AFL

“It was my most prized possession. I used to carry it around on my person. I’d just whip it out and go, ‘See my photo with Woewy?’ to everyone.”

Kate Millar

There are few people who can deliver a cracking tale like Kate Millar and even better when it’s over a couple of beers. I mean, the girl’s partied with rock stars and even Robbie Williams has a personal nickname for her (in the best possible way). She’s a passionate Melbourne Demons fan, a big V supremacist and possibly the only person who still has Shane Woewodin up on a pedestal. I’m just devastated she couldn’t find the photo of her sitting on his lap. I met Kate when we worked together a few years back and I still maintain she would have been an excellent detective, though that’s definitely a story for another day…

Name: Kate Millar

Age: 29

Recruited from: Essendon

Occupation: City of Melbourne comms ninja

AFL team followed: Melbourne Demons

All time favourite footy moment: 2000 grand final appearance

I go for the Melbourne Demons. I think my first words were “Go Dees” as a toddler. My mum is major Demons, my nanny was major Demons and there is a bit of a joke in my family that both my nanny and my mum converted my Grandpa and Dad to be Melbourne supporters. Both my dad and grandpa said it was just going to be easier that way, because mum and nanny were both such fanatic Dees supporters. So me and my brother are true Dees – we had little choice. I remember when I was a toddler sitting in the car and my parents saying to me “Go Dees! Go Dees!” My parents have a lot to answer for because it’s led to a life of heartbreak.

I’ve gotta say, if I was ever going to stop barracking for Melbourne it would have been in primary school when I went to Essendon Primary School, which was at Windy Hill. About 95 per cent of the kids there went for Essendon and I felt like one of the only people in that entire school that went for the Demons. And there was a fair amount of kids pressuring me, saying things like “Errr why do you go for the Demons? Who goes for the Demons?”. Growing up it felt like, apart from family, I was the only person of my age in the suburb to barrack for the Demons. I can’t explain why I still go for them but if I was strong enough as a 10-year-old to stand against every single kid at Essendon primary and say “No I’m not changing teams” then I’m strong enough to still go for them now. We’d go to footy clinics at Windy Hill with Kevin Sheedy and all the Essendon players and I’d be the only kid in a Demons jumper. My parents got into our minds young and it worked, it definitely worked.

The first time I went to the footy was a sad day. It was Melbourne v West Coast and would have been in probably about 1994, I want to say. I went with my uncle who is a massive Dees supporter. We were sitting really close and it was really exciting. We were a good team back then but we lost dismally. But that’s OK, I was still really excited to be there and I remember it quite vividly. It was the start of something for me.

Going to the football now… So, this is a contentious issue. Growing up, I went to every single home game without fail and I was a gold member. Then come about 2008, things started to go rapidly downhill for the Dees – I was still a member and I might go once or twice or three times a year, but then I dropped off to the point where come 2012 I couldn’t even name half the players in the team. When I say I was a passionate supporter as a kid, I was over the top. Not only did I know all the players, which is normal, but I knew their heights, their date of birth, I knew every stat about them. I was fanatic, absolutely fanatic. So when they lost, I don’t want to say I’m a bad sport, but it cut deep. It cut really deep. Especially watching them lose to Essendon by 100 points. I’m not proud but I did drop off a bit. Now I’m back on board – though this year I haven’t been to a huge amount of games – I think three. I also still havent renewed my membership. I abandoned my gold membership about five years ago but I’m a few years off getting my MCC membership so I’ll hold out. I want to support the club so maybe next year. I should.

I’m a really nervous, anxious, chew my fingernails type of watcher. I don’t like close games. Sometimes I feel like I’d prefer to lose a game by 50 points than two points, because I get so anxious. If it’s really close and we’re behind then I have to distract myself and just get on Twitter and look at Titus O’Reily to make myself feel better. I’m like, you know what, this will play out the way it needs to play out but I don’t need to be engaged in this right now because I’m too anxious. But I’ve gotta say this year, even if it’s a close game, I still get excited even if we lose. I go into the game thinking we’re gonna lose and so if it’s really close, that’s a good thing – though, don’t get me wrong, when we lost to St Kilda with 19 seconds to go there was a tear that came out of my eye. But for the Dees to play a really competitive game, that’s exciting because Melbourne haven’t been that team for eight years. Eight years. That’s eight years of my adult life, I was 21 the last time Melbourne were even competitive. So for the first time in eight years we’re competitive and I’m excited.

I don’t have any superstitions now but I used to when I was young. Not religiously, and it would really depend on the game, but if I was doing something at that time like eating a jam doughnut and we hit the lead, I’d be like bring me six jam doughnuts and I’ll continue to eat jam doughnuts. So superstitious in that sense. If I turned on the TV at quarter time and we started losing, I’ll turn off the TV. I’ll follow it on the app because I’m a bad omen. But I’ve gotta say, this year the games that I’ve been to at the ground, we’ve won. So perhaps I’m a good omen.

Best footy memory is easy. Got this one easy. So I’m gonna break it down to a year – 2000. Which is an obvious one for a Melbourne supporter and everyone will say, “Oh 2000, Melbourne made the Grand Final, oh so great, whatever”. 2000 for me was epic times. In about 1998 I developed an unhealthy obsession with Shane Woewodin. Prior to that I had my woollen jumper with an iron on number three on the back for Gary Lyon. I was at a game, maybe a year or two after Gary had retired, and Shane Woewodin caught my eye. I was about 12 years old, I was starting to get feelings I didn’t really understand, and I couldn’t get enough of this Shane Woewodin. He did something spectacular during that game and that was it, I took off my jumper and I started trying to rip off the number three to replace it with 22. Ripping off an iron on number on a woolen jumper is not as easy as it sounds, so I made a real mess. I still have the jumper but it’s tattered with a ripped number three on the back. So I went out and I bought a new jumper and I got 22 stitched on the back. I was really excited about this and I was going to the games every week. Then in 2000, in my memory it was beyond the odds, we made it to the Grand Final. I remember the prelim and the semi where we beat Carlton and North Melbourne (I think) and I remember the feeling. “Holy shit we’ve made it to the grand final”. That year Essendon was on the top and the only team that defeated them that year was the Dogs (I think). Yet we had made it to the grand final and I was the happiest. But getting into the grand final was only half as happy as I was that Monday night before the game when the Brownlow was on. I was watching on a little TV that we had in the spare room. I was in high school at that time and mum used to be pretty strict with watching TV and going to bed early and doing homework, so my brother and I used to secretly watch from the spare room. Shane Woewodin was the dark horse, total outsider, but yet he was slowly creeping up in points, and I’m knowing the stats and I’m knowing the games late in the season, so I’m thinking Woewy is an absolute chance here, he’s an absolute chance. Then when he won – I can’t remember if I cried but in my head I did – I was the happiest, happiest person. On my jumper I had about 10 player badges, remember how you’d get the badges? I removed every single badge except Woewy and I wore it right in the centre. I was just so happy. I went to school the next day wearing my jumper – I went to a private school, so I had on my footy jumper and my footy scarf with my uniform. That week I also went to the Herald Sun building to buy a photo of Woewy holding up the Brownlow. The original photo – I had to have it. I just could not have been a happier person that week. It ended pretty suddenly on the Saturday though, when we lost the grand final by an amount that my brain has repressed.

Woewy was an unhealthy obsession for me. I used to go to go to family days at Melbourne – actually, even worse than that I used to go to training at Junction Oval.  I was “Woewy Woewy Woewy” all the time. I went to this family day and you could line up for a photo with Woewy. It was a weird set up, although I didn’t think it was weird at the time, where you sat on Woewy to get the photo and they’d print it out and put it in a card for you. It was my most prized possession. I used to carry it around on my person. I’d just whip it out and go, “See my photo with Woewy?” to everyone. Then when he won the Brownlow, on the opening page of the card I put the Herald Sun photo that I’d purchased. I used to go to training and every time Woewy would come past I’d ask him to sign this or that. I got every single player to sign my jumper but I’d put my hand over the centre of my jumper and say, “You can’t sign the point because that’s reserved for Woewy”. You’d get weird looks, whatever, I didn’t care.  I remember asking Wowey to sign the photo of me sitting on his lap and then I went back 5 minutes later and got him to sign the Brownlow photo I’d purchased. I’ll never forget the weird look he gave me when I did that because he’d seen that he’d already signed the photo of me sitting on his lap, but now I was asking him to sign something else. I didn’t care. We were destined to be together. I still remember doing the maths in my head thinking he’s nine years older than me, so the age gap is not that big, this can happen. Woewy was my guy.

