AFL

“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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Resuming transmission.

There’s a line in the Macklemore song ‘Same Love’ that goes, “Have you read the YouTube comments lately? / “Man that’s gay” gets dropped on the daily / We become so numb to what we’re saying…” It gracefully outlines how casual discrimination can be in our every day conversations, our online interactions, our lives. We throw away comments without any regard for consequences.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that line today in relation to the coverage of the incident regarding Caroline Wilson. For those late to the party, a number of men including AFL club presidents Eddie McGuire and James Brayshaw, made comments on a radio station about holding her underwater and drowning her. Exceptionally poor taste, no matter which way you look at it.

For some reason, no one fires up the football community quite like Caroline. But regardless of whether you like her or not, or whether you agree with her journalism or not, surely there’s a line that’s crossed when violence is threatened, no matter what the context is. I’ve read a hundred comments today that say “oh we wouldn’t be outraged if they said that about a man” and try and brush it off like the problem lies with the victim, not the offenders. Our outrage that a woman should be upset about a comment that was apparently a joke.

Thing is, much like apologies that start with the immortal words “I’m sorry if…” it’s not so much about the intent but the impact.

Regardless of gender, the comments amount to bullying. If we’re going to tell people to live in the fantasy land of possible situations like we wouldn’t care if it was said to a man, then imagine this: imagine if it was your son or daughter, your family member or friend, in their workplace and you heard that their colleagues had been making statements like they should be drowned. The manager of your 15-year-old son who works at Maccas. Your 21-year-old daughter who’s just got her first job out of uni. Your best mate comes home from work and tells you someone said that about them. Would you be mad? Would you laugh it off as just a joke? I wouldn’t. I’d be pretty pissed off.

So why is it apparently OK in this context?

One of the biggest causes for concern in those comments and the group-think mentality that followed, was how quickly and casually violence is implied. We despair of courts filled with the stories of victims of one-punch assaults and wonder how, as a society, we reached this point. It’s the utter casualness with which we regard violence and this casualness just serves to reinforce that it’s OK to think or behave this way. It’s fine to threaten someone, to call them names, to bully them, to assault them. And when it happens, if some people object to it happening, then the fault lies with them not the offenders. We’ve become numb.

Classic Macklemore.

I stopped reading a lot of the comments on social media today because my heart hurt. It’s 2016 and the fact that people out there still believe this type of bullying behaviour is acceptable and want to make excuses for it just makes me incredibly sad. And that’s even without getting into some of the personal attacks and derogatory remarks thrown at Wilson and those who defended her by ignorant idiots out in the community. Her Age colleague Emma Quayle defended her against one such comment and was then sent hardcore porn. Quayle made a great observation that while she’s never felt anything but respect from people she’s worked with or around, she “shouldn’t have to feel ‘lucky’ that I don’t really cop all that much from readers at all”.

The drowning comment wasn’t received as a joke and it was barely intended as a joke. For those who want to write it off or claim double standards because Wilson sat in a studio at a radio station earlier and took criticism from a colleague, they need to appreciate the difference between saying something to someone who is part of the conversation and immediately able respond and a group of people attacking someone who isn’t there and cannot defend themself in that context.

Women aren’t precious; we can take a joke. (We even make them on occasion, too. Oh the horror.) We’re up for banter, for discussion, for criticism, for humour. But again, what is actually funny about this? What is acceptable? To either gender? It’s not just about women, so anyone who thinks it is is just kidding themselves and probably trying to deflect from the genuine issue at hand. Because it’s about how casually violence is referenced and how easily someone is bullied by their peers. It’s about how people who should be leaders and role models and more than old enough to know better, have utterly let us down.

Surely it’s not too much to expect we are all on the same page with this.

My one small beacon of hope is that even a week on, there are people who have been prepared to be outraged about it and refused to stay quiet. In the midst of abject ignorance, there are those willing to put their hand up and say this type of behaviour is not only wrong, but completely unacceptable. So while my heart breaks over every fool who claims Wilson and her supporters have overreacted, it’s mended a little by those willing to speak up in support and call out the idiots.

There just might be a chance for us yet.

“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. If you become aware of any individual degrading another, then show moral courage and take a stand against it.” – Lietenant General David Morrison, AO.

