The familiar clatter of high heels on my verandah heralded the arrival of my good friend, the ace reporter Tiffany clad in something not often seen these days – a 1950’s pink sunsuit. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the type of garment it was a one piece cotton outfit consisting of a short pink frilly skirt with ruffles edging her low cut strapless top and a pair of fluffy pink wristbands. Naturally the ridiculously high heeled shoes were of the same aspro pink colour.
Tiffany was eager to know why she had been summoned and I poured her a generous pink champagne and gestured to a seat at a table covered with books and photos. In answer to her quizzical raised eyebrow I said “Read the first page Tiffany” and pushed across a copy of Paul Brickhill’s “Dambusters” which told the story of the World War II raid on the German dams where Barnes Wallis the English scientist developed a bouncing bomb which destroyed the Moehne and Eder dams.
“I’ve heard the story Jackie and seen the movie but why raise it now?”
I tapped another book on the table “Clausewitz on War” “To slightly alter Clausewitz’s famous dictum “Football is only war by other means.”” I said.
“Who’s Clausewitz?” asked Tiffany which was a reasonable question. I topped up our glasses and told her “Clausewitz was a great military strategist – the old dear helped win the Battle of Waterloo when his Prussians entered the fray at a critical time and prevented Napoleon from bringing up reinforcements.”
“He had another famous maxim “The fog of war.” This means that in the heat of battle unexpected developments unfold and opponents have to make decisions rapidly in the face of fear, doubt and excitement. In a grand final the side that can pull the unexpected can throw their opponents off balance and win the war before they can compose themselves and react.
In World War II for example the Japanese threw the Americans off balance with Pearl Harbour.”
Tiffany laughed “Are you suggesting we score goals before the ball is bounced Jackie?”
“Not quite Tiff but the Americans turned the tables with the unexpected when they won the conflict with the atom bomb. Those suckers fought on after the first one but the second one finished them.”
“What are you getting at Jackie?” and I knew that I was getting her complete attention. I put my hand on her knee and looked directly into her baby blues.
“I have a plan B, a secret plan, to be used in the grand final like the bouncing bomb or the atom bomb (after all we are the bombers) which will confuse and dismay our opponents. Remember what Barnes Wallis did at the start of the war – he sat down and looked at the situation and decided what he could do that would most harm the enemy I have done the same.”
Sensing her interest I went on to the crux of my idea:
“We have a good backline and a fairly good midfield but we fall down on the forward line. We get plenty of entries inside fifty but we fail to convert. This is compounded by Joe, our key forward, who is a long kick but inaccurate. The answer to this problem comes from one of the club’s greatest players Albert Thurgood.” I said pushing across a copy of the club history open at a photo of the great man shown with moustache, long sleeves, long pants and ankle high football boots setting the ball for a place kick.
I could see that Tiffany was puzzled and getting a bit tipsy as she drained her glass and poured another.
“Let’s break the problem down. Firstly trouble scoring inside fifty. Suppose we think outside the box and look at shifting the scoring zone unexpectedly to seventy metres from goal. The MCG is 160 metres long scoring from seventy metres out means that Joe would only have to get the ball inside the centre square inside our half. He would be much harder to stop up the ground and wouldn’t be subjected to the same level of body on body contact and it would be harder to get two opponents on him.”
“I can see that” said Tiff “but how could he kick that far even Lloydy didn’t score from there.”
“Albert Thurgood” I replied “and the place kick. Thurgood did the longest recorded kick in senior football and in 1893 against Carlton he place kicked the ball 95.7 metres. He consistently kicked well in excess of eighty metres and in 1899 at practice at the East Melbourne ground he kicked a massive 98.48 metres – that’s nearly 108 yards!”
“But how could Joe kick that far and he’s already inaccurate.”
“The answer is he doesn’t have to kick that far – he would only have to learn to kick seventy metres and even allowing for bigger footballs in Thurgood’s day which went a bit further the place kick is a really long kick with modern footwear. You can consistently kick much further with a place kick than the modern drop punt.”
