Almanac Memoir – The Tracks of my Tears

by Murray Walding

 

I buried my face in the pages of the Football Record and I cried as frustration washed through me. If you think the disappointment of being bundled out of the finals in 2013, 14 and 15 was bad then you didn’t experience the disappointment of the last round of the 1966 season. The gut-wrenching emotion of that last game had me in tears.

 

The 1966 season looked like it might actually be our year – our first final series since the 1940s and a chance to play them on the MCG, our kind-of-new home ground. We’d moved into the top four in the second round of 1966 after walloping Footscray at the MCG by seventy points. By half way through the season we were sitting in third spot and by round fourteen we had moved to the top of the ladder on eleven and a half wins. It was that half win – that draw against North – that caused all our problems and by round 16 things had started to go pear shaped and we slid out of the four and by the last round the Tigers were fifth. But we were just outside the final four on 12 wins, with Essendon, Geelong and StKilda just half a game ahead of us and Collingwood clear on top with 14 wins. We needed only to knock off bottom placed Fitzroy in the last game and have one of the sides above us stumble – and we’d be back in with thirteen wins. It was a hard ask but after all, we would end the season on thirteen wins and thirteen wins would have got us into second spot in the previous two seasons. And in 1963 Hawthorn had finished the season on top – with only thirteen wins. The final round would be tense. I couldn’t bear to think about what I would do if we didn’t make it.

 

Fitzroy troubled us early in that last game of 1966 but by half time we were taking control. The real scoreboard interest was the game between Essendon and Melbourne with giant scoreboard at the ‘G showing the Demons just one point behind at half-time. If the Demons could hold on the Tigers would be in the finals. The wait for the scores to be posted on the scoreboard was excruciating, but the Bombers took control in the second half and the when the final scores went up, a sigh went around the ground. My heart sank. The Bombers had stormed home to win by six goals. I was crushed. I hid my tears behind the flimsy pages of the Record, then screwed it into a ball and threw it under the slatted wooden seats in the Southern Stand.

 

The next year – 1967, was a good year in more ways than one. Melbourne was really starting to swing and was devouring everything Mod. The radio waves were full of the sounds of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely hearts Club Band and the Stones, and the Monkees and the Mamas and Pappas, and the Spencer Davis Group. On the local scene, it was the Vibrants and the Loved Ones and Max Merritt and the Meteors who had everyone in the city dancing up a storm in the local halls and discotheques; not that any of the football stars seemed to notice. Apart from our diminutive rover-winger Billy Brown who like Collingwood spearhead Peter McKenna and marauding St Kilda ruckman Carl Ditterich had a kind of Beatle cut,  most of the players still sported greaser style haircuts. Seemed that to most VFL players, Carnaby Street and swinging Melbourne didn’t exist.

 

And other things were taking up my time in 1967 – like girls, and surfing and even though I still had a membership ticket, the waves of Point Leo now seemed more appealing so I didn’t go to many matches that year. I did see a few games of exciting football played by a young team full of flair and dash but chasing waves and girls, and girls and waves tends to take up a lot of your time but my passion for football had diminished, which as far as my parents were concerned was hard to fathom. I’d been to the last five grand finals. My family had slept outside the Punt Road Oval every year to queue up for finals tickets. But this year I didn’t even plan on going to the Grand Final.

 

After all, there was Paper Sun to go to later that night. Paper Sun was a teen dance in Mordialloc that was always chock full of gorgeous local girls who grooved to mod bands playing Beatles covers. I’d arranged to meet my girlfriend there and hadn’t given the grand final another thought, but the weather forecast for the weekend wasn’t good for surfing and by chance, my family still had two spare tickets to the game. Good seats too, in the top deck of the Western Stand, so I made a few phone calls on the Friday night and the next day a close mate and I headed off to the game, and it was a ripper.

 

It really was the game that pundits still proclaim as the birth of modern football with two flashy teams playing a new brand of exciting football. They called it ‘play-on’ football. It was new. It was dynamic. And the Tigers were at the forefront of this new style. The Cats were quick and highly skilled but luck wasn’t on their side that final day in September. Their last quarter was marred by inaccuracy, and their hearts must have been broken by John Ronaldson’s unlikely three goal haul, and Freddy Swift’s last gasp save on the goal line that saw the Tigers home by nine points.

 

Celebrations were on order for that night so I dressed up in my favourite cord jacket and Beatle boots then persuaded a mate to buy me a couple of cans of UDL Vodka and Orange. I slugged them down behind the hall before I went inside to meet my girlfriend and dance the night away to wild music, and when the dance finished at eleven that night, I walked my girlfriend home. I was still on cloud nine. And that was that.

 

I didn’t go to another game of league football for almost twelve years. And I didn’t go to another grand final for fifty years!

 

And this time I wasn’t in the long gone Western Stand and my best mate wasn’t with me. This time I was with my son. So, in the last quarter of the 2017 Grand Final when Jack Riewoldt flipped the ball over to Lambert  on the wing in front of the members stand, and he bounced his way goal-ward and handballed it over the top to Prestia, who goaled, the roar of the crowd was beyond belief. The stands shuddered with the sound – an almost primeval roar of celebration. Complete strangers slapped each other on the back and shook hands with almost unnatural vigour. Others hugged. Some danced  the dance of victory. Others slapped high fives indiscriminately. I cheered and cheered some more, then raw emotion took over and without realizing what I was doing, I found myself with my face buried in the centre pages of the Footy Record. Again. There were tears and stifled snuffles.

 

As my son and I headed down to Swan Street after the game and watched as the Premiership street party grew, I thought back. I’d done this walk before. I thought back to the roar of the crowd at the Grand Final of 1967 and back to the sounds of the Beatles, and Paper Sun, and the girls and the roar of the surf, and I have to admit it – when we pushed through the crowds to get to East Richmond station – I felt like going to Paper Sun.

 

 

Comments

  1. Some good memories there Murray. I’m curious about the second last game of 1966. Didn’t Richmond sneak home over South Melbourne @ the Lakeside Oval?

    If i’m correct Blair Campbell, who bowled Left arm spin for both Victoria and Tasmania, kicked a ‘banana’ in the final minutes to give you the 4 points.

    Glen!

  2. E.regnans says:

    Glorius, glorious painting, Murray Walding.
    After your story, I feel like going to the Paper Sun myself.

    Hats off.

  3. Nice work Murray. By the way, Fred Swift wasn’t on the goal line in 1967, he was in Punt Road!! But we Cats fans move on.

  4. Stainless says:

    Good read, Murray, and I daresay we unknowingly rubbed shoulders in Swan St last year. I was just a bit too young to experience those 60s Flags and the culture – worse luck! The Tigers had a couple of near misses in between their Premierships (another one in 1968 as I recall). It just shows that you have to take your chances when they present.

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