Hawthorn

Futility.

night-lights-reflection-on-wet-road-700x437

I’ve been thinking about this post for a couple of weeks.

It started with the death of Cooper Ratten, the 16-year-old son of Hawthorn assistant coach and former Carlton player and coach Brett Ratten, in a collision where it’s been reported the driver is believed to have been alcohol affected. Young men in such a hurry. Rarely does it end well.

Then I thought about it again today when I heard that Hawthorn captain Luke Hodge had been caught drink driving. While the level of alcohol in his blood was considered low range, I thought it was pretty disappointing behaviour from one of the league’s most prominent players. It’s just sheer stupidity, no matter which way you look at it.

I like Hodge; despite the fact he just about broke one of Port Adelaide’s star player’s neck by ramming it into a goal post the other week, I’ve always admired him. My initial thoughts – aside from the sheer stupidity of the act that I previously mentioned – was that it probably wasn’t the best look for a player currently serving a suspension to be out drinking, especially when his team is heading into finals. When I heard the club wasn’t going to impose any penalty on him I was again disappointed. I’m not one of those people who thinks that footy clubs should just focus on footy, I think they absolutely should be agents of cultural and social change. Here was a chance for Hawthorn to stand up and say this behaviour was unacceptable from one of their players and more broadly, unacceptable in society, and they missed it.

It wasn’t until a friend raised it that I considered the juxtaposition of Hodge and Ratten. “How can Luke Hodge walk into that club and look Brett Ratten in the eye after his son has just been killed by a drink driver?” my mate asked me. I honestly hadn’t thought about it but a quick scan of social media showed plenty of other people were considering it.

I don’t know what the answer is but there is such unhappiness entangled in both situations and the way they will intersect.

I wrote the below piece about seven years ago and while it has absolutely nothing to do with football, it just feels right to put it here, right now.

We were in the kitchen, discussing incidents that had happened in our neighbourhood; all the things that went on in the dark hours of the night which I had previously been unaware of. Psych patients that cut into the soles of their feet, a boarding house only several doors down from us that was home to residents of questionable gender, a bloke who had gotten behind the wheel after a few too many drinks and driven himself into serious injury.

I mentioned a fatal crash that had happened almost right in front of our house, one rainy night months ago when I had been driving home late to watch a rugby test. I’d been unable to turn on to my street, stopped by a young officer in a long neon yellow coat standing amongst a litter of traffic cones, lit up by the blue and red flashing lights. I’d parked the car and run down to the scene, the water soaking through my thin shoes. I was peering up through my hooded anorak at what lay before me – debris scattered all across the road. Simple, everyday things like a shoe and a kids bicycle, lying there amongst the glass and torn metal. I remembered being struck by how incredibly unflinchingly ordinary those things looked in that situation.

The car itself was sitting in the middle of the road. It looked like someone of enormous strength had picked it up and tried to compress it into a smaller version of itself, with the top and sides pushed in as though it was made of nothing but putty. There was a blue tarp lying over it, flapping gently on account of the weather as people moved about the area.

On the other side of the road was a high concrete fence, the substantial kind that looks as though it is made of solid brick that someone iced with creamy concrete. There are no gaps in it and it’s one single entity that stretches for the length of the yard of the house it belongs to. Down the middle of it there was now a crack going from top to bottom, with the right side of the structure pushed back so it was no longer even. Black marks screeched from the fissure across the pale concrete, like the kind of marks you get when you’re moving furniture and you scrape the wall.

That whole fence will have to go, I thought.

I stopped to talk with several of the officers, introducing myself. Lucky it happened on a Saturday night I said, it means you can go about your work without interference. They nodded, grumbling quietly about the weather and lack of support from other units. When I asked what they thought had happened, one of them said they’d simply been going too fast along the road, hit the dip at the intersection then lost control on the wet road. How old were they, I enquired. Only young, the officer said, both males but impossible to tell the age of the one killed. Too badly hit. The other – the passenger – had gone to hospital.

I thanked them, said good luck and walked the 200 metres back to my house. My flatmates were inside watching the rugby. Did you hear anything, I asked? Someone has just killed themselves outside our house. One of them raced out and came back inside after several minutes. We kept watching the rugby.

