Collingwood

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

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

Name: Janae Houghton

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

Occupation: Journo turned comms guru

AFL team followed: Collingwood Magpies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REPEAT

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“So he had kind of strung me out where I thought I was literally going to get the camping chair and then at the last minute he’s like, I’ve just got us the tickets.”

334420-grand-final

I’m not sure how I came to realise Amelia Harris was a huge footy tragic – we’ve been dealing with each other for many years now, both during her time at the Herald Sun and now in her role as a media advisor, but it seems like it’s just something I’ve always known. When I was thinking about who I’d like to interview for the blog this year she was high on my list, though it took some gentle arm twisting (and a breakfast out to indulge our mutual sweet tooth) to convince her to answer the questions and not ask them for a change. Despite the fact she goes for Collingwood we manage to get along very well and so she is the very first friend of the year I’ve harassed for their thoughts on football. Enjoy.

Name: Amelia Harris

Recruited from: Melbourne

Occupation: Ex-journo, now media advisor

AFL team followed: Collingwood Magpies

All time favourite footy moment: 2010 Grand Final

“I was probably born into a Collingwood family. My dad is a big Collingwood supporter and there was probably no other choice, really. My mum’s a Hawthorn supporter and comes from a Hawthorn family but I think my dad just won that battle from the get-go. I just couldn’t imagine going for anyone else now. Very few people change footy teams; I think once you’ve got a club you generally stay with them for life. I really just couldn’t imagine ever going for anyone else.

What do I love about Collingwood? Well, it’s great thinking you go for the club that everyone else hates… Collingwood has a great working class history, too. Obviously it’s also been great to see some success, like in 2010, and that’s pretty special – plus I got to share it with my dad and that was really nice.

I can’t remember the first time I ever went to the footy. I was about two-and-a-half in 1990 and my mum took me and dropped me off at the game – I went to the first quarter with my dad. When I was little I was really obsessed with going to see the banners. I think my mum was basically waiting at the back of the Hilton to drop me off for the banners and that first quarter, then did a bit of a rendezvous with dad and picked me up. Obviously dad watched the rest of the game and then I know we went to Victoria Park the day after. That was actually a pretty significant weekend in my life. I didn’t know it at the time but obviously there was the Collingwood flag and it as the weekend the Herald Sun was born with the merger of the Herald and The Sun – I went on to work there for seven years, so yeah, a pretty significant weekend in 1990. My dad kept all the papers including the first edition of the Herald Sun which I think was from memory ‘Lethal’s Weapon’. So I’ve still got all of those in my wardrobe, which my husband hates. They’re gathering dust. But you know, they’re important to me, so…

My first year at the paper was actually in sport. Obviously there’s a lot of AFL training sessions that need to be covered so occasionally I’d go to them but I tended to do a lot more country footy or amateurs footy. Which was kind of good, because a lot of people are into ‘ammos’ and it’s a nice ice breaker. When I was doing something for work in South Melbourne the other day I got talking to a Channel 10 cameraman and somehow we got talking about amateurs footy. It’s a really easy conversation. Country footy was great too because you learn where all these far flung towns are – now I hear places and I think, “Oh that’s in the East Gippsland League or Central Murray or whatever”. I also kind of thought for a while that it would be interesting to cover sports affairs, so more that ‘business of sport’ type of round. But then I fell into police reporting and so that just kind of happened.

I often go to the footy with my dad and that’s kind of always been our thing. So it’s good to see him and catch up with him. Generally you always know a few people going to a game. I’ve got a good friend who barracks for Geelong so the last few years there’s obviously been some great Collingwood v Geelong games and we’d go together, which is fun. It’s nice to catch up with friends and just have a great arvo. Hopefully see the Pies win.

I’m an MCC member but I’ve let my club membership go in the past few years. At the start I was doing both but now I’ve been a bit disloyal I must admit. About 8-10 years ago I was probably going to say 14 or 16 games a season but in the last few years it’s dropped off a bit. So I haven’t been a club member for a couple of years though I probably should.

I am a screamer. My husband hates it, he’s mortified. I can be very unhinged. And I’m past the point of caring now.

I don’t really have any superstitions but I always used to have a Cherry Ripe with my dad at half time. And I’d always have the bigger half. Always. And do you remember those Cazaly chocolate bars? They were only available at the MCG. They are a lost relic. It was like this caramel, coconut, nougat thing that you could only get there. But otherwise a Cherry Ripe at half time was the only non-negotiable. I normally take my scarf but I’m not pedantic about sitting in the same seat, or getting the same tram or anything like that. So I’m not too bad.