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For many reasons, long and varied, this blog has had to take a back seat this year. However I’m finally in a position to devote some time to it again and I’m looking forward to it. I sat at Etihad Stadium yesterday and watched the young GWS team eventually overrun the second string Bombers outfit, thinking about how great this game can be at times. Sometimes you just need a moment of reflection. My beloved Port Adelaide won’t make finals this year, which is desperately upsetting, but I’m hoping that they (like me) can draw a line through things and come out fighting for the second half of the season.

 

 

Flashback Friday.

nat sheeds rocket

Clearly I have a long history of shoving a recorder in people’s face and talking about footy.

Was clearing out some stuff back home in New South Wales a few weeks ago and came across these gems from about 1998 – me harassing Rodney Eade and Kevin Sheedy at a pre season game at the old Football Park in Canberra for a uni assignment. I would have been all of 19-years-old and how’s the casual hand-on-hip stance when chatting to Sheeds?!

For the record however, I would like to say that I now have much better hair and I no longer wear polo shirts with the collar up.

I’ve come a long, long way but one thing hasn’t changed – I still love footy.

The finale.

butcher

It was late on the Friday night and a friend asked if I wanted to catch up for a drink and watch the footy the next day. “Sure,” I said, “but it will have to be after the Port game.” It would be our very last for the year, a year that held such high expectations and then delivered on next to none of them. I had been so worked up about this season, almost fizzing with excitement, and devastated that it would be unlikely I’d see the year out thanks to a pending overseas trip.

I didn’t end up watching the game on Saturday afternoon, instead I enjoyed it old school style by listening to the call on the radio. Fremantle were ‘resting’ players ahead of their finals campaign and Port had little to play for aside from pride. My friend reckoned we’d get up by more than 40 points, I wasn’t so sure. This is Port Adelaide version 2015 I reminded him.

But we did get up and got up well – 69 points in the end. Not that it matters. There’s no finals for us this year. What a bitter pill to swallow.

That said, despite all the heartbreak and disappointment, there have been more than a few highlights. Two wins over Hawthorn. My first trip to Adelaide Oval, especially given it was ANZAC Day and the incredible spectacle that brought. The emergence of brilliant young talent like Brendon Ah Chee and Sam Gray. The continued leadership of Travis Boak. Port reaching 60,000 members and surpassing the Crows for the first time. Chad. The friendships that I’ve continued to build around football. This blog.

Not everything about 2015 has been a total write-off.

I’ll watch this weekend’s games from the comfort of my lounge room and next week’s at my parents’ house in NSW. I’ll be barracking my hardest for the interstate teams as usual and if the Swans can’t get up then I’d love to see Fremantle win it. Finals aren’t quite as fun when you’re not in them but this year has been such an enigma, I’m excited that almost anything could happen.

And then next year, next year, it’s ours.

 

Sun down.

boak GC

It’s been a long year. To be fair, it’s ending better than it started but I don’t think there’s a Port Adelaide fan who would come close to suggesting 2015 has lived up to our expectations.

If you had of asked me in April to look into my crystal ball then I would have seen us sitting high on top of the ladder at this time of the year and likely even minor premiers. Getting ready for a big finals campaign. Hoping fervently that this would be the year we notch up our second premiership.

The reality isn’t even close.

The last couple of solid wins, including last night’s effort against the Gold Coast Suns, has given me a small amount of hope that this season hasn’t been a total write off. Port Adelaide will likely finish ninth or tenth and we need to ensure we remember the regret of this year and build on it in 2016. We’re a club with a strong work ethic, we just need to find it again. As coach Ken Hinkley said during last night’s post game press conference, “Our supporters would recognise the way we played in the last month and say, ‘that’s our team'”.

Instead of lodging myself in front of the game at the Palace Hotel with a beer and a parma like I have for many of Port’s pay TV only televised games this year, I headed to Ballarat to a friend’s party. Good mates, good food, good times. A good break. I checked my phone intermittently for the score and was comfortable with how it was progressing as we headed to a 37-point win up in Queensland, but I didn’t feel that desperation to watch it. Next week’s game against Fremantle will round out the year for me and then after just one week of watching other teams take part in finals, I’ll be heading overseas.

Of course, I thought I’d be going and missing out on Port Adelaide rampaging through September and into October. What a difference a year makes.

Bring on 2016.

