Every Heart Beats True In Bassendean

People often remember their first love. Sometimes when times are tough with your current relationship(s) you cast your mind back to those carefree days and wish you could return. My first love was West Perth Football Club. When I was but a 7 year old boy I was talked in to supporting the Cardies by my older brothers who said they’d force me to eat dog food and lock me in my room if I didn’t…they could be persuasive at times. I should thank them I guess, I did have my heart set on the Perth Demons as a 7 year old, a team that hasn’t won a flag since 1977. In my formative years as a fan I was able to watch a young Darren Bewick and legendary Paul Mifka at the beginning of their careers as well as big Craig Nelson from the bush dominate the ruck and the brilliant Peter Menaglio on the wing or in the centre.

Sometimes getting lifts to the matches with the parents of one of my favourite players (the late Wayne Dayman) used to give me a giddy thrill at times, this was like travelling with royalty to me when in actual fact I was in a Toyota Crown with a Safety Bowling Club Hat and box of tissues on top of the back seat. I used to also make the epic Lord of the Rings like trek from Rockingham to Leederville or one of the Fremantle grounds (which in those days took a huge chunk of the day on a bus) to watch the boys in action when I was a kid, two first semi final appearances was all we had in my youth and my eye wandered. Seeing Neville Bruns having his jaw get broken by Lethal and Jacko kicking off on ‘The Winners’ in 1985 had me drawn to the cats and seeds of doubt entered the relationship with West Perth.

By the end of the 80s Geelong and that no good hussy Gary Ablett were showing a bit of leg so I was finally seduced like many who left the WAFL for the VFL/AFL, West Perth announcing they’d move to Joondulup AKA South Geraldton a few years later didn’t help either but we still kept in touch, the odd game here and there. I was at Subi for all 3 of their premierships (1995, 1999 and 2003) in my life time and the 3 losses (1993, 1998, 2002), the win in 1999 coming on my brothers birthday, said brother flying in from Far North Queensland for the event with any talk of torture techniques on younger brothers to boost West Perth’s future member numbers in the 1980s not raised in conversation.

Moving up to Perth when 18 also had me visiting them from time to time. I had a duty to keep in touch. Was it guilt? Had I cheated and had the ‘WAFL remorse’ as someone called it last Saturday? The ineptitude of the WA Football Commission was also a telling factor in the deterioration of our relationship. The bastard child that is Peel Thunder should never have happened and the attempts for the league to jazz it all up a bit had people running. Even though I was neglectful I was still a supporter, my heart was still beating true for the red and the blue.

Since returning to Perth to live a few years ago I’ve always made a point of watching the Cardies in action at some of my favourite grounds even if it was by myself with most friends still drawn towards the AFL or some other well marketed money making machine. I managed to tie in a visit to my parents in Northampton with a game between the Cardies and the Sharks in Geraldton last year, an 8 goals breeze coming straight out of the North East. Fremantle Oval is always one ground to go to with an onsite TAB a major plus. Lathlain Park is always worth a visit too but Bassendean Oval is always my favourite. It might be because the old boy is a Swans fan from the times when he was an angry young socialist walking the streets of Basso in his youth. It might be the picturesque ground. It might be we used to have a good record there. It might be the one and only time I have got to see Faith No More was at a festival held at the ground. There’s a myriad of reasons.

With the season quickly unraveling for West Perth they faced a trip to the league leading Swans at Basso last Saturday. West Perth had been one of the favourites at the start of the season but had dropped a lot of points in needless losses. Rumours were rife of the coach losing the support of the players and other such accusations. I’d believe these stories if it wasn’t a Peel fan telling me them. A few other AFL refugees who were slinking back to the WAFL came along too, some having never been to many WAFL games but the lure of full strength alcohol and not being bled dry financially at Subiaco Oval may have had something to do with it. One such friend of mine was Smeagol, an often hate filled Scotsman and Hearts fan who likes his Metal and his Socceroos. He had been a West Perth fan by proxy but had never been to a game so this was to be his West Perth debut. On the walk to the pub from my house some 5 minute walk away I copped comments thanks to the West Perth scarf.

“Grounds that way mate. Had enough already hey? Ha ha”

Worthy of Oscar Wilde…

The Bassendean Hotel was the place to go before the match. This is normally my local but the scarf soon put me offside with many of those who I’d normally been on good terms with.

