What I think about footy.

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Last year I was sitting watching the grand final and this tiny seed of an idea came to me – I’d start a footy blog. I mean, I like writing and I like sport and I know how to turn on a computer, so what could be so hard? As the idea continued to build, I realised that what I really wanted was a place to publish all the great stories my friends have earned over the years. We all have them – the anecdotes and special memories and moments that made us laugh or cry and question why we let this game run our lives. My genius idea (sarcasm) was to interview my friends and get those stories out of them, though had I remembered just how much work is involved in transcribing interviews this may never have gotten off the ground!

While most of us who are footy fans are accustomed to the banter and discussion that goes on around the game, I realised that very rarely have I sat down with my mates and had an in depth discussion about why we love this thing so much and so hard, and what their opinions are on the way AFL is evolving. Those half hours grabbed in the office green room, parked cars, lounge rooms and rooftop bars were some of my favourite moments of the year. They also made me appreciate just how wonderful (and funny) my brilliant friends are. To Clair, Westy, Frosty, Beck, Carla, Ivo, Jane, Roger, Ben, Kate, Cheyno and Cath: a massive thanks for trusting I would do you justice and subjecting yourselves to my incredibly rusty interviewing skills. I have loved doing this and loved telling all of your stories.

And to finish 2015, this is my story.

“I’m a Port Adelaide supporter and have been from the time I started following AFL. I get asked about it all the time; I think for people in the eastern states it’s still a bit of a novelty to come across a Power fan. I was born and bred in NSW but we grew up with rugby league and rugby union – AFL was always ‘aerial ping pong’ to us and something that the Victorian interlopers watched. It wasn’t until the Swans made the 1996 grand final that my family took an interest. They all went with Sydney and I decided to be different and go for the new team that was entering the competition the next year, which was Port Adelaide. It’s funny, I think my decision to follow Port was also motivated a bit by my best friend at the time who chose to follow them as well but my love of PAFC has lasted about 10 years longer than that friendship. So it is definitely a commitment and one for life.

That said, I have an incredible soft spot for the Swans and for many years had memberships to both clubs. I love seeing my family happy and watching the Swans win the 2005 grand final was brilliant. I was here in Melbourne with a group of friends at the Waterside Hotel and it ended up being a pretty big day. At one point I was walking arm in arm down Flinders Street with former Sydney and Collingwood player Paul Licuria singing “Cheer cheer the red and the white” at the top our of lungs. Pretty random. 2012 was also pretty special and one of my favourite moments from that day is seeing my brother Paul, who had been to the game, in the foyer of his hotel and us running towards each other and jumping up and down and hugging. The shared joy of football is one of the things that make it so special I reckon. There are some very particular times each year though that I absolutely cannot stand the Swans and that would be whenever Port Adelaide plays them. We have a significant history of losing to Sydney and the ribbing from my family is almost unbearable, it’s pretty full on. My absolute worst nightmare is a Port Adelaide v Sydney grand final.

I honestly can’t remember the first AFL game I went to. I’m almost certain it was at Manuka Oval and involved Sydney but I couldn’t really remember any particulars other than that. Living in Canberra there’s such competition for your time when it comes to sport. I used to go to all the Brumbies Super 12 games with friends plus a few Raiders rugby league games, plus local rugby and then AFL when I could. The idea of travelling to Melbourne or interstate to watch AFL was almost unfathomable at that time and even going to Sydney to see a game was a big deal. So we just watched whoever happened to come to Manuka, which was generally the Swans or later the Kangaroos. When I got a bit older and earned a bit more money we started to travel to Sydney on occasion to see big games. Stadium Australia as it was then is a bit of a hollow ground but it’s a far easier facility to get to and negotiate than having to get right into the city to go to the SCG. I know Sydney people don’t quite feel the same but coming from the country then Homebush is just so much simpler.

