It’s grand final fortnight in Melbourne. That first Saturday in October etc. Nothing engenders homesickness like the footy – the sound of the siren, wet jeans stuck to your legs, cold pies that cost $14. Here are some of the other things I want my kids to know about the great game.
Dear Rufus and Zadie.
My loves, Mama wants to tell you some things about football. Dadda is doing an admirable job forcing you to support the Western Bulldogs, and I’m indulging him to an extent because if you have to go for a team that’s not the MIGHTY BLUES, well, I’d rather it be an honest and likeable team from the west than some interstate interlopers or east-of-the-river hair flickers. But Mama has also devoted many hours of her life to our great game, and thinks that maybe by sharing my memories gently and in written form – instead of forcing you to sing “Sons of the West” every night before bed and scream “GO BOB MURPHY!!” every five minutes – then when you develop more free will, you’ll turn to the light and join the Navy Blue ranks. Deceptive conduct, but softly softly!
A long time ago, last century in fact, a youth called Andrew Demetriou was just beginning to cultivate his 5 o’clock shadow and ruthless mercantilic nature. He hadn’t yet fucked the magic of the game with his blinkered business brain. (Actually, in some ways I applaud him for helping sustain the game’s popularity through some massive sociological changes; and I’m not sure whether I attribute the things I now hate about AFL to his administration, or to my wist for my childhood. No matter, for the purposes of this post he is a cock of high order, and will obviously never measure up to the great Ross Oakley 😉 )
These days, we watch footy in indoor comfort at Etihad Stadium. But as a kid, besides walking 8 miles to school in bare feet through the snow, we also had to watch footy in the open air! Even in the rain! Oh and when we played kick-to-kick in the street, we used a paper footy. (That bit’s true. Roll up a newspaper and secure with an elastic band. Does a fast torp and hurts like a giant bullet.)
rabidcommitted Carlton supporters, we were lucky enough to watch most games at Princes Park, situated in beautiful Royal Park, not 3km from our childhood home. We could (and were forced to) walk there. Natch we whinged allllllll the way there and home. Entry was free to every game after three-quarter time, so on days when there was no Carlton games, we’d go there anyway to get spare cash by COLLECTING CANS! I know this sounds so 1950s it couldn’t possibly be true, but that’s how we got a spare copper in those days. There was a cash-a-can joint underneath one of the stands where you’d take bags of empty beer cans to get weighed. You’d get about 20c for 15 garbage bags of cans, which isn’t much return for the three hours of backbreaking labour collecting them, but then when you think you could get a bag of mixed lollies for that back then, and your pocket money was only 50c a week, it was a sweet little supplement. (One day someone told me that inflation = things roughly double every eight years. This does not apply to pocket money. 50c is still generous, so just be happy with it. Or go collect some cans.) Prime collecting was to be had in the outer, in that rough stand under the scoreboard where there were no seats. Dudes stood on piles of squashed beer cans so they could see better, so the work was already half done. And there was less risk of getting saturated pants from trying to squash a still half-full beer can with your foot. And also the men in that section drank A LOT of beers. I kind of loved pushing through that section during a game to get to the toilets. So loud and exciting! Very smelly! Many mullets!
One time while can-collecting, I found a wallet. We rang up the owner and when he came around to collect it, he gave me the $10 that was in it – TEN DOLLARS=APPROX. 1 MILLION SHERBET BOMBS – and a gift basket full of cheap talcum powder. Score!
Speaking of scoring, the scoreboard at Princes Park when I was a kid was still manually operated. People sat behind it and changed the numbers. The clock was a like a big normal clock with hands. You could barely look when it went into the red at the end of the quarter in a close game. Not like now when you know exactly how many seconds are left.
I always went with my dad, my sister and my brother. Most games we met up with our Sunbury cousins. We sat on the wing, right behind the fence so we could lean over and bang on the hoardings as required. We could also (and did) chuck lollies at the Little League kids who sat on the inside of the fence waiting for their half-time turn to star. We complained all through the Reserves. You wouldn’t even know what that is, so I’ll tell you – a pretty poor game conducted between the “seconds” of each side. Oh how we hated it and abused the players. And oh how I’d love it to come back now instead of sitting there watching nothing before the main event. After the Reserves it was time for the banners to come out. We loved it when they fell over in the wind. When a goal was scored, you were expected – especially when sitting in the upper levels – to throw ripped-up phonebooks and newspapers all over the ground.