The next day there was nothing in the paper except for a few brief lines hidden away on a late page to signify what had happened. I drove past the spot on the road where the crash had occurred and there was nothing there. The glass and metal swept away, the bike and shoe disposed of, the vehicle towed to a yard somewhere. No one would know what had happened there less than 12 hours previously, with only the cracked fence left as an epitaph to a young man’s stupidity.

I checked on Monday and read the names of the two young men from the northern suburbs who had been in such a hurry to get somewhere. The days passed and there was still nothing at the site – no floral tributes left below the fence or wrapped to a light pole with yards of sticky tape. No photos and no crosses. Nothing.

The fence is still not fixed.

So we were talking about this ‘accident’ and he remembered it, hadn’t been there but remembered it. I remarked that it was strange no one had stepped forward to recognise the dead and he said, “yeah, they were crooks.” I remembered the names I read, initially I had thought they might be internationals with no local family but the names had been traditional mid-eighties Australian like Jason or Darren or Damien. “Ah,” I replied, “crooks,” and nodded my head. We left it at that.

****************************

Every single day, people are killing themselves and others on our roads and we cannot seem to shake ourselves from the lethargic acceptance of this situation, or change our behaviour in order to stop it.

“Was it for this the clay grew tall?
– O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?”

– Wilfred Owen, ‘Futility’, 1917

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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.

“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.”

The anticipation.

MCG at night

I love seeing the MCG lit up and ready to go.

I love seeing it when I leave work late on a Friday and am inching through traffic on Flinders Street, the lights shining on my right and the sky turning pink as the sun goes down. I love seeing it when I go through Richmond on a chilly winter night, the light poles stretching into the dark. I love seeing it in the distance as I walk down Punt Road to go to a game, the anticipation surging through me and the excitement stating to build.

I also love seeing it super early in the morning against the backdrop of a sunrise, wondering what exhilaration and heartbreak have been experienced there only hours before.

Nothing beats those moments when you walk up to the ground and everything seems ready to go, calling you closer and closer and closer… You figure out which gate you need to go through and there’s that first glimpse of the green grass on the field.

You’re here. It’s on. Let’s do this.

Why would you want to be anywhere else on a Saturday night in Melbourne?

(Cracking win by the Swans tonight too in the grand final replay against Hawthorn. Just sneaking home there at the end makes it even sweeter.)

Lest we forget.

Adelaide Oval

It started last year as a very loose sort of plan; my Hawthorn supporting friend and colleague and I saw the 2015 AFL draw and thought it would be great fun to road trip to Adelaide when our sides played. The atmosphere at Adelaide Oval had been so hyped that we were keen to experience it for ourselves and being two people with a very similar outlook on football, I knew the trip would work because we’d get along win, lose or draw. However something slightly unexpected happened – she fell pregnant. Which meant that our planned night of fun and frivolity in the City of Churches was going to stay just that, a plan. It would have to be next year when we could both enjoy it to the fullest.

(Yes, I know pregnant people can travel and watch football. More to the point though they can’t drink 30 schooners of Coopers on match day, which is probably the most important facet of any footy trip.)

To be honest I’d all but forgotten about travelling to Adelaide because it seemed so unlikely. A couple of times I reflected on how good it would have been to be there on ANZAC Day playing last year’s premiers but I never took it any further. Then I went on leave for a couple of weeks and a few days before I returned to work I called up to get my shifts. Nothing out of the ordinary until the voice on the other end of the phone said, “Oh and you’ve got a three day weekend over ANZAC Day as requested.” Huh? And then it dawned on me – I’d actually requested the time off months ago because I’d been worried someone else would ask for it off and I’d miss out. Then our trip had been shelved but I’d never bothered to change my request.

How do you like them apples?

I think I only took an hour or two of consideration before coming down firmly of the opinion that I should go, solo if needs be. This was too delicious a piece of fate for me to sit at home. I checked the Ticketek website and sadly the membership ticket allocation was exhausted, however I could still get a general admin ticket for around $40. I had a Jetstar voucher from a previously cancelled flight and there were plenty of options still available for under $200 return. Accomodation looked easy and again, under $200 for two nights. Bang, bang, bang, done. Adelaide here I come.

