AFL Grand Final: The Pride of the North London Lions

Myriad crystal clear recollections remain from running amok in London in the `90s. The thriftiness of dossing with strangers and newly-acquired mates on lounge room floors in Shepherd’s Bush and Willesden Green. Getting into bands such as Oasis, Blur, Supergrass and Pulp. Gourmandising doner kebabs on a distended stomach of European lagers, Timmy Taylors and those lethal (outlawed I now believe) Snakebites. The Sunday afternoon antipodean hedonism and drunken nudity on the Church’s sawdust floor in King’s Cross. And, of course, there was the depressing weather and the disconcerting grimy nasal discharges discoloured by travelling on the Tube.

Besides changes in music and self-medication practices, not much seemingly has changed. It is AFL Grand Final eve and I arrive at the North London Lions presentation night with my old china and Lions life member Brian Corcoran (Corka). The venue is the Windsor Castle in Regent’s Park. Corka’s passing resemblance to Sean Connery causes some inward giggles.

Lions Social Division coach Jay ‘Dogga’ Treloar greets us. His energy levels make cover fieldsman Derek Randall look like a sloth. His mannerisms are part Leo Sayer part Bon Scott. And he knows how to sell a raffle ticket.

The B&F vote count for one of the four surviving BARFL foundation clubs is simply hilarious. Firsts Coach, Adam ‘Diddles’ Littlechild, has an impossible job of controlling his high-spirited teammates. He does well not to throw teddy out of the cot when the power cord connecting the laptop is accidentally kicked out of the wall for the fourth time. He frequently whistles like a stockman to gain attention.

In the vote count, each coach offers an entertaining description of the votes cast for that round. For awhile, we thought consistent vote getter Mick Friend was Mick’s Friend. There is a stigma attached to forfeiture. Apparently, forfeiture in the lower grades of the BARFL was commonplace the weekend that a certain mare raced at Royal Ascot. It’s also obvious that the West London Wildcats (they wear the hoops) are as popular as herpes on a honeymoon. For a hoop lover, it’s confronting to bear witness to such antipathy.

The speeches from the various award-winning recipients are magnificent. Corka and fellow life member Jason De Bono, each award a life membership. One recipient, Deano Roberts, channels Wendell Sailor in his acceptance remarks.

“I only play footy for two reasons”, he states, “one is footy trips and the other is individual honours.”

Corka’s impromptu speech captures the importance of the footy club to young men and women enjoying their time in London. The camaraderie, the unavoidable transient nature of club personnel and the intense friendships formed are a subset of the backpacking experience. When he recalls those nasal issues caused by the Tube, we reckon the younger crowd misconstrues this for coke snorting.

The night ends with what I assume is the pub’s owner, a short eccentric Dickensian character, offering the boys a swig out of a three-litre glass. Where’s Bob Hawke when you need him? We heave a sigh of relief that a little lion called Clarence hasn’t appeared in the bottom of our pints. When he does, club rules decree that you must skol what’s left in your pint.

We get back to Knightsbridge (thanks Sally Corka) for a quick kip. The opening bounce is four hours away.

We arrive at Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes for the big game. It is part bowling part bar part nightclub part karaoke venue. The teams warm up. We continue to wake up. Everybody stands for the national anthem. I reckon it’s a shit song. James Boags, Coopers Red and Little Creatures are the beers of choice. Sausage rolls keep us sustained. Most support is for the Hawks. North London Lion, Brendan ‘Irish’ McGeever, is prominent in his Swans jumper.

Most of the play in the first quarter is typical of a Grand Final. It’s scrappy, tense and nervy football. The standard doesn’t impress. Of course, I need to be more gracious. I still think about Varcoe, Bartel and Johnno.

Former Newlyn Cat, Brad Sewell is seemingly at the bottom of every pack. The redoubtable McVeigh performs a similar role for the Swans. Both are ferocious with their attack at the ball. LARS recipient Malceski boots one out of his date to level the ledger. The ball takes such a trajectory that it could be mistaken for a weather balloon. Malceski’s beard is so luxuriant, he’s now known as Bill Frindall. I come to the realisation that I don’t know many of the Swans. Folly me as I continue to underrate them.

