By Natalie

The $410.

monfries ah chee hawthorn

“Do you want to put a bet on?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A farewell to arms.

dad police

I am 36 years old and not one of those years has been spent without policing in my life.

Today, in some ways, that will change.

Because today is the day that my father is marched off for the very last time on the parade ground at the New South Wales Police Academy in Goulburn, 39 years after he joined ‘the job’.

It’s the very last day I’ll get to watch mum iron one of those iconic blue shirts. The last time I’ll get to see him leave the house ready to go to work in the career he has loved so much and given so much to. The last time I’ll see him in the leather jacket and peaked cap. The last time he’ll be Sergeant Webster.

Things that I have for so long just taken for granted.

My dad has spent all of those years in the force operationally qualified – from Lane Cove and Chatswood in the city through to country policing in Merimbula and Adelong. The last 21 years have been spent as an instructor at the Police Academy, instilling thousands of now serving members with his own particular brand of wit (debatable) and wisdom (never in doubt).

Does anyone know what an affray is?” “Is it like a fight, sergeant?” “No, it’s when an Asian person is scared.

But some of his most important work has been in the meticulous research he has undertaken over the past couple decades to chronicle every single NSW police officer killed in the line of duty. Names and histories that had laid dormant for years, unrecognised and unremembered. I remember trips to libraries and country cemeteries to find the stories of these people so they could be shared and honoured after they gave their life serving the community. No one has been more passionate about and committed to making sure the broader NSWPF community remember their fallen.

It’s equally as impressive that dad finishes a 39 year career without even the slightest hint of ‘TJF’. If you asked him he would still tell you that ‘the job’ is the best job in the world.

Police are people doing an often thankless job under what are usually trying and unpredictable circumstances. They are people who deal with the worst society has to offer every day so we can sleep safely at night. When there’s a murder, they’re there. When there’s a fatal vehicle collision, they’re there. When someone has been assaulted, they’re there. When someone has been raped, they’re there. When a home has been robbed or a shop has been held up by an armed offender or a family violence incident has occurred, they’re always there. To help, to console, to investigate, to assist, to placate, to stop, to bring to justice. Every single day they do the things that the rest of the community can’t ask themselves to do.

Whenever I hear people criticise police I think about the inherently selfless people like my dad who have given years of unfailing service to local communities. Growing up next door to police stations and having people knock on your door at all times of the day or night. Having to go to some of the most horrific incidents you can imagine and knowing the victims and their families. Christmases and birthdays and holidays spent at work.

Earlier this year my dad and I stood at the Pambula river mouth, a spot where we used to go swimming as kids. It’s peaceful and quiet and lovely. I pointed at one of the sheds nestled in the sand and said something to him, I can’t remember what. He replied, “We arrested someone for a really bad rape just up there”. There are ghosts around every corner that only fade in time, they never go away. Something for the critics to consider.

But there are so very many great memories too. Christmas parties where the helicopter dropped bags of lollies out of the sky. Road trips in the back on the div van, even the one where my brother threw up on the police radio. Hours spent playing ‘Prince of Persia’ or golf on station computers. Barbecues at the beach where we spent hours screaming with laughter riding around in rubber duckies. Some of the best and funniest people you will ever meet in your life.

My dad telling the story of the line search in the Belanglo State Forest and someone decided to start a wave that went for as far as the eye could see.

I also think of how incredibly hard it must have been for mum at times – all the moves to new towns and the stresses that come with being married to the job. And not once did she ever let us know she was as anxious or worried as we were when we left towns we loved or started at new schools. Mum always just got on with it and it’s only in hindsight you realise how exceptional that is.

I wouldn’t change growing up with police for the world and in so many ways it has defined our family – for the absolute best.

I am 36 years old and not one of those years has been spent without policing in my life.

Today, in some ways, that will change, dad. And in other ways, nothing will change at all.

Because though you have retired, you will always be part of the police family. That never goes away. Besides, you’ve raised two kids who were so impressed they joined police forces of their own. 

And above all else, we are so incredibly proud of you, Sergeant Webster – more than you will ever know – and that won’t change once you take the blue shirt off for the very last time.

“Question not, but live and labour
Til yon goal be won,
Helping every feeble neighbour,
Seeking help from none;
Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone,
Kindness in another’s trouble,
Courage in your own.”

– Adam Lindsay Gordon

It will be alright with me.

hinkley and ah chee

For the first time in what seemed like months, I was back at my old local – the Palace Hotel in Camberwell. I’d debated whether or not to head down there but eventually guilt won out. If you’re gonna get your heart broken then you may as well watch it happen on the big screen. I missed the start of the first quarter but a quick score check showed Port were about five goals up early.

Ah, the sweet smell of false hope in the brisk August air.