I went to the Port Adelaide v North Melbourne game at Etihad in round 3 and after I posted a photo on social media from the game, another Hawks supporting mate left a comment on it saying something along the lines of “See you next week and I’ll be in Adelaide to watch.” Seriously, fate again. This mate and I had a highly memorable night out on the drink in Athens last year while we were travelling so there were definite priors. I let him know I was heading along too and given he was a bit of a fourth wheel with a close-knit trio, he was more than happy to have extra company. We made plans to catch up on Friday night and set about depleting some of the city’s stocks of Coopers.

Both of us were incredibly excited to experience Adelaide Oval because it’s been hugely talked up as the venue with the most sensational atmosphere in the AFL over the past few years. Though I’ve been to Adelaide a few times to watch Port play, I hadn’t been for a few years and I’d never been to the ground to watch the cricket. I wanted to hear that roar and sing Never Tear Us Apart with all my people. I wanted to march over the footbridge and be in the majority for once. I just wanted to see what it was like. The fact it was ANZAC Day and that Port were playing the 2014 premiers just added to that sweet sense of expectation and I was beyond excited.

As someone who comes from the country I have a real appreciation for our smaller cities. I think often those who are born and bred in Sydney or Melbourne tend to poo poo them as being provincial and dull, often without reason. I’ve had a cracking time every time I’ve visited Adelaide and I think it’s an immensely underrated city. On the Friday night as I walked along Wakefield Street, the remnants of the rain glistening on the streets and the light quickly fading from the sky, all I could think was , “I love this city.” There was such anticipation, both for the night ahead with new friends and old and for everything the weekend was going to bring. It was a beautiful feeling.

On game day I woke up early, had a good breakfast to wipe away the memories of the previous night’s drinks and went for a walk through town. I was meeting an old colleague and her husband for lunch (and let’s be honest, more drinks) at a pub in North Adelaide and I had some time to kill. I’m a big believer in signs and as I waited on North Terrace for the tram, the Port Adelaide branded one rolled up. Now there’s a piece of serendipity. I headed down towards Parliament and got off to walk up King William Street watching the majestic Oval rise up out of the damp green lawn on my left. Everyone was in good spirits; young men in suits wearing their grandparents’ war medals, service men and woman fresh from the morning’s march, footy fans getting ready for the game of their lives. The city just felt good. I stopped to snap photos of the Bradman Statue and the Cross of Sacrifice Memorial Garden, then kept walking past St Peter’s Cathedral up to where I was having lunch. My friends walked in and the next few hours were spent in happy reminiscence and discussion of the match ahead. It was a great day already and the game hadn’t even started.

We all headed to the ground together early and they gave me the full match day experience and a tour around Adelaide Oval. We watched the supporters stream over the footbridge from the CBD, had our photo taken by the club photographer for their Facebook page, I bought a footy record from their son, then went inside so I could buy one of the special ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ club scarves that are only available here. It was nearly two hours before game time so I thought it would be easy for me to find a good seat and settle in. I was very nearly wrong – almost all the general admin seats had been taken so luckily I was alone and could slip into the solitary seat left high in the rafters of the very last bay in the Eastern Stand.

What a view though. Adelaide Oval is just gorgeous, a picture postcard of a ground that has been renovated to perfection. The facilities are incredibly modern and easy to access, yet the exterior retains the charm it’s long been known for. I loved it and I reckon it’s the best ground in Australia to watch AFL at (and I’ve been to them all, bar Darwin and Gold Coast). Watching the defence team take on the emergency services team in the warm up I was struck by just how good a surface it looked to play footy on. I couldn’t wait.

Everything about the pre match lived up to my expectations. They had a club great come on to kick a ceremonial first goal and got the crowd going with songs and clips on the big screen. ANZAC Day laid another layer of ceremony on it and it was wonderful to see the teams run through the joint banner together then line up on the field for the Last Post. I was talking through the week to a couple of friends about ANZAC Day and how with five games of football being played on the day this year there had been talk of it becoming commercialised. I don’t necessarily think that’s the case at all and I think both the AFL and NRL have had a big hand in continuing the broader awareness of ANZAC Day, it’s stories and what the sacrifices made 100 years ago mean for us today. That dawn ceremonies and marches continue to be well attended decades on shows the reverence people have for the ANZAC spirit and I don’t think you could understate football’s part in that. During the pre match they showed the names of those who had played for Port Adelaide and Hawthorn as well as serving in our armed forces, while Port’s jumpers had the names of over 100 ex players who served printed on them. I love ANZAC Day, I always feel like it’s the real Australia Day, and to be preparing to watch my football team play in such a huge game was an incredible feeling.