I feel like I need to explain though how that came to an end. I woke up one morning and my mum actually came into my room, I think I was about 16. She said, “I need to tell you something” and she told me Woewy was going to Collingwood. I was so upset, and so mad that I called up the Melbourne Football Club. And when I say I called up the Melbourne Football Club, it wasn’t the first time I’d called them. And when I say called “them”, I mean I called the receptionist who’s name I think was Gail. I feel like Gail knew me as well – “So is there any training tonight, Gail?” So I called up and I said, “Gail what is happening, this cannot happen!” She was like, “I have no comment to make”. It was a year after Woewy had won his Brownlow, I didn’t know what was happening, I was genuinely devastated. So to express my devastation, I made a cassette tape about Woewy’s time at Melbourne. I had a CD called ‘My Heart Beats True’ and it had all of these different versions of the Melbourne theme song. The opening track had a selection of players talking about their experiences at the club. I’d listened to it a million times because Woewy talks on it –  at the end of the track he says “I’ve started my career here and I want to finish my career here, finish my career here, finish my career here…” in an echo. So I made this cassette tape where I went through that CD and I just hit pause and record on all of Woewy’s clips talking about the Melbourne Football Club and how much he loves it. It was a Woewy compilation. Then I wrote this really heartfelt letter saying that Woewy doesn’t want to leave I can’t believe that you’re doing this, I’ve attached this tape, and you need to reconsider because listen to him, he’s clearly said that he started his career here and wants to finish his career here. I wish I had a copy of this but I don’t. I never got any kind of reply. It had a cassette attached to it! Right? It was heartbreaking. I was genuinely, genuinely shattered. After that I had to call my relationship with Woewy quits because I couldn’t love him anymore. So I don’t. Well I do.

My favourite player these days depends on the day. Bernie Vince is the obvious – he is arguably the new age Woewy. He is a stunning individual. He’s also extremely talented. Jesse Hogan is extremely exciting for me; he’s so young and so big and so strong and I just feel like Jesse Hogan is going to be the new David Neitz, right. We haven’t seen a strong forward since David Neitz and Jesse Hogan is the light at the end of the tunnel. He’s already strong but he’s only going to get stronger. So I’d have to say that Hoges is probably my favourite.

I am a big Watts fan. I think that Watts has been really hard done by – when Paul Roos says that the AFL set the number one draft picks up to fail, I completely agree with that. He has been targeted by everyone, even Dees supporters. Dees supporters can’t be all that proud of themselves over recent years because there was a time when they were booing their players off the race. Watts came in at a time when we were a really shit team and sure, he’s had bad moments but that’s not a reason to boo a player. You know what, he’s not the first number one draft pick that we’ve had who hasn’t been a legend. Travis Johnstone was a number one draft pick and he played in our premiership side so he wasn’t a bad player, but he wasn’t a superstar. If anyone was ever going to get holding the ball it was always Travis Johnstone. Jack Watts is the same. But I’m a fan of Watts and I root for him if he’s going for goal.

I don’t hate any team, but Fremantle are very irrelevant to me. I remember when they came into the league and I was thinking, “oh that’s cute”. Cool, we’ll get these purple guys in and even out the ladder, there’s going to be eight on top and eight on the bottom so cool, OK, whatever. I don’t know many Freo supporters but I can’t help but feel they have a pack mentality. They feel like they’re part of an untouchable army – they live on the other side of the country where 50 per cent of footy fans will barrack for Fremantle. Unless they’re playing West Coast, they dominate the crowd at home games, are surrounded by their own and carry on like they are at the FIFA World Cup. In Victoria, originally geographically everyone stuck to the pack but now it’s so fluid. My friends all barrack for different teams, we sit next to supporters wearing any colours at games. The Purple Army shout loud in Perth but it’s a stark contrast when they go to a game at the MCG, the only way they’re going to be surrounded by other Freo supporters is if they happen to walk into the urinal at a particular time when there are two other Dockers supporters on either side of them. Or when the five of them car pool to the footy together. They come from a different perspective of supporting footy than I do. They live in a pack. And they hate, hate, West Coast. Like, broaden your horizons. This isnt WAFL. I’m perhaps being unreasonably bitter the top two ladder positions are from WA, but if it’s a Fremantle v West Coast grand final this year it will be an irrelevant grand final for me.

I can’t really explain where the love of footy comes from. The other weekend I watched Melbourne beat Collingwood and that was great in itself because it’s Collingwood – everyone hates Collingwood. But the great thing was that there was some really good team play going on. The feeling that I get when I watch Melbourne, and I’ve lived basically my whole life watching Melbourne by myself unless I’m with my family, but you can’t match that feeling where your team is doing so well. Even if they’re not winning, it’s great ball play and they’re showing great skills and when they finish that game and they all come together, there’s just nothing like it.  It just puts you in the best mood. It’s beautiful. Go Dees.

 

20 Questions.

port v dogs

It seems every week has to end with a dust up at the moment, no matter how good or bad the lead up is. This one was a cracker; raised voices outside a hotel in Brunswick after 12 hours spent in the company of each other and a never ending stream of beers and ciders. To be honest I’m not even sure where it came from. A comment that escalated after I couldn’t provide an answer and suddenly he’s storming off into a taxi leaving me standing on the side of the road wondering what the hell just happened.

“I hate people,” I told him, several times, “they are the absolute worst”. He questioned why and asked me what had specifically happened to me. At least I think that’s how it started, everything is fuzzy at that point. I told him I’ve watched from the sidelines a parade of the worst of human nature for the past nine years but the answer wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t give an example specific to me and if I’m being honest, there really isn’t one. There’s never been something so traumatic in my life that someone has done to me that I’ve been absolutely shattered. Not to say there hasn’t been awful things happen but I couldn’t pinpoint a specific tragedy that lead to my sweeping statement about human nature.

I think I stuck my tongue out at him at one point in a poorly chosen attempt at levity but it didn’t work.

Earlier he had suggested I was “hard to get to know” and I was horrified. He later described it as “distressed”. I told him, in an early afternoon phone call designed to smooth things over and ensure the friendship was repaired, that I thought there was an element of truth in his statement and that’s probably why I reacted the way I did. He also said I asked a lot of questions and he’s never really had someone do that. I wish I had of asked if that was a bad thing.

It’s disconcerting to have someone you’ve known for such a relatively short period of time nail some aspect of your personality that you hadn’t really considered. It’s equally disconcerting to repeatedly hear them give opinions on things and think, “fuck, that’s exactly what I think”.

I don’t think he hates people though.

I wouldn’t suggest I hated them but there wasn’t a lot to love about Port Adelaide yesterday. We’d beaten the Bulldogs earlier in the year but were nowhere near favourites to repeat it in the second half of the draw. It was a small crowd at Etihad and I barely saw any of my people there as we walked into the stadium. Possibly not the best of omens, especially given were a team that could ‘technically’ still make the finals.

All up we were woeful. Coach Ken Hinkley later described it as their worst ever loss in his time at the club, not because of the score line but due to the fact we didn’t bother to show up to play. For a proud club whose motto is “we never ever give up” it cut pretty deep.

We gave up. No two ways about it.

I watched the game from high on the third level with my friend, berating him for clapping the Bulldogs goals. Traitor. As it wore on I realised that as much as I might want to leave I would need to stay and suffer through all of this or I would never hear the end of it. I think I’ll file it away for the next time we’re successful – I will be able to sit there and say I was there the day we gave up against the Western Bulldogs at Etihad. I can talk about how much it hurt and how good it feels now those days are behind us.

Later on in the night we had a discussion about whether it’s worse to have a fantastic season and just miss out at finals or whether losing all year is harder. Having lived through both Port Adelaide eras now I’d say the latter is harder, by far. So I’m going to fold this season up and put it in my back pocket and pull it out occasionally during those good times for some perspective. Because I know those good times are coming, they have to be.

There’s been a lot to think about today. Do I really hate people? In an exceptionally broad sense I find them frustrating and disappointing and awful at times but perhaps I can concede I’m overstating things when I say “hate”. Am I hard to get to know? I’m very good at banter and humour but I struggle with talking about personal things. I feel like if I tell someone something then I give away a little piece of myself that I can’t get back. It’s easier not to be exposed.

This afternoon I got a message from a mate asking if I as thirsty because they were heading to a pub in Fitzroy. I replied, saying I was hungover as fuck but I could do with a Coke and the company. So I went and it turned out to be the best decision I could have made. We had a brilliant time, telling stories and laughing until I could barely breathe. They had a girl there with them that he grew up with and we hit it off superbly immediately – it was like we should have been friends for years and years. I thought again about the concept of being “hard to get to know” and how you can feel an immediate kinship with someone you have only just met. Imagine missing out on all these good people for no good reason. I’ve always considered myself to be an optimist but perhaps it was time to get back to walking the talk.

I asked him last night how we had known each other for so long but had only recently become friends. Then I told him that our friendship made me think it was nice to know there are still good people out in the world, even if you haven’t met them yet.

Maybe people aren’t all bad. And maybe some things are worth the risk and the effort. “We never ever give up” as they say.

Something for Port Adelaide to think about too.

“People say that it’s not an appealing game but you still see big hits, you still see guys breaking the lines, you still see big marks, you still see flukey goals. I’m happy.”

Ben Radisich

I still remember the first time I met Ben Radisich. He was this fresh faced kid from Crime Stoppers who walked into my office to complete a couple of weeks of temporary duties and it looked like butter absolutely wouldn’t melt in his mouth. Within the first couple of hours I found out three things: he’d lived in Canberra, he could drop some of the best swear words with ease and he loved football.  Consider us almost immediate friends on those points alone, although being a Collingwood supporter I would never consider him wholly trustworthy. Surprisingly, he’s also the first ‘Pies fan I’ve spoken with and even more of a shock, he’s actually well spoken. Though if any Collingwood fans need the bigger words read out to them then just let me know.