The 2004 grand final easily stands out as my favourite football memory, ever. I was only saying to a friend the other day that I’ve really come to appreciate as I get older how lucky I’ve been to watch my team win a premiership in my life time. Regardless of whatever else happens I can hold on to that because there are so many people who aren’t as lucky. I’d watched the Port v St Kilda prelim at home with mates the week before and was an absolute mess, all nervous energy and bunched up in the corner of the lounge not speaking to anyone. I remember that moment when Guerra stuffed up the kick for St Kilda so clearly and then just that feeling of relief knowing we were actually going to play in a grand final after three years of choking. The night before the grand final I went to my brother’s footy presentation night and I wore a teal coloured top and barely drank all night in preparation. I was driving back to Goulburn the next day to watch it with my family and I wanted to be mentally and physically prepared. I’m pretty superstitious when it comes to football and when I woke up the next day, my Port Adelaide clock had stopped at exactly 2.30pm – game time. Uh oh. Then I had a bottle of expensive champagne I’d been given by my boss which I’d been saving and I forgot to bring it with me, so that was another bad sign. I was driving back along the Hume, feeling pretty ordinary and all of a sudden a Scott’s truck went past and I knew we were going to be OK. I’m aware of how unreasonable that all sounds! I was pretty nervous until about midway through the third quarter when the Lions’ Tim Notting stuffed up a kick and we got a goal from the turnover. That’s probably the moment I knew we were going to be OK. I remember my dad shaking me on the shoulders saying “You’ve won this” about five minutes from the end and then just joy at the end when the siren went. I loved it all. I loved Choco pulling on his tie and crying as he ran down the race. I loved when he yelled out “Allan Scott, you were wrong!” I know a lot of people didn’t really like the emotion our club showed after the win and were pretty hard on how we behaved afterwards but I think unless you had followed Port through those tough years prior, you just wouldn’t understand it. It was incredible and an incredible relief.

I’ve got a few other favourite memories. Going to the SCG in 1998 with my best friend Cath to watch Paul Roos play his last ever game in a final against the Crows and it absolutely bucketed down. A woman sitting behind us had on white jeans and a red suede anorak and ended up with pink jeans. We caught the train back to Goulburn the next day, fell asleep and only woke up when they made the final announcement for the station. We jumped up in a panic and left all our bloody lollies behind. I went to a Swans v Eagles final at Homebush in about 2003 or 04 where it poured down as well and lightning hit the stadium. We had no idea but apparently they weren’t far off calling off the game. I remember my dad and I were picking seats and we sat in the open; he said “it hasn’t rained in six years, it’s not going to rain tonight.” Of course we got drenched though at least Sydney won. Going to Adelaide is always special and I’ve seen a few Showdown wins and the 2007 prelim where we smacked North Melbourne was a great one. ANZAC day this year watching Port beat Hawthorn in my first Adelaide Oval experience would have to be my favourite game of the last couple of years. I have a lot of great memories, even the 2007 grand final where we got flogged by Geelong is one of my favourite football memories, which I’m sure sounds weird. At the time I was living with Cath, who is a Cats supporter, so we had a special GF day breakfast at home together with her now husband Matt, then we went to the MCG together before heading to our separate areas. It was over by about quarter time for us but I stayed for the whole game, all the way through to number 17 Shannon Byrnes in the medal count. I cut my losses then and went to meet up with other friends at the European Bier café on Exhibition Street and proceeded to get hugely drunk. Cath showed up a few hours later and we were camped at the top of the stairs drinking Jaeger Bombs together, me in my Port jumper and scarf and her in all her Cats gear. About 8 or 9pm the venue cracked the sads and said no more club colours so people would get to the top of the stairs and see us there in all our gear getting along and just go “WTF?!” It was such a big night. I threw up under a table and lost my 2004 premiership scarf. At one point I had my head down on the table and Cath said this guy was rubbing my back and telling me it was going to be OK, we’d be back next year. She came up and said to him I wasn’t crying, I was just passed out. Very funny. I called the next day but they didn’t have my scarf sadly.

