Footy: A Magpie childhood

Bu Sue Currie

I have always been an outsider. It started when I was three months old
and my parents bought our house in Chadstone. We were a nest of
Magpies in a suburb of Tigerland. I’ve remedied this now as a Magpie
living in black and white Northcote!

That was a long time ago. A time when Aussie kids were skinny and
wiry, when we played energetic games on the roads in front of our
houses all the time we weren’t at school. We all played cricket,
kick-to-kick and rounders, and we girls drew hopscotches with white
chalk on dark bitumen. There were hardly any cars to interrupt our
games. Only rich toffs had cars back then.

There were lots of grassy paddocks with ponds to catch tadpoles and gum
trees to climb up to smoke the fags we pinched from our parents or the
rollies we made from newspaper and dry grass. We ran the streets and
paddocks from dawn till dusk without fuss from our parents. Nobody
worried about snakes or dangerous strangers.

Best of all for me was the Sacred Heart school and convent on Dandenong
Road. It was backed by a long paddock full of pine trees and black and
white Friesian cows. I was already programmed to see beauty in
everything ‘black & white’ so I was heavy of heart when one day the
cows disappeared and the Chadstone Shopping Centre began to emerge in
their place.

My dad took me to my first footy match when I was five years old. He
wanted company to increase his own enjoyment of the game so the first
game with his tomboy daughter was an experiment to see how I would
behave. Mum couldn’t go with us at the time because she was stuck at
home looking after my baby brother. The experiment was a total
success. It was so successful that the next year I demanded a season’s
ticket for my April birthday. A new chapter in our family’s football
history had begun.

Someone gave me a little orange-covered autograph book for my seventh
birthday. It wasn’t long before I was pestering Dad to go earlier and
earlier to the footy. Since we didn’t have a car this meant leaving
home with our sandwiches in Dad’s kit bag, walking for half an hour
through the paddocks to East Malvern station, catching a red rattler to
Flinders Street, then another to Victoria Park.

This was exciting foreign territory for a kid from the leafy eastern
suburbs even though my great grandfather had established our family,
and thence our footy allegiance, there when he arrived from England
sixty years before. We thought this area of inner Melbourne with its
small blocks and busy streets was just slums. Now I live there!

As soon as we arrived at Victoria Park, Dad and I would climb up into
the best view point in the Ryder Stand from where we could see the
players arriving for the game. They wandered in through a side gate,
one at a time, each carrying a bag of his own gear. This for me was
the most exciting part of the day. Dad would spot them as we leaned
over the rails and he would point and say, ‘There’s Neil Mann’, or
‘There’s Bobby Rose’. Or Lou Richards. Or Jack Hamilton. Or Bill
Twomey. Bill Twomey was my favourite. He was a classy, high-flying
racehorse at centre-half forward.

As each one arrived I would leap out of my seat, rush down the steps
and shove my autograph book under his nose. Every Saturday, the same
players, the same autographs, the same ritual.

A few years later, when my little brother was old enough to go to the
footy, we all went together. But we didn’t stand together. By now our
favourite spot was standing behind the goals in front of the Sherrin
Stand. Dad had a loud voice and liked to pick an argument with
whomever he could provoke, often a fellow Magpie. Embarrassed, Mum and
I would sidle away from him and pretend he wasn’t ours. My brother
would head in another direction. He didn’t want to be with Dad or the
sheilas of the family. But we’d all move together at half time to
share the coffee and Anzac biscuits.

This is where we were standing when a Peter McKenna goal smashed into
Mum’s face and broke her nose. She didn’t want to find a safer spot
though because she liked to feed Kool Mints to the police horses that
were waiting patiently beside us to escort the umpires from the ground,
especially that white maggot, Alan Nash, who hated Collingwood.

Back in those days footy was played in real winters. It often rained
hard and long in Melbourne and it was commonplace for the boys to play
in conditions like the Pies and Crows met in at Alice Springs on Friday
night. And we, the supporters, just stood in it and got drenched and
freezing. Nobody expected a seat and nobody complained.

