been knocking all night. You couldn't hear me?"

    "No, mate, we're down here," Johnny says.

    "I thought you said 16?"

    "No mate, we're Room 8."

    "I'm f ... ... . freezing," Tommy says.

    Later that morning, Johnny and Tommy go back to Sydney. They go by bus.
  2. Zep

    Zep Active Member

    +8 /0
    interesting read.

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