WAYNE CAREY AND THE VIKING RAIDING PARTY
Sunday Age Newspaper
Sunday 11 February 1996
Don’t get me wrong. I like blokes. Went to an all boys school from the age of 10, so I didn’t have much choice. The Christian brothers taught us right from wrong and all about girls.
‘When escorting a girl along a footpath, a young Christian gentleman always takes the gutter side – never know when a passing car might splash water,’ Brother Richardson would say. The Brothers were paternalistic rather than New Age sensitive when it came to girls on footpaths, but it was kind of cute. Who’d have thought that footpath parable was actually designed with an eye to gender relations in the 1990s?
After Brother Richardson came football. Long hot February nights followed by dreary winters – spent acting out our ‘Boys Own’ culture on and off the field – came and went like pages in a good book.
‘Come on,’ they’d say. ‘Why don’t you come on the footy trip? Great pissup and plenty of sheilas.’
‘Sorry, too busy with school corrections and exam preparation,’ I’d say. I always found an excuse. After 18 seasons with VFA club Coburg, my record was untarnished. Not one football trip to my name. But I heard all the stories, mountains of them.
A teammate of mine, a VFA icon, could hardly walk after a players trip to Sydney. Brave as always, he took on half a dozen Maoris after an inebriated, less fearsome mates had started some trouble. Someone looked the wrong way, or inadvertently knocked the froth off another bloke’s pot, instigating tit-for-tat retribution. Tables and chairs went everywhere.
A players’ trip without a punch-up was like a marriage without sex – unconsummated. Things got so bad, motels demanded bonds equivalent to a king’s ransom to compensate for the furniture that mysteriously found its way into the swimming pools and the room fittings that invariably broke from their moorings.
I could never quite grasp the meaning or purpose of these football ‘tours of duty’. They resemble the re-enactment of a Viking raid, a vain search for the days when men could be men and didn’t have to apologise for it. At 3am, blokes out on the ‘tear’ with a ‘skin full of ink’ can make a Viking raiding party look distinctively romantic.
As a mature-age footballer in the late ‘80s, just to show I was a bit ‘hip’, I made a couple of sorties down King Street with the boys. I was mesmerised by the neck size and the blank menacing stare of the blokes guarding the opening to the treasure cave. Once inside, I was struck by the noise and those disorienting lights that flashed across the room. Very strange place, I thought. I haven’t been back since I played my 200 th VFA game in 1987 and Bill Swan picked me up on the corner of King and Collins at 4 am on his way home from a night shift on the wharf. Glad it wasn’t 9am!
Ricky Nixon, Wayne Carey’s manager, was quite right when he said, ‘The boys are too scared to go out at night’. Too right, Ricky – King Street after dark, or anywhere else where these modern day Vikings act out those ancient rituals, can be a scary place. Maybe we should have warnings on glasses. Be careful, one too many of these and you just might want to whack bloke alongside you or mistakenly think the girl smiling at the wall is actually seeking a romantic embrace, footy style.
Was Ricky Nixon fair dinkum when he offered that piece of solemnity? Is it no wonder women despair? Everyone makes mistakes, but what’s wrong with enlisting a dose of football courage and apologising rather than belittling women with fake apologies?
Mary, who runs the Edinburgh Castle, a down-to-earth hotel in Sydney Road, Coburg was telling a bloke in the main bar exactly what she thought about Ricky’s comments when I strolled in the other day.
‘If it was your wife, what would you have said?’ she asked in her typically effusive style.
‘I’d have whacked him,’ came the reply. Kind of illustrates the problem, doesn’t it? Brother Richardson’s guide to the conduct of men on footpaths was fashioned by images of the Virgin Mary, whereas Ricky Nixon’s profundity was drawn from the Temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden. Until we can resolve this impasse, boys will continue to be boys girls will wonder what goes on in the collective minds of blokes who head out together for a night on the ‘tear’.
Wayne Carey is just a bit player in the saga. He shouldn’t be drawn and quartered, have his identity blindly caricatured or be punished by having dollars ripped from his sponsorship deals. Although, if his manager, Ricky Nixon, keeps trotting out those lines, who knows?
It is the culture that is the problem. Wouldn’t it be grand if along the way a well-known football bloke here and there declared that only a ‘wuss’ would say he was too scared to go out at night for fear of women? Wouldn’t it be grand if we could stop stamping women with the provocateur label and accept that being a real bloke doesn’t preclude a heart-felt apology?
PS - 2009
In August 2008 I spoke with Ricky Nixon about this article. Whilst my criticism of Ricky's comments can be taken as a personal attack, that was not my intention. As Wayne Carey's then manager Ricky was in an invidious position and found a set of words which were not, in my opinion, very comforting for women. Our conversation in August '08 was uplifting and something we should have done years earlier. I'm glad we had a chance to explain our positions, and that I subsequently spoke with Wayne Carey.
PS - In 2013 Nixon was charged with assaulting his girlfriend.