Worst football memory would have to be 2003 prelims. My brother Cheyne and I went up to Sydney with a group of friends to watch the Swans play the Lions and left early so we could have lunch and catch the Port v Collingwood game first. It was traumatic. Port lost yet another final and all I can remember from that game is seeing Rocca elbow Brendan Lade in the head and thinking, “well you’re not playing in a grand final next week”. When the game finished I went to the toilet and cried. It’s funny, I’m not a super emotional person, even with work, but I absolutely bawled that day. I think everyone I was there with was a bit shocked. Then we went inside and watched Sydney get done by Brisbane fairly comprehensively so none of our teams got up. It was an absolute shocker.

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I’ll be the first to admit I’ve only really come back to footy after a few years in the wilderness. When I first moved to Melbourne it was such a big deal for me, I’d watch the Ashburton thirds kick a can around the MCG if it was on. I had both Port Adelaide and Sydney memberships and I’d go every other week, whenever they were playing in town. I also did a fair bit of interstate travel and up until GWS and Gold Coast entered the competition I’d been to every AFL ground except Darwin. Then around 2010-11 I started to wane a bit and I just had other priorities in my life, found other things I was interested in. I was always very full on into sport – AFL, rugby union, rugby league, cricket, tennis, netball – ever since I was a kid and this was probably really the first break I’d had. I still had a passing interest in all this stuff but the genuine obsession wasn’t there. So yeah, you can throw the tarp jokes or bandwagon jokes at me then. In 2013 when Port started coming good again I went to the two finals against Collingwood and then Geelong and that’s what probably re-whetted my appetite for it. Then last year I followed it a lot more closely and my passion for football really grew again as the season progressed, culminating in me sitting at home around grand final day and coming up with the idea for this website. I think I’ve learned to balance football with all the other things in my life a lot better now that I’m older and while I’m still passionate about it I can keep some perspective. One thing I had forgotten until this year is how much it hurts when you have high expectations and lose – not so fun remembering that part.

I renewed my Port Adelaide membership this year and picked a Victorian package that includes an extra six games at the MCG, so I’ve been able to use that to see the Swans play. I also really wanted to catch at least one GWS game but it didn’t work out due to other commitments across the rest of the season. The next thing I did was go through the roster request book at work and throw in a very early request to have off all the days Port play in Melbourne. Because I work shift work I can’t really leave that to chance or I’ll miss out. I went to all the games here and the only one I missed out on was the Hawthorn game as I went home to see my dad retire. I don’t know any other Port Adelaide fans so generally I’ll go to games by myself, though I’m happy to go with supporters of whatever team we’re playing if I can rustle someone up. I don’t have to sit within the Port cheer squad or supporter bays but I do like to sit near at least some of my people. It’s nice not to be totally outnumbered. I would describe myself as a fairly exuberant person in my normal life but at the footy all that changes – I get very quiet and very nervous and I don’t really like to talk as much through the game. If we kick a goal I’ll clap or do a little punch in the air but I’m definitely not loud. I jerk around a bit watching the flight of the ball and often I’ll dig my nails from my right hand into the back of my left hand, so you can tell how close a game has been by how battered my left hand is at full time. If someone’s lining up for a shot on goal I’ll usually just rock in my seat and quietly mutter their name, like“kick me a goal Chad, come on kick me a goal” over and over. I’m sure people would expect me to be obnoxious at the footy given how much of a smart arse I am the rest of the time but hopefully I’m not!

I definitely am superstitious. I just look for little signs all the time. I also have so many pairs of teal underpants that I’ll wear but if I have them on and we lose, I can’t wear them to the game again. If I wear something or do something particular at a game and we lose I can’t do it again. For example last year I wore teal glitter nail polish to the prelim against Hawthorn and given we lost, I can’t wear that nail polish to the footy again. When I went to Adelaide this year for the ANZAC game I was waiting to catch the tram to Adelaide Oval and the Port marked tram showed up so I knew we were going to be OK. I’m aware of how completely ridiculous all this sounds.