Name: Ben Radisich

Age: 30

Recruited from: Melbourne via Newcastle and Canberra

Occupation: The man who tells you how to stay safe on the roads

AFL team followed: Collingwood Magpies

All time favourite footy moment: 2010 grand final win

“I guess I was born into a Collingwood family. My dad’s Magpies and all of his extended family are Magpies and he’s one of 11 kids. Mum’s Bulldogs but she’s only one of three kids so I think the weight of numbers was on the other side. I don’t really know how I ended up being Collingwood rather than the Bulldogs because I think there’s probably more pressure from mum’s side of the family to be a Bulldogs supporter. Dad’s weird because his brothers are all die hard footy fans but while he likes the Pies, he was never a fanatic growing up. My uncles definitely were. It’s just… Collingwood, you know? The biggest team in the country, one of the biggest teams in the southern hemisphere as far as sport goes. I’m 30 years on, you’re born into it and you go for the team and they’re your team, you don’t change your team.

I wore it as a sign of something proud that I was an AFL fan. In Newcastle no one liked AFL, it’s all about rugby league as you know. So I kind of wore it as a badge of honour, as something different and the guys used to tease me that I liked AFL but it was something I was proud of and I stood up for it. I’d tell them I like AFL and it doesn’t mean that I don’t like rugby league but I like AFL too. I guess I’m stereotypically Melburnian in a way because everyone here is a sports fan but living in places like Canberra definitely had an impact. I love all sport – I grew up playing cricket and had a go at everything. I played hockey, soccer, volleyball, football, league, netball, everything. If it had a ball and there was running involved then I’d go yep, I’ll do it. So as a sports fan, living in NSW and then Canberra afterwards, you have a team in everything. I didn’t know what rugby league was – or rugby union for that matter – until I went to Newcastle. Newcastle’s obviously a big rugby league town; they didn’t like AFL and don’t like rugby union because that’s not league, league’s the only thing they care about. So I was 10 years old when we moved to Newcastle and didn’t really know much about it. Mum always used to call it “thugby” and say you don’t want to play that game, they’re just a bunch of thugs. Obviously though while I held on to being an AFL fan and being different, you still want to fit in so you learn the game, you watch the State of Origin, you go for a team and Newcastle Knights were pretty big at that time and won the premiership in 1997. I was in Year 7 then. The following year I think the Melbourne Storm came in to the competition and I just jumped on them straight away. I was born in Melbourne, grew up in Melbourne, Melbourne’s got a team now so I’m going to go for them. People used to tease me about that and say you know, you can’t go from the Knights to Melbourne. I said yes I can, I was born there, they never had a team before so I’m going for Melbourne. Then I moved to Canberra in 1999 and obviously Canberra again is big on league but also AFL and rugby union. It was the first time I’d been at a high school where I didn’t get teased for liking AFL and actually found other people that liked it, which was nice. But the the mates that I ended up hanging around with were big into their union so I learned another game and probably went to more Brumbies games than anything else. Being at Bruce Stadium in the middle of winter and whatnot, those are some good memories.

We’re going to wait and see as far as our new son Finn goes. My wife Ash is a pretty die hard Melbourne fan and we’ve had an agreement so far that Finn will get to choose who he goes for in as far as he’ll have two choices, he’s not going to have 18 choices. It’s Melbourne or Collingwood if he wants to go to the football. I have my fingers crossed that he’ll see a little bit of success sooner and for a more prolonged period with Collingwood rather than Melbourne. He’ll make the right choice. At the moment he’s 50/50 split – he’s got a Melbourne dummy, a Collingwood dummy, a Melbourne teddy bear, a Collingwood teddy bear and the list goes on as you can imagine. They’ve all been gifts. We kind of said to each other that the agreement was that he’d be football neutral until he was a little bit older but other people have different ideas. I think my brother’s girlfriend fired the first shot. She’s a Bombers fan and she’s really desperate that he doesn’t go for Collingwood so she bought him a Demon toy for the baby shower. My brother didn’t take too kindly to that so he bought him a beanie and a scarf and the list goes on. Other than that we’ve kept it fairly simple until my best mate came down to visit the other week and he’s brought a basket full of goodies and it was 50/50: Collingwood, Melbourne, Collingwood, Melbourne. We’ll wait and see how that all goes.

I do remember the first time I ever went to the footy. It’s funny, I was probably 8 or 9 and it was at the MCG and it was Collingwood v Melbourne, which is funny obviously for the fact that I’ve now married a Melbourne fan. It was ’93 or ’94, I can’t remember the exact year, and it was the first time I’d ever been to the MCG. It was 90,000, a massive crowd, and Collingwood won by 96 points or roughly thereabouts. I remember Sav Rocca kicked a bag – eight or nine, possibly 10, I can’t remember exactly – but I remember that. And I remember that whoever the Melbourne full forward for the day was, I remember going “well every time that guy gets the ball he kicks a goal too so what’s going on, I don’t like that”. He kicked five or six and I’m assuming, though I can’t remember back that far, that it was either David Schwarz or possibly Jim Stynes, one of those guys. I could probably go back to the record books and find out. But I can remember going to that game. We parked near the MCG and it was $10 all day parking and I think my dad complained at how expensive that was. And then we met one of my uncles and a couple of my cousins on the steps at the gate and we all went in, we went in to the Great Southern Stand and were quite high up. I can just remember the noise. It was a massive crowd and now it’s been famous again in 2010 when we won the premiership, that “Cooooooollllliiiingwoooooood” ringing around the stadium at the end of the game, for the last quarter effectively. I just remember getting chills and going, yeah this is pretty good. Obviously growing up all over Australia but with family in Melbourne we didn’t really get to the football very often so I really remember that one.

I go to the footy but not as often as I’d like. Sadly I probably go to more Melbourne games than I do Collingwood. That’s because Ash is a fan and my brother in law is a fan. I have a Collingwood membership and go to games when I can, a good mate is a Hawthorn fan so when he comes down we try and get to games, I go to the ANZAC Day game and obviously when Collingwood play Melbourne it’s a pretty big deal. Other than that I don’t really have a lot of people to go to the footy with. Occasionally I’ll go on my own but it’s not the same, it’s good to have somebody to go with. While I have a Collingwood membership I also have a Melbourne membership and I look at that two ways: one, I go to enough Melbourne games that it works out cheaper and two, you need some charity in your life. If only it was tax deductible, I mean it is a charitable donation. They need all the help they can get.

I’m much better at the footy now than I used to be. I used to be an ugly, ugly fan. Very much so in my early 20s, I didn’t have a whole lot of my decorum. I was an ugly fan. Living in Canberra you obviously don’t get many opportunities to go to the footy so it was great when Collingwood played a couple of games at Manuka Oval. I remember going there with my mum and dad, my aunts and uncles, and my cousins – my cousins and my aunty are Sydney fans so quite often you’d get Collingwood v Sydney at Manuka. I was pretty well behaved at those games but as we got a little bit older and my cousins, who are younger, got to drinking age we’d go up to the Collingwood v Sydney game at ANZ Stadium every year. Mum wouldn’t usually come; she likes the football but it’s not the Bulldogs so she wasn’t keen on going up to Sydney. But I remember this one year that mum decided to come and we flogged Sydney. We always did – it used to be great because we’d go up there and Collingwood would win every year. So we flogged them and I’d had a fair bit to drink. Some Sydney fans decided to leave early in the last quarter and I gave it to them. I think mum said she’s never coming to see the football with me again because my behaviour was disgraceful. Which was a bit of an eye opener but I’ve just mellowed. I think that’s a lot of people in their early 20s though when you still don’t know quite how much alcohol you can have and you think you’re funny, when you’re just a knob. And I’ve definitely been a knob at the football but I’d like to think I’m pretty well behaved these days.

2010 when we won the premiership is a favourite memory. It’s funny, I moved down to Melbourne halfway through 2010 to work at the radio station and read the news for Melbourne Talk Radio 1377 and also SEN, which is the sports station. When I moved down here I didn’t know many people; I’ve got a bit of family here which is great, but I only had one friend. That friend who I had down here I met at an indoor sports centre I used to work at when I worked behind the bar. It was the middle of winter, it’s Canberra, it’s cold. Even with the heaters on in the indoor sports centre, it’s cold. So I used to wear layers and one of the layers I had on was my Collingwood jersey. And this guy walked in – I’d met him a couple of times, he was a regular and I’d served him beers – it was winter and he’s walked in with a Collingwood beanie. Because I’d had a chat with him before and had a few laughs, I’ve just pulled up my shirt and pretty much flashed him my Collingwood jersey. And we’ve been mates ever since. He’s a few years older than me, I was only about 17 at the time, and this would have been around 2002-03 when this happened.

In 2003 we made the preliminary final against Port Adelaide and I know this is gonna cut close to home, but me and my mate Hutch did the road trip down to Melbourne. I remember we were in the game, preliminary final, and we were in the second last row of the Great Southern Stand. Packed stadium. First half I remember us standing next to each other silently, we were just too afraid to talk to each other. And then obviously the second half got much better and with every play the home crowd got louder and louder and louder. We went out that night and celebrated pretty hard. I remember being at a pub, had never been out in Melbourne before drinking, so we were in this pub and it was probably a dirty old man pub. I remember we were playing some pool and there’s a jukebox going on and the song that came on at last drinks was ‘Today is the greatest day’ by Smashing Pumpkins. I remember belting that song out and my mate having to drag me away from a couple of older ladies that were trying to get me to follow them to wherever they were going next. That was first time I really experienced footy culture in Melbourne and it was obviously a really positive experience.