A couple of games that stand out would be that Easter Monday game against Carlton in the mid-90s where Mick McGuane had seven bounces and kicked a goal. Always good to have a win against the old rival in Carlton.A couple of those preliminary and qualifying finals in 2002 and 2003, that one where Didak kicked – was it against Adelaide? Or Port? (It was Port, thanks for bringing that up mate.) Ha, I didn’t want to say it! Didak kicked that goal from the boundary in the 11th hour. And then obviously in 2010 it was a dream come true.

I went to that grand final. My dad and I had gone in the MCC ballot and as usual there was a computer system fail, so we had one ticket, which wasn’t great, and had been trying to figure out what we were going to do. Basically on the Thursday or Friday I had said to my dad – I’d just finished work and I was doing police rounds at that time – that I thought I had no chance at that point and I’d have to go and camp. So I was going to go to my mum’s after I’d finished work, get the camping chair and the sleeping bag, and then I was arranging with my dad to pick up my car and take it from the work car park so it wasn’t there for three or four days. I was saying to dad, “Oh I’m going to mum’s house to get the chair and whatever and can you do my car, so I guess I’ll sleep the night and then see you on the Saturday morning” and dad said, “That’s fine, I can do that or you can come on the ticket I bought because I just went and got two tickets at $900 bucks or something”. My dad hates corporatisation of football and buying those tickets was obviously very last ditch, because he’s never been into any of that. So he had kind of strung me out where I thought I was literally going to get the camping chair and then at the last minute he’s like, I’ve just got us the tickets. I was this close to sleeping out.

So we went and it was just this weird, hollow feeling when the siren went and it was a draw. I looked at him and he looked at me and I thought, oh my gosh I’ve gotta do this all over again next week. The week was really tortured. I was working the day after the draw, 7am police rounds and I remember we had to go to Collingwood and stake it out. I was so distracted for the whole week and it was terrible – I could barely function at work. I think by the Wednesday things had evened up. With the draw you’re never going to have the ticketing issues like normal so I think we kind of knew by that Thursday that we had tickets again. We went and then I think it’s one of the few times I’ve seen my dad cry. We went with an old friend of ours who’s a mad Collingwood supporter and who had been really unwell, so that was really nice because he sadly died a few years later. But yeah, it was an amazing day. I was a crying mess. Doing it all again was just torturous. Terrible.

When I was a kid I was a big fan of Mick McGuane, which mortified my mum. I was a big Scott Burns fan too; just a nice guy, all round good guy, great player. I actually think now that he’s probably the person for the top job. I don’t know who I’d get to join us. I still think you need a quality full forward to win a grand final so maybe someone in that position but I don’t have a pick. I’ve never really contemplated too much about who you’d love to have come to Collingwood. Not recently, anyway.

Carlton is probably the team I love to hate, that’s been going on for years. I think that rivalry is going to go on forever really.

I would have liked to think that Collingwood would have made the eight this year but it’s not to be. I’m not sold on Nathan Buckley and again, I think Scott Burns has a better footy brain. If I had my way I think he’d be better in the coaching chair.

I think it’s great that the AFL subsidise Auskick so much. I mean, obviously there’s a benefit in that for them, but I do think it’s a really good thing. I think it’s a great way to make football accessible to families. I think these days it’s harder and more expensive for the average fan to be engaged with their club or the game. If you really want to be watching every game then you’ve got to have Foxtel, you can buy a club membership but there’s no guarantee really that you’re going to have a seat if your team is in the grand final – and for most people that’s what it’s really all about. I think the food is too expensive at the football and I just feel, particularly in the last few years, that the game is becoming more corporatised. I worry that that’s at the expense of fans.

I think football is all I’ve ever known. I grew up in a family that always had football as it’s number one sport and I’ve never had anything else. All my cousins, my mum, my dad, my grandma, everyone I guess, have just always been mad about football. It really is like a religion in Melbourne and it’s such a great social talking point. You ask people who they barrack for before you ask them a bunch of other things. It’s sort of that common ground and even if it’s someone who barracks for a different club you can still have a good conversation with them about football. Some people obviously care about it more than others but nearly everyone in Melbourne has some form of interest. It’s a great thing to talk about with your friends or work mates and there’s a nice social cohesion to it.”

“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.

 

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