Finding hope when all is lost

According to one theory, life (and therefore football), encompasses four narrative paths. The Romantic, Ironic, Comedic or Tragic. The pathways of the Demons and Saints – opposed in the liturgy of a cosmic battle – have, at least in my lifetime, followed the Tragic. Now both teams are rising, and 2017 held the promise that both would continue their climb of the past few years. The Saints, having missed out by percentage the previous year, had perhaps the better claims on optimism. However the dominance over Melbourne that had pre-dated St Kilda’s ultimately unsuccessful “glory years” of the 2000s came to a crashing halt in Round 1 when, after a bright start they were overhauled and clearly outclassed. Now it was the Demons’ turn to emerge from the darkness.

The story for both teams over the course of the season has been one of fits and starts. Moments of bright promise – interstate wins for Melbourne against Adelaide and West Coast, and St Kilda victories against GWS and an inexplicable thrashing of Richmond. The low moments have been there also. When the time came for them to meet again, both teams had endured poor months that left them outside the eight. The MCG clash on a bright and sunny winter Sunday was billed as a quasi-Elimination Final. The right to stay in the race for a long-awaited piece of September action.

There is another story I wish to tell. It is also one of Tragedy. Not of the ball-bouncing-away-from Stephen-Milne-in-a-grand-final kind, but the raw, heartbreaking, ending-of-hope kind of a young life cut short.

As the Saints ran on to the MCG, many may not have noticed, in a corner of the banner, the letters GM encased in a heart. But for those who understood its meaning, this little tribute stood out like a beacon as the Cheer Squad sought to honour one of their own. A couple of weeks earlier he had been at the Adelaide Oval witnessing a tragedy-of-the-football-kind as Port kicked two goals in a minute to snatch a win that should never have been. His last Facebook post shared the image of Nick Riewoldt – who has embodied the joys and despairs of the recent history of the club – with the words “Riewoldt Calls Time”. And then, a few short days later, he too called time.

How can a person lose hope in hope itself? Does football, with its peaks and troughs within games, seasons and, indeed lifetimes have anything to teach us?

For Saints fans, hope appeared to be extinguished early. The Demons ran amok, kicking the first four goals before Josh Bruce was able to score. Even so, every time the Saints were able to secure the footy they would invent new and creative ways of turning it back to the opposition. The Demons were cleaner in their run, movement and spread. They found targets in their forward line with ease and went in at quarter time having kicked 6 goals to 1.

Not one to lose hope easily, I reminded those around me that the scoreline was similar, although reversed, in Round 1. Sure enough, the Saints came out with renewed aggression, run and commitment in the second quarter. This was not matched by skill or effective delivery into the forward line. Nevertheless they managed to ground a couple of goals to Melbourne’s one until another miss and turnover led to a final Demons goal on the siren.

The best we can do in the midst of life’s challenges is to demonstrate character and to support those around us. The values of tenacity and hard work began to come to the fore in the third quarter as the Saints were able to grind their way back into the game. It wasn’t pretty. At times, it seemed, the best measure of the Saints’ success was that it had reduced Melbourne to its own mistake-ridden standards. Having bridged the gap to within two goals, two relatively easy misses late in the quarter, to Billings and Membrey, left a shadow of doubt as to whether the opportunity had been wasted.

Hope was briefly restored early in the last with a Membrey goal to draw the margin to four points. But then it was over. Melbourne lifted their intensity and the turnovers for St Kilda proved costly again. Garlett scored and then Hannan’s two quick goals put the game beyond doubt. Hope that had appeared to flicker briefly – not just for the game, but for the season itself, was gone.

Or is it? I’m not talking about the still-a-mathematical-chance-of-making-the-eight sort of hope. Bollocks to that. I’m talking about the hope of a young team still developing. About to be joined by two first round draft picks and the prospect of a fit David Armitage, Nathan Freeman and Hugh Goddard. We’re yet to see the best of Billings, Membrey, Ross, Sinclair, McCartin, Acres, Dunstan et al.

St Kilda supporters may have trudged from the G feeling that all hope was lost. And, for this season, their thoughts tell the truth. But thoughts also have a way of leading us away from reality. It is a genuine tragedy that the loss of hope infiltrates the lives of many. But the thoughts that tell us there is no hope, do not mean that hope doesn’t exist.

As I prepare to conduct the funeral for this life taken too early, what words would I want to share? I will implore each person present to never lose hope. To understand that expressing emotion, reaching out and asking for help – and perhaps this is particularly important for males to hear – is not a sign of weakness, but of courage and strength. To recognise that we can never really know what is going on inside another person. And therefore, to be loving, kind and respectful in the ways we journey together through this fragile thing we call life.

The quasi-Elimination Final was played. One team deserves to be there in September and another doesn’t. It’s been a long time in the darkness for Demons supporters. But hope never stopped existing. It never does.

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Lifeline (and hyperlink the word Lifeline to: https://www.lifeline.org.au/Get-Help/ ) is a free and confidential support service which can be reached on 13 11 14.

Beyond Blue (and link that to https://www.beyondblue.org.au/) can be reached on 1300 22 46 36.

 

Comments

  1. Yvette Wroby says:

    Thank you for this beautiful article. I am sorry for your loss of your friend and fellow traveller. You are correct re all the people we can look forward to coming back into the team. Good luck for what you now have to manage outside in the Saints family

  2. John Butler says:

    Well said Peter. A debut that puts many things in context.

    May we all retain our hope. And our joy.

  3. E.regnans says:

    Thank you Peter.
    That is a fine work. A fine work.

    Hope is all we have, probably.
    Hopes, dreams.
    We keep going.
    On we go.

  4. Beautifully expressed Peter. I similarly pondered on the suicide death of Olympic cyclist Stephen Wooldridge this week. What drives a young person to end their lives? Depression; addiction; loss of relationships or finances; past trauma and abuse? Most often combinations of these. Only those closest know and it is nobody else’s business. Except that the public discussion is about the action; which is sadly irreversible; rather than the underlying causes – which nearly always are.
    One thing I have learned working in the mental health area in the past few years is that young men in particular are a fast burn. They internalise burdens that will shift like the phases of the moon, and ruminate them into fixed black holes. With sharing and support it can quickly become “what was I thinking?”
    Without that sharing and support………….

  5. E.regnans says:

    I’ve returned here, Peter.
    I was thinking about your story.
    And it reminded me of the idea of resilience – it is gaining traction.
    From last year: http://www.footyalmanac.com.au/the-idea-of-resilience/
    Go well.

  6. We get caught up in the highs and lows of football as if they are a matter of life and death. Your piece reminds us to keep things in perspective. Having presided over some funerals in similar circumstances I know it will have been a tough task. I hope it went well Peter.

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