Once I’d decided to take in at least one Adelaide home game this year (an interstate one for me), picking out which one worked best was the next challenge. The Saturday night game against the Swans looked the best bet logistically, especially when it meant that I could also take in the Centrals v South S.A.N.F.L. (pronounced Ess-Ay-En-Eff-Ell, not Sanfull) fixture at Elizabeth Oval, aka The Ponderosa.
When I first floated the idea, I thought that Mrs Swish would leave me to it, but, showing her characteristic forbearance, cast aside her footballing indifference and said “I’ll go too”.
Showing my characteristic reluctance to part with a dollar nose for value, I’d booked with one of the cut-price airline providers. I woke up on Saturday morning to a text message letting me know that we’d be taking off an hour later than expected, so we spent most of that unwanted extra hour in Terminal 4, watching the passing parade of parsimonious punters heading south to York Park.
The upside of travelling lightly was that we were able to snag a cab pretty promptly at the other end. Bonus points were awarded when our Torrens-side accommodation house was able to check us in early, giving us time to slip down the stairs to Platform 8 next door and jump on the next train out of town. I didn’t need to invoke Plan B, which was a trip across to Bob Neil #1 to watch the Blacks against PAOC if Elizabeth was out of range.
The Gawler Central train takes in some grim territory, a visual reminder of the rust belt that remains the legacy of Tom Playford’s SA. The stretch of scarred industrial land from Ovingham through to Dry Creek is the economic equivalent of the decrepit uncle that no-one visits anymore. Unlike that relative, it won’t just die and go away (or leave you any money). Looking more like an open air CAE for trainee graffiti artists, I witnessed countless ferrous oxide riven railway carriages and bogies being held together by illicit artwork and not much else. Presumably, the cost to scrap these eyesores must outweigh their recovery value and the land where they lie rotting must be virtually worthless, less than 10 kilometres from the CBD. I doubt that any more than 5% of the state’s population is even aware of this – you’d only know if you travelled on this train line.
Mawson Lakes, the pop-up suburb for the clever country, hints at the riches that the Multi-Function Polis was to have showered on the Festival State. Instead, there is a shiny bus interchange.
Greenfields remains the nearest train station to Globe Derby, but I doubt whether any trots fanatics will be alighting there tonight after the Centrals game.
As we hit Brown Terrace, I caught a glimpse of the Salisbury v Eastern Park game in the SAAFL A4 Reserves, before gliding past Elizabeth South station and the fabled school holiday playing surface of my youth Park Cricket in 1970s Elizabeth.
We saw the arse-end of Elizabeth Oval briefly before concluding our journey at Elizabeth Station, just over a half hour after leaving North Terrace.
We didn’t venture across to the Elizabeth Town Centre pregame, but we did note that the building nearest the station housed the world’s largest Cash Converters store, back to back with a Radio Rentals with its promise of affordable laptops from $1.21 per day* (terms and conditions apply). (Sigh)
A brisk five minutes later, we arrived at the Northern End ticket box. Sturdily constructed from the same red bricks used in the single unit Housing Trust dwellings that the 10 pound Poms with Electrical Engineering Certificates were given upon arrival (and after they’d been fumigated), we forked over our $28 to the lady seated behind the metal grill on the same vinyl covered chrome kitchen chair that was there when Ken Eustice led the Dogs out in 1964. In return, we were given two postage stamp sized, prenumbered tickets, torn off a large roll, just like they’ve been doing since 1964. We handed these to the gate attendant, just like they’ve been doing since 1964 too.
It’s a bit of a trudge up the northern mound, and, like that shot in David Bowie’s Let’s Dance video that reveals Sydney Harbour, I caught my first glimpse of the famed Elizabeth Oval vista in twenty odd years (or so I thought) as we reached the top.
We veered right, taking in the more populated territory of the western terracing. It was an odd feeling as I was trying to see if there was anyone that I knew from days past, not knowing whether I would have recognised them anyway. The only sign of progress that I noted was the installation of aluminium bench seats in the room-for-800 grandstand that adorned my Mike Hugo designed Ponderosa t-shirt. To have replaced the old red, white and blue wooden ones of my day with Football Park offcuts was a disappointment.
The crowd was thin but vocal and there was more than a hint of barbecued onion in the air, but we passed through without catching the eye of anyone I once knew. Or maybe they saw me first.
Just as we found our way to my preferred vantage point, near one of the huge ball-eating gum trees behind the southern end goals, we were approached by Modbury’s answer to Hemingway, Dave Brown, accompanied by his son Elliot and daughter Martha. Mrs Swish immediately smelled a set-up here, but until Dave had loomed, I wasn’t sure whether he was going to be there or not.