The signs are not good for the Swans. Hawthorn gradually gains ascendancy through territorial domination and frequent sorties forward. Their much-vaunted field kicking skills become increasingly prominent. However they suffer from inaccuracy in front of goal. This is a Grand Final no-no.

Hannebery heroically marks a la Nick Riewoldt. His ‘unselfish’ kick unfortunately results in a Franklin goal. Buddy is running the show. He looks like a gridiron player. And he’s born to rule.

Five minutes remain in the first quarter. The AFL website typically goes down. With the screens blue, the Hawks apparently boot a couple of goals. When the picture and the annoying voice of Bruce are restored, Hawthorn leads by three goals at quarter-time. I learn later that Leroy Jetta leaves Rioli in his wake and jets down the outer wing like Ravelomanantsoa off scratch at Stawell.

During the break, the Proclaimers ring in our ears. I buy a round of Little Creatures Pale Ale and sausage rolls. Upon return, I state without equivocation that this will be a 12-15 goal blowout.

To frank what a fine reader of the game I am, the Swans through committed team football boot the next eight or so goals. All this while Adam Goodes appears to do a knee while landing awkwardly. A proppy Goodes now plays forward and applies his crafty footy instincts creatively. Unheralded Mitch Morton snaps goals out of his derriere. The Swans backline tightens up. Their ball movement is fluid and cohesive. Kennedy, Jack and O’Keefe win many possessions. The Swans grasp their opportunities to lead narrowly at half-time. A Grand Final yes-yes.

Why the profound change in momentum and rhythm?

That’s it. We reckon it’s Chelsea the goal umpire. She signals 10 of the first 11 goals. We shout at the screen. CHELSEA! CHELSEA!

28-points down in the third quarter, Luke Hodge calls a council of war in the centre of the ground. His message may involve stopping Chelsea’s involvement in this quarter and then capitalising on her fine signalling skills in the last quarter.
Franklin is unstoppable. The highlight is a wheel-around 70-metre goal. The crowd goes bonkers. Right now he’s the fifth fundamental force of nature. A couple of minutes later Mitchell commits hari-kari with a poor return of the ball to free-kick recipient McVeigh. Given the Swans paltry free-kick tally, he must’ve thought he could get away with it. McVeigh’s goal helps to steady the Swans. They lead by a point. We could be back here next week?

All through the second and third quarters, this dickhead repeatedly asks us for the score and who do we support? I come close to hitting somebody for the first time. He’s as irritating as a Kimberley midge.

The last quarter is incredibly tense. The worth of one percenters amplifies several-fold. Irish now has to contend with dickhead and deal with his own nerves, hopes and dreams. The Hawks can’t hit the side of a house. Franklin misses a gettable set shot. So does Norman Gunston. Reckless football will win this. It’s end-to-end stuff. The Hawks snatch a two-goal break. Are they home?

We await the moment that close Grand Finals deliver. The missing piece in the jigsaw is Rioli. Is this it? The collective will of Morton and Jack force the ball towards goal. Was a toe poke involved? Clinton Young falls over like a first time ice skater. Jack keeps his feet and goals.

Delirium.

Goodes snaps coolly and truly. Irish goes bonkers. Dickhead tries to mount him while asking for the score. All non-Hawkers yell at the screen, high-five, glove tap and hug. With about 50 seconds to go, Bill Frindall, the bearded wonder, does a Chappy. A left foot snap goal.

Siren.

Non-Hawkers jig. A footy club song CD comes on. The crowd play air trombones and air banjos with gusto. At 10am, we venture out into the ‘blazing’ London sun. After several pints, we head to Brisbane Road to watch a disappointing Leyton Orient go down to Doncaster Rovers.

By this stage, I’m well-refreshed. That’s right I have to head to Heathrow. I break every rule of travel at the airport. I lose possession of my passport and my boarding pass for an hour. I wake up after departure time to find nobody else around. Luckily the A380 waits for me.

Now sober and flying over the Bay of Bengal, I reckon 2012 was a missed opportunity for the Cats.

Yes I am a sour puss.

