AFL

“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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“You can’t really compare anything to the joy you get out of footy.”

There is little to no doubt that anyone who has ever worked with Luke Zammit – like I do – would describe him as one of the nicest blokes you would ever meet. Since getting a foot in the door as an intern, he’s managed to secure a full time spot on the playing list thanks to demonstrating his capacity for hard work, sense of humour and ability to throw a chicken nugget into a waiting mouth from 20 metres. Luke’s an all round top bloke and you know when you walk in for a weekend shift with him there’ll be no complaints about leaving the TV on Fox Footy for the next eight hours. As a Tigers fan he’s well and truly been conditioned for disappointment but their last minute narrow losses have been a severe test of character for even the most die hard Richmond fan this season. And while Richmond have long been the team we love to make fun of, there’s one thing that makes all opposition supporters happy to see them get up – that cracking song. Here’s what Luke thinks about footy, ninth jokes and, of course, YELLOW AND BLACK!

Name: Luke Zammit

Recruited from: North west suburbs of Melbourne

Occupation: Gun intern turned media officer

AFL team followed: Richmond Tigers

All time favourite footy moment: Any Richmond win

I am a Tigers supporter. My dad goes for Richmond – no one else in my family does and his parents didn’t either, he just picked it randomly because he likes Tigers and now I’m suffering the consequences. When I was about five or six, I was sort of 50/50 at one point because I was being dragged towards Carlton by the rest of the family, which wouldn’t have been a much better result for me anyway. But I’ve ended up going with Richmond because basically my older brother said, “Look mate, dad needs someone to go for Richmond and it’s not going to be me.” So I’ve ended up being a Tigers supporter.

I think the joy with Richmond comes in the fact that they’re so underachieving that even the little wins mean a lot to us. I remember when I was growing up we’d only win maybe three or four games a season so you’d be absolutely rapt to be second bottom of the ladder. Even getting close to making finals or just being on the fringes of being a successful team or beating a top side, I think I get a lot more enjoyment out of it than perhaps supporters who actually get used to that sort of thing. I can’t really imagine what it will be like if we do achieve something real like winning a final or making a grand final or anything, what that level of joy would be, because the bar has been set so low.

I’ve heard too many ninth jokes. Way too many. Richmond give people so much material, literally every week we come up with another way to cause the criticism and jokes to come our way and people stick to the ninth thing. I don’t think we’ve finished ninth since 2008 and I’m pretty sure North have finished ninth twice since then. We haven’t made prelims like them though. I’m open to criticism and I’m open to copping it as a Richmond supporter but the ninth thing is very uncreative.

I love so much about footy. I play it and I understand it and I really watch for things that other people probably don’t. I’m looking at tactics, looking at a decision a player makes to go 15m inboard or gives a handpass out the back. I just look at everything and I appreciate every part of it. But I think what really makes me love sport in general or love the footy is the history behind it. I always think back to history whenever I think of the team and what they’ve achieved. I’m constantly thinking about that. I spent so many nights as a young kid up late on Wikipedia or Google just looking at the 1963 AFL season or something stupid – who won the best and fairest for South Melbourne in 1955, just everything. I think because I’ve looked into it so deeply and have this appreciation for everything that is going on and has gone on before, I really do appreciate what’s happening in the current seasons. I think about the whole thing in context.

I have an uncanny ability to remember scores. I don’t if it’s come up from sitting at my computer watching live scores – the numbers are probably ingrained in my mind by now. It’s a bit scary how much footy means to me and every little game, every little win we’ve had, I genuinely remember. Especially these past few years, Richmond have been middle of the road and so every game’s important, it’s not like you’re too high on the ladder to worry about losses or too low on the ladder to care about them. I watch every game intently and for some reason scores just stick. I’ve always been pretty good with numbers but I’ll remember little things like oh, that was the day Vickery kicked three… that was once maybe. Little things just tend to stick with footy. I could forget what I had for dinner last night but I won’t forget that at three quarter time this player stood up to get us over the line in a game at the end.

I have this weird memory… a few years ago I was thinking that I had this memory of being at a Melbourne game when I was really, really young, I reckon I would have been about three. I thought this must be a fake memory or something I’d been told about, I don’t know. But I went and asked my dad and said I remember being at a Richmond v Melbourne game and my memory is that the siren goes and we walk off really disappointed, like shattered. Dad was like, yeah you would have been about three and it was 1997 with Richmond sitting fifth on the ladder at the time. All we had to do – we could afford to lose to Melbourne and we still would have slipped into the eight but if we beat them, we would have probably climbed up into the top four. So we didn’t go there with any kind of idea that we were actually going to slip out of the eight that day but we got smashed and we ended up finishing ninth. So that probably doesn’t help my cause with the ninth jokes but that was my first Richmond memory and it really set the tone for another 15 years of pretty much that.

I was actually at Richmond’s biggest ever comeback win. We were 52 points down against Hawthorn, it’s not very Richmond-like to come back from behind. We find it hard enough when we’ve got a six goal lead. We were at the footy with one of my dad’s best mates at the time and he went for Hawthorn; everyone loves a win over Hawthorn at the best of times but to come back from 52 points down… We ended up winning by three or four goals. That one sticks in there as one of the best games ever.

