A love affair rekindled

By Scott Rankin

At times it had seemed to be the headiest of love affairs. Grand final appearances, a ‘minor premiership’ (what psychopath coined that phrase?) and 18-zip starts to seasons can do that to a man. As can Ross Lyon’s endearing, laconic style. He rang me one day. It was mid week in the lead up to round 4 in 2009. Apparently the team were training a treat and didn’t require his services. He and the leadership team had decided to work the phones convincing lapsed members to renew their memberships. He agreed that Kozzie had been lucky getting off the striking charge he’d just been cleared of. I explained I had been overseas working in Burma, assured him that renewing my membership was top of my ‘to do’ list for Wednesday, thanked him for the call, and effectively released him to move on to the next name on his list of miscreant members. “So what were you doing in Burma?” he asked. Fifteen minutes later, having discussed the trials and tribulations of Aung Sann Suu Kyi, ethnic minority politics, China’s meddling and the effectiveness or otherwise of economic sanctions, I asked Ross if he wouldn’t mind saying hello to my Sainter supporting son. He responded “Of course. What is his name?” “Harvey”, I replied. “You are a *)^*%&^ tragic aren’t you?” he joked before chatting with Harvey for five more minutes. Ross Lyon is a good bloke. And I unwittingly found myself in the front row defending him against attacks of being the Godfather of ‘ugly football’. Love can do that to a man.It’s only now, looking back, that I can see just how shallow our relationship was, how badly it had deteriorated, and that I was never actually in love at all. It was nothing more than pure, unadulterated ‘lust’. I fell in lust with the idea of being delivered that ever illusive piece of silverware. Which in itself was a surprise, since I had long ago concluded that ultimate glory was simply beyond the capabilities of my dysfunctional, masochistic football team whose singular greatest distinction across four decades had been the regularity with which it broke my heart by clutching defeat from the jaws of victory. And if it required the ugliest football imaginable to get our hands on that silverware, I was a willing accomplice. A Ross Lyon apologist.

Before you accuse me, you need to understand that for most of the 70s and 80s supporting St.Kilda was a dour and bitter existence. It’s hard to overstate just how dark this era was, and how it fed our craving for success, no matter the cost. They were the darkest of days offering the leanest of pickings. We foraged for footballing nourishment amidst abject poverty. We were the delinquent street child of the VFL. Seven wooden spoons between 1977 and 1988, yet barely an edible meal was served in those dark days. Amidst this decade plus horror movie, littered as it was with metaphorical car crashes, gut spilling carnage, Himmler-esque psycho-torture, assorted freak shows (remember Doug Booth?) and no small amount of twisted black humour, it’s hard to pick out one ‘worst moment’. But if I had to, it would be April 13th 1985, walking from a frigid ‘G having witnessed a 113 point spanking at the hands of a not very good Richmond (they were 0-2 coming into the round). The Saints’ third loss for the season meant that our combined losing total for the first three rounds was 363 points, and the average score of our opponents 185. Imagine the clamour at News to find superlatives adequate to that season start, given press coverage of Melbourne’s season to date?

St.Kilda were hopeless. A laughing stock. We were so bad that film makers of the era began to litter sets with visual imagery bestowing hapless villains and other buffoon characters with the added foolhardiness of being…… St.Kilda supporters.

Yet amidst this sustained misery, I somehow found my way to be physically present at a Saints victory in every year since my debut as a 5 year old at the Western Oval in 1969 (a good win!). We went, week in, week out, daring to dream yet resigned to the inevitability of defeat. Now, as I awaken from my Ross Lyon induced slumber, I realize that some of my happiest footballing memories were those unique days when the Moorabbin family would rattle and roll to the joy of one of only three wins for a season.

My record of being there, seeing a win, singing the song, in the flesh, every year for forty plus years became a point of pride. Surely, it placed me in a small band of loyal supporters? So why was it the relatively successful 2011 season that my proud record slipped? And why didn’t I much care? Twelve victories came and passed where I failed to get my dispirited Sainter arse to the game. It’s hard not to conclude that I was heartbroken. I’d fallen out of love. Or lust. Whatever…..