Port had such an amazing team around that time in the early 00s. Stuart Dew was always my absolute favourite, from the second I started following Port. He would just kick these amazing, magical goals, long bombs from 70m out and they’d be straight through the posts every time. A brilliant kick and could always make something happen out of nothing. Plus he was fairly easy on the eyes. Josh Carr was my second favourite and he absolutely broke my heart when he left to go to Fremantle in 2005. He was such a tough, gutsy little mid-fielder who really personified how hard the club was at the ball in those days. He was the kind of player supporters from other clubs would hate because he was a niggly prick but I loved him. And he was involved in that infamous Ramsgate Hotel post-Showdown incident, which probably sums him up. I was rapt when he came back to us. Michael Wilson was another favourite, just beautifully skilled and came back from two knee constructions and shoulder issues to play in the 2004 grand final. I loved both the Cornes but Chad especially – I loved watching him give it to the Crows supporters after a Showdown win. These days I just can’t go past Travis Boak – an incredible human and a wonderful player and leader. He really personifies that Port Adelaide attitude of “we never ever give up”. I think about what he did for Port but committing to us when there was absolutely nothing good and no real hope on the horizon. Any other club would have been rapt to have him but he chose us and I think the love he gets from supporters really reflects that. I’m so proud he’s ours and again, definitely easy on the eye. Robbie Gray is a Rolls Royce. Just slick. And I’m so excited to watch Ollie Wines develop as a player and a person. For a 20-year-old he’s incredible, you forget how young he is.

I’m not sure you can talk about Port Adelaide at the moment without mentioning Ken Hinkley. What he’s brought to our club is amazing and he’s been a huge part of the transformation over the past couple of years. There’s that line, you know, about him being the last man standing for our job and turns out he was the right man standing. You can talk about Travis being loved by our supporters but the same would easily be said for Kenny. One of the great things I admire about him is that he’s a coach that has has actually coached – he’s taken teams in local competitions and crafted them into premiership sides. I think that’s something that’s enormously underrated and often missing from AFL coaching these days. You cannot simply give an ex AFL player a head coaching job and expect them to deliver a flag on a silver platter. It just doesn’t work like that. They need to invest time in giving themselves experience and learning the trade and clubs who try and rush that have historically been the poorer for it. I love Ken’s background and more than that, I love the down to earth, pragmatic person that he is.

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A lot of people I spoke to nominated Luke Hodge, Nat Fyfe or Joel Selwood as players they want at their clubs but I’d have to say Luke Parker is someone I’d like to have at Port. I just love the way he goes about it, he’s got so much talent for a young kid. Schultz is getting on so I’d be happy to see him replaced by Jeremy Cameron – that GWS side is going to be a monster in a few years if they can hold it together. Michael Barlow is probably my favourite player outside of Port Adelaide because I absolutely love his story and how it illustrates the power of self belief and not giving up on a dream. He was a late draftee at 22 and had so many near misses getting into the AFL before Fremantle took a punt on him. He’s paid them back a hundred times over and turned into a really important part of the Freo team that’s been on top of the ladder all year. Plus I love his sense of humour – I can’t go past a good smart arse.

I hate North Melbourne and St Kilda. The Kangaroos are just a team of grubs and always have been, I cannot stand them. And the “Shinboner Spirit” bullshit they carry on with must be the biggest wank in AFL footy. St Kilda I don’t like because they beat Port in the last game of the home and away season in our first year in 1997 and kept us out of the finals. Not that I hold a grudge or anything. They’ve also been a bit grubby off the field as well. I don’t have that inbuilt hatred of the Crows because I’m not an Adelaide person, though I certainly enjoy beating them. Being a NSW person I’ll also always back an interstate team in over any Victorian team. It’s just the done thing. There’s a bit of a hierarchy but I’d never cheer for say Richmond over West Coast. Re players I used to have a really odd dislike of Scott Lucas from the Bombers and I’ve never liked Paul Chapman, Sam Mitchell or Boomer Harvey but other than that I don’t really hate any players.