I’m not superstitious but I have my own routines for dealing with the stress of games. My dad is superstitious – he thinks they’re bad because of him and if he watches the games then they’ll lose. I think he must be in a category with a whole bunch of Richmond supporters because we lose a lot and there’s a lot of supporters out there who think they’re the curse. A few years ago I was really finding it hard to deal with the stress of Richmond going from like, the four wins to the nine-ten wins category and being on the fringe of the eight, it was a bit too much for me. So what I used to do was actually watch the scores on the AFL Live update rather than watch the game or listen to the radio. And I don’t mean like check in, like normal people would, I would literally just watch the screen and watch the scores for two and a half hours because that was the only way I could deal with it. It was just numbers. But then even that got too much sometimes so I would cover the scores and just look at the inside 50 count because then if we got an inside 50, I’d check our score. It’s pretty much next level, yeah.

I am a Richmond member and I do it to support the club. I’ve been playing footy for about the same time I’ve been a Richmond member and often I couldn’t get to the games. This year I’ve been able to get to a lot more games because I haven’t been playing footy. I still don’t think I get my money’s worth out of it, even if I was going to every game because Richmond really aren’t paying back the faith. But I do it as a way of hoping it will help the club in some small way.

I’m a weird type of fan. I’m not your conventional football supporter; I don’t fit into the sitting there quietly or sitting there enjoying the game category, I don’t fit into the just absolutely crazy nutbag supporter category either. I’m more – instead of actually supporting Richmond, which is what most supporters would do, I tend to just give crap to the other team. I’ll come up with a way to just really grill every player over any individual thing. I’ll come up with something I’ll never even realise I’ve thought about a player before… They’ll be a player I like from the opposition club and I’ll still find a way. Like, they could miss a handball target or something tiny or I’ll grill them about something they did five years ago, you know as an 18-year-old rookie or something. If I was sitting next to me I’d be getting quite angry at the footy.

It mixes up a little bit who I go to the footy with. I’ve taken my girlfriend a few times but she doesn’t want to come with me any more. I go with friends and then I regret it because I just get grilled, especially I we lose by less than a goal or something and they decide not to be on my side. Recently I’ve been going a lot with my girlfriend’s aunty actually because she’s a die hard Richmond supporter as well. We actually connect on that level. It’s funny, we went to a mother’s day game – it was the Richmond v Freo game where we lost after the siren – beforehand we were grabbing food and they thought she was my mum when we were talking to the food attendant. They’ve said something like “you should pay for her because it’s mother’s day” or whatever and she just took it, just claimed that I was her son. So I think she might like me more than my girlfriend does.

I have a general rule – I think any supporter who wears three or four items of their club’s colours is overdoing it. I mean, you can tell if you’ve got a scarf on that you go for that team, I can see that. As a kid I had the classic scarf with all the badges on it, all my heroes who were just pretty average players. These days I’ll probably go with a Richmond item; a jacket, a jersey over a jumper or something, just something discreet usually.

I’m not gonna lie, having the most loved club song actually means a bit. When that song plays, I just think, you know what, everyone’s envious right now. We get to sing along to this and you’ve got supporters out there for teams like Fremantle – when they stole that win off us earlier this season it’s just a shame that their song had to play over the speakers. What are their fans going to do, oh you’re Freo are you, you’re Freo heave ho? Richmond’s theme song is a really important thing to the fans. When they get to sing that “yellow and black” part, when it comes up and you just hear the entire MCG roar, it’s pretty special. I’m glad we have a cool song. Richmond’s got that right, we just need to get good players now.

When Dimma started, I thought, oh this bloke really knows how to handle a press conference. Now Dimma gets on my nerves a little bit – that whole idea of people being press trained and having fall back sayings and stuff like that, I think he’s taken it to a whole new level. You’ll find that he does the exact same things in every press conference. He has the same expression, he crosses his arms and leans forward over the mike. He says this quote – I hear him say it about 40 times during a press conference – he says “these types of players”. He’ll go, “Castagna, Butler, these types of players.” We get what type of players you’re talking about. Then he’ll fall back on to things like “we’ll learn from this, we’ll learn from that” and mate, it’s been seven years, I don’t think we’ve learned anything except for how to lose a game when we’ve got it won. So. I think he needs to stay though because the main issue with Richmond over the past 30 year period has been the instability of our coaches. The club just throws people out after a couple of years when there’s been no success instead of recognising that the problems are much deeper than that. Give Hardwick another season, I reckon. I think the signs are there and it’s a pretty open competition right now so it’s a good time to start playing well.

When I think about the best players at the club over the years, I have to mention Richo Man, Matthew Richardson. He was probably our only good player for 17 years, there were a couple of other serviceable players that played alongside him and that’s all they really were. He carried the team for years and he copped so much even though he was an absolute icon of the club. I can’t imagine where we would have been if he hadn’t played for us during that period, even though we were unsuccessful. He was just great to watch, one of the best all round players I’ve ever seen. He could play up on the wing, on the half forward line and just had that engine, all the physical attributes that you need. There’s hard triers and stuff but then there’s players like him and your Nick Riewoldts and your Pavliches and stuff who are just blessed.