I think the best way to describe the first quarter was shocking. I can’t remember seeing such an amazing quarter of football from Port Adelaide in a long time and to do it against Hawthorn was almost incomprehensible. Goal after goal after goal – we just looked so slick and Hawthorn looked like they’d brought the Box Hill Hawks over. Schultz, Wingard and Monfries couldn’t do a thing wrong and Boak was so tough in the centre clearances. Ryder held his marks and Lobbe’s return lifted the side to new levels. Every repeated mistake we’d made over the past few rounds was wiped away as we continued to kick well and hit targets. Port went into the first quarter break with 50 points already on the board and when I stood to clap the break I was still in shock that this had actually happened. We were down Gray and Wines but somehow we’d manage to lift ourselves, to rise to the enormity of this occasion.

This is what we can do. This is how we win. This is the way we play our game.

This could win us a premiership.

The second quarter brought more of the same and we out-scored Hawthorn yet again. So far there were no marks on my hand of nervousness but I’ve been around long enough to know we hadn’t heard the fat lady sing just yet. My phone was buzzing with messages from mates who couldn’t believe the score and there were posts all over my social media. I mean, Port Adelaide are good – we only the missed the grand final by three points last year – but are we really this good? Are we a 50 point better side than the back to back premiers? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.

The third quarter wasn’t high scoring and Hawthorn started to get the better of us. Then in the fourth quarter all that free running and dominant attacking by the Power was forgotten as we mentally switched to holding the lead rather than winning the game. The Hawks kept fighting back though and added five goals to their tally while we scored only a solitary point. All the Hawthorn fans around me lifted and I sat, quietly rocking in my seat and muttering “Come on boys, kick me a goal” like a prayer to be heard by the football gods. Nothing feels so long as a fourth quarter when you’re trying to hold the win and it was impossible to tell how long there was left at any given time. So I rocked and muttered and prayed and hope and somehow, just somehow, we did it. Few things have ever sounded sweeter than that final siren, eight points up. I stood and punched the air.

Boak was awarded the Badcoe Medal for the best on ground and while it was a deserved win, I think the biggest difference to the Port team was Lobbe. His work rate in the ruck and his ability to consistently tap to players is one of the cornerstones of our game. The first three weeks where he’s sat out injured highlighted just how much we need him. It was pleasing to play like we did without the star power of Gray and Wines and I think that will hold us in good stead. But if the win showed Port anything, it was that we can match it with any team on any given day. All we need to do is believe in ourselves and back ourselves in.

I stayed for a few rounds of the team song, took a few more photos then filtered out of the Oval with the 50,000 others who’s attended. I’d arranged to meet the Hawks quartet at the Exeter Hotel on Rundle Street and I took my time getting up there, instead soaking up the excitement a home town victory on a day as special as this one brings. These are my people; you just don’t get this feeling in Melbourne. After one beer three of them cried off and it was left to me and my mate to figure out the intricacies of the South Australian glass system (apparently a pint is a schooner and a schooner is a pot/middy) as we ordered “just one more drink”. We talked about footy and work and travel and life. It was 2am before we thought it might be a good idea to head back to our respective hotels and beds and as we parted and I started my walk back through the Rundle Mall I realised what this feeling was: happiness. Here I was in this great city, after watching one of the best home and away wins I’ve ever seen, at the best ground in Australia no less, with friends and many beers drunk. Life, and footy, doesn’t really get any sweeter than that.

Travis Boak hug

All for one.

all for one

Two of my Hawthorn supporting friends have run a very funny footy podcast for the past couple of years. While it’s clearly Hawks focused, they tend to get in a ‘not so special’ guest to represent the opposing team each week. I first got a run because I was the only Port Adelaide supporter Rob and Paul knew but now I’d like to think I get asked back because I’m so hilarious and knowledgeable.

In any case, it’s worth a listen even if you’re not a Hawthorn fan because they always talk quite broadly about footy and it’s a crack up. This week you get the added bonus of me so there’s never been a better time to join in.

You can download the All For One podcast via iTunes or listen at their website, otherwise they’re worth a follow on Facebook or Twitter.

Port Adelaide proud.

