And despite all my wishes for the match to be locked up after extra time and go into a penalty shootout, Balmain scored a tired goal against an equally tired defense midway through the first period. Emily picked up something off the ground which elicited the scornful voice of her father:

“No!” he said “Put that down! Yuck.” She was oblivious to tension on the football pitch, and had long since forgotten about her encounter with the Jack Russell.

In the second period of extra time Leichhardt’s nippy little striker was brought down in a rudimentary tackle by a solidly built Balmain defender. She was writhing in pain – carried off the field with what appeared to be a bung ankle. The penalty was taken from a tight angle outside the box; Balmain loaded their wall with four blockers. I leant forward onto the front planks of the bench seat willing the scores to be equalised again. I wanted a penalty shootout! The ball skewed strangely across the box to where a Leichhardt midfielder loaded up far too ambitiously to drive her foot through everything but the ball, and the score remained 3-2. Then the referee seemed to be taken by the moment and blew his whistle for fulltime.

Balmain had won an epic semi-final, ‘three cheers’ were lorded by each team: “Hooray, hooray, hooray”, hands were shaken and everybody walked off as the officials started pulling down goal nets and removing corner flags.

Then another twist to this story was revealed – the referee blew everyone back onto the pitch. From what I could make out by the players’ confused conversations, he had blown the whistle three minutes too early. The officials reattached the nets to the goals and speared the corner flags back into the ground. The spectacle seemed so random – something like this would never happen in professional football. Only in park football … I love parklife!

The three minutes passed, the whistle blew one last time and the game ended without addition to the score. Understandably, all the players seemed to lose their enthusiasm after the referee’s false break. Another indifferent three cheers were exchanged and the game was over again.

As long afternoon shadows drew over the park and a dusk coolness wafted on the breeze, a masked plover flew in and landed on the vacated oval space. Plovers carry an almost haughty air and can be quite aggressive and vocal – swooping and attacking anyone passing too near to their nest or young. They are a bird whose tenacity I respect when it comes to existing in human environments. Nesting in open, flat swamplands, they are very adaptable and often seek out urban spaces such as golf courses, airfields and parks. But with the over-extended usage Parklifeof city sports grounds in this modern age, even the most ambitious plover couldn’t truly utilise an oval such as Pratten Park’s for a viable nest.

We took this plover yesterday, though, as a signal to call it a day. The soccer players had unlaced their boots and the shuffler had completed his laps; Garry and I finished our beers and Emily her rice crackers; I had my roast dinner to cook and Garry had errands to run.

So we gathered our belongings and Emily was re-hitched into her baby backpack carrier. With our three souls replenished, we trundled out onto the street and back to our homes. I strongly doubt there could ever be too much parklife, but if ever there was, yesterday afternoon’s at Pratten Park might have come close.

About Blair Paterson

Blair grew up and lives in Sydney’s Inner West. He first realised a love of nature and the outdoors during weekends and holidays with his family on the Hawkesbury River. From humble childhood pastimes building billycarts and tree houses to spending large chunks of time in the bush, Blair now embarks on outdoor pursuits whenever and however possible – by foot, kayak, bicycle or other. He has worked in Environmental Management and currently Outdoor Education. Some of his fondest travels to date have been around Australia and through the Indian Himalayas.
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