I remember one sopping match at Vic Park when the game had been bogged
down for ages at the Yarra Falls end and our fullback, Jack Hamilton,
and his opposing forward suddenly left the goal square and ran right
down the corridor together, touched the goal posts at the other end and
ran back again, presumably to get warm.

On another Vic Park Saturday, Charlie Sutton of the Bulldogs was taking
a breather, standing still, leaning forward with both hands on his
knees. Charlie wore a heavily Brilcreamed short back and sides
hairstyle. Lou Richards came swooping past with hand outstretched and
messed up Charlie’s hairdo. Charlie spent the rest of the game chasing
Lou rather than the ball.

This was the pre-TV era before even transistor radios or electronic
scoreboards were invented. There was no way for anyone at a game to
know what was happening at the other five matches which were all being
played at the same time as your own. So when the final siren went
everyone stood still, watching and waiting for the scoreboard man to
hang up the scores of the other games, number by labourious number.
Then a great roar would go up (exultantly if the Blues had been
beaten!) and we all started trying to work out where we would be on the
ladder.

The biggest Saturday of the season was the annual trip to Geelong.
Plans and preparations would start at our place days before the game.
It was such a long way away, out in the country. When I was little,
Dad and I would catch the ‘Geelong Flyer’ from Spencer Street Station,
but when I was about 10 he bought our first car, a two-tone green 1928
Chev, and the whole family would tootle off down the highway together
in style at 40 miles an hour.

Little boys are not the only ones to drop off to sleep each night
fantasizing themselves kicking the match-winning goal for the team they
love. I was the best kick in Alma Street with deadly accurate stab
passes (where have they gone?) drop kicks as well as punts. That is,
until that big kid in the Tigers jumper came down and joined our games
from the other end of the street. That kid, a couple of years older
than me, was Neville Crowe, who went on to be a mighty ruckman,
captain, then President of the yellow and blacks.

About Sue Currie

A devoted Magpie since my father took me to my first game at Victoria Park when I was five years old. That was nearly 70 years ago. Even when I was a nurse on a remote Aboriginal desert community I managed to see most Pies’ games on Imparja TV. When I went to work up Cape York and found that the only way to find out what was happening to my Pies was to sit in my FWD and listen to HF radio I quit my job and came back to where they play civilised footy, ie., Aussie Rules.

Comments

  1. Sue – that was a very enjoyable trip down memory lane. My brothers and I are all Geelong supporters but my Dad followed Fitzroy and my uncles South Melbourne so we spent a lot of time at the old suburban grounds like the Lakeside Oval, Arden Street, Junction Oval, and sometimes Victoria park (took our rain coats to get cover from all the spit from Pie supporters). I remember how long the trips to Geelong were and how loooooong they were on the way home (it was the 70s and we lost a lot).

    I can also recollect the scoreboard at the end of each game putting up scores from the other grounds. In the 70s we were usually judging whether or not the Cats were last, second last or third last! If we listened on the radio it was always the Captain and the Major (“3KZ issss football”)we tuned into. They would “go aroun’ the groun’s” to get the final scores.

    Great stuff

  2. John Butler says:

    A lovely piece Sue.

    These early memories really do stay with us.

  3. Thanks to Dips and John.

    Footy and life were much simpler back then. Doubtless, there were politics and money in footy but they didn’t intrude like they do now. Just cold, wet Saturday afternoons; exciting footy; white maggots and long treks home full of joy or despair.

    Sue

  4. Danielle says:

    Great Piece Sue.
    this part-
    My dad took me to my first footy match when I was five years old. He
    wanted company to increase his own enjoyment of the game so the first
    game with his tomboy daughter was an experiment to see how I would
    behave.
    is VERY familliar to me, only difference is that i went to my first game with my dad when i was a year old.
    i still enjoy spending precious time at the footy just me and my daddy :)

    GO PIES

    Danni

  5. Yeah Danni, dads, daughters and footy — a magic combination. But fancy starting when you were one!

    Go Pies!!

  6. Danielle says:

    Sue, my Daddy thought it of great importance to secure me to the black and white.
    Cant balme him since my mum’s side of the family (go for the Blues) where trying to get me to say ‘Carlton’ when i started to talk!

    :)

    Danni

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