“I like the simple things – I used to love just going to the football and watching Gary Jr kick me a magic goal.”

nat and cath 2013 second final

Someone recently described Cathy Ebert to me as “still one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet” and I couldn’t have said it any better myself. After all, you’d have to be a pretty good person to put up with being my best friend for nearly 20 years and living with me not once but twice. We’ve had years of watching football games of all codes, from Bledisloe tests through to rugby league State of Origin to that time we went to the SCG for Paul Roos’ last game in 1998 and almost drowned in a torrential downpour. Cath is one of my favourite people to watch footy with (and talk about footy with) and one of the few I can stand sitting with when our teams play each other. Plus you know someone is top shelf when one of your favourite footy memories is celebrating together after their team absolutely flogs yours in a grand final. Just don’t ever mention Nick Davis to her…

Name: Cathy Ebert

Age: 37

Recruited from: Melbourne via Canberra and Dubbo

Occupation: Sports administrator extraordinaire

AFL team followed: Geelong Cats

All time favourite footy moment: 2007 preliminary final and grand final wins

“I follow the Geelong Cats. The first game of footy that I watched was the 1989 grand final. We were actually on holidays in Ballina and the grand final was on, Hawks and Cats. I thought well, I’m 11-years-old and I like Cats and I don’t like Hawks, I like blue and white and I really don’t like the poo and wee colours, so that’s how I started going for the Cats, just for that reason. We’ve had some bad years ever since I started following them but they’ve turned things around. I like that they’re a bit of a middle of the road side where we’ve had some good success but I don’t think they’re arrogant like some of the other sides. I like that the Cats are a good, strong, hard-working team and they’re proud. They generally give most games a go. Plus you’ve gotta love Gary Jr, Selwood and Bartel.

Dad used to be a Collingwood supporter or so he says, now my parents go for Sydney. I think mum and dad are a bit disappointed that I don’t go for the Swans because growing up we only got two channels in Dubbo – it was ABC and Mid State Television or something like that, and all you ever got was Swans games. So it’s probably a bit surprising that I’m not a Sydney supporter but I definitely stick with the Cats over the Swans, that’s for sure. There’s been a few incidents with mum over the years. I think probably the most memorable one was the 2005 preliminary final between Sydney and Geelong where the Cats were winning by 24 points with five minutes to go and then Nick Davis kicked a bag of goals for the Swans. Mum decided to ring me straight after the game and I probably wasn’t in the best mood to talk. I basically told her I wasn’t going to talk to her and I think I might have hung up on her or put her on to you and she talked to you. You just said the one word that night: “yesssssssss”. I can still hear it, “yesssssss”. I wasn’t quite sure whether to go up to my room or to hit you or to kick the TV. It was good that the Swans at least made it worth it and went on to win the grand final. So at least the Cats could say they were close. That was funny that night because I never really expected to win and I think that’s the thing with Geelong: I never really expected to win that game but then I had the hope that we were going to win with five minutes to go and being four goals up. It’s just crushing and Geelong over the years have done that, they did it in a final against Hawthorn recently. I never actually thought we were going to win that game but Varcoe missed a goal in front and then Hawthorn won. Sometimes I’d rather be beaten by 100 points than just be thinking of all the what ifs.

First time… I remember seeing Geelong v Carlton in 1997. I think that might have been one of my first AFL games. I came down to Melbourne, I was at uni in Canberra at the time and I came down with my friend Jules for a weekend. We went to Geelong v Carlton and that was at Optus Oval and the Cats won. Then the next day I think we went and saw Bombers v Collingwood which was the ANZAC Day game. So I think that was maybe one of my very first games, which was a bit interesting at Optus Oval full of Carlton supporters. People were mixing up my Cats scarf for a Carlton scarf. I think after that there were a few games at the SCG throughout uni but I’m pretty sure that trip to Melbourne was the first live AFL game I saw.

I have an AFL membership with support to Geelong. Even though I actually haven’t been to a game this year. In the last few years since having Hollie I’ve been lucky to go to a handful of games. This year I haven’t gone to any but I think I’ve watched every single game the Cats have played on TV. When we first moved to Melbourne I remember we’d try to go to a game on Friday night, go on Saturday and then Sunday, sometimes we’d be going from one game to another in the same day. I just loved footy and loved going to the game and getting a doughnut afterwards if the Cats won. That was always good.