I’ve always been a massive, massive supporter of Trent Cotchin. He’s a Brownlow Medallist now and there’s no arguments about that. He finished second to a player who used drugs and at the end of the day, I don’t understand the criticism he gets for winning that Brownlow, there’s nothing he could do about those circumstances. And people forget how good a player he was that year, he was a favourite alongside Jobe, so it’s not like it was a shock like Woewodin was in 2000. When people compare Woewodin to Trent Cotchin it makes me very angry. Cotchin’s won three best and fairests at Richmond and now a Brownlow – he’s been pretty successful for a player who’s in his mid 20s. I think he’s very underrated and since he won or was awarded that Brownlow has actually stepped up quite a bit. I’ve got a little bit of a man crush on Trent. I said I’d name my first born Trent. I played at the same junior club as Trent. I call him by his first name because that’s just how we roll. I styled my hair the way it is right now because of Trent Cotchin. I couldn’t pick a hairstyle – you should see my photos from when I was between about 14 and 17, I experimented with at least 10 hairstyles. I stuck to this one because of Cotchin.

Across the game, I do love Scott Pendlebury. Scott Pendlebury is unbelievable to watch, like he just blows my mind the amount of time he has with the ball. I look at him and think, how is he so calm and how is he not being tackled because he looks like he’s moving really slowly. he must just see space like no one else does. Runs the perfect lines and always rises when Collingwood need him to. If I could pick any player in the comp right now to come to Richmond to have for say a year, not thinking about how young they are or longevity of anything like that, I’d have to say Scott Pendlebury.

There’s a few teams I hate. Richmond make a lot of enemies because we’ve had a close loss to pretty much everyone in the competition now. I hate North Melbourne – I don’t know what it is about them, I just can’t stand them and I can’t stand their supporters. When we lose to them, which is often because they’ve got our measure, I just can’t understand it. They’ve got a whole team of inside midfielders, they’re all just triers, they don’t have a single player on that list with actual talent or excitement or anything. And for years a 39-year-old was carrying them. Plus they made two prelims in a row to top it off – I hated them enough but then they fluked their way into two prelims and thought they were on the edge of a premiership. They won nine games in a row and then it all fell apart, which was awesome to watch. They’ve been more competitive than I would have liked this year, I would like them to drop off a little bit more. And I hate Carlton. I just have to hate Carlton.

I think the game is marketed a lot better now than it used to be. I have a real appreciation for that sort of thing. Footy these days – everyone’s an expert, everyone knows everything, they can tell you how many touches Tom Mitchell had last week or how many uncontested possessions your team is getting or this and that. There’s a million footy shows now because the game is a business and I know people worry about that but if you’re running an elite sport and you want it to be at the highest level it possibly can be, that money and the finances side needs to be there. I think the AFL has done really well to get the competition to where it is now. We’ve got 18 teams which is phenomenal – I can’t really see it getting bigger from here but 18 teams is probably a good amount. I do like the expansion.

I’m not naïve with all the rule changes and all the changes to the whole system – the fans who come out and say that they don’t need to change all the rules and want to just leave the game probably don’t really understand the way the game’s evolving and that these changes are being put in place to ensure the game doesn’t lose it’s attractiveness. They do need to slow it down a bit though. Week to week rule changes are a bit extreme and when they say “we’re going to have a focus on this this week” you can really see it and it affects games. The players need to know what the rules are and have a really thorough understanding of what they are on the field and I don’t think they do. I think you see they’ve got a lot of indecision about them, like with your rushed behinds and your deliberate out of bounds and where you put your head over the ball or you slide in, what the correct interpretations are for that week. I don’t think players need to be worrying about that and I don’t think they should be worrying about that when they’re playing games.

Growing up, I was always looked at as this kid who was a smart kid, someone not designed to be playing sport, you’re built for other things – that’s the way my parents looked at it, anyway. When I finally got old enough to drive myself to footy I started playing. Within three games my parents wanted me to quit because I had a sore shoulder. They thought I didn’t have the pain tolerance for football because I couldn’t lift my arm up to get my shirt on. My brother was a very good footballer as well. He started in Under 16s so he didn’t have much of a chance but he had a better chance than I did. I think he was probably a little bit more mature at that point, body-wise as well. My parents were just convinced that it wasn’t my thing. My favourite bit is the fact that I turned it around and a year and a half later they were at my best and fairest, telling me they were so proud of me. I was a midfielder and spent most of my time there, but I’d rest up forward and try and kick a couple of goals. I usually just hacked them through, I had no composure around goals. I was a lot better when I wasn’t expected to kick them. As soon as I took a mark 20m out it was zero chance that was going through.

In my first season, I went up to my coach, who I barely knew, and he’d seen me play one good quarter of footy in a practice match and I knew he was a little bit excited about it. I said to him, “I think we’re getting killed out the back and I think we need to play with a spare back” and he said that he thought the same thing but he didn’t know who we were going to put there – if we were going to put anyone he said it’s probably going to have to be you. So I ran spare back and just collected a lot of easy ball, but it gets you into the game, gets you into the mindset, you’re constantly thinking. That spare back was something we played with throughout the year and if we were against the wind or something like that, it’s where I’d get thrown. I loved the responsibility of it and it made me think that I was playing a really important role for the team, so it always got me in the zone.

I went back and played one game this year for the thirds. Last year I filled in when I could and played seven games and managed to sneak the best and fairest, which was nice. They asked me to come back this year and I said it probably wasn’t a good year for me but I’ll come play one game. Going back to the club you notice what you miss. Having something to look forward to in the week and getting up on a Saturday knowing you have a game that day. The little moments you have there – they’re not comparable to anything you can achieve in your normal everyday life. When you play, you really do have memories that last a lifetime. Like, oh remember when I snagged that goal from the boundary or when I took that screamer… You can’t put a value on it. You can’t really compare anything to the joy you get out of footy.

