Fanciful stories have always been told in pubs, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one more out-there than the Old Bar football team’s belief in unicorns.
Every few weekends, the pubs of Fitzroy, Collingwood and Brunswick East come together at Brunswick’s Gillon Oval for a round of the Renegade Pub Football League.
The team from Fitzroy’s Old Bar is known as the Unicorns and player Ben Butcher says it’s not a nickname to be taken lightly.
“We have a slogan,” he says. “Fear the Fantasy.” Butcher says the Unicorns haven’t been the most successful team, but they are the most “mythical”.
“We do let the fantasy run way out of control,” he says. “We like to think we’re the most awesome even if we’re not the best. We wear headbands as often as possible.
‘‘I’ve got a glitter headband. Rainbow-coloured socks if we can find them. We don’t even have proper jumpers, just white T-shirts that we spray numbers on the back.
‘‘But we are the only team that gets a banner to run through.” Butcher grew up playing football in the country but says he was “always worried about getting injured”.
Now a musician and awardwinning artist, he says the pub league has allowed him to combine two loves.
“My current band, High Tea, have played at the Old Bar quite a bit, and for we musos [football’s] a great excuse to get some fitness over the winter months,” he says.
“When people hear of a pub league, they think of boozehounds who want to go out there and crack skulls, but it’s almost a safehouse for we muso types because we can do a bit of physical exercise but not get too hurt.
“A lot of arty types have shunned the sport, and the connection between music and footy isn’t made much.
‘‘So this is where Melbourne’s live music scene comes together to play footy … it’s unique.”
Liam O’Shannessy runs the off-field side of the league and plays for the Tote in Collingwood. He says the competition has become quite organised in recent years.
“I played a fair bit of serious footy in the past but iwasn’t all that impressed by their attitudes to women and the way some of them behave around the club, so istopped playing for a few years,” he says.
“In this league, each team has a mix of men and women, there are dogs running on the field, it’s quite entertaining.
“Before you go and have 10 beers or play a gig, it’s good to have a kick for half an hour.”
Fantasy football Pub league is on the bottom shelf of Aussie Rules – but it’s intoxicating.