Often when I’m watching a game at home, if the Cats are losing then I wait until the end of the third quarter and if they’re still losing then I might bring out the scarf. I have to make sure that if I’m going to the game, I have to find a person from the Salvation Army and I have to give them a dollar, and if they say “God bless the Cats” then I just know we’re going to win. I think in the game against Collingwood in 2009 to get into the grand final I got there and as I was walking up to the MCG I couldn’t find any Salvation Army people so I was starting to get in a panic. I think I actually did a full lap of the MCG just to find one and just when I had nearly given up I finally found a guy. I gave him a dollar and he did say “God bless the Cats” and to this day I think that’s why we won.

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There’s been a few good memories over the years. I like the simple things – I used to love just going to the football and watching Gary Jr kick me a magic goal. I loved whenever he did something brilliant. The year of 2007 – I think the grand final was good and I sat on my own but I sat with a lot of old Geelong supporters, you know, women in their 70s where it had been a long time since they’d seen a premiership. Nobody sung the song until the siren went even though we were up by so much because they were just worried that something might happen. We had that feeling that we could still lose this. They were in tears and so happy at the end. But I think even the final against Collingwood to get into the grand final is probably the most memorable for me. We were sort of winning and then we were only up by a small margin with a few minutes to go and nobody really knew how much time there was left. There was such intensity in that game. Then when the siren went it was the realisation that shit, we’re in the grand final. That’s half of it, just getting there. So that’s probably one of my most memorable matches.

Gary Ablett Jr is easily the best I’ve ever seen. Just the excitement that he brings to a game, he can just turn around a match. He can do the things that other players can’t do and he just has so much time – very rarely does he kick poorly or make a bad pass. His decision making is perfect. He’s definitely, without a doubt, the best I’ve seen. I’m still hopeful that he’s coming back to the Cats for a swansong. I remember the Geelong footy club called me up to buy some raffle tickets or something once and I think the prize was $40,000 or something. They asked me what I’d do with the money if I won and I said, “I’ll buy Gary back”. I think I was a bit short and $40,000 might buy him back for a game, maybe. I was a bit sad about the way it all happened, just because of Bomber Thompson and him being so outspoken at the end of season dinner about Gary needing to go and find himself. I mean, it makes sense if you’re young and you’re being offered that amount of money, plus you need a life outside of Geelong. But I am still hopeful. I think he’s signed with Gold Coast again but I haven’t given up hoping he’ll come back to us one day. That hope might be fading a bit though.

These days I like watching Selwood. I think he’s tough as nails and he just gives it his absolute all. He is the heart and soul of Geelong at the moment. There are probably other great players too, in other teams, but I tend not to watch as many games or opposition players any more. I’m hopeful Dangerfield will come to the Cats. If I was taking players from other clubs then it would be him, or even we need someone like Kennedy from West Coast. We need a forward. We need somebody to help out Hawkins. Sometimes I think back to people like Nathan Ablett – he wasn’t the big star at the Cats but he just worked well into the mix. We need a forward that can work well with Hawkins because he’s such a big bloke that takes up so much space. Boak. I’d take Boak any day. We nearly had him. And I quite like Alex Rance, I think he’s just a really good player.

I don’t like Hawthorn for obvious reasons being a Cats supporter. There are certain players at Hawthorn that I particularly don’t like, such as Mitchell. I don’t like Brian Lake at all either. He should have stayed at the Dogs and kept his original surname; now he’s gone to Hawthorn and become a Hawk and changed his name I can’t stand him. But I also don’t like Adelaide and that’s because I still think back to 1997 when the Cats finished second and Adelaide finished seventh, however because we didn’t have lights for our stadium and couldn’t get a game in Melbourne, we played our home final against the Crows over in Adelaide on a Saturday night. Nigel Smart I think it was kicked a few goals and Adelaide ended up winning, so since then I’ve always hated the Crows. I don’t like the tactics of Fremantle sometimes, but there’s not one particular player I can’t stand. There’s a lot of North Melbourne players I haven’t liked over the years but it’s probably not quite as bad now.

GoBlues

I think in Melbourne it’s always going to be AFL first. Before we moved to Melbourne I was a St George-Illawarra supporter in the NRL and you do watch a bit of rugby league and also rugby union living in Canberra. One of the things I find in Melbourne though is that it’s fully about AFL. You could be at work in the kitchen for example and you can start a conversation with someone and it always ends up being “Who do you follow?”. Or when you get someone new at work, the first question they get asked is “Who do you follow?” and if they say something like Hawks, someone will say “Oh how did you get past the recruiter?” or if they say ‘Pies it’s, “You must not have disclosed that in the interview because we wouldn’t have hired you”. That’s just how it is. I remember coming to Melbourne when I worked in Canberra with Swimming Australia and we’d come down here in December for an event and there’d be eight pages of the Herald Sun dedicated to football in the off season. It just purely is an AFL town.

