“You were up in the stands, you were packed in, there wasn’t a seat spare… and I just remember it being the best atmosphere of any football match I have ever been to in my entire life.”

When you become friends with people as an adult and find out about their passion for football, you often miss out on the best parts. Because you get the mature, refined, sedate version of a fan, not the wild unchecked passion of someone’s teenage years where they treated players like modern gods or pin up idols. So it wasn’t until recently that I came to know the full extent of Janae Houghton’s misspent youth. Over beers in Canberra a few weeks ago I learned the full extent of her Collingwood obsession… and it only went downhill from there. When she told me she’d actually written a song about Tony Modra, it sealed the deal and I knew I had to find out not only what she thought about football, but everything about her days as a young football tragic.

Name: Janae Houghton

Recruited from: First the south east suburbs, then the western suburbs of Melbourne

Occupation: Journo turned comms guru

AFL team followed: Collingwood Magpies

All time favourite footy moment: The first ANZAC Day match, Collingwood grand final wins

“I go for the Magpies. The whole rest of my family are Essendon – dad and two brothers, all Essendon. But my pop was Collingwood and used to have this little Collingwood doll, so as a girl he told me that if I swapped, the doll was mine. And I went for Collingwood from there, much to the disdain of the rest of my family. Dad did not respond well. I wasn’t allowed to go to Collingwood’s games, nothing like that, he’d only take us to Essendon. Dad hated Collingwood with a passion.

Probably one of my earliest memories of footy is my older brother playing in the junior footy on the MCG, same as they do now, and I asked dad if I could do it. He said nah nah nah, girls aren’t allowed to play footy – I get there and there were other girls playing, and dad was like, I just thought you were too little and didn’t want you to get hurt. So I missed my one chance to play on the MCG.

The main rivalry in our family has been Collingwood/Essendon, that was massive. My dad has since passed away after he got really sick with cancer. One of my lasting memories of dad is that we always watched the Collingwood v Essendon ANZAC Day match together, and I remember towards the end, maybe a couple of months before he died, Collingwood and Essendon had played. I’d gone there and sat through the first half but he was really unwell and I’d left him because he’d fallen asleep. I’d just gotten home when the siren went and I got a phone call – all he said was “Go Dons” and hung up. It was just one of those ones that I remember, as I said it was the last one he did for me. Smartarse right til the end. Those kind of rivalries live in your family and that’s what footy is to us, I guess.

First time ever at the footy was Collingwood v Essendon, I do remember it. Back at Waverley, definitely at Waverley. So I do remember that.

Going along to the footy with my dad and my brothers is a great memory of footy for me. Being at Waverley too, it was so different to the MCG. It was freezing cold, it was almost like the local football because back in those days you could go on the ground afterwards. And like I said, you’d get there two hours early and you could go up to all the players – that wouldn’t happen now. We had some great chats. Lou Richards we met, and Dipper… so it was back in those kind of days where they would stop and chat to you for 15 minutes. It wasn’t like the gods they are made out to be today. They were really great. Mum and dad would drop us in and you’d be allowed to wait there for a couple of hours on your own – you’d never do that now. But those days are some of my best memories around footy and it’s what I think of now when I think of footy.

We used to go and watch Collingwood train at Victoria Park as well. The access you had to the players back then was amazing – and I know this is 15, 20 years ago now. But you’d go to training and it was just part of what they did, they’d stop and talk to the crowd, take photos and you’d be kicking on the ground next to them. There was none of this sectioning off or whatever. So that was always great, I used to love it. We’d go once every couple of months or so. I had some friends who barracked for Collingwood and their dad would take us down because my dad wouldn’t, he wasn’t going near the Collingwood ground!

At the footy – I’m psycho. Psycho. Want my team to win, yelling out BALL constantly. My partner hates going to the footy with me, we go to Collingwood v Richmond and he hates it. I can’t see outside of Collingwood. I’ll scream, swear, all of that stuff. I’m a genuine Collingwood fan, happy to sit with the club supporters.

Back in the day I was full kit. Scarf, socks, jumper, probably didn’t quite go the shorts, be more your black jeans but I had my Collingwood socks on underneath. I had ribbons, I had badges, the duffle coat. I do love a good duffle coat. Now I probably just wear the scarf and I don’t know if my jumper still fits to be honest, been a while since I’ve pulled it on… I don’t have any superstitions though.

I hate Carlton. With a passion. Typical Collingwood fan. And West Coast – when I grew up my best friend barracked for West Coast, she was from WA and they were always, “oh the weather’s shit here”. It was when West Coast was really good too and they were winning; they were so arrogant about their weather and their football team. We used to think, go back if you hate it here! Even now, whenever I hear about them I always think, bloody West Coast.