This year I’ve really struggled with the negativity from supporters towards the game. It feels like people have lost their appreciation of the sport in a broad context and can’t appreciate when other teams do well or how good other players are. I think social media plays into that enormously. I’m not on any of the sites like Big Footy or other message boards but Facebook and Twitter are bad enough. There’s just this constant spewing of vitriol towards clubs, especially when they’re doing well, and absolutely no thought or reasoning put into opinions. Just faceless keyboard warriors and they really really irk me. I remember earlier this year Freo only beat Gold Coast by nine points and all the commentary was around how Freo had finished and they were useless and were totally overrated. Well, at that point they were two games clear on the ladder and had actually beaten GC but to read the comments you wouldn’t know. People are just idiots. The Adam Goodes thing kind of summed that up for me too. I’m very pro Goodesy and while I’ll concede that perhaps some element of the booing isn’t racist, my gut feeling is that a lot of it is, even sub-consciously. I still cannot fathom how, in 2015, an indigenous player does a 10 or 20 second indigenous war dance during indigenous round and we have to get so up in arms about it. I just cannot understand what the big deal is. I remember making a comment about it at the time because I wanted to indicate my support and to be honest, the reactions of a lot of people disappointed me. Again, it’s 2015 FFS. How is this still a battle we’re having? And the same thing happens in every round like indigenous round, women’s round, the anti-homophobia games – you can telegraph the comments in where idiots start asking when it’s white man’s round. Oh mate, it’s white man’s round pretty much very week and has been for over 100 years. I’m from the school of people that believes sport should be an agent for cultural change in the community so I’m very supportive of those kinds of programs.

I also hate how over officiated the game has become. This year the umpiring has been as disgraceful as I can remember in a long time – totally and utterly inconsistent and incompetent. They’re changing the rules every other week so it’s no wonder the umpires can’t keep up. And the match review panel is an absolute joke, if you want to talk about inconsistent then they really set the standard. Someone made a comment not long ago that it was like spinning the MRP Wheel of Fortune and I reckon that sums it up nicely.

I can’t remember a time in my life when I haven’t been around football of some code. I grew up crawling around country rugby league grounds, then went to rugby union games as I got older and finally found my way to AFL. And I have loved it all. Sport has brought so many good things to my life and to my family, brought us great friends and some wonderful cherished memories. It’s something we’ve always done together. Because I have spent time at footy clubs at grass roots level I have a real appreciation for that sector of our game and I sometimes think people who have only ever been AFL fans don’t quite get that. I know what it’s like to get up early on Saturday morning and how it’s a hassle to get someone to bring ice or to run water or to man the canteen. While the AFL is the sport’s showcase, the grass roots level is where is has to really be nurtured so it continues to grow. These days I don’t think it’s enough to just assume people will always love footy or that there will always be a massive market for it. If you don’t look after the game then it won’t prosper. Without doubt NSW, ACT and Queensland are where we are going to have really work hardest at growing and I just don’t think the Victorians in particular get that – because those other states do have genuine competition for kids’ attention, it’s not just a given that they’ll be AFL supporters. Plus they absolutely need homegrown heroes to look up to and want to emulate.

I hate when people say football is just a game because it isn’t. For so many people it’s the only time they feel like a winner, the only time they feel part of something, the only bright spot in their ordinary existence. It gives so much to so many because the game is bigger than that four quarters. It’s a business but it’s also a passion and it undeniably has the power to unite people. I love it. I love watching it, I love reading about it, and clearly I love talking about it and writing about it. I hope you’ve enjoyed being along for the ride this year too.”

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