Comments

  1. John Harms says:

    Superb.

  2. Was with you right to the end…sour-ness and all.

  3. PF – I don’t beleive for one minute you were overly refreshed. It must have been the chicken in the sausage rolls.

    Outstanding summary. The bloke who said he plays football for the footy trips and the personal accolades might be the most honest man in the world.

  4. Brad Carr says:

    The greatest year playing footy I ever had was at the North London Lions, in 2002. A fantastic footy club, and the Windsor Castle got a work out back then too (we played our games in Regents Park that year).

    Had my own Grand Final day reminder of the great club: turned on Fox Footy in the morning to see the replay of the Crows and Saints in the 1997 GF, and there was Matty Connell running around for Adelaide. He got an AFL premiership medal that day, but he rose to the even greater heights of representing North London 5 years later.

  5. Skip of Skipton says:

    You should dip the nib in the ink more often, bloke. Superb indeed.

    Lewis Jetta was ravelomanantsoaesque. Cyril right up his date for 100 yards was extraordinary football. Shame the telly was on the blink.

    Mitch Morton gets the ‘toe poke’ medal for his un-natural and selfless contested work between two Hawks that resulted in Jack’s goal.

  6. Awesome PJF. Footy – and a GF in particular – is a combination of the game and the occasion. We get one by right and create the other for ourselves. Brilliant.
    Loved the Jean Louis Ravelo reference. I was there!

  7. Lovely coverage of the big day from afar Flynny. Ivor and Leo would be proud.

  8. IMAGINE how hard it was for us — my youngest daughter and I — to watch the 2008 grannie at a giant Walkabout boozer down near the Embankment.
    Started off in the dark from Bow in East London with all the normal Friday nite late night frolics still well underway.

    Finally waved down a black cab, got to the venue and lined up with hundreds of other antipodean expats. Knew it wasn’t going 2 be our ‘morning’ when Moons and Otto missed those sitters.
    By three -quarter time it was painful so we headed out to the Temple tube station just around the corner with English son-in-law in tow and headed home.
    My wife who had not made the trip, said she couldn’t believe how quiet we all were when we got back to the family digs in Bow.

  9. Great stuff, Flynny.
    Thouroughly enjoyable !!!

  10. David Downer says:

    I’m too young/athletics naive to be familiar with the Jean-Louis Ravelomanantsoa reference, but I already know that’s it’s funny.

    And a host of other gems.

    Bust out the “Almanac classic” warning siren…

  11. Sneak, surprisingly lucid account of a wonderfully ‘refreshing’ 24 hours!

    As a former Springbank Tiger, I was impressed when you informed me that Brad Sewell came from Newlyn FC. It wasn’t until I read your article that I realised the significance of your knowledge – Newlyn wear ‘the hoops’! No wonder you found the open loathing of West London so confronting! The hoops, like the growth rings of a tree trunk, run deep!

    Looking forward to the next episode of ’24’, Jack Bauer…in Flemington, perhaps?

  12. Peter Flynn says:

    Thanks all.

    Corka, the next 24 hours weren’t as enjoyable. The bird in 55B struggled with some snoring from 55A by all accounts.

    Richard, I feel the pain.

    Burkie, is there any surviving tape of Ivor and Leo? I wonder how they called Billy Ryan and the police horses?

    PB, I love the ‘I was there’. I reckon there’s a Ravelo piece in ya.

    Brad, great to hear that you played for the Lions. Do you know Corka and Jason De Bono?

    Thanks JTH, Dips, DD, Smokie, Pete and Skip.

  13. Hey sneak! A great read made even better by the bits other readers have added. I can just see you getting distracted by a goal umpire. I know you were away but did you see fev helped get the pigeons over the line?

  14. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Great read Flynny well picked the Chelsea influence ! I agree with Dips re the guys honesty ! Spot on David re Almaman Classic Warning Thanks Flynny

  15. Peter Flynn says:

    Rulebook,

    You are a voracious reader.

    Cheers.

    If I had my time over again, I reckon I should’ve really cut loose.

    I felt for the bird sitting in 55B from LHR to SIN.

    PF

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