I’ve never been to the grand final but the game that probably sticks out most for me was the first ANZAC Day one where they shoved in 101,000 people. And was it a draw or did they win by a point? It would be about ’95, back when you could still get in cheap. I think we were 14 but said we were 10 and got in for $1.70 or whatever it was. You couldn’t pre purchase the tickets back then. They squashed them in, I reckon there was 101,000 people in there that day. I reckon it was a draw, now that I think about it. You were up in the stands, you were packed in, there wasn’t a seat spare – usually when you look across the MCC you see they aren’t all there but nah, not this day – and I just remember it being the best atmosphere of any football match I have ever been to in my entire life. It was amazing. And I was there with all Collingwood and Essendon supporters and we were all on the edge of our seats. So that game really stands out for me, the atmosphere was second to none. (Google tells me it was indeed a draw that day.)

I’m not a member now and I’m probably not as strongly into my footy now as what I was. My partner’s Richmond and my two boys are Richmond, so our household’s a bit more about that. But I was massively into it in my teens. Went every week but that was also when I discovered boys. I’d go and watch Adelaide because I loved Tony Modra, I’d go and watch Richmond because we loved Matty Richardson, loved Nick Daffy, all those players back then. We’d go and see Hawthorn because one of my best friends barracked for Hawthorn, West Coast because another of my best friends barracked for them and because Ben Cousins back in the day. That’s when he was still young and good. Hawthorn for Shane Crawford, Essendon for Gavin Wanganeen, I shouldn’t admit to Wayne Carey but that was before he was known for his domestic violence. I went to the footy heaps in those days. We lived in Doveton, which was 15 minutes from Waverley, so we’d be there two hours before the game out the back of Waverley. The players just sort of walked in through the members so we’d be there ready to meet them all beforehand, dressed in our jeans and t-shirts and scarves and boofy hair.

I also worked at a shop in Dandenong called Sports Trivia which was run by a former Richmond player, Gary Frangalis his name was. We used to have players come there all the time as well. I used to collect scrapbooks of all the players – Gavin Wanganeen was there once and he asked me to send him the scrapbook. I didn’t, I probably should have, but he’d signed it and stuff.

Back in the day my favourite players were Modra and Cousins. I’m devastated about what’s happened to Cousins. Of all time, my favourite player would have to be Dane Swan. Those two were my favourites back then but Dane was something else, he always added a little something. He kept most Collingwood supporters interested in a time when we were pretty crap.

It’s time to go Nathan Buckley, I think. It’s sad because I absolutely loved Bucks as a player but it’s just not happening. I also think it’s sad that’s it’s going to taint him as well. He’s gone from this club legend to where we are at now. Look at Hird. And my brother, my older brother, to this day is devastated about what happened and still won’t really have a bad word against James Hird. I remember him in maybe the 1995 grand final? Maybe 1993? He played that every week and it was just Hird, Hird, Hird in our family. Everyone loved him. It was sad his downfall, it was absolutely terrible. His own fault – possibly. But to go from being the most loved person at that club to potentially the person you don’t ever mention is awful. Even I loved him and I still struggle to associate him with that bad of things. No one wanted to see him try and take his own life either. It’s that same with Buckley – not that I think he’s going to end up that way – but I don’t want him to be remembered as a shit coach when he was such a brilliant player.

One of my favourite footy memories would have to be meeting Modra. I just remember – was I 14? Maybe, would have been about 14 – and me and my friends just idolised this guy. We went to all the games, cut out the pictures, any time he was on TV we taped it… We’d built him up as this sort of god or whatever. Somehow through the footy stuff we did we met this guy – and it sounds so weird now, if my mum knew it all she’d probably kill us – we’d met this older bloke, which sounds awful. It was just through a love of the Adelaide Crows as well. I remember he’d got our phone number and him ringing our home. Mum was like, “who the eff is this old bloke?” He said, “No, I can get the girls in to meet Tony Modra” and even mum was a bit suspicious. Can you imagine that happening now? You’d be ringing the cops, it just wouldn’t happen. Or put a Facebook post up and ring the cops saying this old bloke is ringing my daughter. But he said to mum, “No no no, I promise you I can get the girls in to meet Tony” and all this. I have an older brother so mum said if he took me, I was allowed to go. So yep, right, that was fine. We toddled off and they were at some hotel in the city they always went to so we went down there. It was just at the time when he shaved his head. Remember that? It was towards the end of his Godra days. I was there and my heart was pumping and it was such a let down. He was so effing rude. He just sort of did a photo and gave a grin and that was it. He didn’t stop and give you any of his time, though most of the other Adelaide players did. Do you remember Wayne Weiderman? Big ugly bloke and he was lovely. He stood and chatted to us because we were just these teenagers who loved footy. But Tony, who obviously got chicks chucking themselves at him all the time – and we were not the coolest chicks he was going to pick up, not by any stretch – he didn’t even stand up, he just kind of let us stand next to him and have this photo. So it was a really disappointing moment. I remember being so excited and then being “oh”. So that was a bit of a let down.