I settled in with a pint of Coke and realised I was pretty much the only one there watching the game. A well dressed man walked in and asked if they were going to show the Bledisloe Cup, then stormed out when staff said no. I breathed a sigh of relief. For a minute there I thought they’d have no compunction in kicking off the game of who could basically care less between two interstate teams no Victorian gives a fuck about. But they didn’t, and I stayed.

There was a lot of heat in the first quarter and a new record for the most 50m penalties given in a quarter was set (six). Players pushed and shoved, drove in hard on tackles and generally just niggled the hell out of each other. There was a lot of words exchanged millimetres from opposition players’ faces. Port finished the first quarter ahead and the tussles continued as the players walked off at quarter time, with even the runners getting involved at one stage.

I’ll make the point now – in a year of atrocious umpiring, this was the worst performance from those grubs that I’ve seen all year. ALL YEAR. Horrendous.

The next two quarters see-sawed – I think Port was often the better team and we played a nice line in getting the ball into our 50m repeatedly, however we just could not get the job done. A lot of sloppy kicking cost us. Alternatively, the Giants just had to make the break out of defence and all of a sudden they seemed to have free men everywhere in their attacking 50. The wrestling and scrapping slowed down as the focus sharpened on actually winning the game, not just the fight. These were two teams that had a fair bit to play for on either side – Port for pride and to rise to coach Hinkley’s challenge to stand up and be counted, the young guns from GWS looking to make their first finals series. Despite Port putting on a couple of handy leads, it was the Giants who went into the three quarter time break two points up.

So many times during that last half I looked at the clock and wondered how long I would have to stay here to be considered a respectable supporter. How long I would have to watch this for before my heart broke apart again. I remember looking at the match clock as the siren went for the fourth and dreading the fact I still had 30 painstaking minutes to go. I’d forgotten how awful seasons like this felt. I imagined that all I was doing was waiting for the disappointment of false hopes to hit again.

Something happened to that Port Adelaide team that walked out on to Adelaide Oval for that final quarter – they actually came to play. And play they did. They were running through the centre in waves with the same ease as last year or even 2013 and actually kicking goals. They were hard at the ball and I swear, their tackling was as intense as ever I’d seen it. I could almost feel their desperation. Chad Wingard stood up with a couple of magic goals and even the much maligned John Butcher got one. But it was the youngster Brendon Ah Chee that seemed most determined to make his presence known. Four years on our list, debuted in the AFL earlier this season – this was his breakout game for sure. Someone commented that he seemed to be made of “both cement and helium” because he laid tackles that drove opponents into the ground like nobody’s business then floated up high for a screamer of a mark. Kicked a pretty bloody handy goal too. (Let’s not even start on how amazing his handballing is.) Hopefully the kid has nothing but big things ahead of him.

I resisted the urge to bite my fingernails off and as we continued to heap on goals with little answer from the Giants, I finally conceded we might grab this one. Even an old bar fly came to chat to me, correctly ascertaining I was a Port fan before telling me he was glad we were knocking GWS out because he supported the Cats and wanted them to make the finals. Thanks mate. I was probably louder than I usually am but this was important for us. Despite everything, despite how incredibly disappointing this season has been in a year where we expected so much, Port showed they can still come up with a gutsy effort when it counts.

We never, ever give up, as they say. Still an important part of what makes us tick.

It’s been the topsiest and turviest of years, both in AFL and life. It’s almost like whatever I least expected has come to pass and things I felt so sure of have been called into question. A mate told me that this week he was expecting a happy post after the game following the unrelenting glumness of the past couple. Let me tell you, on Friday afternoon I wasn’t so sure. It was not a weekend I was looking forward to. But if there’s something I’ve learned recently it’s this: I have a wonderful family, brilliant friends, a job I love and a life I’m happy with. All it took was two hours on a Saturday afternoon to remind me I’ve also got a football team I’m proud of.

The girls.

womens afl 1

womens afl 2

womens afl 3

I absolutely love these photos from today’s AFL Women’s game at Etihad between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs. And I love even more that it was shown on TV for the very first time in the game’s history. By all accounts it was a really close and exciting game, with the Dees getting up by four points 6.4 to 5.6 over the Dogs. I was also pretty happy to read a lot of positive support on social media – in a year when fans seem to be ready to tear down anything and everything, it was nice to see them come together to universally applaud this.

The boy from the bush.

merrick

“…Steve Merrick, the coalminer plucked from the bush to become a Wallaby, and when asked to name his price, didn’t have one.”

While this website predominantly chronicles my and my friends’ love of AFL, I’m also a huge rugby union fan. I was absolutely obsessed with the game as a teenager and would spend hours cutting out newspaper clippings to stick into scrapbooks and recording test matches to watch over and over again. I still adore it though thankfully my behaviour has calmed down significantly since then.