And then again with my mate, same guy, seven years later I’d moved down and Hutch was the only guy I knew here. I had to work on the day of the grand final and I was doing the night shift. The overnight shift. I remember watching the game at home with my housemates who weren’t overly interested but whatever, I watched it. I had a couple of beers with them. Then as soon as we won I was excited but my flatmates didn’t care so I just had to get out of the house. I had to start work at 10pm that night and I’d had a few beers but I was responsible. I thought, I have to get out amongst the people and enjoy this. I knew where Hutch was going after the game, he was going to the All Nations in Richmond so I was like great, I’ll head there. I remember Hutch stumbling in and all of the Collingwood fans at the All Nations just randomly breaking into celebrations and renditions of ‘Good old Collingwood forever’. That feeling, that happiness of everyone involved, was just incredible and it gives you chills. I remember then getting a phone call from the guys at work saying are you alright, you’re out and about, are you with any Collingwood fans, can you try and get us some radio grabs? I was like yep, cool, so we did that and belted out the Collingwood theme song down the line which was great. That night I went in and worked the night shift, which was 10-6 or whatever, and before I went home in the morning I prepared a couple of voiceovers for them to use later in the day. I remember getting a phone call or a message from Hutch later that afternoon after I’d been asleep and recovered. He’s just gone, “I just heard you on SEN reading the news, I can’t believe you got to tell everyone Collingwood won the grand final!” I guess being on radio that night and obviously the grand final led the news, so to read “Collingwood is the 2010 premiers” you could say that with a big smile on your face. I was never much good at reading the news, it was never something I enjoyed doing – when you’re learning to do it they say to make sure you’ve got a smile on your face – and I think this is the only time I ever read the news as well as you’re meant to because I couldn’t get the smile off my face. I also remember a few days later speaking to my nan and she was saying “oh I heard you on the radio the other night, you must have been pretty happy when Collingwood won the grand final” and I said yeah, yeah, yeah. She asked if I’d been celebrating before work and I said no, I mean I went out and celebrated a little bit, and she told me she thought she could hear that I’d had a couple of drinks on the radio. It’s classic.

It’s interesting to find how footy just kind of makes connections through your life. You do it in hindsight and stuff like that but it’s interesting because if I never met Hutch, I never would have met Ash, my wife. Collingwood brought me and Hutch together and we never knew that we’d both end up in Melbourne years later. I’d been in Melbourne for about three months and I’d been doing the night shifts because I was the new kid in town, getting all the shit shifts like weekends and stuff, so I hadn’t been out. I caught up with Hutch on a Friday night and he’s like, alright I’ll take you out, we’ll go to a few pubs, I’ll show you around and so we did that. We’d been to a couple of places in Richmond and then he said he’d take me to a couple of places closer to my home. I was living up on Burnley Street so I was in Richmond, but we were going out down the city end in the main entertainment area. Hutch said before we went home he’d take us up to a couple of nice places near where I lived and then I’d know where my locals are. So we did that, we went to the Mountain Goat Brewery and then once that closed we went across the road to the Royston Hotel. Me and Hutch ended up playing pool with a couple of guys and there was a girl with these guys. I ended up striking up a conversation with her and lo and behold, it’s Ash, my wife, but I more likely than not would have never been in that pub if I didn’t go for Collingwood and if I didn’t meet Hutch. It’s kinda funny and I actually used it in my wedding speech. I said that if we ever do have children that they should go for Collingwood because without Collingwood, we never would have met – I would have never met Hutch, we would have never been at that pub, we just never would have met. She then tries to say that if Melbourne didn’t create the first football team then there never would have been a football league, so naturally they should go for Melbourne. We’ll keep having that argument. But it’s funny how football plays such a big part – not just in your weekend but you meet people at work or other places with mutual interests. I’m a fairly introverted kind of guy so not knowing a lot of people in Melbourne and then meeting Ash and going out with all of her friends and meeting their partners, football is always something you can talk about. If you’ve got nothing else to talk about you can talk about football in winter and cricket in summer. They’re my two fall backs because while I love sport, making small talk with people I don’t know is not something I’m very good at or enjoy.

In terms of players, these days it’s hard to go past Pendles because he’s so good. He’s got so much time, he’s so composed. Swanny’s hilarious, Jamie Elliott’s exciting, I quite like Brodie Grundy ‘cause he’s young and he’s big and he just puts in a good effort. Back in the day it was Bucks – anyone from Collingwood who’s seen him play, he’s their number one. I remember him beating six Richmond taggers one day and all that kind of stuff. Funnily enough I used to have this thing for Brodie Holland. In my late teens he was the cool footballer and he was dating a model from ‘The Price Is Right’ so that’s someone you look up to. I remember when he used to play as a forward being at Manuka Oval and watching Collingwood v North Melbourne and he kicked a bag of seven or eight. We were on the bandwagon trying to get him to go for the 10 and were screaming out, “Kick it to Brodie, kick it to Brodie!” One of my indoor sports teams ended up being called ‘KI2B’ which was “kick it to Brodie”. I think it was an indoor volleyball team with my cousins so a bit of an inside joke.

Everyone’s got an opinion on the state of the game – it’s too congested, it’s too this, it’s too that. I don’t like the sub rule and thankfully they’re getting rid of that at the end of the year. No matter what else they do though, coaches will find a way to do what they can to win the football. If that’s getting more players close to the ball, then that’s what they’re gonna do – you can’t win the game if you don’t have the ball. If you don’t have players around the ball then you can’t win the ball. So: is congestion bad for footy? I don’t mind watching it. I still watch it every week. I still watch four or five games a week, more if I can. What changes congestion in footy? Do they reduce the number of players in the team, do they go to zones? You’d have three thirds, the forward 50, the middle and the other forward 50 and certain players can’t go into areas like netball. I can’t imagine that’s what they want to do. People say that it’s not an appealing game but you still see big hits, you still see guys breaking the lines, you still see big marks, you still see flukey goals. I’m happy. Collingwood hasn’t won for over a month but I still enjoy watching the footy.

It’s hard to put a finger on what I love most. It connects people. Before coming down here, like I said, you don’t know the football culture, you don’t know this, you don’t know that but there’s nothing quite like finishing work on a Friday, going to Richmond, catching up with a few mates for a beer and then heading over to the game. Unless they’re arseholes if their team wins but then you shouldn’t be mates with arseholes. Win or lose, whether your team wins or loses, you can still then go out and enjoy your night. It’s just that bringing people together, that’s what football in Melbourne does.

 

Get lucky.

ryder

I am the only Port Adelaide supporter I know. I’ve met other fans over the years but I’ve never had a Port friend that I could go to games with or sit with for hours over a beer discussing the fortunes of our team. I’ve always been a bit of a novelty (in more ways than one, I’m sure). As the bio says, I’m a New South Wales girl who lives in Victoria and barracks for a South Australian team. The “makes sense” I write at the end is clearly sarcasm of the highest order.

Usually I’m happy to go to games alone and will just sit restlessly somewhere near my people. This time though I managed to rope in a couple of friends to come along and I was seriously looking forward to the night, even though a Port Adelaide v Essendon game held all the promise of being as interesting and skill laden as the Benalla v Violet Town reserves. Both mates were Bombers fans, country boys, decent people with a good sense of humour who like a beer. The only difference was one I’ve been friends with for nearly 15 years while the other has been a mate for only really about six weeks. This should be fun.

Of course because this was the only time I’ve managed to drag friends along to a game this lovely lady called me up and offered me corporate box tickets. Which I had to decline because, well, it just wouldn’t be the done thing to ditch your mates.

We started off the night at a pub across the road from Etihad Stadium, my old mate and I catching up and keeping one eye on the Richmond v Fremantle game as we sipped our beers. Despite being friends for so long it was the first time we’d actually ventured to the football together. He’s naturally a bit of an introvert but I was cautious that a few beers in he might unleash. I also warned him about my new mate and said I had no idea which way he was going to go so if it got embarrassing then we’d just go to the toilet at quarter of half time and never come back. New mate is a bit of a smart arse, possibly more so than me. When I’d asked him what sort of person he was at the footy he replied, “Mature, modest, witty etc. I’ll let you fill in the blanks”. I tell you what, I could fill in the blanks and I was worried they weren’t going to be complimentary.

Eventually the three of us united and after exchanging the appropriate introductions and pleasantries headed off to buy our tickets. Etihad confuses me, I always end up somewhere I think I’m not supposed to be and Saturday night was no different. We were in a carpeted bar, drinking more beers and talking shit. I reckon I spilt about a third of mine but not to worry. Before we knew it the siren had sounded and the quarter had started so we made our escape to find seats.

For a game between two teams languishing at the bottom of the ladder it did its best to stay entertaining. Wingard almost took mark of the year and the goals were flowing fairly freely in both directions. Even the three of us managed to behave ourselves. I’m a nervous football fan and my natural exuberance tends to go out the door a bit when I’m at the game. The pair of them were pretty quiet too, though later I found out it was more likely because they’d been bordering on hypothermia for most of the night. (On the other hand I am from Goulburn where it is, to use a particular turn of phrase, “fucking cold and windy” all through winter. Also I’m tough.) It was the four middle aged Port Adelaide supporting women in the row in front of us that provided the most entertainment and probably the least insight on the game.

