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The lost spirit of suburbia: Football in the 1980s

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27th July, 2022
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Soccer was banned in our Lindfield primary school. Constructed on a church car park, the gravel playground had two speed bumps, both running parallel from the tuck shop to the fence.

Football, our principal cautioned, had to wait until the weekend. By playing on a grassy oval instead, we would dodge the dreaded first aid kit.

The closest ground was Regimental Park. Also situated on the busy Pacific Highway, it was a short drive towards the Black Stump restaurant, situated in Sydney’s leafy Killara.

Because my old man was in charge of setting up the nets and corner posts, we’d always arrive early, tending to half a dozen pitches.

These were bitterly cold Saturday mornings, perched high on a snaking ridge, next to major road. Up here, the wind would sing, each icy howl chapping my lips. For a five-year-old, it was eerie, exposed, and I couldn’t wait to leave.

After the set-up, it was fried tomatoes and canned ham back at home. We then returned to the green, 2WS on the car radio, shin pads ready, eager to mimic Diego Maradona.

Diego Maradona

(Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)

In later years, over a chilled Peroni, dad would reminisce that younger competitors always ran in a bunch, never passing the ball.

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He had a point. However, looking back, it was safety in numbers. Basically, our timid players were spooked.

It was 1984 and we were in kindergarten, completely new to the code. A larger kid had sworn the field was haunted, warning us about distant echoes, rising from beneath our moulded studs.

Afterwards, at Coles New World, my father tried to comfort me, peppering his ocker rhetoric with the word “mate”. Ghosts were harmless, he said, just respect their space.

After the grocery shopping, the two of us would return to Regimental Park, somewhat reluctantly. Our third trip would end with the packing up of odds and ends, late in the dying afternoon.

Tinny footprints remained in the mud beneath the goal posts. Everyone had vanished. All that remained were orange peels, their fleshy skin left to decompose. These were juicy scraps for the territorial plover birds, nesting on the edges of the white boundary line.

Years later, my father admitted there were indeed unseen voices under the blades of grass. Although it’s hidden, he said, the old field was built over a large reservoir, which didn’t appear on maps anymore.

Now empty, he continued, the darkened crypts were occasionally a chamber for adventurous kids. Tykes who yelled, pulled pranks, and ran amuck, deep underground.

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Well, eventually, when the season finished, dad and I spent a few moments reflecting. We watched the afternoon traffic. Nearby, cars zoomed past the faceless Telecom building, its concrete walls void of windows.

It was here dad told me about first contact. How the Imperials in the red coats found old bushwalking tracks, that later became roads, then highways. This very stretch of land, he said. This suburb.

In the Aboriginal language, the ancient name of Killara is roughly translated to “always there”.

As a child, I never did hear any voices from beneath the soil. Yet somehow, generations ago, I knew they existed, evermore.

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