I was only thinking the other day about Steve Merrick, an unassuming bloke from the Hunter Valley, who was seemingly picked out of nowhere to play two tests as scrum half for the Wallabies in 1995. It was in that moment right before rugby imploded and turned professional and after just those two tests, he walked away from representative football. It was – and still is – an incredible story.

Earlier tonight I was scrolling through Facebook and noticed a friend had posted the link to an excellent piece by Patrick Skene in The Guardian about Merrick. It’s an amazing read and took me back to my youth, the days of VHS tapes and pocket money spent on newspapers. Rugby is such a beautiful game to watch and no matter how much of my time AFL takes up these days, union always feels like home.

You can read the article on The Guardian website here – even if you’re not a rugby fan, it’s a brilliant story.

“Having missed his first Wallabies training session due to a previous commitment – ‘I had to bring a mate back to Singo’ – a strange thing happened to Merrick after another session he did make it to. He was pulled into a side room to be met by players sitting at a table who wanted to discuss a rebel union competition. They were offering $100,000 to sign as a professional and if it didn’t go ahead he could keep the sign on fee. Easy money.

Merrick, however, burst into laughter.’I can’t believe I’m hearing this,’ he told them, ‘I play footy because I want to play footy. That’s it.'”

 

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.

Everything shines just like a postcard.

matt white

Some weeks are just the worst. Nothing goes right, from the second they start until the moment you shove them out the door on a Sunday night. This week has been one of those for me.

It actually started on a Saturday, with the news my brother had been involved in a serious collision. The horror and shock of it all took a few days to settle in; it just didn’t feel quite real on that cold Saturday night. Sunday went past in a blur given I had a series of existing commitments to keep me occupied and by the time Monday afternoon arrived, I was feeling it. I begged off work and used some flex time on Tuesday to have a day off, a day where I drove to the beach in Torquay and did nothing but think, walk and eat caramel slice. It was the best kind of day to have when you’re worried and I thought it would see me through.

Wrong.

The end of the week bought an incredibly emotionally trying job at work and involved me making some decisions I still haven’t reconciled myself to. It’s funny, the rational side of my brain knows I had no other option and placed in the same position again I would make exactly the same choice. But it doesn’t mean I feel comfortable about it, no matter how much I turn it over and over and over in my mind. I wish it would have been different.

It was a full moon this week and what they say is absolutely true – it always brings out the worst in human nature.

Friday brought an awkward series of moments with a friend. Things could barely get any worse and honestly, the only thing that was holding me together was running it off every night. Music playing through my headphones as I cut laps on dark deserted streets, past mansions lit up to illustrate lives I would never have.

“Feel it coming in the air / Hear the screams from everywhere / I’m addicted to the thrill / It’s a dangerous love affair / Can’t be scared when it goes down / Got a problem tell me now / Only thing that’s on my mind / Is who’s gonna run this town tonight…”

Football was something to both look forward to and dread this week. It would be something of a distraction of course, but the way Port Adelaide’s season was going meant this could end very, very badly. The Tigers got up over Hawthorn on Friday night in something of an upset. Melbourne beat Collingwood. The Gold Coast drew with West Coast. Jesus. This could go either way.

On Saturday my brother was discharged from hospital and suddenly everyone knew what had happened after he posted details on Facebook. I’d been very quiet, telling only three people, because despite everyone’s best intentions I knew I wouldn’t want to talk about it over and over. I’ll deal with it in my own way, thanks.

And yet it was a couple of small moments of kindness from a few people that got me through mostly. A message or a call or a hug when I least expected it and most needed it.

I worked all weekend and made plans to watch the Port Adelaide v St Kilda game from the comfort of my desk. What a treat that would be for my colleagues. I turned it on at 1.10pm and prepared for the worst. I cannot say that I expected a 63-point win but it was grubby and sloppy. At times we showed flashes of the real Power but then we’d stuff it up by overcooking handballs or some incredibly poor kicking. The skills level across both sides was mediocre for much of the game and despite that hefty scoreline, it felt painful to watch at times.

Ollie Wines dislocated a shoulder. Chad kicked a couple. Robbie Gray turned on an absolute belter. Boaky had another brilliant captain’s game. I loved seeing Matty White back in the side.

It’s nice to still be on the winner’s list, though this season has been hopeless and hope less at times.

Of course, my perfect week had to end with a stand up row on Sunday afternoon. Voices were raised. It was an argument where I knew I was right but I wouldn’t win, and yet I had it anyway knowing how futile it would be. Excellent. It was really all I needed to finish up.

As I was getting ready to leave he said to me, “You’ve really worked on your tact.” My eyebrows shot up. “Really?”, I questioned. “No,” he replied and shook his head with a half smile.

I walked out, ready to run the week behind me and make a fresh start. Thank God I’ll never have to live this one again.