I have a bit of a thing about mobile phones when I’m doing things with people. Real people = real conversations and I always put the phone away. After going to get beers, coffee and food at half time – and running my trusty “do I have anything on my face?” joke with a giant smear of mustard across my cheek – I checked my mobile mid-way through the third quarter. Three missed calls and two messages asking me to call dad urgently. A message from my brother in Canada asking me to call my parents urgently. Shit. This is not likely to be good. You don’t leave messages like that for anyone who’s part of a police family. I bolted down the stairs and started calling, my dad answering with the news my brother had been involved in a serious collision. He was riding his scooter and the car opposite was indicating a right turn before the driver changed their mind and went straight. My brother had begun the turn and was collected, left sprawled on the road with the bike in disrepair. Mum and dad were at the hospital with him now. He’d been wearing his full face helmet so a CT scan was only a precaution, but turns out he’d broken his foot and his upper arm. His back hurt and they were worried about the potential for him having cracked vertebrae, though it turned out to but three broken ribs instead.  He could still move everything, which was the best part.

They don’t call motorcyclists ‘temporary citizens’ for nothing. He’s so bloody lucky.

I walked back to my seat in shock and I’m not really sure I processed it very well. I started watching the game again. I stopped drinking. We were all fairly silent. To be honest it didn’t seem quite real.

Port got ahead in the final quarter and Bomber-turned-Power player Paddy Ryder kicked a couple of match winning goals for us while the crowd booed him like he was Adam Goodes at a Hawthorn match. I remember reading something years ago that Aaron Hamill said after he left St Kilda to play at Carlton. “Why wouldn’t you want to be booed?” he said. “Why would you want to leave a place with everyone’s best wishes?” I think in context that’s so right – you want people to be disappointed that you’re not part of their club any more. Travis Boak had the ultimate captain’s game, leading by example and finishing with a couple of his own. We weren’t pretty, not by any stretch of the imagination, but we got there by 13 points. Essendon coach James Hird later said that Ryder had had a “lucky night” and had really no impact on the game until the end. Maybe, but he had an impact when it counted. You’re officially one of us now, Paddy.

After the final siren sounded and me and the two (by now) very cold boys stood up, we listened to the Port Adelaide song boom around the ground. Both of them agreed it was a terrible song but I don’t care, I’ve never tired of hearing it. We left, slowly and quietly descending the stairs with the other fans and then getting lost in the spill of people across the bridge to Southern Cross Railway Station. “What are you guys doing now?” my new mate asked and I told him I just wanted to go home and call my parents. Understood. We said good bye and he left to catch a train back to his hipster suburb and probably a few extra pieces of warm clothing or a heater. My old mate tried to convince me to have one more beer while the human traffic wanting to ride the trams dispersed but I just wasn’t up for it.

I sat on the 109 tram home, my head propped against the glass as I watched the suburbs of my adopted city flash by. Football and family and friends and just… life. It never turns out quite how you think, never goes how you expect. I still end up being surprised after 36 years.

And a “lucky night” in more ways than one, for more than a few people.

A tradition so strong.

walsh and hinkley

In 2009 I had the opportunity to spend time in the Port Adelaide rooms just before the Showdown against Adelaide. It was a fantastic experience and one I’ll never forget. However this week’s Showdown will be something else altogether. Following the recent death of Crows’ coach and former Power assistant coach Phil Walsh it is likely to be an incredibly emotionally charged game as both clubs pay tribute to a man who was so loved by these two teams. Watching the Port and Adelaide players leave the field in tears last week was simply heartbreaking and no doubt this game will prove difficult to get through as well. I wrote the below after that Showdown in 2009 and it seems fitting to publish it here now. As Walshy would have said, I hope we “get it done.”

Someone dropped the ‘c’ word and the half a dozen or so women the room either went wide eyed and giggled behind their palms or pretended that nothing had happened. (And by ‘c’ word, I don’t mean ‘Crows’.) As someone who grew up around footy clubs and is used to what goes on behind closed doors, I fell into the latter category.

On the weekend I had the opportunity to visit the Port Adelaide rooms before their AFL showdown with hometown rivals the Adelaide Crows. It was a rare opportunity and one I was incredibly excited about – this was the chance to feel the buzz in the room as my team headed out for what is traditionally one of the biggest games of their season.

As I walked through the maze of corridors to a room that looks surprisingly exactly as it does on TV just smaller, the first thing that hit me was the sweet, overpowering scent of liniment. The second thing that hit me was the sight of bare backsides in a changing room with an open door as players from the warm up game finished showering off and got changed.

There was a distinct buzz in the air. I could hear the talk, the warm up, the sound of fit, hardened bodies battering against each other, testing out shoulders and torsos. The players ran through an obviously well known series of exercises whiles a trainer barked commands from the centre of the room.

And all the while the constant talk, talk, talk.

Spectators fixated on the players, as did the coach, pacing the room the whole while and chewing away methodically on gum. Spare players and club officials stood with arms folded on the sides of the room making sparse commentary and adding to the tension in the room. Footballs bounced everywhere.

It’s hard not to get excited when your heroes are so close you could reach out and touch them. Cornes. Ebert. Lade. Pettigrew. You see how big, how small, how different, how so very much the same they actually are after years of reputations and TV highlights warping the perception.

From the small group of onlookers a young boy cried out in support but former captain Warren Tredrea came over and put a finger on his lips. This was not a place for cheering or autographs or photos. This was a temple of football, a place to prepare and gain focus. A place to start to win.

As the players head into a small closed room for a final, private discussion with the coach and each other it is hard not to get excited. That hushed, tension riddled feeling descended upon the room.

This is Showdown!

Next minute the boys – and some of them are just that, mere boys – run past and out on to the ground. They urge each other on, demanding excellence and commitment. The pride of South Australia is on the line tonight.

I head back to my seat, nodding in solidarity to the two old timers guarding the door. People around me are buzzing and the cheering sounds throughout the stadium and people raise their voice to support their team.

And yet, while this is the big stage it is so very much the same in so very many ways as the hundreds of games being played at suburban football grounds each weekend. The sounds, the smells, the anticipation, the bloke who always yells out “he’s been doing it all day” the first time the umpire blows their whistle. The feeling in the rooms.

It’s the same as it has been for years. Sometimes it’s comforting to know that no matter how much some things change, the more others simply stay the same. The excitement of football will always be there.

“Don’t underestimate the value of a father taking children to the football. Don’t ever underestimate that because it’s a very important thing to do.”

sutherland family

For many years, Roger Sutherland was just a voice at the end of the phone for me. He was the man who would ring into my office to tell us exactly how our day was going to go to hell and who we’d need to speak to try and fix it. We met on the odd occasion during after work drinks but it wasn’t until a chance night out in Athens of all places that we became firm friends. Thing I love best about Roger is that he just loves football. While he’s a staunch Hawthorn supporter, he has such a genuine passion for the game and takes unbiased, unadulterated delight in all the good things about it regardless of what club is involved. Not to mention you’ve got to admire someone who can have a dozen beers with you after watching their footy team get beaten on a trip away to Adelaide. So you could say he’s not a bad bloke at all, even though he does barrack for the Hawks.

Name: Roger Sutherland

Age: Old enough to know better

Recruited from: Melbourne

Occupation: The man who makes sure everything runs smoothly in an emergency

AFL team followed: Hawthorn Hawks

All time favourite footy moment: 2013 grand final win

“I barrack for the Hawks because of their success through the mid 70s when I was very influenced by football at that particular time. I started off as an Essendon supporter. We grew up in North Clayton to start off with and my dad used to take me to Windy Hill to the games and I still remember watching Jeff Blethen play, he was the footballer that wore the glasses on the field. It’s a vivid memory that I have of my dad taking me to Windy Hill to go and watch those games. When I was about nine years old we moved down to south Gippsland and not long after that my dad and my mother separated. We were left stranded down in south Gippsland with really no access to football at all because we only had one television channel and football wasn’t shown on the TV then. We used to have to wait for Monday’s papers to find out who’d won games and who’d done what and how. I think through the mid 70s with Hawthorn having their success I thought “this is alright”. My dad had basically abandoned me at that stage so I started barracking for the Hawks because of their success. Of course that rolled on into the 80s when I was a bit older and we used to travel up on the bus every year to the night grand final, which was our big tour. I saw the Hawks have success there and just loved football from then on so they were it for me. So that’s how I became a Hawthorn supporter.

In my history of football with my dad taking me to Windy Hill and being an Essendon supporter at that stage there, I look at it now being a father myself and I look at the influence a father can actually have on his children in relation to football. When my mum and dad separated and my father left, I lost my way and I was isolated down in Gippsland without football. I wanted to follow football and I, as any nine or 10 year old boy wants to do, wanted to follow a successful team. Don’t underestimate the value of a father taking children to the football. Don’t ever underestimate that because it’s a very important thing to do. It’s part of bonding with your family. So what I find is that going to the football with my dad, it consolidated me supporting that team. When he left I felt abandoned by that and I found my own way as far as football went. I then went off and followed Hawthorn and I have followed Hawthorn ever since. I’ve obviously been a member basically since then and I support the club – I went through the early 2000s when we were having no success at all and I’ve been lucky, I’ve been very very fortunate that the club that I’ve picked has been very successful in my lifetime. Unlike some people.