But this fine, grey Sunday morning, I find myself again like a smitten school kid. And it is as clear as day that a new dawn has arisen, and with it a new romance. I am in love with Scott Watters’s Saints. All of them. I’m out of the closet polyamorous. It is a realization that began to dawn with Ahmed Saad’s second dashing break of the Carlton line two weeks back. It was further fuelled by Terry Milera kicking goals over each shoulder that same night. And it was consummated by seemingly carefree long bombs into space that I found simultaneously unsettling and arousing. Final denoument of my Ross Lyon crush came last night in the celebration that was the joyous, strangling forward press that we (yes, ‘we’) applied to that elongated Swan neck across those two glorious middle quarters. 36 hands grabbing as one, bolstered in their enthusiasm by rapturous supporters giving definition through decibel to what we want “Saints Footy” to look like. We (team and 30,000 supporters) grabbed that gosling neck so tight. And we didn’t let go. It felt fantastic. Not because it was an effective press, but because it was EXHILIRATING football. We played with flair, speed, guile and fervour. The players wee enjoying it as much as we were. We were good…. great….. we were bewww-deee-fulll. And part of that beauty was the blemishes. We sprayed shots, missed marks and ran into each other! We handballed nine times within nine square metres in nine seconds – then goaled. It was exquisite chaos. Flawed beauty can be the most beguiling beauty. Just as Trevor Barker’s suicidal leaps were beautiful. And Gary Sidebottom’s elbows. And it reminded me that there were moments of exquisite beauty in the catastrophe that was the 70s and 80s. We are again flawed genius. And I couldn’t be happier.

Comments

  1. Stephen Cooke says:

    Scott, I’m easily seduced too. But I know real love when I see it. Good luck to you and Mr Watters. Looking forward to your next piece.

  2. Dearest fellow tragic Scott,

    what a wonderful read. While you were attending all those suffering years, I was having kids and not taking much notice. I came back to the game in the Ross Lyon era, and lived to see the glory of winning, a lot of winning. I was there for the heartbreaks of the grand finals and the struggles post season 2010 and all 2011. Writing for the Almanac has become my therapy and my celebration. I loved that we won with Ross Lyon and didn’t know how happy I was at his departure until seeing what our people can do under the coaching of Scotty Watters. It’s fast and attacking and daring and fun to watch, and I bet, as you say, fun to play again. I feel sorry for Fremantle (not too sorry actually, a little gleeful) but they did us a huge favour by grabbing him and allowing a new process, coach and spirit to begin.

    May we all enjoy this period of time, silverware or not. We just want good games of football and happy players.

    And feeling part of the Club. Not only are they playing differently, but the culture has become more inclusive and I’m feeling the love through iphone apps and websites and coaches emails. I am feeling the love full stop. I hope they’re feeling it back. We were certainly vocal enough about it on Saturday afternoon.

    In the Indian/English production of the film: “Bride and Prejudice” there’s a line: “Happy wife, happy life”.
    With Saints supporters, Happy team, happy fans (not quite rhyming but you get the drift).

    Finally, your son shares one special name, you now share another.

    Go Saints

    Keep writing, really good to have another one on board!

    Yvette

  3. David Downer says:

    This is brilliant, Scott.

    You’ve nailed it perfectly mate.

    Sainters feel like Sainters again!

    DD

  4. Julietta says:

    Love it. “Exquisite chaos”. Exactly how I saw it only hadn’t articulated it..

  5. Scott Rankin ~ I follow your religion.

    What a brilliant read.

    Thanks… heaps. *whistles* “Oh, when the Saints….”

    Lou

  6. Great piece, Scott. Love the phrase ‘ever illusive piece of silverware.’ I’ll be sending this link to my friends who follow St Kilda.

    St KIlda played great football last weekend, Watters (one-time Swan) may be onto something good.

  7. John Kelly says:

    Scott, amazing writing….you describe your experience and suffering as a Saint’s Tragic so well.
    What a journey and it is true that one day, when the ‘elusive silverware’ is St Kilda’s at last, we will all celebrate this ‘roller coaster ride’ of flamboyant to dour football to the zenith….GO Saints!!

  8. Stephanie Holt says:

    Fabulous piece Scott. I don’t even have your good excuse to have been a Ross Lyon apologist. But you capture the temptations and rewards beautifully. Only now we can ENJOY our Saints footy again.

  9. Richie B says:

    Marvellous effort, that. !

    And let me remind you, Scott, that this being your 44th year as a saints fan means you’ve had 2 for 22.

