Scaling a picket fence use to be a life skill when I was a kid. In the late 70’s, any kid worth a Scanlens footy card could do it as well as reading or writing. Indeed, some of us could do it with the determinability of a con going over a prison wall. Moreover, should VFL grounds have had had Hadrians wall barricading the terraces from their sacred turf, I’d still have backed my generation to have got over it. And especially Richmond fans: with all them premiership heroes out on the G, nothing was gonna stop us Tiger cubs from getting at out idols; not even a croc infested moat.
For all its rough and tumble reputation, 70’s football was really at its most chaotic after the final siren. The instant a game was over, thousands of kids invaded ovals like bayonet wielding soldiers. Most kids, I expect, made B-lines to the nearest player. I know I did. To be sure, it didn’t even matter which team he played for – all VFL players were magical. It was just about touching someone, anyone, damn it, and hoping a little bit of their magic rubbed off on you. Of course, the only thing that rubbed off on you was their sweat and gunk, but I swear, in the ensuing kick with your mates in the twilight thereafter, it felt like your torps spiraled more penetratingly and your blind turns were more mystifying. Damn it, even simple chest marks felt like big grabs; especially if you’d just backslapped Phil Baker!
I know a kid who backslapped every Footscay player in 1978. The kid was a D- student and seeing that the Footscray was a D- team that year, we’ll never know if they rubbed off on his grades. As to how he managed to pat every senior Bulldog that year, well it was a simple case of spatial awareness: the kid would make his incursions on the field from the players race, and therefore literally headed the players off at the pass. The shame is that he couldn’t translate that logic in his geometry homework, I guess; that and what would gave been an A+ essay on corralling cattle.
An enduring image of 70’s TV highlights is the sight of players scooting from the field after the final siren. It must have been a real pain for players to have to find that little bit extra in the tank to flee from the platoons of kids swarming towards them. And what about Bruce Doull? I imagine Bruce would have been more uncomfortable than most with all the backslapping and adulation. Hell, you’d reckon Bruce probably did some of his best work blind turning and evading all the manic kids coming towards him. Like, someone should go through all the footage: it’d make a helluva a highlights reel.
Chaotic as these invasions were, though, it was when the Sherrins and Ross Faulkners came out the real mayhem started. Like, trying to have a kick with your mates after the game when thousands of other kids were also trying to have a kick made for some priceless slapstick. Indeed, if I had a hair on my head for every time I saw a kid get hit flush in the face with a footy he never saw coming, I’d be The Jackson 5.
Footys whizzed all round you like mortars in the Somme. You’d be flying in a pack for a mark when a Sherrin from a neighboring kick would hit your pack first. Everyone would be wrong-footed, the footy would clean up one of your mates and the footy you were flying for would then plonk flush on your head as your lay spread-eagled on the turf. You’d then dust yourself off in a real hurry, and before you’d so much as got to your feet, you’d be KO’ed again by another miss-kicked Sherrin, the shock of the impact this time causing you to bite off a good chunk of your tongue. Now well spooked, you’d get up as though putting your head above the parapet, the very sound of a footy going off the side of a boot would having ducking for cover as though bracing for incoming. You’d then gingerly regain your confidence, one eye on the kick you’re in, and the other suspiciously tracing the movements of every poorly skilled kid in the neighboring kicks. But this trepidation wouldn’t last too long, though, as the recklessness of your youth would quickly conquer your cautiousness and fears. And then – and with the added danger of it now being almost dark! – you’d again be flying brazenly for screamers, backing blindly into packs, and breaking every OH&S discipline of the age (or any age!) in blissful ignorance. Yup, kicks after the siren: we 70’s kids did it the way you ought to do it
Another element in the mix was that VFL grounds were mudheaps in these days, and all round you, kids were slipping and slidin’ in unsuitable footwear. Like, Melbourne really got a lot of rain back then, and this coupled with poor drainage systems in those days left most grounds as quagmires. For every time you managed to keep your feet in the sodden, chopped up turf, there’d by a dozen times you didn’t and you ended face down in the thick, stinking mud. By the time you’d finished your kick, you’d be covered in the stuff. I tell you, between me and my brothers muddy clothes, I reckon half the MCG’s topsoil went on to be washed out in my Mum’s Westinghouse.
I didn’t do much kicking after the game during the 80’s, as I didn’t go to the footy as often through that decade, but me and my mates had a bit of renaissance in the early 90’s. After most Footscray games we’d be out there slippin and slidin, and flying kamikaze-like for screamers, and backing blindly into packs, and recovering from blows to the face, and apologizing for our misskicks, and helping up small kids we’d just tripped over, and dealing with the parents of the kids we’d just tripped over, and ducking for cover as someone yelled “incoming”, and blind turning around imaginary opponents, and tripping over small kids again, and dealing with their very angry parents again, and hitting the dirt again as someone yelled “more incoming”, and moments later, remonstrating with painful security officials over our shameful disregard for everyone else’s safety. Shit it was fun.