AFLM Round 18 – Sydney Swans v St Kilda: Expected the very expected and stand with Pride

 

Saturday July 22 7.25pm

SCG

Yvette Wroby

 

Pride

The Thursday night before the second Pride match, this one to be held between the Saints and the Swans in Sydney, saw a Saints Pride event being held at Moorabbin. I joined in the night to support this part of my club and its members. I caught up momentarily with injured Sam Gilbert (who helped me launch ‘Siren’s Call’), and saw his broken fingers and his spirit and positivity up close. He supports equal marriage as a human rights issue; everyone should be able to follow their hearts. His backing, along with Mikey Cole (organiser with Saints Pride), with involvement by Jason Ball (first openly gay footballer) and James Lolicato (founder of Proud2Play) is part of my clubs work with supporting the LGBTQIA+ communities and more specifically, helping members of that community to feel safe to come to the footy to play or be spectators. Saints Pride is also a group of Saints people who have found other connections, both with each other and with other Pride groups as they are springing up in each club.

 

As many fans and Saints administration had already headed off to Sydney for the game, those of us left listened to some short speeches and chatted together. I exchanged details with Mikey so I could get his Saints story.

 

Game Day

 

As it turned out, the game was a Sydney blitz, and the best parts were the coverage of the Pride issues and celebrations, and the attending support both Clubs gave to the extended footy communities. There was great coverage on Chicks Talking Footy on Joy FM as well as in regular media outlets.

 

St Kilda were outplayed and bullied by a tougher, stronger opponent. We lacked the skill and tenacity (in this game) to overcome their ferocious, defensive game.

 

Watching with Rina, drinking a drop of whisky, babysitting Sienna overnight: these were the good things about Saturday night. And the fact that for many people, it was a continuation of a struggle for both marriage equality and for acceptance and a space in the world to be who they are.

 

The game was such a struggle that I decided to write about what was good in this week, and meeting Mikey Cole was one of them.

 

Post-game

The Women’s Footy Almanac 2017 was delivered to my place and the excitement was high as I began to read through this terrific journey of the inaugural AFLW season. Preparation for the launch kept me busy, and lining up an article with the Sunday Age kept me organised. Look out for this Sundays paper. Leesa Catto and Penny Cula-Reid, and myself, have all been interviewed.

 

Come Wednesday, it was the funeral of my beloved Uncle Marcel. In an overflowing chapel in Springvale, his three daughters, several of the husbands/partners and grandchildren, all helped farewell this gentle, kind and devoted family man. His funeral seemed to spark off all the deaths of my father, mother and other uncle, at whose funerals I spoke and remained in control. I was released on this day, especially when my son Daniel drove me from the chapel to the gravesite before having to get back to a work meeting. Being in Daniel’s presence allowed me to let go fully, and grieve all the losses at once. It was a relief and a surprise.

 

Life and football are always put into their correct place at such events. Illness or death puts some perspective and proportion on wins and losses, yet it was perhaps the death of my Uncle last week that added to the pain of the weekend of footy. Up to the last few days, he’d always ask me how the Saints were going, and would watch if it was on Channel 7. And seeing the pain on my remaining Uncles (and Aunts) was also incredibly difficult. What was healing was spending time with my family and being at the wake and knowing that my presence was helping in all our loss.

 

And as circumstance would have it, I went straight from the wake to the Peanut Farm Reserve, for the meeting with the Sunday Age photographer Daniel Pockett, Leesa Catto and the St Kilda Sharks AFLW players. Together we found a good place to take photos, gathered the women who were coming to training, and handing out books for the shoot.

 

What lifted my heavy heart was seeing the reaction of the AFLW players to the book.  Here they were, all crowded around the first one I handed out, looking at the stories, searching their own biographies, excitedly reliving the moments and seeing their first year recorded in words and a painting. This is their life we have documented. This joy lifted my spirits and made me laugh.  I got a box of books out of the car so they could all look, and photos were taken of them holding the book, but also ones of them reading them, as each moment they could, that’s all they wanted to do. It was like gathering smoke, you could gather some in your hands momentarily but it would whiff away so easily. A patient photographer and Leesa held sway, we got the shots needed for the paper, the girls went to training, Daniel went home, and I sat with Leesa and Anne Rulton and watched the Sharks train. The only AFLW player from the Sharks that missed the shoot was GWS Phoebe McWilliams, and they will all have an opportunity to buy the books I left behind with Leesa.