Resuming transmission.

There’s a line in the Macklemore song ‘Same Love’ that goes, “Have you read the YouTube comments lately? / “Man that’s gay” gets dropped on the daily / We become so numb to what we’re saying…” It gracefully outlines how casual discrimination can be in our every day conversations, our online interactions, our lives. We throw away comments without any regard for consequences.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that line today in relation to the coverage of the incident regarding Caroline Wilson. For those late to the party, a number of men including AFL club presidents Eddie McGuire and James Brayshaw, made comments on a radio station about holding her underwater and drowning her. Exceptionally poor taste, no matter which way you look at it.

For some reason, no one fires up the football community quite like Caroline. But regardless of whether you like her or not, or whether you agree with her journalism or not, surely there’s a line that’s crossed when violence is threatened, no matter what the context is. I’ve read a hundred comments today that say “oh we wouldn’t be outraged if they said that about a man” and try and brush it off like the problem lies with the victim, not the offenders. Our outrage that a woman should be upset about a comment that was apparently a joke.

Thing is, much like apologies that start with the immortal words “I’m sorry if…” it’s not so much about the intent but the impact.

Regardless of gender, the comments amount to bullying. If we’re going to tell people to live in the fantasy land of possible situations like we wouldn’t care if it was said to a man, then imagine this: imagine if it was your son or daughter, your family member or friend, in their workplace and you heard that their colleagues had been making statements like they should be drowned. The manager of your 15-year-old son who works at Maccas. Your 21-year-old daughter who’s just got her first job out of uni. Your best mate comes home from work and tells you someone said that about them. Would you be mad? Would you laugh it off as just a joke? I wouldn’t. I’d be pretty pissed off.

So why is it apparently OK in this context?

One of the biggest causes for concern in those comments and the group-think mentality that followed, was how quickly and casually violence is implied. We despair of courts filled with the stories of victims of one-punch assaults and wonder how, as a society, we reached this point. It’s the utter casualness with which we regard violence and this casualness just serves to reinforce that it’s OK to think or behave this way. It’s fine to threaten someone, to call them names, to bully them, to assault them. And when it happens, if some people object to it happening, then the fault lies with them not the offenders. We’ve become numb.

Classic Macklemore.

I stopped reading a lot of the comments on social media today because my heart hurt. It’s 2016 and the fact that people out there still believe this type of bullying behaviour is acceptable and want to make excuses for it just makes me incredibly sad. And that’s even without getting into some of the personal attacks and derogatory remarks thrown at Wilson and those who defended her by ignorant idiots out in the community. Her Age colleague Emma Quayle defended her against one such comment and was then sent hardcore porn. Quayle made a great observation that while she’s never felt anything but respect from people she’s worked with or around, she “shouldn’t have to feel ‘lucky’ that I don’t really cop all that much from readers at all”.

The drowning comment wasn’t received as a joke and it was barely intended as a joke. For those who want to write it off or claim double standards because Wilson sat in a studio at a radio station earlier and took criticism from a colleague, they need to appreciate the difference between saying something to someone who is part of the conversation and immediately able respond and a group of people attacking someone who isn’t there and cannot defend themself in that context.

Women aren’t precious; we can take a joke. (We even make them on occasion, too. Oh the horror.) We’re up for banter, for discussion, for criticism, for humour. But again, what is actually funny about this? What is acceptable? To either gender? It’s not just about women, so anyone who thinks it is is just kidding themselves and probably trying to deflect from the genuine issue at hand. Because it’s about how casually violence is referenced and how easily someone is bullied by their peers. It’s about how people who should be leaders and role models and more than old enough to know better, have utterly let us down.

Surely it’s not too much to expect we are all on the same page with this.

My one small beacon of hope is that even a week on, there are people who have been prepared to be outraged about it and refused to stay quiet. In the midst of abject ignorance, there are those willing to put their hand up and say this type of behaviour is not only wrong, but completely unacceptable. So while my heart breaks over every fool who claims Wilson and her supporters have overreacted, it’s mended a little by those willing to speak up in support and call out the idiots.

There just might be a chance for us yet.

“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. If you become aware of any individual degrading another, then show moral courage and take a stand against it.” – Lietenant General David Morrison, AO.

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For many reasons, long and varied, this blog has had to take a back seat this year. However I’m finally in a position to devote some time to it again and I’m looking forward to it. I sat at Etihad Stadium yesterday and watched the young GWS team eventually overrun the second string Bombers outfit, thinking about how great this game can be at times. Sometimes you just need a moment of reflection. My beloved Port Adelaide won’t make finals this year, which is desperately upsetting, but I’m hoping that they (like me) can draw a line through things and come out fighting for the second half of the season.

 

 

What I think about footy.

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Last year I was sitting watching the grand final and this tiny seed of an idea came to me – I’d start a footy blog. I mean, I like writing and I like sport and I know how to turn on a computer, so what could be so hard? As the idea continued to build, I realised that what I really wanted was a place to publish all the great stories my friends have earned over the years. We all have them – the anecdotes and special memories and moments that made us laugh or cry and question why we let this game run our lives. My genius idea (sarcasm) was to interview my friends and get those stories out of them, though had I remembered just how much work is involved in transcribing interviews this may never have gotten off the ground!

