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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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Sun down.

boak GC

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

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

The reality isn’t even close.

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

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

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

Bring on 2016.

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

nat and cath 2013 second final

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

Name: Cathy Ebert

Age: 37

Recruited from: Melbourne via Canberra and Dubbo

Occupation: Sports administrator extraordinaire

AFL team followed: Geelong Cats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GoBlues

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

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

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

The $410.

monfries ah chee hawthorn

“Do you want to put a bet on?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A farewell to arms.

dad police

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

Today, in some ways, that will change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Adam Lindsay Gordon

“Eventually the umpire had to stop the game and came over and said, “Mate you shouldn’t be here” and dad turned around and said, “I’m starting to feel the same way about you”.”

Cheyne coach 1

I suppose the alternate title of this post is ‘What my brother thinks about footy’ because that’s exactly what it is. For as long as I can remember both my brothers (and my dad) have been involved in some code of football or another, be it AFL, rugby union, rugby league or soccer. Typical country kids that had a go at everything. Now that Cheyne has managed to stay in the country for longer than five minutes he’s moved from being a player to a coach and is currently based at the Eastlake Football Club in Canberra. We had a moment the other day when he told me that he likes GWS and Richmond better than Port Adelaide but terrible taste aside, he’s still one of my favourite people to talk about footy with. Not to mention he currently rates as one of my favourite two brothers of all time (and I’m pretty happy he decided to stick around with us).

Name: Cheyne Webster

Age: 33

Recruited from: Eastlake Football Club

Occupation: High school teacher and footy coach

AFL team followed: Sydney Swans

All time favourite footy moment: 2005 and 2012 grand final wins

“I go for the Sydney Swans. Being from NSW I think it’s great that you support a local team and I guess before GWS that was our only local team, so I’ve got an affiliation with them because I’m from there. Clearly they’re successful, which always helps, but I think the players that they’ve got there are really great to watch, plus the culture and their style of play is pretty awesome.

My first game was a long time ago now. I just remember how passionate people were about the footy. I remember going to rugby league games and people just kind of sit there and watch it passively but at an AFL game it seems like it was just non-stop screaming from everyone. People were either screaming at a player or the umpire or screaming at opposition fans. So that was kind of my memory of the first time at the footy though I can’t exactly remember who was playing.

I probably go to the footy four or five times a year. Being in Canberra with GWS playing games there now is great and I try to get to a Melbourne game when I can. Nothing beats watching it at the ground, it’s a completely different experience to watching it on TV. Just nothing beats actually being at the footy. Being a coach, I feel like I’m coaching the team when I watch – I’m yelling out at players to do things or getting upset at how it’s going. I wouldn’t just sit there and watch it, I’m very vocal and I don’t mind giving it to someone who is wearing kit that isn’t from the two teams that are playing. I think that’s important too because it’s one of footy’s biggest crimes, the umpiring.

I’ve got a few good sledges. One is actually something that you said, talking about dropping wooden spoons when someone drops their hat or scarf on the ground. That’s always a good one. It’s even better when people actually take the bait and seriously look around themselves and then realise they’ve been had. The anger in their face is gold. That’s probably my favourite sledge because it’s good to watch when it comes off.

I have been a member of the Swans before but I’m not now. I think it’s probably something I should do because I feel like it’s important for people to be members in order to put something back into the club.

I’ve got a couple of favourite footy memories. The 2005 grand final was massive – I was watching it at home with my family and it was just amazing to see a team that had been nowhere for so long just come almost out of nowhere and win it. And then in 2012 I was living overseas and I watched the grand final at an ex-pat pub in Bangkok and I don’t think I’ve ever been drunker in my life. I was screaming in people’s ear that Mike Pyke was the best ruckman in the world… I think a couple of people wanted to punch me in the face. But I just remember being so unbelievably happy.

Last year’s grand final was horrible, losing that way to Hawthorn. I remember wanting to turn it off after quarter time and I’ve never been that kind of person. Then just copping it from a lot of friends who are Hawthorn fans. So that’s a game that I wouldn’t want to really ever re-live.

I’ve got two favourite players, either Adam Goodes or Jude Bolton. I just love the way they both play their footy and they’re both great Swans people and I think they play the game right. I think they’ve both been wonderful ambassadors for the game. Currently I’m a big Luke Parker fan and I think he’s destined to win a Brownlow. He’s just one of those people who kind of embodies everything Paul Roos brought to the club in terms of that Bloods culture. I think he’s a phenomenal player and I also think he’ll be a future captain.

I guess before Buddy and Tippett went to Sydney I would probably say we’d want someone like a Nick Riewoldt, a big tall forward. I’d love Luke Hodge to play for us, I think he’d be exceptional and he’s a very good leader but he’s also hard and tough. I think he’d shore up our backline beautifully.

Cheyne coach 2

I’ve kept playing footy myself for a long time because I always loved being around a place where people had a common interest. That’s why I’m still in footy now, even as a coach, is because people love the game and there’s lots of different ways that you can kind of embrace that and put something back. Obviously playing or coaching is one of them, and just supporting clubs as well. But being around people that just love the game is what keeps me going.

I’ve got plenty of good local footy memories. I think one of the best ones is our dad getting a fine for umpire abuse. That was a fantastic memory. But probably the best one is when I remember going to Sydney to watch our brother play football and dad was just absolutely giving it to the umpire all day. Eventually the umpire had to stop the game and came over and said, “Mate you shouldn’t be here” and dad turned around and said, “I’m starting to feel the same way about you”. The whole crowd did the “Ooooooohhhhhhh” and then dad had no hesitation in leaving after that. It was great. It’s probably my favourite local footy memory.

I guess I’ve always enjoyed studying the game and talking to people about why and how things happen, and how to get the best out of people. There’s a lot of things from coaching footy that translate into my normal job, which is teaching. I also enjoy helping people to get better. I think coaching has probably been more fulfilling than just playing to be honest, because you can see tangible results and there’s pressure on you to help others. It’s a selfless pursuit I think, whereas being a player can be a selfish one.

What makes a great coach is honesty, flexibility, drive, energy. I think they’re probably the four things any coach should really aspire to have. There’s a few coaches I really look up to in the AFL. I always enjoy listening to the Scott brothers and the way they analyse the game. They’re pretty refreshing in terms of their honesty and where they think the game’s at or what we need to do to get the game better. I’d really love to be a player under them because I think you’d learn an infinite amount from them.

I think I’ll stay involved in footy for as long as possible. It’s getting to a point now where it’s becoming an all-encompassing job and I’d really love to make a go of coaching to a point where it would become more than just a part-time pursuit. So yeah, I think I’ll be in it for as long as I possibly can because I just love being around footy clubs.

I’m concerned about the state of the game interstate, particularly in Queensland. I think that the product itself is still really strong but I also think the AFL’s push to equalisation hasn’t quite worked. They need to come up with some ways to strengthen footy in other areas. That’s probably something that needs to change. At the moment there’s really strong teams and really weak ones.

I love just how much people invest in the game. Like, there’s so many people who wear their heart on their sleeve and I think it’s a really great way to get people together and bring people together for a common purpose. It’s just a great thing to be a part of.”

It will be alright with me.

hinkley and ah chee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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