When living overseas, footy becomes symbolic. A happy emblem of home. Like Merv’s XXXX-foamed moustache on the side of a London double-decker.
Singapore’s Boomarang Bar is one of those Australian themed-pubs that is both brilliant and dreadful. It shows AFL, NRL and the races from Randwick and Flemington on big screens. It’s at Robertson Quay where the river is muddy and languid; it could pass for the Yarra. The crowd is older than the backpackers at the Walkabout pub in Shepherd’s Bush, and mercifully, there is no Barnesy banging out over the thick, hot air. It’s Saturday afternoon and the Crows and Hawthorn are underway in the preliminary final.
This Asian city’s mostly shy and undemonstrative so it’s exciting to see some punters in Hawks and Crows guersneys. Brash tribalism is rare here. There’s banter between the fans. “Ball” intermittently choruses out across the quay. The footy is electrifying. The Hawks threaten constantly but we persist. We know that it could be Tippett’s valediction. He monsters Schoenmakers and with Walker, combines for eighteen contested marks. It’s close. Back home in Adelaide, my mate Bob texts. It’s too tense, too pulsating for him. He wants a personal media blackout.
Bob was in Edmonton in 1997, for the Crows’ first flag. It was a primitive world. Footy was chiefly inaccessible. No social media. No streaming. Many, like me, were sans mobile phone. During GF week Bob instructs me not to inform him of the result. With the discipline of a Roman soldier, he entirely avoids it. Then, at 2.30pm Saturday, Alberta time, to guarantee the authentic Australian experience, he and his friends watch a VHS recording of the game over a BBQ and beers. And like us seventeen hours previous, underground in Grote Street’s Players Bar, he is bewitched by Jarman’s sublime clinic and Macleod’s exquisite poise and poetry. We love Bruce McAvaney’s coda- “Jarman. Jarman. That will do. That. Will. Do.” Bob rings after their final siren, waking us, in Glenelg, to our glorious and groggy Sunday morning.
With only the GF telecast in Canada, he tells me he followed the Crows’ finals campaign on the internet. In ’97 this meant reading the footy online as an underling at AFL house, typed the action on their rustic website: Smart handballs to Bickley. Bickley kicks to Ellen. Essentially, it is a three-hour telegram. Like listening to Bradman’s 1948 Invincibles in the farm kitchen.
At the Boomarang Bar, we’re a disparate group. Like us, Annie is from Adelaide. She is avid; she streams 5AA’s call of practice matches. Nathan is from Tassie and loves the Hawks in a clinical way. His girlfriend, Alison, is from Vancouver. At half time I ask her, “Are you growing to love our footy?” She replies that she’s, “Getting there.” As Adelaide and Christchurch are sister cities, our Kiwi friend Ariana supports the Crows.
In 2004 we were living just north of London in St Albans. I’d taken my Sherrin and would occasionally have a few dobs by the Roman walls in Verulamium Park. Back home in the Barossa, Mum and Dad taped the Crows’ games and mailed the wins to us. They saved plenty on postage that year. My friend Barry, from Harrow, records the grand final on Sky Sports and I enjoy Port’s triumph. Whilst I love beating Port in the Showdowns, I am an atypical Crows fan who barracks for them when they play interstate teams. It’s a residual from the State of Origin glory days of the 1980’s.
Barry’s an Irishman, and his Catholic passion is exceeded only by his worship of Wealdstone FC. I’m with him in Wiltshire by Salisbury Cathedral for the 2005 season closer when the Stones score in the last minute to avoid relegation by a single goal. In reverential electronic whispers, he texts me One fucking goal three times the following Sunday. Returning to Adelaide, Barry gives me four shares in Wealdstone FC. Every year I am posted the annual report.
Johncock puts us up with seconds left but then the Hawks finally pinch the prize. It was a tremendous contest and, wretchedly, the Crows fourth consecutive preliminary final loss. Annie and I agree that we’ve done well and next season our youngsters like Dangerfield, Sloan and Walker will improve. Bob and I text. Mum and Dad message their pride. We take comfort in the future. We leave the Boomarang and walk home along the muddy Singapore River.