2012 AFL Grand Final: Hug me like the world is ending

By David Williams

“I know you want to have a chat with him”, were the words from my wife that gave me the tacit green light.

“No.  I just want to hug him”, I replied all too honestly.

It’s Garry Jack, father of newly adorned Premiership player Kieren, and a local identity of Sydney’s Hills District due to his own significant sporting deeds and his real estate industry profile.  I’d never hugged anyone in the fruit and veg aisle of Woolworths before and Garry Jack was not going to be my first.  In the previous two days I had been a very willing participant in more man-hugs than I could count.   It just seemed so natural on a victorious Grand Final Day at the MCG, but it would break so many unwritten taboos should it happen adjacent to the Iceberg lettuce.

My seat is high in the Olympic Stand.  I’m sitting with my close mate’s son, Will.  My mate and his other son opted for early morning queuing, and are now safely ensconced in their MCC members’ seats.  As the players run onto the MCG Will and I share a small reassuring hug – one of those brief side-by-side jobs featuring a slight squeeze of the shoulder and a quick pat on the back.  Hopefully no manly taboos broken there.  After all, he’s in his twenties, and although we know each other very well, I fear that I’m not 100% sure of what’s cool in terms of man-hugging with the generation below.

The first quarter is an anxious one.  Buddy Franklin looks extremely dangerous.  Sydney is fortunate to be down by only 19 points courtesy of wayward ball use by a dominant Hawthorn.  Our only goal for the quarter is a once in a lifetime snap from the impossible angle by Nick Malceski; somehow making the impossible possible.

Sydney begin the second term with renewed vitality.  Hard tough-nut footy from O’Keefe, Kennedy, and co.  is coupled with some good ball movement utilising  Jetta, Goodes and an unlikely Mike Pyke.   Our third goal for the term by skipper McVeigh has the Swans crowd on its feet.  My eye catches a celebrating Swans’ fan across the aisle.  I suspect that he’s about Will’s age, but it’s hard to know exactly as he has Down Syndrome.  I give him an encouraging “Go Swannies!” and he enthusiastically gives me one in return.  I have a new mate.  A long distance speculator from Sam Reid puts the Swans in front.  Josh (my new mate across the aisle) is celebrating again.  This time we append a quietly assured “fist pump” to our Go Swannies exchange.  The second quarter turns out to be a colossal one for Sydney, kicking six unanswered goals to Hawthorn’s solitary point.

The third term starts in a similar fashion.  A Kieren Jack handball to Kennedy with the crispness of the aforementioned Iceberg lettuce – and Kennedy bangs it through.  The honest-as-the-day-is-long LRT follows up shortly after.  This scenario didn’t feature even in my wildest dreams; we’re 27 points up.   That’s 8 consecutive goals, and Josh and I are fist-pumping with Rocky Balboa vigour now – there’s plenty of feeling.  His Dad looks across and gives me a knowing smile and a quick wink.  He doesn’t want to encroach on his son’s newfound connection.  By the 25 minute mark Hawthorn has answered unequivocally, piling on 5 goals to recover the lead.  The drive of Brad Sewell is providing plenty of impetus and Buddy is again looking like a Hawks match-winner.  With a furtive look over to Josh we share a disappointed shake of the head.  It’s not going so well now.

A late goal courtesy of a Sam Mitchell 50 metre penalty has the Swans with a lead at three quarter time.  The final stanza is a nip and tuck affair with multiple lead changes.  Scores are levelled again after Hawthorn’s Young slips on a metaphoric banana peel and that man Kieren Jack pounces on more fruit for the sideboard.   A nicely weighted bouncing goal from Adam Goodes is followed by more snapshot magic from Malceski.  He’s done it again, and the Swans are out by 10 points.

The siren sounds.  We’re on our feet once more.  Hugs abound.  I look across the aisle and see Josh with his arms raised triumphantly.  I sidle across to him and we hug like there is no tomorrow.  I’m no expert when it comes to those with Down Syndrome, but his hug has no inhibitions at all; a hug of someone who is well accustomed to showing genuine affection.  I don’t know if it’s the roller-coaster of the last quarter or Josh’s uninhibited hugging that does it to me, but the emotions start to rise uncontrollably.  Surely I couldn’t cry, could I? Hoping that my slight sniffling has gone unnoticed, I’m pretty confident that the mother of all man taboos has technically not been transgressed.  I sit in the aisle and quietly take in all the emotion in the stands and out on the ground.