“There’s a reason it died out in the 1920’s Jackie the game got much faster.”
“That’s right footballers fell in love with the drop punt eventually and it was forgotten but for a set shot a player could learn to dig a divot with his heel, line the ball up with the centre of the goals, go eight paces back and two to the side within the thirty second limit.”
“Suppose you are right, suppose he can kick that far surely he will be even more inaccurate over the longer distance?”
I grabbed her hands with enthusiasm and pulled her closer “Aha – most of Joe’s inaccuracy is related to his high ball drop – the place kick no ball drop whatsoever – problem solved!”
Letting this sink in I pushed a photo across to her of a woman in her late twenties, slim and athletic with a flashing smile and short auburn hair. “ Denise Jenkins, former Olympian and sports scientist, former Collingwood supporter now in love with Essendon.”
“Why did she change Jackie’ Tiffany asked giving me a curious stare.
“That’s not important what is important is what she has invented a way to improve accuracy with a place kick. Here’s a picture of her wearing a fez” and I pushed across another photo of Denise with a red bucket shaped hat with a tassel on her head the same as the two fezes (not sure of the plural) sitting on my table “Attached underneath the fez is a scintilator – briefly it absorbs the energy of particles of incoming ionising radiation an re-emits it as a flash of light.”
“We can sit Denise directly behind the middle of the goals at one end of the ground and someone else – maybe you Tiffany – at the other end of the ground dead centre behind the goals. When you line up a place kick the ball is tilted at an angle facing the goals , if the kicker has a finger nail with two tiny copper wires covered in a silver coating he can put his finger over the bladder hole and as he twists the ball when it is directly in line with the scintilator he will get a buzz in his finger that will indicate the ball is correctly lined up. All he has to do then is go back and kick it hitting the sweet spot one third of the way up the ball which is what gives the place kick it’s incredible distance.”
Tiffany came and sat on my lap and gave me a hug – “It’s probably the champagne Jackie it’s such a stupid, improbable idea but maybe it’s nutty enough to work but there would be so many problems to overcome, learning to kick, testing the scintilator and security trying to fit it into the game plan in secret it might just be too impractical.”
“If the atomic bomb can be kept secret this can too. I always liked the code name they gave the atom bomb “The Manhattan Project” so I‘m going to call this the “Barnes Wallis Project” after Barnes Wallis and his bouncing bomb but outsiders will think it’s something to do with John Barnes and Dean Wallis. I would like to get Sheedy to be my Openheimer he would love to be involved in a secret project like this, he’s old enough to have seen place kicking and he might even recruit Vanderhaar to teach the kicking.”
There was a look of excitement in Tiffs’ eyes so I followed up with the clincher
“That’s not all. This tactic will cause great confusion amongst the opposition and then like Clausewitz I will bring in plan C. When the long place kicks are on Belly, Carlisle or Giles will stay in the goal square for kicks that might fall short the rest of the players will move back beyond the fifty metre arc. I propose to train two kickers Joe and Myers because a two pronged attack will be harder to cover. However sometimes they will give a secret signal and deliberately kick the ball above the mid point so instead of travelling a long distance it will simply bounce end over end inside forward fifty. Our small quick players, Colyer and the Merrets will be ready to run into the open area to seize the bouncing ball and will already be running towards the goal when they pick it up and should have no difficulty in scoring. Ironically a bouncing ball just like Barnes Wallis’s bouncing bombs that destroyed the dams. The opposition will be in a fog of confusion which should be enough to seize victory.
Tiff picked up the champagne and drained it directly from the bottle and grabbed the fezzes from the table and disappeared to reappear moments later wearing them on an unexpected part of her anatomy that enabled the tassels to rotate in different directions. The pink high heels were still there but what had become of the sunsuit I couldn’t say
Giggling Tiffany crooked a finger in my direction “Come on Jackie I’ll show you plan D.”
Is there still a place for the place kick? Could the Barnes Wallis Project work? Let me know your views.