Australian Spoofing Championship organiser, Mark Ohlsson.
Australian Spoofing Championship organiser, Mark Ohlsson.

A game coat of many colours

EVERY once in a while something catches your eye that just can't be ignored, and this coat of many colours made its mark on my fashion senses during this year's Melbourne Cup day.

It's no ordinary coat. The cloth is closely guarded by British masters and meted out only to the lucky. Its origins are from the early 70s in the Fulham, England and relate to a vague gaming activity, tightly linked to rugby union, and called Spoof.

The jacket signifies membership of the spoofing community. Its colours are drawn from the major rugby playing nations. To qualify for a jacket a player needs to travel outside his home country to a World Spoofing Championship and then apply to the chaps that hold the bolt of cloth in England to have a jacket made. Once you have the jacket, you can don it any time like.

Australian Spoof master Mark Ohlsson, 61, is the next generation to take forward the almost-secret society of men behaving slightly badly at rugby union matches. He says many of the originators of spoofing are no longer around, but the game is being passed down to the next generations with old and young enjoying the camaraderie of the game.

There are gatherings of spoofers in almost all corners of the world. Mark says there is even a spoofing "school" in Bangkok due to the high number of ex-pats living there. Regional, national and world championship games are usually held around a major Rugby event such as a Bledisloe Cup. The next world championship will be in Japan during the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

But what is spoofing? It is played with three coins of equal size or denomination. There are groups, called schools, of players of two or more. The aim is to work out the total number of coins held in the players' clenched fist, and have a laugh. Each person has one guess. No duplicate guesses are allowed. Once all players have guessed, the fists are opened in order, starting with the first caller and going clockwise around the school. The total number of coins held will be added up and the person who called the correct number will be declared the winner of that round and will retire to the bar to order the drinks. The remaining school members continue until the final is contested by the last two remaining players. There are no losers in Spoo. The last man remaining gets to pay for the drinks of the other participants.

"Some of the old guys will tell you it was an ancient Mongolian game which came from the 5th century BC," Mark said. "Where it actually came from? I don't know that anyone actually knows."

What was an innocent question on the Melbourne Cup day, revealed a fascinating and colourful story.