Dave’s inventory of two small deck chairs, two junior sized footies, box of Shapes, slab of Fruit Box and packet of Cheetos came straight from the same Aussie Book of Parenting that we had once used, although he must have been referring to the 2014 revised edition as we didn’t have access to a tabletful of touch screen diversions back in 1999 when faced with a similar task.
As well as his Almanac presence, Dave is now the SA correspondent on the Footy Gospel podcast each Thursday night, but I missed this week’s. He told me that he had given me a mention.
As it turns out, The Ponderosa is eminently family friendly, with a bouncy castle and inflatable goal post area on the outer wing, where the Brown trio of redheads took off to after setting up camp. It was the first of their many trips over there for the afternoon.
While South were taking their pregame potshots at our end, a Burley rolled directly at me. I surprised myself as I bent down, scooped it up cleanly Andrew McLeod style and propelled the pill perfectly back at the big sticks. The kick was laser straight, I didn’t slip over and it would have split the middle if it hadn’t fallen ten metres short. I was twenty metres from the big sticks at the time.
A few minutes before the start of the main match, I looked to my right and found that, as I hoped, my old primary school teacher and club baseball coach Clyde Williamson had arrived. I hadn’t seen Willy since my last S.A.N.F.L. match at Richmond Oval in 2006. The years just melted away.
I still managed to see most Centrals home games in the 1980s after making up the numbers in the #69 of the Blacks earlier in the day and Willy was always there, at the Southern End. He still makes the trip down from the Copper Triangle (and back again) each weekend like he has been doing for over thirty years. He was standing with Alistair, a chatty bloke of Scottish heritage who had been going to Dogs games for just as long and they both joined our throng. Mrs Swish tried to get an insight into what I was like as a Grade 5 and 6 student at Elizabeth South Primary, but Willy remained duly circumspect, as he did in the 80s when she asked those same questions.
He should have told the story about the day they replaced the yard stick with its metric equivalent, a ten centimetre wide, metre long slab of hardwood intended for drawing chalk lines on the blackboard. Willy then called me out to the front of the class of 40 or so kids and gave me the first metric sore arse in ESPS history to test it out. It wasn’t the last, but I deserved every single one of them.
I told him that I hadn’t been here since 1994, but he corrected me, as he was sure that he had seen me at Elizabeth since then. He may have been right, as Centrals played at home during our Easter 2000 family visit and I probably would have gone. I feel such a fraud.
Dave and kids arrived back just in time for the Centrals cheerleaders to do their stuff in front of the twelve hundred or so who could see them.
Although I grabbed a Budget on the way in (which looked like something I’d expect to pick up at a Horsham Saints home game, defs not the glossy publication I knew of in the 90s), once the game started, I was lost. I knew none of the Centrals players, but masked my ignorance by commentating as if it was still 1976-1982. “Sonny Morey, to Beythien, who slips a handball to Stephen Boehm who’s found Platten alone on the half forward flank.”
South started well, playing the vast acreages far more directly than the home side ever managed to.
I noticed that the players from both sides seemed on average way smaller than their AFL counterparts. Dave confirmed that this was the case across the local comp, it wasn’t just some perverse Ponderosian parallax. However, when it came to the trainers and water people, it was the opposite, with the volunteer officials struggling to make it past the nearest wing or pocket. They were big.
At quarter time, we Victorians realised that we hadn’t eaten since we left home. The pies I selected for our belated lunch were of the good old fashioned “take ‘em out of the pie warmer and slip them into a white paper bag” variety, not the “wrapped in cellophane, pick ‘em out yourself” type.
When we had arrived, the last quarter of the twos was in progress, but we were able to get a look at South’s Ben Darrou, who used to live around the corner from us back home. Ben was on the Richmond rookie list for three years, but never cracked it for a senior game. I’d seen him grow up from a little kid bashing a tennis ball against his front brick fence from the road, into an imposing but very polite and respectful young man.
His parents have now moved a few streets away, but I bumped into his mum Jan a while back and got an update on Ben’s progress at the Panthers. He was injured all of last year, his first at Noarlunga, but he was now settled in his studies and had met a nice girl according to Jan. He was even doing some cooking for some of the players, a talent he had clearly inherited from his father Mustapha.
Fortunately, I bumped into Ben and his companion Jessie on the way back from the canteen, wishing him luck for the rest of the season. He made the BPs according to the Sunday Mail, so I hope he gets a go in the ones soon.
