Footy: The best birthday present in the world

ANTHEA ABELL

‘Open your eyes you white maggot!’

The only place I was allowed to talk like this was at the footy. It was the Grand Final 1990. Collingwood were on the cusp of breaking a thirty-two year premiership drought.  It was also the day after my fourteenth birthday. I was supposed to be having a party that day, but because we drew with West Coast in the qualifying finals my invites were still sitting on the sideboard, addressed but not delivered.

We beat West Coast the second time we played them. I got Darren Millane’s autograph that day. Even though his arm was in plaster, he still signed my record. I was impressed that if you were a footy player you could pick and choose when you wore your cast. It could be cut off so you could play, even though you needed lots of injections to not feel the pain of the fracture it should have been protecting.

The next week we beat Essendon and then we were through. The following week was the only time my Dad ever took me to the footy when Collingwood weren’t playing. We wanted to see who we were going to face off against the following week. That was the match that counted.

We were up in the box at Waverley and Paul Salmon was sitting not too far in front of us. His boys from Essendon were giving the Weagles a hiding, so Salmon left before the final siren. As he walked up the stairs, I heard my voice in my head.  I knew I would get a laugh, but I’d never spoken out in front of everyone. I thought back to a few weeks before, how I had overcome my shyness to get the signature of my favourite player; Darren would think it was funny.

I stood up as Salmon came up the stairs towards us. I felt the blood rush to my face before my mouth even opened. He looked straight at me, and loud enough for everyone around us to hear I said, ‘See you next weekend Fish.’

He smiled, then realised the colour of the stripes on my jumper, and his cheeks matched mine. He recovered gracefully as the laughter erupted around us, smiled, nodded and said, ‘Yep.’

My Dad grabbed me by the shoulders from behind and shook me as he laughed and told the surrounding Bombers fans, ‘That’s my girl’.

The weekend couldn’t come quick enough. Not only was it my birthday, but the Grand Final! The excitement was almost too much to bear.

My uncle turned up at our place on Wednesday night unannounced. No one ever came round to visit without ringing up first, especially on a school night and especially after eight o’clock. This was big. We all stood in the hallway looking at him, wondering what was wrong.

Then he gave it to me. A Collingwood football. It had autographs all over it. I nearly fell over. I never usually kissed my uncle, it was one of those weird things that was just always like that. He just never got a hello or goodbye kiss. That night I really wanted to kiss him to say thank-you. But I didn’t.

He’d been down at the footy club a few weeks before and told Gavin Brown about how I’d put off my birthday party just in case we got to the finals. The football was a present to say sorry. Sorry from The Pies for getting to the Grand Final. It was silly. But ace.  They had to win.

Right at the top of the Southern Stand, I understood for the first time, what it meant for the atmosphere to ‘be electric’. I couldn’t sit still. I stood up. I sat down. I volunteered to get the chips. My leg imitated what my Dad’s always did; it jiggled up and down, vibrating against the seat next to me and causing the man sitting in it to give me dirty looks. I usually tried to be considerate of those around me at the footy, but today I didn’t care.

In a way I wished we hadn’t come to the ground so early. I didn’t want to miss a second of the day, but I didn’t want to have to endure the pre-match entertainment either. Just start! No more driving old players around the ground and listening to the National Anthem. Just bounce the ball!

And then they did. That first bounce made my stomach flip. There was such a good chance this group of players would let us down, like so many times before. Nothing was a given with The Pies. When they were a sure thing, they lost. When they were miles ahead, they lost.  We’d give up on them after the first shot at goal that hit the post. No one turned on their team like we did. Useless, hopeless, gutless: we showered these words upon them from the stands when they didn’t play well.

The first quarter got off to a bad start and that familiar feeling started to creep up, we were gonna lose. Just before the siren though Gavin Brown kicked a goal and put us just in front. They rang the bell and I could finally take a breath. I stood up like everyone around me and then realised something was happening. Everyone was straining to get a look at the ground. I couldn’t see ’cause everyone were on their feet. I got on my seat and saw some of the players fighting. Then all the other players were running towards the fight, the trainers too. They were supposed to be standing near their barriers so Leigh Matthews could yell at them, but instead jumpers were being pulled and stretched and they were shoving one another and throwing punches. It seemed to just keep going. I knew right then we would win. The Pies were so angry, and maybe they were sorry. Sorry that they always lost when it mattered. Not today though, today they would make us proud and make up for all the times we sat in the cold to watch them get defeated when we could’ve been doing better things.

When the siren went at the end of the match, the noise was deafening. Thirty-two years of Colliwobbles were gone! We won! I jumped up and down on my seat, twirled my scarf in the air and looked at all the black and white waving around The ‘G. My Dad grabbed me and squeezed me really hard. He told me had something in his eye, but I knew he didn’t.

Comments

  1. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Ah Anthea! The tears of joy, relief, frustration and pain all rolled into one. Hope to experience something similar again VERY soon! Well Done.

  2. Nice one Anthea. I have a mate who was a long suffering Fitzroy supporter and followed them to Brisbane (reluctantly at first but they grew on him). When the Lions won their first of 3 flags in 2001 he reckons he threw his arms up in the air so hard that he nearly threw his little boy (who he was holding at the time) over the grand stand roof.

    Why do we get so caught up in it? I’m not sure but there is no feeling like it.

  3. Good one, Anthea.

    I particularly enjoyed your reference to the fact that footballers can wear plaster casts whenever they want.

    Dips,

    Jo has dropped off a book. It’ll be there for you when you stop writing comments on websites and return home.

  4. Richard Naco says:

    Ripper yarn, Anthea (even though I tend to see Collingwood victories as a tragedy of the first order) (not really – but you lot expect everyone else to think that way, eh? ;) )

    Did the Fish retain a soft spot in your thoughts after that encounter (despite being a Bomber)?

  5. Beautiful story Anthea. The first Saturday in October 1990 still looms large in my memory, too. Especially since I had been waiting for it since 1958! Celebrating all night at Victoria Park is also part of my memory. I must have heard “Good Old Collingwood Forever” sung 300 times and enjoyed every rendition – even Colleen Hewitt’s.

    I hope you’re right Phil, we are all due for another dose of Magpie joy.

  6. ahhh the pain of that day. stuck in adelaide for a wedding on the sunday (so it wouldn’t clash with the sanfl final!!!!!). of course the draw threw everything out and i missed the only pies flag in my lifetime – we even had to break into the bride and groom’s house to watch the first bounce.

    great story anthea – only wish i was there to tell one myself.

    go pies.

  7. Stephanie Holt says:

    Hey Anthea

    Great to see this story up on the Almanac! Hope the B&W enjoy their Saints-sponsored trip to Alice Springs.

  8. Thanks for the lovely comments everyone.

    Obviously a day that stands out and yes The Fish does have a special place in my black and white heart ;)

    Special thanks to you Stephanie for giving me the Almanac tip! And as for the Pies, in true Collingwood supporter fashion I flicked on the three quarter-time score and then flicked straight off! One point. Of course.

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