“Who’s this f***** Garlic muncher in the pub!”

“Don’t serve that Cardie ****! What’s he doing here?”

“6 goal win today! You see! Go the Black Ducks!”

All very jovial pre-game banter or so I’d like to think. A quick pint with Smeagol and another like-minded soul (despite the fact he supported Peel) and it was off down Old Perth Road through the suburb that’s something like a country town in the city and to the ground. The beer tent on the far side of the ground we thought would be a good place to watch in the sunshine what was supposed to be a complete annihilation of West Perth and their season, it was a nice day for it after all. Swans got off to a good start through the sharp and in-form ex-Eagle Ash Hansen (a player I always thought was the Brett Spinks of his generation at AFL level) but the Cardies settled and started chipping away at the lead before kicking a couple thanks mainly to the grieving Shane Nelson to have the boys only 4 points down at quarter time. Hanging on like grim death and it wasn’t even half time.

In glorious unseasonable sunshine the beer tent was getting interesting with a few West Perth fans (joined at the hip and had to be related) decked out in the finest of tracksuits and were definitely being a little boisterous thanks to alcohol, their attempts at singing the song ‘Go West’ an interesting choice and a source of mirth. West Perth took the initiative in the second quarter but couldn’t kick straight with Hansen kicking another 2 at the other end against the run of play to punish us. The same mistakes being made all season. Still, the Cardies dug deep and thanks mainly to their experienced heads chipped away and again finished the quarter strongly and actually hold the lead at half time, this was not expected from the locals, the West Perth fans or anyone really.

At half time with one of the Pet Shop Boys loving West Perth fans now passed out on the grassy banks of the drinking area we decided to hit the ‘Can Bar’ near the members stand on the other side of the ground to get some atmosphere. Friends had been to the previous weeks’ game against the Royals and said this was the place to be just for the ‘Abuse Crew’, a lively group that chant like there’s no tomorrow. The view wasn’t as good but the atmosphere was fantastic as West Coast listee Andrew Strijk took on a Jimmy Bartel role in the second half with an important clutch goal early in the third quarter, his first of three for the half. The much maligned Kepler Bradley then marked from straight in front and despite his best efforts to miss he stretched out our lead to 19 points: silence in the Swans members area, muffled and quiet leaping on the inside from the me behind enemy lines. Hanson kicked his fifth but that was would be the only Swans goal in the quarter and West Perth unbelievably took a 16 point lead in the final change by stopping the Swans running game, this was bizarro world, this is what West Perth should be doing most weeks with the squad they have. Could they hang on? This team knew how to fall apart, their capitation against arch rivals East Perth on Foundation Day (or Western Australia Day as Emperor Colin wants to call it now) a prime example.

Swans began to throw everything at the visitors in the final quarter, the ‘Abuse Crew’ hitting major decibels as they drove their league leading side forward but the half back line of West Perth again and again repelled their attempts on goal, the running off half back and finding a target in the midfield at a skill level that some AFL teams would kill for. The odd West Perth fan was walking past me on the way to the bar and noticing the scarf, a little opening of the jacket and pointing to some bit of hidden red and blue merchandise with a little silent thumbs up being like a Masonic handshake between us. We were getting there. In the final quarter the Swans would get one but then West Perth would strike back (or should that be Strijk back) when it got down to 8 points, the silence from the Swans fans being something like you’d experience at Football Park in the mid nineties when an opposition team would goal against the Adelaide Crows, sweet sweet silence.

8 points up and with the longest quarter of the game ticking on the siren went and the Swans fans had nothing to complain about, they’d been mugged by a team fighting for its season. The odd handshake from an opposition fan, our attempts to get near the rooms to clap the team off and hear the song sung thwarted by security, the security goons being the only thing that reminded me about a day at an AFL match the whole afternoon. With the warm satisfaction of my team’s win emanating from me and the power of the scarf it was time to head back to the Bassendean Hotel. There was the begrudging ‘good win’ and nod from the other side of the bar from those who had pointed me out for mockery before the game but the story outside in the beer garden was different with many a thinly veiled threat of me ending up being lynched and strung up by my own scarf. Was it a joke? Probably. I was still wondering though as I made for a corner which had a couple of West Perth fans in it to have solidarity in numbers. I love being an away fan, especially after a win, in any league, in any sport. More drinks, more babbling about anything from Italy having a likable Soccer team at the Euros to no good metal bands being around anymore and then a short walk around the corner for some take away and home, the way a Saturday afternoon at the football should be spent.