    Brilliant stuff

  10. Peter_B says:

    Welcome aboard Scott. Great writing and a great sentiment expressed about your love of exciting footy.
    That sentence describing the 80’s with multiple facets of vitriol, is a classic.
    As for Mr Lyon, I said my piece in my weekend match report. I am sure he likes dogs and children. I am pleased that he has an interest in the internal strife of foreign countries. I have spoken to Bob Carr and the UN. For the next 6 months, Mr Lyon will be on compassionate leave (kind to footy fans) assisting Koffee Annan with the UN peace keeping mission in Syria.
    If anyone has a plan for clogging up the Assad’s lines of attack, its Mr Lyon.

  11. when goddard kicked the goal in the last quarter of the 2010 GF i can’t recall too many whinging about lyon’s game style….

    oh, and didn’t we win 19 in a row?

  12. Point taken Cynic. I for one was doing backflips in the terraces from the moment BJ took the mark since I KNEW he wouldn’t miss it. And when news came through that Ross had jumped ship, I was devastated. So yes, my tongue was definitely somewhere in my cheek as I wrote the piece, but……, despite all the wins, didn’t you feel emotionally exhausted watching the way we played? All that kicking backwards, all that setting up. It was science, not art. Ross Lyon did a magnificent job at StKFC, but we’ve moved on. And I like where we’ve moved to. It has me again wanting to go every week! Because as Yvette notes, there’s again joy n the terraces!

  13. And yes, you’re right. It was 19 wins straight. And a total season losing margin of 19 lousy points across three lousy losses.

  14. Your description of being a Ross Lyon apologist hits the nail on the head. I took an Irish lass and a Canadian to see the Saints play the Lions a couple of years ago. It was a horrible advertisement for our game. At least the Irish girl was forced to go to more games and gain an appreciation. The Canadian was lost to the joys of footy. I kept trying to justify it as being like soccer. Just stop th eother team from scoring, then hold on to the ball so they can’t score. It was a hard sell.

    It wasn’t a great night either. Rin and the blokes behind me poured a plastic schooner of beer down the back of my jeans as well.

    This new found optimism has me placing a cherry ripe on the boys to knock those almost as long suffering Tigers supporters down a notch or two. How would you describe your SAints optimism?

  15. *Rain

  16. Andrew Starkie says:

    Despite what Paul kelly says (‘I can’t believe we were married’),love can last forever.

  17. I’d take 19 wins a row. Even if us Bulldogs had to eye gouge our way to it

    Great piece though.

  18. Sometimes ugly football can produce a beautiful result. Except in the end, it never produced the most beautiful.
    And now we have the best of both worlds — an aggressive defense and a quick counterattack fueled by a cluster of talented youngsters.
    The Saints often take us on wild rides with unhappy endings, but we keep coming back for more. And this year’s journey has been a delight so far. It’s like having a new team but with all of your favorite players from the old one. I can’t wait for Friday night.
    Thanks, Scott.

  19. Matthew Hardy says:

    Superb.

  20. Phantom says:

    Ahhh, another coaster in the Knackery. See you at the Wynyard Footy Club at 6 tomorrow night Scott.

  21. Matt Webber says:

    Gold has just achieved a new colour.

  22. Neil Belford says:

    Scott – you left out any reference to Georgie Young. One of the many Subi greats to play out the twilight of their careers in the VFL. I bowled to him once in the nets at Wembley Cricket Club, at least until I ran out of balls. But that wasn’t what I wanted to say.

    I used to be scathing about Ross Lyon, until Jake Niall talked me out of it very late at night after an Almanac book launch about 3 years ago. Now I am the full Lyon apologist – but then I am a Freo man…

  23. Peter_B says:

    Neil – I would have thought that Sunday’s display would have turned you against Lyon for life. As Mick Malthouse said yesterday, coaches have to find a balance between attack and defence. Lyon learned an approach from Roos at Sydney, and forcibly nails it onto every club he goes to. He is like Neeld at Melbourne, but with more talent to destroy.
    As for the line that Pavlich used yesterday to feed the chooks “we are still learning the new game plan”. Somehow he decided that it would be ill-advised to say “this robotic crap gives me the shits.” I recall the Chinese Foreign Minister (Chou En Lai) being asked in the 70’s about whether the French Revolution had been a success. “It is too early to tell”.

  24. Neil Belford says:

    Wow – Peter you sound like me before my satori (tongue still in cheek actually)

    But don’t underrate the media’s love of frying Freo, and Port for that matter. Dont believe everything you read, especially what is writ by Mad Mick M – fast becoming one of the great re-writers of AFL history.