While most of us who are footy fans are accustomed to the banter and discussion that goes on around the game, I realised that very rarely have I sat down with my mates and had an in depth discussion about why we love this thing so much and so hard, and what their opinions are on the way AFL is evolving. Those half hours grabbed in the office green room, parked cars, lounge rooms and rooftop bars were some of my favourite moments of the year. They also made me appreciate just how wonderful (and funny) my brilliant friends are. To Clair, Westy, Frosty, Beck, Carla, Ivo, Jane, Roger, Ben, Kate, Cheyno and Cath: a massive thanks for trusting I would do you justice and subjecting yourselves to my incredibly rusty interviewing skills. I have loved doing this and loved telling all of your stories.

And to finish 2015, this is my story.

“I’m a Port Adelaide supporter and have been from the time I started following AFL. I get asked about it all the time; I think for people in the eastern states it’s still a bit of a novelty to come across a Power fan. I was born and bred in NSW but we grew up with rugby league and rugby union – AFL was always ‘aerial ping pong’ to us and something that the Victorian interlopers watched. It wasn’t until the Swans made the 1996 grand final that my family took an interest. They all went with Sydney and I decided to be different and go for the new team that was entering the competition the next year, which was Port Adelaide. It’s funny, I think my decision to follow Port was also motivated a bit by my best friend at the time who chose to follow them as well but my love of PAFC has lasted about 10 years longer than that friendship. So it is definitely a commitment and one for life.

That said, I have an incredible soft spot for the Swans and for many years had memberships to both clubs. I love seeing my family happy and watching the Swans win the 2005 grand final was brilliant. I was here in Melbourne with a group of friends at the Waterside Hotel and it ended up being a pretty big day. At one point I was walking arm in arm down Flinders Street with former Sydney and Collingwood player Paul Licuria singing “Cheer cheer the red and the white” at the top our of lungs. Pretty random. 2012 was also pretty special and one of my favourite moments from that day is seeing my brother Paul, who had been to the game, in the foyer of his hotel and us running towards each other and jumping up and down and hugging. The shared joy of football is one of the things that make it so special I reckon. There are some very particular times each year though that I absolutely cannot stand the Swans and that would be whenever Port Adelaide plays them. We have a significant history of losing to Sydney and the ribbing from my family is almost unbearable, it’s pretty full on. My absolute worst nightmare is a Port Adelaide v Sydney grand final.

I honestly can’t remember the first AFL game I went to. I’m almost certain it was at Manuka Oval and involved Sydney but I couldn’t really remember any particulars other than that. Living in Canberra there’s such competition for your time when it comes to sport. I used to go to all the Brumbies Super 12 games with friends plus a few Raiders rugby league games, plus local rugby and then AFL when I could. The idea of travelling to Melbourne or interstate to watch AFL was almost unfathomable at that time and even going to Sydney to see a game was a big deal. So we just watched whoever happened to come to Manuka, which was generally the Swans or later the Kangaroos. When I got a bit older and earned a bit more money we started to travel to Sydney on occasion to see big games. Stadium Australia as it was then is a bit of a hollow ground but it’s a far easier facility to get to and negotiate than having to get right into the city to go to the SCG. I know Sydney people don’t quite feel the same but coming from the country then Homebush is just so much simpler.

The 2004 grand final easily stands out as my favourite football memory, ever. I was only saying to a friend the other day that I’ve really come to appreciate as I get older how lucky I’ve been to watch my team win a premiership in my life time. Regardless of whatever else happens I can hold on to that because there are so many people who aren’t as lucky. I’d watched the Port v St Kilda prelim at home with mates the week before and was an absolute mess, all nervous energy and bunched up in the corner of the lounge not speaking to anyone. I remember that moment when Guerra stuffed up the kick for St Kilda so clearly and then just that feeling of relief knowing we were actually going to play in a grand final after three years of choking. The night before the grand final I went to my brother’s footy presentation night and I wore a teal coloured top and barely drank all night in preparation. I was driving back to Goulburn the next day to watch it with my family and I wanted to be mentally and physically prepared. I’m pretty superstitious when it comes to football and when I woke up the next day, my Port Adelaide clock had stopped at exactly 2.30pm – game time. Uh oh. Then I had a bottle of expensive champagne I’d been given by my boss which I’d been saving and I forgot to bring it with me, so that was another bad sign. I was driving back along the Hume, feeling pretty ordinary and all of a sudden a Scott’s truck went past and I knew we were going to be OK. I’m aware of how unreasonable that all sounds! I was pretty nervous until about midway through the third quarter when the Lions’ Tim Notting stuffed up a kick and we got a goal from the turnover. That’s probably the moment I knew we were going to be OK. I remember my dad shaking me on the shoulders saying “You’ve won this” about five minutes from the end and then just joy at the end when the siren went. I loved it all. I loved Choco pulling on his tie and crying as he ran down the race. I loved when he yelled out “Allan Scott, you were wrong!” I know a lot of people didn’t really like the emotion our club showed after the win and were pretty hard on how we behaved afterwards but I think unless you had followed Port through those tough years prior, you just wouldn’t understand it. It was incredible and an incredible relief.