I know that when my children were born, I’ve got two children, they were stolen by their mother as Collingwood supporters. I let that happen, as much as I didn’t like it I let that happen because I knew the influences my father had on me with Essendon, I knew that in time I could bring them around. The cunning way that I did that was I would take my kids to games and they would come along to games with me ’cause that’s what I would do on a Saturday while their mother was working. I would take them to the football and they would come and watch the Hawks. I would take them to Box Hill games and they would see their idols from the game the day before, the senior players, just standing around the huddles at quarter and three-quarter time or just standing there watching the game. I can talk about players, like there was Hodge and Mitchell, just players like that standing there and my kids were just gobsmacked that these players were standing there with them – they were superheroes to them at the time. By taking them to Box Hill games and taking them to Hawthorn games, they ended up now both being Hawthorn supporters. Much to their mother’s disgust but they both support the Hawks and they will come to games with me. It was part of my routine with my daughter. One thing I’ve loved with my daughter growing up while my son Kyle was travelling, is that my daughter would always come to the football games – it was our thing, we would go to the football Kelsey and I. We had reserved seats, which I still have anyway, but we had reserved seats and my daughter and I would go. My daughter is a funny football watcher. She’s not a yeller and screamer, she just sits there and watches the game, just observes it, doesn’t miss a thing. She just loves it. And then as she grew up and got to 18 and found her own way, she still follows the Hawks but we rarely get to go to games together these days which sort of leaves a bit of a hole for me there. But I just think football is a really good family thing to go along to and just enjoy. Don’t underestimate the impressions a parent can make on their children by just taking them to games because the kids just love it. They just absolutely love it.

Obviously I love Hawthorn’s on field success, but I also just love the culture of the club and the way the club manages their business. I just think they’re the pinnacle of a club to follow because of the identities around that 1980s era: the Dunstalls, the Breretons, the DiPierdomenicos. I see a lot of ex players and people that I followed as icons in the media now, those people who were very successful for Hawthorn. I just really enjoy the culture of the club and how they go about doing their business. It is a real business for them now, that’s how it is, but they’re still the family club.

I don’t remember the specific game the first time I went to the footy but I know it was an Essendon v Richmond game and I know it was at Windy Hill. I was one of those kids who used to sit there with the Footy Record and tick off the goals and the points. We used to buy the Record on the way into the game and my dad would have a pen; whoever kicked the goal I’d have to ask him so I would have been the world’s most annoying son to have at the game. “Who kicked that? Who kicked that?” because I wasn’t really paying attention but I had to have the Record filled out with who’d done whatever.

One of my biggest ever memories at the game is watching Dunstall kick 17 goals at Waverley Park. That’s one big memory. Sitting there and marking the Footy Record because I had my nephews with me at the time and I remember them marking the Record with Dunstall’s 17 goals. Incredible. I was also part of the crowd on Queen’s Birthday weekend when Hawthorn and Collingwood played when there was 93,000 people at Waverley Park. I vividly remember it because I remember people sitting in the aisles all the way around the ground, all the way down. And it was as a result of that game that they brought in the regulations that you couldn’t have any more there. I remember walking back to Rowville after that game with the biggest swarm of people I’ve ever seen. It was incredible.

roger santorini

I’ve seen the Hawks win many premierships and I’ve been lucky in my time. I think it’s been 11 premierships since I’ve been alive. I’ve only missed one, which was the 1961 premiership, because I’ve been alive for the rest. So my best footy memory I think was going to the 2013 premiership and being in the crowd. It was the second grand final I’d been to, I’d seen the Hawks lose against the Swans in 2012, and then seeing them win in 2013 was just the pinnacle for me. One of my greatest memories was last year actually being in Santorini in Greece and getting up at 7am in the morning and turning up at a bar that was owned by an Australian that was showing the premiership and being part of a group of ex-pats that were in Greece and watching the grand final. I ended up falling down, drinking ouzo. We celebrated with beer for breakfast in the morning and finished it off with ouzo and I think we were back in bed by about two o’clock in the afternoon because I was that intoxicated I couldn’t even remember what had happened on the day.

I’ll go to the football every time the Hawks are at home but I’ll also go and watch other teams play as well. My partner’s a St Kilda supporter and I’ll just go along and support her and watch the game because I just love watching football and all that it brings. It’s nice to go to a game and be bipartisan. For the Hawks games I’ll go to everything in Melbourne and I’ll structure everything around going there. I’ve only ever travelled interstate once and we know about that, don’t we? It wasn’t successful but it was an awesome weekend and a great experience. I’d watched the Adelaide Oval since it had been redeveloped and I’d always wanted to go so I ticked that off my bucket list when I went this year and saw the Hawks play Port Adelaide. I’ve never been to Tasmania to see the Hawks play in Tassie so that’s something on my bucket list to do as well.

I stand at the football and I’m a quiet observer of the game. I’m not a person that jumps up and down or yells and screams or anything like that. I’ll do the fist pump for the goals and I’ll clap the good things, but I love to just be there and watch it. I stand at the back of M11, that’s my traditional spot if anyone wants to find me at the football then they’ll find me in the standing area of M11. That’s where I stand every week. I love to listen to the boys from M10 there singing their songs and yelling out some of the comedy things they come up with. It cracks me up and I just love it, love listening to them.

I don’t have any superstitions but I do have a routine. I live on the fringe of the city, just in the west. I always catch the train or the tram, depending on how I’m feeling, into Flinders Street and I wander over to Transport and I always have a pint at Transport. Then I’ll walk up. I love the walk to the ‘G on game day. I love walking with the crowd, I love listening to the banter in the crowd. I don’t need anybody else to go to the football with, in fact I prefer just to go on my own and do my own thing. But I love the banter of listening to people talk about how the game’s going to unfold when they really have absolutely no idea. I walk around the ground and then I go in, I’ll grab myself a beer and stand in my spot at M11. I’ll never leave a game, I’ve never left a game at all and I’ll stand until the very end regardless of what happens. Then I like to walk out and listen to the crowd again. I like to have a beer a quarter, maybe an extra one at half time and then I’ll wander back with the crowd to Young & Jacksons and if we win, I like to go into Y&Js and have myself a celebratory pint. Then I’ll catch the tram and head home and that’s my day.

I have a membership and my number on my scarf is 25, which means I’ve been a member of the Hawthorn Football Club for 25 consecutive years. I believe that everyone who supports a club should take out a membership in some basic form; the clubs make it very very easy for people to be members these days, you can pay the membership off in 10, monthly instalments. You’re not a supporter of the club if you’re not supporting them financially. That’s my belief.

Nat and Roger Adelaide

I think one of my favourite players of all time that I really enjoy watching is Hodge. Even though he’s a current day player I just love going to the games and watching Hodge play because I love watching him direct – I mean he’s called ‘The General’ – and direct the traffic around the ground. I think when Hodge doesn’t play we lose a little bit of direction out on the ground. I love the identities of the game. I remember watching Brereton play, I remember watching Dunstall play, DiPierdomenico, and a player that I always loved watching too was Gary Ayres. Out of the backline, just tough. Tough.

You couldn’t go past Nat Fyfe now could you. I mean, you’d take Fyfe in a heartbeat. For today, you’d take Nat Fyfe if you were grabbing any player from another club. I think as a 6’2″ midfielder with a tank like he’s got… He jumps and he always lands on his feet, he’s like a cat. He soars through the air, lands on the ground like a cat and keeps on going. He’s just an incredible footballer. I’d go to a game just to watch Nat Fyfe play football.

The player that I don’t like is Adam Goodes. I’m a Hawthorn supporter and yeah I was part of the Goodes booing, purely because of what he brings. He makes football all about himself. He’s used football as a platform, he’s obviously been a champion of the game – he’s a dual Brownlow Medallist, he’s absolutely a champion of the game no matter which way you cut it. But I think he makes it all about himself and I just think he’s a genuine flog in the way he goes about doing the things he does. I know everyone doesn’t agree with me and I can assure you it’s certainly not a racist thing from me, I just think it’s all about the bloke with the “all about me me me” attitude he has and he even manages to turn the game around that’s someone else’s milestone and make it all about him as well. He’s the player I most like to hate in the game.

We have our traditional rivalries. I should have a soft spot for Essendon because that’s where I started. My dad’s gone now, he’s deceased, and I should have a soft spot for them but of course there’s a huge Hawthorn Essendon rivalry. I went through the 80s with the heartbreaks and euphoric feelings of that. I think Essendon is the team I most hate losing to, though I hate losing to Collingwood as well. But there’s no clubs I really overall dislike, I just like going and watching them for who they are and how they’re going about it.

I think the inconsistency in the umpiring frustrates me more than anything about football. I struggle with players today struggling with goal kicking routines. I think it’s annoying that professional footballers these days are paid big money to kick goals – I love the goals on the run and the side kicks and the check sides and things like that – but I just see people marking the ball these days with an inside 50, taking two steps back, marking the spot, pacing themselves out, going through their routine of coming in and kicking a goal, and then the ball just spearing off the side of the foot and just not going through. The people that I admire most are the ones that you can count on that just stand there, walk back, walk in and kick the goal. Then back to the centre for the bounce again. I just get annoyed at these routines and the technical side that they’ve brought into the game these days. Just frustrates me.

I just love going to the footy, being part of the crowd, being there. I’ve said to you before, I just love footy full stop. Yeah, I’m a Hawthorn supporter but I just love footy and I love going. I love what it does to people. I think it’s fantastic. If there’s one thing I really hate it’s when we play Sunday twilight games – I hate waiting the whole weekend. And now that we’ve got Thursday night games I hate waiting until Sunday night to have to play football or to go to the game; if you lose, you’ve gone through a whole weekend and then seen your team lose. Nothing better than playing on a Friday night, winning on a Friday night and then sitting back and enjoying the whole weekend because you don’t really care what happens after that.”

