AFL Round 11 – St.Kilda v West Coast: To Be…..Is that really the question?

Nothing is as righteous as a crowd scorned. The caterwauling that accompanied the umpires off the ground Sunday evening spoke of the frustration. St.Kilda were desperate, West Coast were hesitant and the game was up for grabs all night. The tensions were obvious, both clubs knew their season was teetering, only one could salvage something from it. The Eagles needed this but the home side wanted it. Want and need are relatable but not compatible.

The Saints faithful, certain the umpires had forgotten what holding the pill looked like (unless of course it was a red, white and black warrior at the bottom of the maelstrom) bayed for blood. The moment Hurn was run down brilliantly by Milne in the third, only to get the ball back for a push in the back decision, caused spasms of apoplexy.
-If we wanted to be robbed like this we’d have travelled to Perth. The umps are murdering us….

The truth is sadly unpalatable. Applying the lion-share of the blame upon the umpires is the last refuge of the broken-hearted. This season has passed into memory already. This is a year that is lost, the falling of the empire- week by painful week.

How fans cope with exile from the footballing citadel is wholly dependant on experience. Carlton dealt poorly with failure, not accustomed to being also rans, there was a certain raging against the dying light. Bluebaggers were quick to remind all who asked of their proud and nobel lineage. What the Saints faithful would give to be capable of trophy counting. We don’t get that choice, success is the final frontier when you’re on the Saint’s bandwagon. It come to us fleetingly, teases our senses with its magical fragrance and then dies all too soon.

I thought we’d arrived only three short seasons ago. Now here I forlornly sit, with one of my oldest mates, sipping draught from a plastic cup, watching Nick Riewoldt rile against the dying light. It is a sad ritual that I have had to contend with for a lifetime. As each generation of Saint’s champions pass, they leave the game not with premiership success but something more intangible- A special place in the hearts and minds of those who watched them. It is scant reward for effort perhaps, but as I watched Roo run himself to exhaustion once again, I mentally placed him alongside Harvey, Lockett, Hayes and Winmar as the greatest I’ve seen. For me, the dreams of glory will be renewed in another generation. For Riewoldt there is pride and the faint hope of a late career miracle. He can’t win it all now but he can leave unbowed.

“O, how miserable I am to see Hamlet now and know what he was before!”

Being a Hawthorn man, my mate found it hard to understand why I was so resigned to my fate. He was jumping out of the moulded plastic swing seat so violently he had to reach back to find it again after every spasm of rage had subsided. I could only muster a wry smile and a slow shake of my head as yet another 50/50 call went against my men. He got so lost in the supposed injustice of it all that he began to utter such pearls as-“If that’s a free I give up. I just won’t go to the footy any more.”

Truth be told, I wasn’t sure where my fight had gone either. The boys were having a dip. Milney was off the leash, Steven was willing and Saad was starting to show some much needed form. More importantly, we were leading the contest for most of the night. After expecting the Eagles to batter us with a resolve born out of their capitulation to the Tigers last Monday, the contest was instead played on our terms from the opening bounce. Perhaps it was my instinct to hold back, knowing that if I wanted this victory too badly it might raise the pressure. The frustration my brown and gold compadre was caught up in the middle of felt futile to me now. Why jump in head first when the tide has already gone out?

Eventually he called me on my outward ambivalence, asking why I wasn’t up for my own team’s fight. The reason came to me instinctively-
‘Because I don’t need that kind of rage in my life.’
He smirked and replied-
‘Mate, everyone needs some rage in their lives!’
That’s when it finally hit me. I had the epiphany-the explanation as to my malaise. I turned to him and countered-
‘Make no mistake, if this was 2009 I’d be hanging over the fence!’

Immediately we both got it. He is still in the mindset of premiership glory. The Hawkers are a flag fancy and because of that truism every contest matters. Every poor decision is life and death- This is the season, this is the moment.

His time is now, my time has passed. To care that ferociously now, is to be ‘that’ fan. We all know the type- The ruddy faced ball of fury, spittle forming in the corners of their mouth, vitriol spewing over the fence. They simply cannot see reason enough to know which fight is not worth their effort.

Don’t for a minute think I’m denigrating that supporter. I love to see that passion, it makes us all realise just how important this game is. I just fear becoming that all consumed that I cannot see the world outside the footy-microcosm.

My mate and I have known more footy seasons that either of us are willing to admit and we have talked the complicated dialogue of football tragics for all of them. No player is forgotten and no game is inaccessible to our memories. We care about the game intensely. Indeed, we ended the night at the Turf Club conjuring up the glory of days long past for no other reason than because its what we love to do. I know of no better example of passion than the admission he made to me once. He looked me in the eye and stated-

‘I know I care too much about footy. It means far too much to me but you know what? I don’t care.’

The statement was tinged with the thought that he might already be ‘that’ supporter. Certainly I’ve been with him when the Hawks have slipped in the contest. He isn’t proud of losing control but that doesn’t mean he’s ashamed. There is no Hamlet within him as there is in my heart. He is the embodiment of Kennedy’s mantra- “Don’t think. Do.”

He has no time for the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes, there are still more victories to come for his Hawks. My melodramatic ramblings seem nonsensical to him. The mourning of last year’s Grand Final loss cannot be allowed to cloud the tilt for the one in front of them.

We parted company on Sunday night as footy fans on different journeys. He left for glory, I went back to wandering the ramparts haunted by ghosts……Maybe I am caught within the footy-microcosm after all?

Comments

  1. Neil Belford says:

    Interesting article Tom – I can guarantee you one thing, if the cards had been flipped and that game had played out exactly in reverse, the Board of the West Coast Eagles would be baying for blood and demanding a meeting of the AFL commission to clarify the outcome. Demetriou would have apologised to West Coast the following day after having mounted an inquiry into the regrettable umpiring errors.

    I’m not sure whether the passive response of St Kilda FC to this result is admirable or insane.

  2. Hi Tom, I love reading your articles. It’s not that we don’t care or aren’t as passionate, just look how everybody howled with happiness when we surged forward and got those exciting goals. Saints fans haven’t felt that up and about for awhile. But once it starts slipping, it started slipping, and it was our misses as well as the umpires calls that began that familiar 2009 GF feeling of watching what was good and hopeful, slip away. So my joy also is watching Rooey and Milney have better nights, watching the development of the younger guys, and finding something good. I didn’t think we would win, was happy at our effort, and this year, well, like you said, it’s done and dusted. We’re living off the smell of the future and that’s OK.
    Yvette

  3. Good piece, Tom. Honestly, I was infuriated after the loss Sunday night; the Saints have such a small margin for error, and though much of the pain was self-inflicted, the officiating certainly contributed. The previous window of opportunity has slammed shut; we must accept that. But we have every right to expect a full effort and a fair result whether a team is 2-9 or 9-2. As for the future, returning to relevance will be another tough slog for a team and fan base that has weathered so many, but let’s face reality head-on and savor the journey back.

  4. Guru Gus - Singapore says:

    Footy does matter. Octobers are the worst time of the year, and by the time February comes around, i am chomping at the bit for the season to start. And I havent lived in Oz for more than 24 years!

    Saints will be back. 2000 and 2001 were pretty depressing years, but by 2004 we were a kick away from a GF. I hope Rooey is still around to be a part of the next surge towards that elusive 2nd premiership.

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