I’ve got a few other favourite memories. Going to the SCG in 1998 with my best friend Cath to watch Paul Roos play his last ever game in a final against the Crows and it absolutely bucketed down. A woman sitting behind us had on white jeans and a red suede anorak and ended up with pink jeans. We caught the train back to Goulburn the next day, fell asleep and only woke up when they made the final announcement for the station. We jumped up in a panic and left all our bloody lollies behind. I went to a Swans v Eagles final at Homebush in about 2003 or 04 where it poured down as well and lightning hit the stadium. We had no idea but apparently they weren’t far off calling off the game. I remember my dad and I were picking seats and we sat in the open; he said “it hasn’t rained in six years, it’s not going to rain tonight.” Of course we got drenched though at least Sydney won. Going to Adelaide is always special and I’ve seen a few Showdown wins and the 2007 prelim where we smacked North Melbourne was a great one. ANZAC day this year watching Port beat Hawthorn in my first Adelaide Oval experience would have to be my favourite game of the last couple of years. I have a lot of great memories, even the 2007 grand final where we got flogged by Geelong is one of my favourite football memories, which I’m sure sounds weird. At the time I was living with Cath, who is a Cats supporter, so we had a special GF day breakfast at home together with her now husband Matt, then we went to the MCG together before heading to our separate areas. It was over by about quarter time for us but I stayed for the whole game, all the way through to number 17 Shannon Byrnes in the medal count. I cut my losses then and went to meet up with other friends at the European Bier café on Exhibition Street and proceeded to get hugely drunk. Cath showed up a few hours later and we were camped at the top of the stairs drinking Jaeger Bombs together, me in my Port jumper and scarf and her in all her Cats gear. About 8 or 9pm the venue cracked the sads and said no more club colours so people would get to the top of the stairs and see us there in all our gear getting along and just go “WTF?!” It was such a big night. I threw up under a table and lost my 2004 premiership scarf. At one point I had my head down on the table and Cath said this guy was rubbing my back and telling me it was going to be OK, we’d be back next year. She came up and said to him I wasn’t crying, I was just passed out. Very funny. I called the next day but they didn’t have my scarf sadly.

Worst football memory would have to be 2003 prelims. My brother Cheyne and I went up to Sydney with a group of friends to watch the Swans play the Lions and left early so we could have lunch and catch the Port v Collingwood game first. It was traumatic. Port lost yet another final and all I can remember from that game is seeing Rocca elbow Brendan Lade in the head and thinking, “well you’re not playing in a grand final next week”. When the game finished I went to the toilet and cried. It’s funny, I’m not a super emotional person, even with work, but I absolutely bawled that day. I think everyone I was there with was a bit shocked. Then we went inside and watched Sydney get done by Brisbane fairly comprehensively so none of our teams got up. It was an absolute shocker.

websters swans

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve only really come back to footy after a few years in the wilderness. When I first moved to Melbourne it was such a big deal for me, I’d watch the Ashburton thirds kick a can around the MCG if it was on. I had both Port Adelaide and Sydney memberships and I’d go every other week, whenever they were playing in town. I also did a fair bit of interstate travel and up until GWS and Gold Coast entered the competition I’d been to every AFL ground except Darwin. Then around 2010-11 I started to wane a bit and I just had other priorities in my life, found other things I was interested in. I was always very full on into sport – AFL, rugby union, rugby league, cricket, tennis, netball – ever since I was a kid and this was probably really the first break I’d had. I still had a passing interest in all this stuff but the genuine obsession wasn’t there. So yeah, you can throw the tarp jokes or bandwagon jokes at me then. In 2013 when Port started coming good again I went to the two finals against Collingwood and then Geelong and that’s what probably re-whetted my appetite for it. Then last year I followed it a lot more closely and my passion for football really grew again as the season progressed, culminating in me sitting at home around grand final day and coming up with the idea for this website. I think I’ve learned to balance football with all the other things in my life a lot better now that I’m older and while I’m still passionate about it I can keep some perspective. One thing I had forgotten until this year is how much it hurts when you have high expectations and lose – not so fun remembering that part.

I renewed my Port Adelaide membership this year and picked a Victorian package that includes an extra six games at the MCG, so I’ve been able to use that to see the Swans play. I also really wanted to catch at least one GWS game but it didn’t work out due to other commitments across the rest of the season. The next thing I did was go through the roster request book at work and throw in a very early request to have off all the days Port play in Melbourne. Because I work shift work I can’t really leave that to chance or I’ll miss out. I went to all the games here and the only one I missed out on was the Hawthorn game as I went home to see my dad retire. I don’t know any other Port Adelaide fans so generally I’ll go to games by myself, though I’m happy to go with supporters of whatever team we’re playing if I can rustle someone up. I don’t have to sit within the Port cheer squad or supporter bays but I do like to sit near at least some of my people. It’s nice not to be totally outnumbered. I would describe myself as a fairly exuberant person in my normal life but at the footy all that changes – I get very quiet and very nervous and I don’t really like to talk as much through the game. If we kick a goal I’ll clap or do a little punch in the air but I’m definitely not loud. I jerk around a bit watching the flight of the ball and often I’ll dig my nails from my right hand into the back of my left hand, so you can tell how close a game has been by how battered my left hand is at full time. If someone’s lining up for a shot on goal I’ll usually just rock in my seat and quietly mutter their name, like“kick me a goal Chad, come on kick me a goal” over and over. I’m sure people would expect me to be obnoxious at the footy given how much of a smart arse I am the rest of the time but hopefully I’m not!