Despite this game clashing with the snuff fest at Subiaco Oval and being broadcast live on ABC TV there was still over 2000 fans at Bassendean Oval for the game, not bad at all. Is there a shift of more people heading back to the WAFL with their kids? Let’s hope so. It is cheaper and more community based. The lady serving me at the game was the same one who was behind the bar at the Basso Hotel after the game which shows some of the local spirit. The abuse crew shirts being sold at the pub also showed how much of a Swans suburb Bassendean still is despite of the specter of the AFL and the Eagles and Dockers push for their own WAFL teams looming.

I know I’ll never be completely in love with West Perth again as my one and only, those days are dashed but we can still have the odd fling, there’s still love. With the tightness of the WAFL competition this year hopefully we can come home with a wet sail and there’ll be more days like this. It’s a grand old flag indeed.

Comments

  1. well written dennis. Bassendean oval still stands proudly on Guildford rd and as you point out is still home to the mighty swans. Unlike the other once proud Leederville oval that goes by the hopeless title of Medibank oval and is home to WHO? Subiaco???
    Well done to the Garlic munchers on having a win against Swans at Basso. They decided to maintain their losing form against Claremont today as well.

  2. Basso Divor says:

    Good work Dennis. Nice to read a parochial piece about my hometown on The Swan of the last 18 years!
    When my family first lobbed in Perth from the east in 1975, the old man took us along to a pre-season fixture at Leederville oval between West Perth and Hawthorn. To their credit, West Perth held their own against the VFL powerhouse that day and the old man announced that we should support West Perth because in his assessment, they would win the premiership that season. It wasn’t until I arrived at my new school and copped many disparaging remarks that I learnt West Perth had finished stone motherless the previous year. Still, we stuck by them and at season’s end were rewarded with the forecast premiership. That Grand Final against South Fremantle was the highest ever attendance at a WAFL Grand Final with more than 52,000 punters turning up. My mate and I were dropped off at Subiaco Oval by his Mum at 7:00AM that morning and queued for the general admission tickets. I recall running from the turnstiles with him on admission to secure a couple of fence row seats on the wing. A few years back there was a TV replay of the Grand Final and I was bemused to see my mate and I hanging over the fence cheering our respective heroes!
    Back then, our family lived in Scarborough and as we all played junior footy with Scarborough; switched allegiance to our WAFL recruiting zone Subiaco the following year.

  3. Read your piece last week, Dennis, and thoroughly enjoyed it until half way. Pride in your garlic munchers turned to gloating at the expense of my Swannies. Surprised you got out of the Basso alive.
    My boys are just foxing and resting their stars for finals. I’ll be happy so long as someone takes the Claremont toffs down in September.
    I’ll join you on one of your WAFL sojourns – but Joondalup is a bridge too far. Round 24 you play the Royals at Leederville. Might be a goer if there is no clash with my Eagles.
    Or Eagles V Cats at Subi in Round 20. Might be your last gasp. Conciliatory drinks in order. Cheers.

  4. Dennis Gedling says:

    Pfft wasn’t gloating, just genuinally surprised at how well we played. I would have been gloating if it was a win at Claremont or East fremantle oval. I’m cursing the fact I’ll be in Northampton for a wedding on the same day as the final round derby at Leederville, hopefully it’ll come down to a winner takes all ending as East Perth look like the only one who might drop out of the four, the other three are too strong. I know the boys from Bassendean were missing a few key players last Saturday but Claremont must be favourites again, anyone but them please.

  5. Mark Simms says:

    I always enjoy a trip to Bassendean oval too. I like the way the oval sits near the river in the country town in the city, as you say. And, there is something of the old WAFL spirit in the three quarter time swan’s huddle in front of the members stand, with all that black duck urging going on.

    My favourite Bassandean moment was in the 1980’s when Warren Dean kicked a winning goal for Subi that started heading for Guilford Rd before arching like a boomerang through the big sticks.

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