We did send Tony a copy of a song we wrote for him through some Adelaide people we knew but never sang it to him. Never got a response though!

I’m not into footy as much now, but you sit down and watch it – my partner Ben watches every game of footy in our house – and the minute you do it just takes you back and you absolutely love it. It’s so Melbourne. I love grand final week. We take the boys in now and we do the parade and go to all that stuff. People are so happy about the footy. I was thinking about it a lot last year because the Western Bulldogs got in obviously – I didn’t grow up in the western suburbs but live there now. I’ve never seen the western suburbs so happy. Before the grand final we ran into a couple of blokes that Ben plays footy with and I was saying, “You know, it’s so great to see everyone so happy and I don’t even think people will care if they lose, they’ll still be happy.” This guy was like, “they will fucking rip this place apart if they lose. There will be the burning of cars.” This was just before the grand final and I was like, “oh ok, let’s just hope the Bulldogs win then, shall we?” We even went along to the Western Oval for the day last year and it was just amazing, the passion people had. Ben took the boys to the Bulldogs training in the lead up as well and my youngest little boy, Jesse, had fallen over in the mud. And Ben was standing there thinking, oh shit what am I going to do with him, and then he feels a tap on the shoulder. This bloke goes, “oh g’day, I’m Peter Gordon,” and Ben’s like “oh, hi.” Peter said, “I’ve just seen your little boy fall over in the mud so I’m just going to take you into the shop and get some new clothes for him.” Ben told him not to worry about it because we just live up the road and Peter said, “no, I’m not sending him home like that.” Ben said we don’t even barrack for the Bulldogs, we’d feel awful. Peter just said he wasn’t sending a little boy home like that and walked him into the shop, $100 worth of Bulldogs gear and got him changed so he wouldn’t go home muddy. It’s that kind of thing that makes footy so great. Especially with a club like the Western Bulldogs – I mean, come on, Eddie McGuire’s probably not going to do that, is he? They’re a real community club. At Collingwood we would have just gone in and stolen the stuff… Ben was blown away and he’s a staunch, one-eyed Richmond supporter. It’s that thing about Melbourne, you belong somewhere and you feel passionate about something, it’s all of those things that makes me really love it. I still do.

My oldest Archie isn’t into footy as much but loves the Tigers and his favourite player is Dusty Martyn. Jesse’s never without a footy – he’s only two but he’s always walking around with it under his arm. He’ll toddle off each week with Ben to the local footy as well. Ben’s hoping in the next year or so they both get into it a bit more so he can take them to the AFL. Archie’s been to a game but he got a bit bored halfway through. He’s only five so that’s to be expected. But Ben is really looking forward to taking them and I can’t wait to go to Collingwood v Richmond with them. They usually only want to know when the Tigers win though so explaining to two little Richmond fans when their team loses by less than a goal, like they have plenty of times this year, is interesting. My brother’s kids are all Essendon with him and they’re fanatical, they go to all the games. His little boy is nearly seven but he had to try and keep all the stuff from him that was going on with Essendon, because how do you explain to a then-five year old what’s happened? They’re his heroes and he loves them. I guess that’s another part of footy too, these blokes aren’t just anyone, they’re someone’s heroes. His bedroom has got the big cut outs of the players all over the place and stuff.

We’ve done Auskick a bit and look, can’t force them into it but Ben and I would really love them to. You can go down the path of drugs and things like that but I’ve always seen my brothers involved in footy and that team environment and it’s somewhere to belong and do the right thing; they’re not just floating. So I like the idea of them being involved in that type of environment as well. I really hope that they do play.

The AFL does a good job of keeping this thing called footy alive in Melbourne and I think that’s really important. Remember for a while we thought Hawthorn and Melbourne were going to fold? I know part of that was the AFL stuff but I’m glad we’ve kept those teams. We’ve seen the game integrate into other states and it’s great that it’s promoted outside but it’s not quite the same. Keeping footy alive in Melbourne is important.”

Sing this to the tune of I need a Hero by Bonnie Tyler:

Isn’t there a football player who can steal my heart away?
I stayed at home on a Saturday
And I found him on the replay

His name is MODRA
Anthony Modra is the one that we love
He’s gotta be strong
And he is gotta be blonde
And I think he was sent from above.

I need a hero,
I’m holding out for a hero to the end of the game
He took the best mark
And he kicked the best goal
And I think he was sent from above…

REPEAT

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