I definitely am superstitious. I just look for little signs all the time. I also have so many pairs of teal underpants that I’ll wear but if I have them on and we lose, I can’t wear them to the game again. If I wear something or do something particular at a game and we lose I can’t do it again. For example last year I wore teal glitter nail polish to the prelim against Hawthorn and given we lost, I can’t wear that nail polish to the footy again. When I went to Adelaide this year for the ANZAC game I was waiting to catch the tram to Adelaide Oval and the Port marked tram showed up so I knew we were going to be OK. I’m aware of how completely ridiculous all this sounds.

Port had such an amazing team around that time in the early 00s. Stuart Dew was always my absolute favourite, from the second I started following Port. He would just kick these amazing, magical goals, long bombs from 70m out and they’d be straight through the posts every time. A brilliant kick and could always make something happen out of nothing. Plus he was fairly easy on the eyes. Josh Carr was my second favourite and he absolutely broke my heart when he left to go to Fremantle in 2005. He was such a tough, gutsy little mid-fielder who really personified how hard the club was at the ball in those days. He was the kind of player supporters from other clubs would hate because he was a niggly prick but I loved him. And he was involved in that infamous Ramsgate Hotel post-Showdown incident, which probably sums him up. I was rapt when he came back to us. Michael Wilson was another favourite, just beautifully skilled and came back from two knee constructions and shoulder issues to play in the 2004 grand final. I loved both the Cornes but Chad especially – I loved watching him give it to the Crows supporters after a Showdown win. These days I just can’t go past Travis Boak – an incredible human and a wonderful player and leader. He really personifies that Port Adelaide attitude of “we never ever give up”. I think about what he did for Port but committing to us when there was absolutely nothing good and no real hope on the horizon. Any other club would have been rapt to have him but he chose us and I think the love he gets from supporters really reflects that. I’m so proud he’s ours and again, definitely easy on the eye. Robbie Gray is a Rolls Royce. Just slick. And I’m so excited to watch Ollie Wines develop as a player and a person. For a 20-year-old he’s incredible, you forget how young he is.

I’m not sure you can talk about Port Adelaide at the moment without mentioning Ken Hinkley. What he’s brought to our club is amazing and he’s been a huge part of the transformation over the past couple of years. There’s that line, you know, about him being the last man standing for our job and turns out he was the right man standing. You can talk about Travis being loved by our supporters but the same would easily be said for Kenny. One of the great things I admire about him is that he’s a coach that has has actually coached – he’s taken teams in local competitions and crafted them into premiership sides. I think that’s something that’s enormously underrated and often missing from AFL coaching these days. You cannot simply give an ex AFL player a head coaching job and expect them to deliver a flag on a silver platter. It just doesn’t work like that. They need to invest time in giving themselves experience and learning the trade and clubs who try and rush that have historically been the poorer for it. I love Ken’s background and more than that, I love the down to earth, pragmatic person that he is.

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A lot of people I spoke to nominated Luke Hodge, Nat Fyfe or Joel Selwood as players they want at their clubs but I’d have to say Luke Parker is someone I’d like to have at Port. I just love the way he goes about it, he’s got so much talent for a young kid. Schultz is getting on so I’d be happy to see him replaced by Jeremy Cameron – that GWS side is going to be a monster in a few years if they can hold it together. Michael Barlow is probably my favourite player outside of Port Adelaide because I absolutely love his story and how it illustrates the power of self belief and not giving up on a dream. He was a late draftee at 22 and had so many near misses getting into the AFL before Fremantle took a punt on him. He’s paid them back a hundred times over and turned into a really important part of the Freo team that’s been on top of the ladder all year. Plus I love his sense of humour – I can’t go past a good smart arse.

I hate North Melbourne and St Kilda. The Kangaroos are just a team of grubs and always have been, I cannot stand them. And the “Shinboner Spirit” bullshit they carry on with must be the biggest wank in AFL footy. St Kilda I don’t like because they beat Port in the last game of the home and away season in our first year in 1997 and kept us out of the finals. Not that I hold a grudge or anything. They’ve also been a bit grubby off the field as well. I don’t have that inbuilt hatred of the Crows because I’m not an Adelaide person, though I certainly enjoy beating them. Being a NSW person I’ll also always back an interstate team in over any Victorian team. It’s just the done thing. There’s a bit of a hierarchy but I’d never cheer for say Richmond over West Coast. Re players I used to have a really odd dislike of Scott Lucas from the Bombers and I’ve never liked Paul Chapman, Sam Mitchell or Boomer Harvey but other than that I don’t really hate any players.

