By David Zampatti
If I could build a perfect Saturday, I’d start with the one just gone and only tinker with the edges. In glorious, darling buds weather, it starts with footy talk and a kick-to-kick with young Mack, born on Melbourne Cup day 2003 (and, I claim – despite the protestations of his parents – named after the mighty mare that won it).
I marvel how much my grandson knows about the footy (credit must go to the terrific little Footy Live app on his dad’s iPad the kid mines constantly for info) and how good he’s getting at the game. His coach at the Mt Lawley-Inglewood Year 4 Blues (“The Roos”) says Mack is the team’s hard nut – “Mack Attack”, we all sing out from the sidelines. His purple jumper says 7 FYFE on the back, he’s got his Freo junior membership card with its precious seat number around his neck. Life can get pretty tricky, sometimes, even for a nine-year-old, but Mack is up and firing.
His dad arrives to take Mack to the Roos’ trophy presentation. Mack comes back with a trophy that says “Team Member” and he’s proud as punch, hiding it behind his back and grinning at the front door.
We eat sausage rolls for lunch and talk about the favours the grown-up Roos and Swans could do Freo today in our push for a top-two spot. Mack’s not too fazed as those gift horses fizzle out through the afternoon. He’s more disappointed that Hamish Hartlett, who he really rates, is out for today’s game, and we grimly note that Travis Boak may as well not show up at Subi (“Crowley will bury him,” Mack says). Nevertheless, we’re looking forward to seeing the new Port Adelaide in action, and a real good game.
We study the percentages as the Cats dispose of Sydney on Fox Footy. I tell Mack we’re going to end up with the highest percentage in the comp if we get over Port. “That’s because we’re so boring!” Mack says, and we have a grim little laugh at all the idiot naysayers.
Mack, his dad and I head down to Subi, three generations in our old-school red, green, white and purple scarves, Mack in 7 FYFE. It’s a beautiful evening, a big, happy crowd. The club’s handing out thousands of blow-up anchors, plump and silly and buoyant, not like the anorexic stick-insect anchors on all the new stuff. Mack doesn’t get one, but he’s like a hawk over a paddock.
In effect, the game lasts five or so seconds. Clarke pushes the ball towards Mundy, who carries a couple of Port players with him as he surges forward. Suddenly Fyfe is alongside him for the give, and flying, young, golden and brilliant, towards goal, leaving mere mortals in his wake. He kicks only a point, but Mack is grinning, and his dad and I glance at each other. Bloody hell!, we’re both thinking.
Then our little blokes cut and dice the Port defence, Barlow and Pearce, Neale and Johnson are up and about, and, though Port never drop their bundle, there’s really nothing they can do.
I’m looking at Pav. All those seasons he literally carried this team on his back, all those times you’d see four, five opposition players hanging off him like wolves bringing down some mighty beast, and now, handsome and magnificent, he’s the icing on the cake, and oppositions can only just afford one bloke to watch him. It’s almost too easy. He could play on for three seasons like this; he could still be wonderful, and garlanded, but maybe, every now and again, it would be just a little sad.
I’m watching Hayden Ballantyne. The blind courage, the little blur of him, the challenges he takes and gives. He’s the Energizer bunny, the ball player stealing second base, the fly in the ointment. His skills and his persistency are outrageous; he earns opportunity where, in any other player’s world, it wouldn’t exist. He gets paid a goal he didn’t kick – but the phenomenal, kamikaze smother he set it up with was priceless.
Is there a greater pleasure following football than seeing a player growing into his skin? In his fifth year, Zac Clarke has become big, and fierce, and elite. There are things he needs to master (23-year-old ruckmen are still coming on), but you know he will. I ask Mack if he’d swap Clarke for Naitanui. He grins knowingly, and shakes his head.
Zac Dawson lopes in for a rare spell on the bench to applause and encouragement from the stands. Will wonders never cease?
Last quarter, and the crowd is in party mood. They start a Mexican wave, and I scold Mack for going up with the mob. He gives me a sharp, hurt look (life can be tricky for a nine-year-old) and I retreat, shamed. “I don’t like the wave”, I stumble, “but it’s fine for you to do it, mate.” A wave goes by; blow-up anchors go in the air, and one lands in Mack’s lap. He clasps it in his talons, grins, and wheels away back to his nest.
The lady behind us is listening to the radio; the Bombers have pipped the Blues, and there’s almost a cheer. We don’t give a stuff about Essendon and their woes, but we’re glad it means Port are safe in the eight or nine. “Good on ’em,” I say to Mack, who grins. There’s a strange sensation, all around the ground. Everyone is happy.
After the game, Mack’s off to his other grandparents’ for a sleepover, and his other grandad and I head to the Charles to see Dave Warner. I forget to leave my scarf in the car, and there’s much cheering and happy footy talk between songs. Warner and the band are in great touch, and Half Time at the Football is epic. I’m an ambulance in the audience participation bit (“eeee awww! eeee aww!” I yell, oblivious).
I see the fabulous Alannah MacTiernan, who’s running for Labor in Perth, in the crowd. She’s taking a couple of hours off the trail for a couple of drinks and a few numbers from Warner. I wish her luck, and try to talk politics.
We talk footy.
(Dave Warner will play a one-off gig in Melbourne next Saturday. For Dockers supporters making the trip over for the Saints game, it’s at at the Caravan Club at the Oakleigh RSL in Drummond St, and there’ll be plenty of time after the game to grab a bite and head out there.)
Fremantle 5.4 10.4 15.7 21.8 (134)
Port Adelaide 1.1 1.3 4.4 9.6 (60)
Fremantle: Ballantyne 4, Pavlich 4, Walters 3, Sheridan 2, Clarke 2, Neale, Crowley, Hannath, Sutcliffe, Johnson, Barlow
Port Adelaide: Monfies, Ebert, Moore, Schultz, Neade, Gray, Mitchell, Young
Fremantle: Ballantyne, Fyfe, Johnson, Clarke, Mzungu, Neale
Port Adelaide: Cornes, Westhoff, Lobbe, Pittard, Gray, Wines
Umpires: Margetts, Dalgleish, McInerney
Official crowd: Mack and 35,564 other shiny happy people
Our Votes: 3 Ballantyne (Frem), 2 Fyfe (Frem), 1 Johnson (Frem)