Life People Regions Wine

Kicking the footy

Written by Paul Bateman

When brothers get together to share a bottle of something good

James was my fifth birthday present. I wanted a brother with whom I could kick the footy. Three days before I turned five, Mum gave birth to James.

My parents brought James home from the hospital and placed him in a cot. One week later, I approached my mother with a football in my hands: “Can James come out and play?”

When Mum said no, I cried in protest. What good was a brother so evidently lazy?

I returned to the back yard and played alone for several more seasons, amassing on the way a swag of premiership flags and several ‘best and fairest’ awards.

I slotted match-winning goals from every corner of the garden, usually on the siren and always before dinner.

These achievements were all the more remarkable given my dual role as game-day commentator: “Bateman taps to Bateman, gives it off to Bateman, takes a bounce, shrugs a tackle and bombs it long… to Bateman! Goal!”

By the time James could kick a football, he and I were kids in the 1980s, running about in Essendon jumpers.

I wore the number 10 on my back. Number 10 was Essendon’s 300-game player Garry Foulds, an unassuming man of extraordinary talent, who floated on a wing gathering possessions at ease.

James was drawn to number 18: Paul ‘The Flying Dutchman’ Vander Haar.

A strong and courageous player, Vander Haar spent most of his career at centre-half forward, launching himself into the air from the edge of crowded packs. He was easy to love; a superstar.

I still own an Essendon jumper with a 10 on the back. I told James to wear his, too, when later this year we attend an Essendon game together – but James no longer has his jumper.

So I bought him one, with 18 attached, and presented it to him earlier this week.

chianti botWe met at a cheap and cheerful BYO Italian restaurant.

James paid for the meal and I supplied the wine: a 2012 Fontodi Chianti Classico, made from 100 per cent Sangiovese grapes grown in Panzano, Tuscany.

Our waitress was Italian. She lifted the bottle and examined it closely. “This,” she said, “is very good.”

It was: an elegant, powerful, succulent wine with an earthy, spicy, vibrant nose and layers of dry, dark fruits.

James liked the jumper. A lot. It sparked a long and funny conversation about AFL Grand Finals we have watched together. And stories, too, about the football we played when we were younger men.

It’s been a long time since James and I stood in the street or danced around an oval, booting a football back and forth, filling the air with brotherly noise.

The football now is figurative: it’s the things we talk and laugh about; the stuff we kick around together.

Like going to the footy. Like chatting on the phone. Like sharing a meal or a bottle of wine.

I hope we kick the footy until we’re old, old men.

Featured image: The Australian Dance; Paul Bateman, 1999
Below: (a) Garry Foulds; (b) Paul Vander Haar

Garry Foulds Vandar Haar

About the author

Paul Bateman

I'm a writer from Melbourne, Australia. I love those moments where life and wine intersect in ways that matter. I write on other subjects at


  • Paul often asked me why I never bothered to tackle him. “It’s obvious mate ; why would I tackle you when I’ve got the ball!”
    Great memories mate!
    Well done!!!!

  • From Mum:
    Lovely memories there Paul! xx Great response James! xx

    I seem to remember that James was nearer to 3 weeks of age that day when you came in from kicking your footy outside.

    As always you were all decked out in your favourite outfit – your Essendon footy gear, complete with a sensible singlet & a red skivvie under your Essendon jumper. (It WAS July after all!)

    You stood in the doorway, football tucked under your arm, face full of expectation and asked me ‘if James could come out & kick the footy with you’! I replied ‘no, he couldn’t’ – to which you looked puzzled & asked ‘but why?’ I explained he was too little & his feet were so tiny.

    ‘You persisted: ‘When will he be big enough then?’ I replied: ‘In about 3 years time’!

    At this news you promptly burst into tears, dropped your footy & exclaimed: ‘Then send him back where you got him & get a bigger one, ‘cos I want a brother to kick the footy with’!!!

    (Having to return a 7lb-plus newborn back from whence it came held no appeal for me. I grimaced at the thought – let alone having to then push out a 3 year old!)

    Now a days your ‘little’ brother James is your BIGGER brother, being so much taller; & those tiny feet have grown to a size 12 plus – perfect for kicking around the footy with you Paul for many more years; along with all the memories you soon companionably created together.

    As the years pass, I know that the Bateman brothers will still be spotted savouring a fine red wine together, along with a kick-to-kick of the footy – even up to old-age where they will need to keep warm by donning ‘pensioner’ singlets & possibly red skivvies, under those well-worn, much-loved, Essendon jumpers!

    Love Mum xx

  • I’ve just come across this story, and can hear the excitement in your voice. Glad you’re going well Curly. Always a Gryph. Wally

    • Wally,
      Many thanks! Hope you’re travelling well; still kicking the footy of life.
      Cheers mate,
      Curly (12 games, 35 stitches)

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