During the break, Dave and kids went onto the ground for a kick, another of the benefits that the local league affords the punters, while Willy asked for some advice about the compatibility of different internet browsers with his ageing Vista operating system. He declined my offer of $90/hour “mates rates” to sort this out, but if you’re reading this Clyde, I’d give Firefox a go. I wouldn’t have tipped that as a conversation we’d be having in 45 years back in Grade 6.
Amusingly, Willy told me that he had a Powerpoint presentation of every car he’d ever had (and he’s had more cars than I’d had jobs, which is saying something). I wasn’t surprised in the least.
Centrals gave a bit of a yelp in the second quarter, the northern end providing much of the scoring. Willy and Alistair took the vocals up a notch or too. They seemed impatient for success. Short memories I guess.
At half time, the discussion turned to the notorious 1975 game between Torrens and Westies, when Fred Bills ran onto the ground too quickly in his final game, leading to chaotic scenes as Torrens and umpire Bob Schofield went to great lengths to avoid a count.
But the Northerners were never really in it, their regular followers alongside me suggesting that coach Roy Laird’s time may be up. Box Hill coach (and Centrals premiership player) Marco Bello had his name bandied about, but I was wondering why he’d come back to Adelaide to the club that gave Clarko, Stuey Dew and even Jack Gunston their start. Cripes, Centrals have even pinched the Hawks’ song.
South kept Centrals at arm’s length for all of the second half, so we weren’t going to hear that song anyway. The game ambled to its unexpected conclusion and the Swish Schwerdt Shield (which was what Dave had dubbed this match on the podcast) went South.
The South Adelaide Cheer Squad, which was stationed in front of us, all fifteen of them, probably saw a Panthers win in postcode 5112 for the first time in their lives, making the 40k drive even more worthwhile. Good luck to them I say.
We all said our hasty goodbyes, two of us not wanting to linger if we were to get back in time for a feed before the Crows game. It was marvellous to see Willy once more, to meet Alistair and to see Dave and his kids enjoying the day out.
My S.A.N.F.L. impressions? A crowd of just over 2000 was concerning and the standard was pretty ordinary to eyes more accustomed to the top tier of footy. The (AFL–backed?) experiment with the last person touched* (conditions apply) rule seemed an unwarranted distraction. But it was thirty six blokes having a crack, isn’t that the main thing? If I was living over here, would I go every week? Probably not, but I’d be looking for excuses reasons to go at least once a month.
Am I glad I went? You betcha.
We were lucky enough to catch a Footy Special for the return trip to town, finding a pair of comfy seats on the rapidly filling carriage.
But getting a quick prematch meal in the city proved too much trouble, so we thought we’d wait until we got to the Oval.
My reputation as a cheapseats cheapskate was reinforced when we took up our traditional spots behind the scoreboard goals, just far enough away from the crowded food stands and close enough to kickoff time that we stayed put (and hungry).
The first half was tight affair. The Crows could have put a space in the score in the middle third of the second quarter, but their hurried shots missed the big sticks. McGovern impressed me and I thought Talia had Franklin’s measure in the one-on-one contests. Our defence was extraordinarily clean by hand and foot, but the highlight was Eddie Betts’ tackle and goal from his eponymous pocket. The Cheney-Heeney match up was going the way of the Swans tyro.
Things opened up after half time. It’s amazing what a trip to the canteen does. My first Balfours pastie for a while went down as quickly as Mrs Swish’s chips. It wasn’t our healthiest eating day, was it?
We were kept amused by the platinum blonde sisters in front of us who were probably grid girls at the 1985 Grand Prix, but whose star turn now was to taunt the nearby Sydney Cheer Squad after every Crows goal.
I couldn’t help but chuck out this tweet in the third quarter after Tippett was on the receiving end of a Joe The Goose from Buddy. I realised that I was a tad unfair as he was doing a pretty good job in the ruck, but all’s fair in likes and retweets.
Tippett getting booed every time he gets near it. That’s twice now.#AFLCrowsSwans
— Swish Schwerdt (@swishtter) April 16, 2016
Adelaide was three up late in the third, but the Swans fought back. Come the last quarter, I may have got a little excited when Tom Lynch stuck one through from the Adelaide Uni Long Room pocket, but it took two Eddie specials (or if you are being picky, a nudge in the back and a downhill skiing cheats move) to seal the game.
We avoided the new footbridge and took the Parade Ground route back into the city in search of post-game sustenance. We settled for two coffees and a nice raspberry slice, before turning in for the evening after a long day. We promised ourselves to eat better the next day.
Central District 11.11 (77)
South Adelaide 17.6 (108)
Adelaide 16.17 (113)