    I know Freo v WC was unglamorous but you might bear in mind the margin was 48 points not 140. Freo are 5 and 4 and have played good teams. So –

    Richmond belted the Hawks by ten goals in the same round – no faux ‘supporter uprising’.
    Round 8 – Adelaide murder Carlton >10G – no crucifixion
    Round 7 – Essendon wallop pathetic WC >10G – Worsfold still has job.
    Round 7 – Adelaide steamroll Geelong – Scott talking premierships.

    and thats just going back two weeks but before I forget

    Round 4 – WC 51 beat Hawks 46 in a really glamorous day at Subi – Gets no airtime at all as potentially the most dismal game of the decade.

  25. Not to discount one bit his considerable achievements, but if Mick M was as good a coach as he portrays himself as a commentator, he’d never have lost a premiership.

  26. Peter_B says:

    Hey guys, lay off Mick. I used to think he was a bit of a legend in his own lunchtime. Then I saw him on the TV news the other night echoing word for word what I wrote about Lyon’s coaching in my game report on Sunday night.
    The man’s a genius I thought (me not him).
    I won’t say any more on the matter. At least you had the guts to raise your head above the parapet, Neil. Those other Tuesday heroes from South of the River last week have not even whimpered since Sunday (you know who you are Les and Nathan).

  27. James Worssam says:

    Scott, brilliant. Whilst I sat alongside you that great evening against the Swans I too revelled at the cries of anguish from fellow Sainters when for a (brief) period the team started to chip the ball sideways and backwards. Did the run of Saad and Milera not remind you a little of the unpredictable flair of Neil Elvis Winmar? Did you not love the fact that many of our best contributors (Steven, Geary, Armytage) were players who were unable to get a regular game under the Lyon regime? Often at the expense of other players who have since faded into obscurity, chaged clubs or both?

    I too shared those tough times at Moorabin week after week. Usually with my mother and grandmother revelling at the flair of Barker and the hardness of Joffa, Burns, Mace etc, and still deriving pleasure from the experience despite the scoreboard. The drive back up Warrigal Road via a fish and chip shop at Mont Albert still stay with me (now its a two hour drive up the Great Ocean Road and the Geelong Road but it matters not as long as we win). Or the day at Moorabin when my grandmother had a small heart attack and whilst being attemded to in the St Johns ambulance tent my mother implored me to get back to watch the end of a rare close game.

    I remember in latter times going to games only to watch Anthony Howard Lockett. Did I fall out of love when he headed up north? It did allow me to rush home from work on Sunday afternoons and watch him play, even in red and white!

    I too feel that Watters is on the right path for the club and also for our sanity. I certainly know my two dogs, Harvey and Winmar have a much more enjoyable walk the day after a win. I know I feel happier and more content with my lot. And it hasnt come about due to the Lyon Cage or tempo football. It is from the excitement that perhaps we have a team (and a game plan) to actually enjoy.

    How good was it last week when a number of times the saints kicked the ball into space for our speedy forwards to run onto and kick for goal? Yes, speedy forwards! Delete Andrew McQualter and Robert Eddy here. Genuine leg speed. Or our fastest player who at 200cm (Stanley) who also couldnt get regular game time under Lyon?

    I dont think I fell out of love, I think perhaps my love was dulled for a while. But for me too, it is back as strong as ever. Perhaps I should renew my vows? Bring on Richmond, and the two hour drive up the highway tonight…

  28. Stainless says:

    Scott
    Bravo.

    As a Tigers tragic, I hope we put a dent in the love affair tonight but I somehow fancy the Saints will prevail. Maybe the Saints should swap “fortius quo fidelius” for “amor omnia vincit”!

    The only error in your piece (apart from the 18 straight wins) was the reference to that awful loss in 1985 at a “frigid” MCG that I also attended. In fact the match was played in nearly 33 degree heat.

    I really ought to get out more…

  29. Nathan Jarvis says:

    You didn’t see me because I gave up being concerned about the results of football in 1986 when the WAFL ended and East Fremantle were declared the winner. I long ago transcended the pitiful flow of ephemera that is football [i]scores[/i]. You will find I only bob up when the frontrunners and theatregoers get a bit frisky.

    Incidentally I didn’t see your match report after the brutal flogging West Coast got from Essendon, Peter_B. Was I looking in the wrong place – or is it in the usual spot; that rock West Coast supporters hid under during 2010?

    As for Lyon – well, winning ugly and losing ugly are the same for a purist such as myself. I am glad the Sainters fans are happy again, they must have really hated those 19 wins in a row.

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