Back to Garry Jack’s lettuce selection, and I suggest to my wife that we could do with some cherry tomatoes – “Just starting to come good this time of year”, I drop in casually.  That manoeuvres me close to my unsuspecting lettuce man.  He is more than happy to accommodate a bit of chit-chat about the Swans.  We talk tritely of when we had arrived in Melbourne and when we flew home.  We touch on some of the anxiousness of the last quarter – more in a goal-by-goal way than anything too personal.  As the conversation draws to its natural end, almost as if rehearsed, we simultaneously go with “Goodonyamate” as a farewell.

As he wanders off I am reassured that normality has been restored.  As before Grand Final Day, all man-hugs are officially off the agenda …… unless of course there’s another Swans Premiership around the corner.  And then I’ll be looking out for Josh to hug me like the world is ending.

 

 

Best:

3

Hannebery

2

O’Keefe

1

Sewell

 

 

 

 

 

About Arma

Much-maligned footy banterer

Comments

  1. Billy McLean says:

    Great read. As a fellow swans fan, it really captures the emotion of the day. Hugs alround!

  2. What a wonderfully written article about the way our game Aussie Rules, brings mateship and comeraderie to us, often in the most unexpected way.
    From 2 supporters, complete strangers, brought together by a knowing glance, a wry smile, and the knowledge that the red and white colours that they are both wearing, means that they are from the same tribe.
    And what is it, that makes a grown man want to hug the father of one of the tribes gladiators, in the iceberg lettuce isle no less.
    David, you have captured the essence of OUR game brilliantly.

  3. Tony Whitfort says:

    Touching story Dave. Well done.

  4. Basso Divor says:

    No shame there…
    As a lifelong Cats’ supporter I openly bawled at the 2007 drought breaker at the MCG. I felt self-conscious at this emotional display, but was allayed when a cursory glance at Cats’ fans in proximity revealed they also had the same misty look about them. I recall leaving the ground and when passing a group of teenage Cats, thrust my hand up to gain a return high five, only to have the smallest rebut my advance, saying, “Sorry big guy, that’s not going to do it!” and crushed me in a bear hug that belied his size. My outstanding post game memory is passing Cats fans older than I and seeing the absolute joy etched into their faces.
    PS Great story David

  5. In 2007 I shared the win with my then 4 yr old son and my father and bumped into a cousin outside after the game whilst collecting WEG posters – a first for both of us after all our lives. In 2009 I sat by myself but found dad quickly after the siren and again I bumped into some old friends outside. In 2011 I sat with a mate and after the game we reminisced about sitting through ’94 and ’95 together in generally the same spot in the MCC. These happy memories are at least as rewarding as the game itself, especially now as the old man has gone. PS Hugs and high fives to strangers all round this year as the Tomahawk’s goal sailed through against the Hawks…

  6. David Williams says:

    Thanks for the comments guys.
    It certainly is “funny” what a simple game of footy can do to you sometimes!!

    Cheers
    Dave

  7. David Downer says:

    Lovely work Arma.

    You had me at “adjacent to the iceberg lettuce”.

    Waiting for the day I can also wax lyrical of fruit and veg post a Premiership.

    DD

  8. John Harms says:

    DD, Do you think, given the evolutionary process, that lettuce will still be lettuce then?

  9. Cruel, JTH.

  10. Andrew Starkie says:

    shoulda hugged him, Dave. Maybe he wanted to hug you too.

  11. Trevor Blainey says:

    outstanding. there are no rules on GF day. none for hugging, none for hubris, none for tears. in the lettuce aisle a few days later, not sure. the Jack story is in any event a great one. the dad couldn’t have been a better or more storied player in that otherwise pointless game and for him to take great delight in the success of his son in the enemy code is a big story. Kieran may yet add to that as he’s a genuine hard nut gem. thanks for this.

  12. David Williams says:

    Thanks Andrew & Trevor,
    I was going to mention (but brevity prevailed) that another “tacit green light” was that Garry Jack was wearing a Swans cap in Woollies. He usually prefers to travel much more incognito trying, as much as he can, to look like an Average Joe.
    How about next time I see him pushing the trolley around I just give him a random hug anyway?
    Perhaps the moment will have passed.

    Cheers
    Dave

  13. Joe Moore says:

    A fantastic read, David. What a memorable day. I have never hugged so many strangers in all my life! You’ve captured the emotion brilliantly, well done.

  14. Keiran Croker says:

    Great read Dave. Brings back my memories of the game, the day, the whole weekend. You’ll certainly get a hug from me if we can win it this year!

  15. David Williams says:

    Thanks guys. I hadn’t read this for quite a while. Reading it again makes it feel like yesterday. It was a terrific day!

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