Sometimes I don’t like when there might be an incident and the media just focuses on it for the next six weeks so it drags out, whether it’s actually a big issue or not. I think in terms of the actual game itself, some of the rules like holding the ball – it’s just hit and miss each week, you know. It’s like those signs you see that say ‘Police are now targeting speeding’ and instead it’s ‘Umpires are now targeting holding the ball’ this week, or chopping of the arms or whatever. I think it’s just the inconsistencies of umpiring that are so frustrating.

I love the passion of fans. You know, people just get so involved and it’s amazing. It’s been a few years since I’ve been to a lot of games but I love being at the ground with the atmosphere and you can just lose yourself. I remember a game, Geelong v Bulldogs back in about 2007 or 2008 and something happened, Cooney did something, and I stood up out of my chair and put on a five minute rant about something or other. You know, you just lose yourself in it. It’s that passion and excitement of following a side. I like when players celebrate when they’ve done something good – Motlop can do some magical things and he’ll get the crowd going and things like that. Just being there and being able to see it is always great.”

The $410.

monfries ah chee hawthorn

“Do you want to put a bet on?”

My brother, lying on the couch, turned to me and uttered that sentence while I was lying on the floor in front of the heater at our family home in NSW. It had been a big couple of days with illness and the emotion of my dad’s retirement taking it out of me. I’m not much of a punter by any stretch but I said yeah, OK.

“Explain to me what all my options are,” I replied.

My brother went through them but in typical fashion I zoned out halfway through and had to make him repeat them to me. And I still didn’t get it. He suggested we look at a win by a margin and brought up the various odds (that part I could understand). I’d told a couple of mates on their Hawthorn podcast that I thought the Hawks would win by about 24 points but the bookies and everyone else had this lined up to be a flogging. Good for me. I went with $10 on Hawthorn to win by between 13-24 points which was paying $8 and then $10 on Port Adelaide to win by between 13-24 points which was paying $41.

One bet with the head, one bet with the heart.

We went out for a family dinner and missed the start of the game, which was for some insane reason being played at Etihad, the home ground of neither team. I had in my mind it was starting later but no, we missed the opening. My brother brought it up on his phone and told me Port were up. Honestly, I never take that as a good sign this year.

Except by the time we got home and turned it on, they were still up. At the end of the first quarter they were still up. At half time they were still up. And at three quarter time they were still up, though the Hawks had pared the lead back to just a single point.

Once again I find myself asking, where the hell has this Port Adelaide team been all year?

We attacked with confidence, direct and up through the middle. We defended as a team and didn’t panic at any stage. Whatever kind of magic that seems to be in the air when we play Hawthorn, I want it to be there all year long. This was the Port Adelaide team I know and love, the team that plays gutsy, tough, exciting football that makes you remember just why the hell you love this game so much.

I kept waiting for the inevitable reversal in the final term when I thought last year’s premiers would push back and overwhelm us but it just never happened. Both Robbie and Sam Gray played out of their skin, Boak was solid (is there a better captain in the AFL to lead by example? I think not but I’m supremely biased), and Chad was just, well, Chad. Brendon Ah Chee had a brain fade that I thought might cost us the game when he handballed over the top from a close mark to a waiting Monfries, who then scored a behind, however he made up for it with a late deserved goal. Love that kid. Jasper turned defence into attack in the backline and Broadbent and Hombsch were their usual calm, reliable selves. It’s such a cliché but the Power was absolutely on.

I love that next to no one predicted this. The fans just quietly believed, though I’ll admit my head kept telling me something different to my heart.

As the game wound to a close, the scoreline was set just right for me to win the bet. The seconds ticked down and Port sat 22 points in the lead. Tick… Tick… Tick… I’d told my brother that I didn’t care about the bet, I just really wanted the win. But at a minute and a half to go he looked up at me, surprise and delight on his face, and said “I think you’re going to get this.”

Let me tell you, no one has cheered harder for either a Hawthorn goal or Port not to get a goal than I did for that 90 seconds. Every stoppage, every out of bounds, saved us.

They probably heard us screaming from Etihad when that final siren went.

At the end, I was $410 richer. But beating Hawthorn twice in a year that will be better known for the disappointment and heartache it has brought? Well that’s just priceless.