Culture Life Sport Travel

The centre circle

Written by Paul Bateman

Lost and found

Three days after landing and my soul is nowhere to be found. I am wandering in circles, sleep-deprived, jet-lagged, speechless and unsure.

I have been away for two months: long enough to loosen the ropes on the moored ship of self; to drift beyond the routine world.

Two months of northern light and summer sun. Two months of new and novel thoughts. Two months of tuning to a deeper inner dialogue.

Then hurtled in a tin can, at 40,000 feet, back to winter and the south. I’m in shock.

I can hear a game of football at the far end of my street – an old, familiar music carried on the wind. Waves of sound rise and fall, depending on the action.

A siren rings. A whistle blows. Distant voices fill the air. I head for the oval and enter the dance.

When I was young and earnest, I followed the game in detail: tackles and tactics; captains and coaches; strategies, scores and statistics. Football as chess. A zero-sum game.

Now I’m on the boundary line with a can of lager in my hand. I face the sun and close my eyes. My body dissolves in winter light.

The game is a river; it sweeps one way, then another. I stand on the bank as the contest ebbs and flows, alive to its rhythm, mystery and force.

The oval lies at the western end of Melbourne’s Westgate Bridge. The traffic is a distant hum, a sound so unceasing and hypnotic that it seems a part of nature.

Clouds come and go at remarkable speed. There are drops of rain. There are gusts of wind. The oval is bathed in a fluid light. The air is sharp and cold.

Spotswood defeat St Albans by nine points – but what do I care?

I want only to be carried: to be warmed and made welcome; to be lulled and made whole; to travel on the currents of the spectacle before me.

I go to the football to rest and recover. I go to recalibrate.

When the players have left the ground, and the sun is in the gum trees that line the western wing, I step across the boundary line and head for the centre circle.

I stand among long shadows and watch the sky grow dark. My breathing slows. My fingers freeze. My soul arrives without a sound and settles at my feet.

Home again.

First published in The Footy Almanac, 11 August 2017
Image: The centre circle; Paul Bateman, 2017

About the author

Paul Bateman

I'm a writer from Melbourne, Australia. I write about life as I find it. In doing so, I hope to offer something real. I write, too, about wine at


  • Good one Paul. Well told & warming story. You paint a great word picture. I felt the chill of the wind. I could also picture the scene after 8 weeks of house sitting for you & hearing those weekend sounds at the end of your street: ‘A siren rings. A whistle blows. Distant voices fill the air.’
    Keep tapping those keys & creating great word pictures such as ‘The Inner Circle’ – even for ‘footy philistines’ like me!
    Love Mum xxx

  • Once more Paul your beautiful crafted words bring us along with you as you come home. Thanks for this telling of the desolate moment of return, the healing winter light and familiar rituals of the footy.

  • I assume this is how I will feel when I return from the northern summer in mid-September. Let’s breathe in the linament together.

  • Hi Paul, Yep just returned from 5 weeks of Northern light and summer sun myself so I can relate heavily to your need to recalibrate. Loved the words you used to describe your time away and how your soul returned to you. For me its going to Elwood beach and walking along the shore line that does it – something about the wind and movement of the waves calms me and brings me home. Thanks again for putting into words your travellers journey. It was a beautiful read as usual. Happy homecoming. Bronte

Leave a Comment