MCG

I wrote this after Port Adelaide lost the 2014 preliminary final to Hawthorn by three points at the MCG, a game I attended. It’s been a big two years for the club and supporters definitely have something to get excited about. However losing a prelim always aches and I was feel pretty down for the next couple of days – writing definitely helps.

One of the questions I get asked fairly often is why do I barrack for Port Adelaide. I’m not South Australian; in fact, I’ve only been to Adelaide three times in my life. I grew up in country NSW in a family that supported rugby league teams and played rugby union. AFL never even factored in our lives until the Sydney Swans made the 1996 grand final and we started to show an interest.

The reason I support Port Adelaide is simple: I just do.

I’m honestly not entirely sure how it came to be. They were the new team in the competition in 1997 and for some reason I picked them. I picked them over the team that represents my people and my home state, I picked them barely knowing a single player, I picked them with no SANFL Port Adelaide Magpies background. I think a friend at the time had shown some interest in them and I simply went along for the ride – new team, new football supporter.

It’s probably fair to say that when people pick a team to support in any football code, they choose the one with qualities they identify most with. They want to feel like a winner so they choose a team with recent success, they feel like an underdog so they choose the battlers, for bravery and toughness they might find a team with a player who signifies this. Even those who choose a team based on family loyalties or physical location are choosing to be part of something greater than themselves, something that unites them with the people they love best.

Yesterday I watched my team – the team I have chosen – lose by three points in a preliminary final. The same team that two years ago finished second last on the ladder, broke and hopeless. The team that sacked it’s coach mid-season and had to cover the sea of empty seats at home grounds with teal coloured tarps to disguise the lack of interest. The team that was in such financial strife it seemed hard to believe it could keep going. The team that lost one of their own in a devastating incident on an end of season trip.

Somehow, at their very lowest point, Port Adelaide found a reason to keep fighting. They picked a coach who was effectively the last man standing, a man who had to be convinced to even apply for the job. They found an underrated captain who could lead by example. They propped up their young list with recycled players that found a niche in a  new home. And they recruited a president who could reinvigorate supporters’ love for the silver, teal and black and white.

There is a massive amount of belief both in and at the Port Adelaide Football Club these days. It’s that kind of belief that in two years has taken us from that spot at the bottom of the ladder to effectively finishing third this season. And with one of the youngest lists in the competition you can only feel that things are going to get better and better for us. Our self belief – for both players and fans – is back with a vengeance.

Three points. Three fucking points. But from 30-points down mid-way through the final quarter I watched my boys give absolutely everything they could out there on the MCG. I watched them attack the game and kick goal after goal until the final siren put an end to their efforts. It absolutely hurts to lose and so it should but I couldn’t be prouder of their efforts. We are a team that could walk off that ground with our heads held high knowing that on any given day, our best is going to be enough.

I cannot wait for 2015. Yes We Ken indeed.

What Hinkley, Boak, Koch, Thomas and everyone else at Port Adelaide has achieved in just two years has been unbelievable. They’ve united the club and it’s supporters, created a brilliant new home for us in Adelaide Oval and reinvigorated our spirit. The right people at exactly the right time.

I last watched Port Adelaide lose a preliminary final in 2003 to Collingwood and I went to the toilets and cried. Last night there were a few tears as well, especially when my family called me. Today a friend called me to check I was still going to an event we had on today and she asked how I was going. “Great,” I said. “Don’t lie,” she replied, “I saw the game yesterday.” “OK then, shithouse.” And I meant it. Today I have been sad in that kind of way you feel on the day after your birthday or the 27 December. All the fun and excitement is over for another year.

One of Port Adelaide’s mottos is ‘We never give up’. And we haven’t. We didn’t give up at any stage during this finals campaign, fighting as long and hard as we could against Fremantle and Hawthorn. We didn’t give up after simply making the finals last year, when no one respected us enough to believe we could do it again this season. We didn’t give up when our club was at its lowest point ever – no coach, no money, no support, no hope. Instead we chose to collectively believe, a decision that has infinitely paid dividends.

When we unite to sing Never Tear Us Apart we mean it.

Respect. Pride. Determination. Courage. Commitment. Belief. If I was picking a team today I’d choose one that had all those qualities.

Lucky I already do. And that’s the reason I support Port Adelaide.

#weareportadelaide