Lanterns.

Adelaide Oval Walsh tribute

What a tough week it’s been in football.

At some point I had to make the decision to begin to disengage from all the Walsh tributes or else face the prospect of remaining in a downward spiral of sadness. Nothing I read or watched was going to change the situation and so many wonderful things had already been said about the man who was such a huge part of the Port Adelaide Football Club for so many years. It was time to take a step back. Otherwise I feel like it just becomes ‘tragedy porn’ and the meaningfulness starts to wane.

Of course, there’s been a separate sort of heartache when it comes to Port Adelaide this year and that’s been their repeated on field poor performance. Week after week after week I’ve gotten my hopes up only to have them dashed, usually in the worst possible way. A Thursday night game against Collingwood at home at Adelaide Oval – with the teams sitting 12th and 5th respectively – didn’t fill me with any great sense of anticipation. Even though this was going to be the club’s first match since Walsh’s death, I honestly just couldn’t bring myself to watch it. This game was going to mean a lot to us and it would just hurt too much to lose.

So I didn’t. I accepted an invitation from a friend to have dinner at one of our favourite places in the western suburbs and caught up on all the things happening in each other’s lives. Football barely rated a mention until around 8pm when I asked if she minded if I checked my phone to see what the score was. She said that was fine so I pulled it out and noted we were 26 points up in the first quarter. Not that that filled me with any great sense of hope or satisfaction, not this year. Though a small part of me wondered if the ‘good’ Port Adelaide had shown up to play.

We finished dinner, said our goodbyes and I got in the car to drive home along the Tullamarine Freeway. I listened to music the whole way, resisting the urge to turn the radio on and listen to the game. I stopped at the supermarket and checked my phone again; surprisingly we were still up. I put the phone away and did my shopping. Drove home and pulled into my drive way. Checked again. By that stage there were encouraging messages from my family and friends about how well Port were doing.

I walked upstairs and my phone pinged with a message from my brother that there was just two minutes to go. Port were four points up. I paced the room and made the executive decision that no matter how much this might end up hurting me, I was going to watch until the end. Collingwood scored a point to bring it back to within three. Kicks went repeatedly into their 50 and Broadbent stood up with some calming marks. The clock continued to count down and time never felt so slow… Three points.

I stood there, just a metre in front of the television, willing the unthinkable to happen. Bracing myself for the worst.

Then the final siren went, the rain came down again and I burst into tears.

That one’s for you Walshy.

Watching Ollie Wines sob on the field only to be comforted by captain Travis Boak nearly broke my heart. You forget he’s just a kid. Even Kenny struggled through his post match interview and I could hear the emotion in his voice. Life just doesn’t seem fair at times; it isn’t fair. Not by a long shot.

As good as that win was, we saved the best until last. The lights of Adelaide Oval went down and the most beautiful tribute went up. And as it played on the screen people shone their own lights in a mark of respect and remembrance for someone who still had so much to offer our game.

We never carried days on our own…” Last night we all carried our grief together. And at that moment I knew that it wasn’t alright, but we were going to be OK.

wines and boak

Of my people.

sydney v port

I’ve realised over the years that people arrive at their football team one of two ways – they are either born to them or they choose them. The born to people are the ones who grow up in a family who support the one club or live in the club’s homeland. The choose to people are those who give consideration to who they are going to support, weigh up all the options and then make a decision based on gut instinct or some other intangible. Both paths are equally powerful and can deliver a lifetime of impact.

My family are all born to people. I am a choose to person. And doesn’t that cause friction.

Let me explain. All five of us are NSW born and bred, people who grew up watching and playing rugby league on cold weekends. Later it was also rugby union that fought for our attention and similarly divided us into NSW Waratahs v ACT Brumbies supporters. We all arrived late at the game we often referred to as “aerial ping pong” and it wasn’t until the Sydney Swans made the 1996 grand final that we took any interest in AFL at all.

So being good NSW people, dad and mum and both my brothers went with the Swans and have stayed true to them since. They’ve seen them play in five grand finals and win two of them. One of my all time favourite memories is racing into the city after the 2012 grand final win to meet up with my brother Paul who had come down to watch the game. As I walked into his hotel lobby he stepped out of the lift and we ran excitedly towards each other, hugging and jumping up at down in excitement at Sydney’s win. I have long adored the team of my people and for many years I also had a Swans membership. I love seeing them play well and I will cheer cheer the red and the white so hard against almost any other team in the competition – except one.

Port Adelaide. My team, the team I chose. Picked in the summer the year before they started in the AFL in 1997, they were the new team, I was the new supporter and they were going to be mine. The specifics of my reasoning have faded over time but my support has not, even when they break my heart like they have done this year. I’ve watched them play in two grand finals, winning one. I was at the MCG on the day of the losing grand final, one of the worst scorelines in history, and stayed right until the bitter end. Then I got hideously drunk at a pub in the city with my Geelong supporting best friend, vomited under a table and lost my 2004 premiership scarf.

I dread the couple of times a year Port Adelaide plays Sydney and I pre-emptively cringe when I look at those rounds when the new draw comes out. I know they are going to be tough because my family makes it tough. Port has the worst record against Sydney so I invariably end up bruised and battered after facing the brunt of their piss taking. My brothers can be particularly brutal so as much as I love Sydney, there is absolutely no team I’d rather beat.

Of course, my nightmare is a Port Adelaide v Sydney grand final.

It certainly won’t be happening this year, though not though any fault of the Swans who look red hot. Even missing key position players Lance Franklin and Kurt Tippett through suspension they still managed to get over the line last Thursday night by 10 points. What a heartbreaker. Port looked valiant at times but never really good enough to win, though they kept me guessing right until the bitter end (thanks for nothing).

There’s really not much to say about Port Adelaide this year that I haven’t said already and I can’t see much point re-capping another ordinary outing in detail. We’ve been wildly disappointing in a season where I think I could realistically say many of us dared to dream we’d be premiers. Week after week they’ve let me down and it’s getting harder and harder to watch the games. The one small point that has consoled me recently is a piece I read by Malcolm Blight who said most teams that experience a significant increase in form – like Port did over the 2013-14 seasons – generally hit a plateau before rising again. In 2006 Geelong finished 10th and in 2007 they were premiers. So it can be done. All I’ve got to do now is keep the faith.

Thursday was one of the most topsy turvy days I’ve had in a long, long time. It started with some poorly delivered news I didn’t get a job I’d applied for, then a couple of hours later I got a medal for some work I did a few years ago in the job I already have and love. My current colleagues said some gorgeous things that made me feel valued and the colleagues I nearly had expressed the right amount of outrage I wasn’t going to be theirs. I bantered with new friends then had drinks with some old. People told me my hair looked good (always a win). My parents told me they were proud. Despite some wildly fluctuating circumstances I realised that I really am surrounded by good people and that there are great things to come this year. Everything will be OK.

And of course, the team I chose got beaten by the team of my people. Of all days it had to happen on that one. But you know, I still wouldn’t change my choice for anything.

Vale Phil Walsh.

phil walsh

“Because when some footy people hurt, we all hurt.”

I read that line on Friday morning, just hours after waking to the desperately tragic news that Adelaide Crows coach Phil Walsh had been murdered. Friends had already begun to send disbelieving text messages and it seemed almost inconceivable that this had occurred. I think shock was, and is, still the primary reaction of most people.

Walsh was much loved at my club Port Adelaide, where he spent 11 seasons as an assistant coach including the premiership winning 2004 season. His contribution to the short history of our AFL club was immense both as a person and an employee. When he left last year it was with the best wishes of everyone at the Power and the feeling he was ready to make his mark as an AFL coach. To read so many heart felt pieces from Port players past and present over the last couple of days highlights just how much we still felt like he was one of our own.

Was. The hardest word to say at a time like this.

Watching the Collingwood and Hawthorn players link arms in the centre of the MCG on Friday night was an incredibly powerful moment that lost none of its poignancy as it was repeated through the rest of the round’s games. It was led by Alastair Clarkson, a man who spent time coaching at Port Adelaide alongside Walsh. Then I saw Damien Hardwick following the Richmond game and was reminded he would have played under Walsh at the Power, as did his assistant coach Brendan Lade. Another assistant, Mark Williams was one of Walsh’s best mates and of course the Port coach in that premiership year. Their opponents, GWS, have two former Power players in Chad Cornes and Dean Brogan as assistant coaches. On and on it went; having played at three clubs and coached at four there is no doubt so many people felt like Walsh was in some way one of their own.

And clearly football fans have all felt the same way too. Tributes built up steadily through the day outside the Adelaide Football Club’s headquarters with the navy, yellow and red sitting alongside the teal, black and white in a unique mark of respect. People took to social media to post photographs of their club scarves tied outside homes and offices in a show of solidarity amongst the football community. #weflyasone has never seemed so apt.

I can’t begin to imagine what the Walsh family is going through now, compounded no doubt by the fact their family has been so shattered by the loss of not just a father and husband, but also a son and a brother. It’s just unthinkable and almost unbearably sad. I hope those who knew and loved Walsh best take some comfort from the fact that all footy people feel like they have lost someone special – because when some footy people hurt, we all hurt.