I remember one occasion when one of the goal posts fell down and hit the goal umpire, knocking him out. Celebrations circled the ground, unmuted by any concern, because the one constant then to now is umpire-hating. Haha they took him off on a stretcher, HAHA…
Another time, a lady had a heart attack and died right in our row. Which was disturbing but soon forgotten in the euphoria after our 2-point victory over St Kilda(!!). Another time, Craig Bradley crashed into the fence in front of us. I know this seems completely implausible now, but as a kid I was massively anti-swearing. When Braddles smashed into the fence, he put his head up and yelled, right in my face, “FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!!!!!!!!” Apparently I froze and went bright red, then turned to Dad and said “Well, fair enough.” And it’s fucking been all downhill from there, motherfuckers. On the topic of swears…my bro, about 4 years old, had been paying close attention to the crowd and worked out that when something happened that you didn’t like, you said the worst word you knew. Next time the opposition scored a goal, he climbed up on his chair and yelled out “POOOOOOO!”. These were also the days where if people were swearing or fighting too much in the crowd, you could turn around and go “Knock it off, there’s kids around” without fear of being bashed. That you can’t do that anymore, that freefall in standards, is a bit representative of Melbourne society in general at the moment, and very very sad.
The Peanut Man walked around the boundary throughout the game. It wasn’t a generic peanut man, different every week, but THE Peanut Man…a middle-aged Italian man in a yellow t-shirt and cap hauling a big hessian sack containing little paper bags fills with unshelled peanuts. You chucked him 50c and he chucked you a bag, and hit you, no matter how far back you were sitting. You then shelled the peanuts all over the ground and tried not to inhale the nut dust for the rest of the game.
When the game was over, it was expected that everyone would run onto the ground in an attempt to mob their heroes. The second aim was to be the first to reach the middle of the ground. Everyone brought a footy along and hundreds of games of kick-to-kick broke out all over the ground until it got dark. I remember the thumping sounds of hundreds of feet drop-punting hundreds of pills. And I remember my very young sister getting hit in the head with a full-sized Sherrin, not once but twice, and nearly knocked out. (Which was kind of funny at the time. As a parent this incident obviously propels me towards thoughts of negligence, indemnity, getting the filthy footy kickers off the streets etc.)
Then we’d take our Footy Record and wait outside the changerooms to get autographs. On very lucky occasions, we got entry into the social club through one of Dad’s friends. There we’d dart around looking for players. My brother accidentally kicking a jug of beer all over the legs of my ultimate hero, Stephen “Sticks’ Kernahan, still makes me blush with shame.
After we left the ground, we sometimes went to La Porchetta in Rathdowne St for pizza, but more often we walked home in the dark and cold. If Carlton had won, it was a joyous victory march, us kids all interrupting each other to tell Dad how good Peter Dean/Mil Hanna/Earl Spalding (as if!) had been. We waved our own scarves at the cars driving past with Carlton scarves out their windows. If Carlton had lost, Dad suffered alternately sullen silence or whingeing about the long walk home. Our tea was the inevitable Saturday night minestrone (which was more like a stew in my house – you needed a fork.) I still warm up inside at the memory of laying on the carpet in front of the heater, eating “minna” and watching the footy replay.
Princes Park lost some of its magic when it became Optus Oval, and had the Legends Stand constructed and the shitty electronic scoreboard installed. It’s probably better now (I’d hope so) but when they first put it up, it was a black screen with blurry orange animations saying “SCORE! WOW! TOP GOAL! WHAT A STAR!” Er…what a piece of shit!
Sometimes we went to Waverley Park in Moorabbin, which has now been razed to make way for a housing estate. You would not live in this desolate place haunted by bad memories of having to hike 10 miles through the mud from your car to the stadium. And to find the bastard after the game, you had to secure a length of toilet paper to the antenna. And hope too many other people didn’t have the same idea, since just about everyone’s dad was driving a cream Ford XE at that time. Trips on V-Line down to Kardinia Park were fun, but to Windy Hill and Victoria Park were not.
These stories go nowhere but stick in my mind. Once we were at Princes Park for the last quarter of a Fitzroy v Collingwood game, waiting to collect cans I guess, and we walked past a little girl on her dad’s shoulder saying, “We must be really good if we can beat Collingwood!” with a flushed shiny face. Actually they were really not good, Fitzroy, and at one point they hadn’t won a game for about three years. Until one day they did. Dad and I were listening to the game at home on my rad yellow ghettoblaster (complete with shoulder strap, and covered in stickers). At half-time, Dad hopped on his bike and rode to the game to be among the Fitzroy faithful as the final siren sounded. To this day I still haven’t forgiven him for not taking me.
Rufus, Zadie, I could go on forever but having only just turned 30 I’m quite wary of exhibiting rambling signs of Alzheimer’s. But never forget – DA DA-DA DA-DA!