This year I’ve really struggled with the negativity from supporters towards the game. It feels like people have lost their appreciation of the sport in a broad context and can’t appreciate when other teams do well or how good other players are. I think social media plays into that enormously. I’m not on any of the sites like Big Footy or other message boards but Facebook and Twitter are bad enough. There’s just this constant spewing of vitriol towards clubs, especially when they’re doing well, and absolutely no thought or reasoning put into opinions. Just faceless keyboard warriors and they really really irk me. I remember earlier this year Freo only beat Gold Coast by nine points and all the commentary was around how Freo had finished and they were useless and were totally overrated. Well, at that point they were two games clear on the ladder and had actually beaten GC but to read the comments you wouldn’t know. People are just idiots. The Adam Goodes thing kind of summed that up for me too. I’m very pro Goodesy and while I’ll concede that perhaps some element of the booing isn’t racist, my gut feeling is that a lot of it is, even sub-consciously. I still cannot fathom how, in 2015, an indigenous player does a 10 or 20 second indigenous war dance during indigenous round and we have to get so up in arms about it. I just cannot understand what the big deal is. I remember making a comment about it at the time because I wanted to indicate my support and to be honest, the reactions of a lot of people disappointed me. Again, it’s 2015 FFS. How is this still a battle we’re having? And the same thing happens in every round like indigenous round, women’s round, the anti-homophobia games – you can telegraph the comments in where idiots start asking when it’s white man’s round. Oh mate, it’s white man’s round pretty much very week and has been for over 100 years. I’m from the school of people that believes sport should be an agent for cultural change in the community so I’m very supportive of those kinds of programs.

I also hate how over officiated the game has become. This year the umpiring has been as disgraceful as I can remember in a long time – totally and utterly inconsistent and incompetent. They’re changing the rules every other week so it’s no wonder the umpires can’t keep up. And the match review panel is an absolute joke, if you want to talk about inconsistent then they really set the standard. Someone made a comment not long ago that it was like spinning the MRP Wheel of Fortune and I reckon that sums it up nicely.

I can’t remember a time in my life when I haven’t been around football of some code. I grew up crawling around country rugby league grounds, then went to rugby union games as I got older and finally found my way to AFL. And I have loved it all. Sport has brought so many good things to my life and to my family, brought us great friends and some wonderful cherished memories. It’s something we’ve always done together. Because I have spent time at footy clubs at grass roots level I have a real appreciation for that sector of our game and I sometimes think people who have only ever been AFL fans don’t quite get that. I know what it’s like to get up early on Saturday morning and how it’s a hassle to get someone to bring ice or to run water or to man the canteen. While the AFL is the sport’s showcase, the grass roots level is where is has to really be nurtured so it continues to grow. These days I don’t think it’s enough to just assume people will always love footy or that there will always be a massive market for it. If you don’t look after the game then it won’t prosper. Without doubt NSW, ACT and Queensland are where we are going to have really work hardest at growing and I just don’t think the Victorians in particular get that – because those other states do have genuine competition for kids’ attention, it’s not just a given that they’ll be AFL supporters. Plus they absolutely need homegrown heroes to look up to and want to emulate.

I hate when people say football is just a game because it isn’t. For so many people it’s the only time they feel like a winner, the only time they feel part of something, the only bright spot in their ordinary existence. It gives so much to so many because the game is bigger than that four quarters. It’s a business but it’s also a passion and it undeniably has the power to unite people. I love it. I love watching it, I love reading about it, and clearly I love talking about it and writing about it. I hope you’ve enjoyed being along for the ride this year too.”

Flashback Friday.

nat sheeds rocket

Clearly I have a long history of shoving a recorder in people’s face and talking about footy.

Was clearing out some stuff back home in New South Wales a few weeks ago and came across these gems from about 1998 – me harassing Rodney Eade and Kevin Sheedy at a pre season game at the old Football Park in Canberra for a uni assignment. I would have been all of 19-years-old and how’s the casual hand-on-hip stance when chatting to Sheeds?!

For the record however, I would like to say that I now have much better hair and I no longer wear polo shirts with the collar up.

I’ve come a long, long way but one thing hasn’t changed – I still love footy.

The finale.

butcher

It was late on the Friday night and a friend asked if I wanted to catch up for a drink and watch the footy the next day. “Sure,” I said, “but it will have to be after the Port game.” It would be our very last for the year, a year that held such high expectations and then delivered on next to none of them. I had been so worked up about this season, almost fizzing with excitement, and devastated that it would be unlikely I’d see the year out thanks to a pending overseas trip.

I didn’t end up watching the game on Saturday afternoon, instead I enjoyed it old school style by listening to the call on the radio. Fremantle were ‘resting’ players ahead of their finals campaign and Port had little to play for aside from pride. My friend reckoned we’d get up by more than 40 points, I wasn’t so sure. This is Port Adelaide version 2015 I reminded him.

But we did get up and got up well – 69 points in the end. Not that it matters. There’s no finals for us this year. What a bitter pill to swallow.

That said, despite all the heartbreak and disappointment, there have been more than a few highlights. Two wins over Hawthorn. My first trip to Adelaide Oval, especially given it was ANZAC Day and the incredible spectacle that brought. The emergence of brilliant young talent like Brendon Ah Chee and Sam Gray. The continued leadership of Travis Boak. Port reaching 60,000 members and surpassing the Crows for the first time. Chad. The friendships that I’ve continued to build around football. This blog.

Not everything about 2015 has been a total write-off.

I’ll watch this weekend’s games from the comfort of my lounge room and next week’s at my parents’ house in NSW. I’ll be barracking my hardest for the interstate teams as usual and if the Swans can’t get up then I’d love to see Fremantle win it. Finals aren’t quite as fun when you’re not in them but this year has been such an enigma, I’m excited that almost anything could happen.

And then next year, next year, it’s ours.

 

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