Rest easy, Phil Walsh. How precious and fragile this life is.

scarves out for walshy

“I like to think of it as dual citizenship. You know, I’ve got Australian and Greek citizenship, and I’ve got Brisbane and Melbourne citizenship.”

Melbourne-Demons-vs-Brisbane-Lions-Live

The story of how Jane and I met is a funny one. Around nine years ago we worked for two separate companies that had decided to merge. After the first meeting of the management team, my boss came back to our office and said, “There’s a girl over there I reckon you’d really like Nat.” When I asked her why she thought that she said it’s because she had a Melbourne Demons scarf hanging over her chair. Right. We eventually met and guess what? We hit it off thanks to our mutual love of not just AFL but pretty much most sports (though I can’t imagine I’ll ever come around to soccer sorry Jane). Nine years and countless footy games later we’re still great mates – it probably helps that we both know what it’s like to have great affection for two football clubs. I had a chat to her about footy and despite my best efforts she refused to admit that the 2004 grand final was the best of the modern era. Hmmm. 

Name: Jane Lytras

Age: 39

Recruited from: BrisVegas

Occupation: One of the brains behind the Australian Open

AFL team followed: Melbourne Demons and Brisbane Lions

All time favourite footy moment: Brisbane Lions threepeat

“I go for Brisbane and Melbourne. I follow Melbourne because my grandpa played for them and Brisbane because I grew up there. I followed the Bears when they were crap. Mum’s family had an AFL background because grandpa, when he moved from Melbourne to Queensland, helped start up the QAFL. On mum’s side of the family it was strong, one of her brothers was in the Queensland team and one of her nephews as well, but he was replaced in the team by Jason Dunstall. So on her side there’s a strong Aussie Rules history and then dad when he came to Australia from Greece, even with his soccer background, the first time he saw Aussie Rules he said “I wish I’d moved here earlier so I could have played it.”

When the teams play I’m torn. I have been known to lose my voice and seem like a strange person cheering for both sides at the same time. Plus I normally choke myself because I’ve got two scarves around my neck. If they were playing against each other in a grand final… Oh my God. People have asked me this before. OK – I’ve seen Brisbane win three premierships and I have not seen Melbourne win a flag so I’m afraid I would have to say I’d be going for Melbourne.

People just say to me that you can’t have two teams and then they try to say that I’m trying to hedge my bets but I kinda point out where Brisbane and Melbourne are on the ladder at the moment and that you’re not really hedging your bets. I like to think of it as dual citizenship. You know, I’ve got Australian and Greek citizenship, and I’ve got Brisbane and Melbourne citizenship.

The first game I ever went to was Brisbane at Cararra and I think we were playing Essendon because I remember there were Bombers that flew over that gave us a fright. I don’t know if that was the time I got Mike Richardson’s autograph or not, but I was pretty excited. We didn’t really go to the AFL much when I was growing up because it was down at the Gold Coast so we couldn’t always make the trip down to see it. Once the Bears came to the ‘Gabba we got memberships and mum, dad and I used to go a lot.

At the game it depends on if I’m drinking. If I’m not drinking them I’m your classic Demons clapping hands, jolly good and well done. If I’m drinking then I’m probably a little bit louder but I’m never abusive. I do say “boo” and we always used to boo when Matthew Richardson kicked for goals because it seemed to work. Then my mum and I met him when we were in Paris and he was so lovely that mum just went, “I’m never going to boo that boy again.” And we haven’t since. I also think my behaviour depends on who I’m with at the game, that influences me a little bit. I can remember a friend of mine moved over from the UK and because the Dees were on the bottom of the ladder he decided to go for them. Going to games with him was fun, you know, educating him in AFL. He used to get quite worked up and if I wasn’t having to go to him “I don’t think you should be yelling that” then I was probably yelling as loudly as him.

I don’t have a membership. I did for a long time for both Brisbane and Melbourne and then I couldn’t justify the cost of both. Brisbane only gets five games down here and it’s still quite expensive. Then I moved over to the UK for a year and when I came back I just never renewed them. I know that I should and I know that I can get three game memberships but… I still get emails from both clubs, I just don’t go to games very often, so I’ve let it go.

I was there when Shaun Smith took the Mark of the Century. That was amazing. I was also there when Jason Dunstall kicked his 1000th goal in a game at the ‘Gabba, which was pretty exciting even though I’m not a Hawthorn supporter. And obviously the three Brisbane premierships are special memories. Oh… I don’t know if I have a favourite. Maybe the middle one against Collingwood because it was a closer game? Although I remember going to one of them, I can’t remember if it was against Essendon or Collingwood, where it was one of those classic Melbourne days where it was raining during the morning, we got to the ground and it was beautiful and sunny, we won, and then as we were leaving it started kind of snowy hailing. So that day kind of stands out in my memory as well, though not for the actual football. There was also one where Michael Voss came up holding the trophy and stood on the fence right in front of us. It was Vossy, so everyone was going off.

I went to all three of the Lions grand finals and the one that Port won as well, so all four that Brisbane were in. I was living in Sydney when Melbourne were in the 2000 grand final – I had Optus, that was when C7 used to broadcast it and I got C7 just so we could watch the grand final – then we got thrashed by what I think was the biggest margin in history at the time. 2004? That was the one where Alastair Lynch and the Wakelin had the punch on. We were right down near that, it was hilarious. Alastair Lynch was just doing all these air shots. My mum came to that one with me and she hadn’t been to the other three so she though she was the bad luck. You would think it was the best grand final of the last 20 years, wouldn’t you? I don’t think so.

Worst day at the footy is easy. So one day I went down to Geelong to see them play Brisbane. The train broke down or there was a crash on the tracks, I think it was one stop away from Skilled Stadium. So we weren’t going to get to the game in time unless we got off at that earlier stop and walked. Got there, cold, raining, standing out in that standing area, pouring with rain, windy, the Lions didn’t score for maybe the whole of the first quarter and then in the second quarter they might have gotten a couple of points. Jonathan Brown was injured, we got thrashed, and that was the first and last time I ever went to Skilled Stadium. I hate Skilled Stadium so much because of that that when Melbourne Victory had three games there this past year I didn’t go, and I’m a Melbourne Victory member. So I did not even utilise my membership, that’s how strong my hatred is.

With Dees, before the Bears were around, my favourite player was Robbie Flower. Then when the Bears came along I was a massive Choco Williams fan. One of mum’s workmates used to do the photography for the Bears and he used to give me the photos that he didn’t need. My bedroom walls were covered in black and white photos of Brisbane Bears players and there were a lot of Choco Williams ones in the centre right above my bed. Darryl White was a big favourite at Brisbane as well, Vossy and Simon Black. Jack Trengove for the Dees is a favourite now. Apart from being a good player when he’s not injured, he just seems like he’s very wise for his age. Got a good head on his shoulders.

You know what? I don’t love Jack Watts because I’m not really into blonds but I think people give Jack too hard a time. I feel bad for him because I think a lot of pressure was put on him. I hear Dees supporters yelling stuff at him and it makes me really angry when people yell at their own players. I remember a Brisbane v Sydney game once – and it’s the only game I’ve ever left early – where I was ready to punch a Sydney supporter. The Swans were beating Brisbane and this guy behind me just kept screaming at Leo Barry and abusing the crap out of him. We were close enough to the goal square that Leo Barry could have heard everything he was saying and I just thought, you’re supporting that team, why are you screaming at that man and saying horrible things?

When I lived in Sydney I hated the Swans because even though Brisbane were winning all the time, we always lost to them. It drove me mental. And then since I’ve moved to Melbourne it’s more St Kilda just because of all the off field crap with them. I have a love/hate thing with Chris Judd because I think he should have come to Melbourne. But at the same time I know he’s into philosophy and stuff so I can’t hate him. It’s like my Russell Brand thing where I don’t want to like him but I do.

The thing that I love about footy is the thing that I love about sport in general where it can be a great unifier. You can be having a shit time in life but you go along to a game and it will be an amazing game and it can just lift you up and make you forget about all the other stuff that’s going on.

It’s hard to kind of sum up what I don’t like. I don’t feel like I’m as big a fan as I used to be, I feel like the game is not quite in touch with the people as much as it used to be. I know the AFL is trying to do something about that. I feel like it’s over-umpired a little bit as well. It makes it difficult for there to be flow in the game and it can also make it a bit confusing, I also hate how some commentators are too familiar with the players to be commentating. If I hear Ling call Leigh Montagna ‘Joey’ again I will – to quote Terry Wallace – spew up.

No! Shane Woewodin is NOT the worst Brownlow Medallist of all time. Can I please tell you a story behind this. So, the first time I saw Shane Woewodin – even though I’m not really into blonds – I thought, oh he seems really lovely. He was suddenly my favourite player and this is when no one really knew who he was. I was still up in Brisbane then and I remember my sister and I went to a Brisbane v Richmond game at the ‘Gabba and we were drinking with a group of people in the Lions Club afterwards. We started talking about Brownlow and this was in like, March or April. I as saying back then that Shane Woewodin is going to win the Brownlow Medal and one of the Richmond guys was like, “Pfft, you’re a girl, what do you know.” Another one was like, “Shane who? No one knows who he is.” And who won the Brownlow Medal that year? Shane Woewodin. It might have been a superficial bet but he still won.”