 

(Here is the link to the Sunday Age article:

http://amp.smh.com.au/victoria/inaugural-womens-footy-almanac-charts-historic-moments-from-debut-aflw-season-20170729-gxla8t.html )

Sitting with Leesa and Anne, watching the young people run around, also lifted my heart.  Another tick for life. For energy. For wellness and hope. The Sharks are doing well this season, and the next game is the ‘R U OK’ round on the Sunday 6th August, smack at the time the Saints take on West Coast.

 

Saints Pride Group’s Mikey Cole

 

Mikey told me he and his siblings grew up barracking for the team their father did. All the rest of the family from Bendigo were Blues supporters, the area was a Carlton catchment but Mikey’s dad followed his own path. He was a horse trainer and his training colours were red, white and black.  Mikey’s siblings and their offspring are all Saints supporters. “And so are the horses”, I quipped. “The horses have no choice either”, he responded. They’d go to a few games from Bendigo but it was when he moved to Melbourne that Mikey started going every week. He’s been a member for 27 years, going from Bendigo to Waverley, arriving before the gates opened. They’d go to 10 games a year back then, and now to all the games they can. He goes to the footy with his sister and nephews. Mikey’s Mum passed away after an illness in 1997, so the grand final loss had mixed feelings for him – he couldn’t imagine the worse year of his life ending with a winning grand-final. He thought they could win it the next year. And the Saints had not won many games up until his mother’s death, then started winning enough to reach the big dance.

 

Footy was a great coping mechanism, and all the screaming he did at the matches helped too.

 

I asked how he got involved with Saints Pride. “I’ve always been loud and proud, confident in myself, it wasn’t that I needed a group to come to the footy, but others weren’t as strong-minded or willed, and need that kind of strength to go to the football…I can still remember a game a couple of years after, when people are going to say something whether it’s racist or homophobic or sexist or something, it comes out when there is a lot of emotion involved, when the game is close. I’ve been to a couple of games when things have been said, and I jumped a couple of seats and had a go at a Collingwood supporter for saying something. My friends wondered what was going on and then they understood and the guy ended up being thrown out by security.  I went with a friend who is Fijian-Indian, and someone said something racist to her, and I had a go back and then they said something homophobic. In that heat of battle, that’s where I think those underlying issues come out.  I think that’s why it’s important to have something like Saints Pride (and the other Clubs have them as well.) These groups are for anyone who doesn’t feel that they belong to the stereotypical football supporter that we’re there for.”

 

Mikey went on to inform me that the Pride Games came around through Matt Finnis and his work to get the game changed to make all supporters feel welcome. The Club reached out just before the first Pride match to organise an event before the game, and it’s gotten stronger and more of a presence after the Pride game itself. “People knew we were there and we were more visible, and it’s meant that people now reach out and want to join and help.”

 

Sam Gilbert’s involvement started at a Marriage Equality event on his own back, he spoke out in his own voice not the Club’s, probably two years ago. Sam also heard Jason Ball’s story as well, and they got close and became friends.

 

As the Prides group gets more attention, more people are getting on board on the committee level and connections are being developed with most other Club’s Pride groups as well. There are about 500 people on the Saints Pride Facebook page.

 

Mikey tells me he is proud of Matt Finnis, who has said that they have had new members because of the stand St Kilda have taken (as well as a few who have left because of that stand).

 

Mikey and I went on to chat about all things the Saints, and then we were done and life took over once again.

 

As we head into the next game I will carry my pride with me. They are building something special in Moorabbin and Seaford and within the Saints community.

 

That will have to be what sustains us for now.

About Yvette Wroby

Yvette Wroby writes, cartoons, paints through life and gets most pleasure when it's about football, and more specifically the Saints. Believes in following dreams and having a go.

Comments

  1. Cat from the Country says:

    Hi Yvette I have almost finished your delightful year in your life as daughter, Sainter and friend.
    I am looking forward to reading the Women’s Footy Almanac and giving one to a friend and her daughter who both play for the Carisbrook Lions Women’s and Girl’s teams.

    On Saturday while waiting for the Cats/Blues game I was listening to your game and praying for your win. I was as disappointed as you at the result.
    Darn Port!

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