AFL Round 1 – Fremantle vs West Coast: Brothers carrying chips

Malarkey Medal:

Mundy (Freo) 3

Hill (Freo) 2

Barlow (Freo) 1

For many years, Western Australians carried a chip on their shoulder. Far away, over-looked, over-shadowed by their eastern cousins, their economy needing subsidies from the federal government (an ironic thought today), their footballing stocks regularly raided by Victorians.

Over the years, Western Australians evolved in different ways. With the first resources boom, the Americas Cup and the football triumphs of the early 1990s, a new confidence and contentedness emerged in some, and they let their chips fall away. Others had grown too attached to their chips and came to resent this success and self-confidence. They wanted to keep carrying their chips, but had to find a new outlet for their bitterness – one closer to home.

Without meaning to get all David Attenborough, these tribes parted ways and developed along different paths like two different species, and in time came to hate each other. And to understand a derby is to understand this dynamic.

As the state was divided by these differing evolutionary paths, so have families. Indeed, in every family, there is the oddity – and in my family, it’s probably me, the lone Eagle.

Back before I moved to Melbourne, my underage, chip-carrying brother and I had a massive day at the WACA as Justin Langer slayed Pakistan. Apart from proving that you can get hammered on mid-strength (if you have 14), we entered into a life-defining contract: whoever finishes lower on the ladder has to buy the other a carton, every year for eternity (I also had the good sense to go to the loo before we left, and to then ask Mum about how Niagara Falls compared to Iguazu as my busting brother squirmed in the back on the way home, but I digress).

I’ve done well out of this arrangement. Very well if you consider that he offered me double-or-nothing at the start of the 2006 Finals series. On Prelim afternoon, I sent him a “48 bottles of beer on the wall” text from AAMI Stadium, followed by a sequence counting down bottles. I got to Tuesday and number 32 before he finally cracked and told me where to get off.

Such banter has bit of a bit of a rarity in derby week though. Truth is, we’re all too nervous to mouth off, and scared of ourselves going over the top to do it afterwards. My pessimistic father will always declare “derbies are always 50-50 games” if his Dockers are favourites, or “the Eagles are certainties” whenever Freo are the underdogs. I never fall for it, but I never want to hear it either, so a period of “radio silence” descends across the family at derby time.

I was especially nervous this year. We’re missing blokes, others have had interrupted pre-seasons, and we ran like tortoises against Collingwood a couple of weeks ago in the NAB Cup. Whilst various journalists talk us up as flag fancies, I can’t help but feel we might be underdone, and ripe for the picking.

Come game day, I head to the London Tavern in Richmond, find another Eagles fan coming off the train, and then run into my friend Emily as we turn into Lennox Street. “I hate derbies,” she says. I don’t know that I’d say “hate” (there are others in the football world I reserve that term for), but I get her sentiment. I don’t look forward to them either.

The fact that West Coast have been the better performed of the WA clubs when playing the rest of the competition, but Freo have had the upper-hand in derbies, just seems to reflect what each set of fans sees an important.

The beginning of the game then is a relief, as the Eagles jump out of the blocks. Maybe my pessimism was mis-placed. Kennedy and LeCras have an instant impact, quickly scotching any hopes Lance Franklin might have had of a bidding war for his services amongst his home-state clubs, and new recruit Cripps gets on the board early. But our initial ascendency isn’t reflected on the scoreboard, and is over-shadowed by the abundance of players sporting Taliban-style beards.

The second quarter sees a couple of momentum shifts, before we again give up the mandatory goal on the siren. Alex and Emily point out that I’m practically inhaling my pint glass, as the tension grows on me. I curse everything, even the signage for Freo major sponsor Woodside, the heart momentarily suggesting to the head that I sell the best-performing shares in my portfolio as a matter of principle.

And then the dam breaks. The Dockers dominate. Within 10 minutes, we look completely gone. Still fighting at either end of the ground, but getting murdered in the middle. LeCras breaks his arm, Mackenzie does his hammy, and Glass limps around (our next opponent Franklin is the one laughing now).

Substitute Embley comes on, and picks up where he left off last year, shanking kicks like it’s Collingwood at the MCG in the finals all over again. In the closing minute of the game, he gets 2 shots from 50 out. Putting one out-on-the-full and giving the other off to Shannon Hurn for the same result… well, it was a rather poetic note to finish the game on, if nothing else.

The new lot of injuries aside, our midfield looks a real worry. Short on for legspeed, and Priddis, Shuey and Sheppard were all pretty much unsighted until the game was gone. Perhaps it’s the absence of Kerr to take the top tagger, and the others just can’t have an impact when carrying that burden. And great as I think Dean Cox is, Griffin gave him a bath around the ground.

So there we are. Another derby, and no-one’s happy. We’re unhappy because we’ve lost, we look ordinary, and we’ve got fresh injuries. Freo fans are unhappy because they have nothing in the world to whinge and complain about, left to carry a chip for no reason.

And I have to break the radio silence and ring my brother – it’s his birthday tomorrow.

Maybe I’ll take advantage of the time difference, and get him up at 5am.

Comments

  1. Good analysis Brad. Team loyalty prevents me saying what I really think, but you are right that the big question mark is a slow and not very skilful midfield. Players coming back from injury may give us the quantity to compensate for a lack of quality.
    NicNat is made for the quick throwup rule, so I think we will depend a lot more on him than in the past. Cox to play forward more as his legspeed seems diminished, and my boy Darling may be a year or two away from being strong enough to hold down a key position.
    Crowley is a good tagger, but Shuey’s inability to create any pressure or drive is a worry. He has great ability but has never really produced when needed.
    Bonnie Prince Billy beards, Skinhead haircuts and full sleeve tatts appear to be the core of our problems.

  2. Brad, great insight. I always thought the Derbies were so hotly contested because players were leveling the score from nightclub slights. Seems there’s much more to it. We’ll need another piece from you if the Dockers ever win a flag or (dare I say) two. It would be a seismic shift in the dymanics of AFL footy in that state.

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