From Purgatory to Redemption

From Purgatory to Redemption:

 

Dear Saints, Bulldogs and Demons,

 

‘For those people destined never to experience joy, happiness and fulfilment in their lives, God created the Geelong Football Club’

Couldabeen Champions,1996

 

At the end of the 1995 season I felt like you do. My wounds were raw and my football team had rubbed the salt in. That led me to write a stinging rebuke as thirty years of frustration as a supporter began to takes its toll. My sentiments were based on a strong feeling that my club was one of a handful that had ‘flaws in the clay’ and, as such, would never deliver a premiership in my life time.

 

Between 1967 and 1995 my team had played in five grand finals – and lost the lot! I attended all but one of these defeats. The one I missed was when I was living in Japan.

 

For some clubs five grand final appearances in thirty years would suggest relative success – coming to the big day every six years on average. After the first few in which they were at least competitive, it did not feel like success but rather wasted and lost opportunity. The really damning statistic was in three grand finals in four years, we didn’t get close in any of them and were humiliated in two.

 

Along the road to those five grand final defeats were some exhilarating performances and some fabulous moments. Yes indeed, my team ‘played the game the way it should be played’ but they generally came up short when it mattered. As such they had accrued a universal nickname that suggested they lacked necessary amounts of masculinity, not to mention carrying around with them the main accessory women take with them when they leave their homes. This was quite a put-down in the testosterone-charged world of the AFL.

 

I also began to loathe the word ‘potential’ for my team had had it since at least 1967. A ‘club culture’ is something football people like to talk about. My team seemed to have a culture of potential – unfulfilled potential!

 

And then one day they turned it around. They did it not by coming back from the death, two men down, and against a traditional rival. No – they did it by an inglorious defeat on home turf against a middle of the road team in round 5, 2007. Somehow, this defeat galvanised a groundswell of total frustration and unrealised potential built up over forty plus years and turned it on its head. Certainly building blocks had been put in place for some time but this defeat seemed to draw one of the biggest lines in the sand I can remember. It was one pathetic defeat too many for the collective entity of the club and from the next game on, somehow, a spirit was forged that made defeat detestable – unacceptable and, over the next five years, very uncommon. There was a steely, obsessive resolve to realise potential.

 

Few people, outside the inner sanctum at least, saw it coming. For me this defeat confirmed that this was the right year to take that long-planned and often put off ten week trip around Central and Western Australia with the family. It meant I would be in Western Australia on the last day of September but confident (sadly) that my team would not be featuring in serious final’s action.

 

We lost one more game for the entire season. I was in Fremantle on grand final day, 2007.  The nerves were seriously with me, but so too an unfamiliar optimism. I remember it all so clearly. I had contacted my team’s Perth based supporters club and was told they were heading for a particular pub to watch the game. Like most who had followed the foibles of this entertaining but fragile club over the years, I only began to believe the premiership drought was over when we kicked the first goal of the second half that gave us a lead no team could peg back. From that moment on every goal erased a few years of pain.

 

At the final siren I was in the unchartered territory of sporting euphoria as I shared the love with fellow tragics, a relieved family and my sister and niece via text and mobile who were at the G’. Only a small pang of regret was felt against what was my overwhelming joy and contentment when I pondered what it would have been like to have been at the ground to take it all in.  Finally, however, the football gods had come to anoint my team.

 

After a nearly flawless season in 2008 the same gods abandoned ship at crucial times during the grand final, inflicting on us a harsh lesson that dictates that the best by a mile matters nought if that form can’t be produced on the big day. The sour taste this defeat left partially undid the gloriousness of the previous year. In hindsight that deflating outcome only served to harden the resolve and encouraged the gods back.

 

The 2009 grand final was brutal and cruel – no team deserved to lose but one team, albeit marginally, found something extra when it mattered most.  Unable to get tickets for this epic wet-day war of attrition, the lounge room of my sister’s was a place of almost unbearable tension for the entire game and especially the last quarter. The final siren brought a relief that was palpable and a pride that was special as it erased for ever that taunt about my team’s likeness for a particular female accessory. The ‘softies’ had now done it the hard way.

 

Over the years 2007 – 2010 the win loss ratio was unparalleled but father time, it was said, had caught up with us. Evidence of this was being smashed out of the preliminary final by the new gun team set to dominate the competition, so we were told, for the foreseeable future. Still, if this was to be the case, the ride had been an unexpected beauty as two out three premierships ain’t bad! If need be I could leave my football passion behind and be a happy man.

 

Then came 2011! It was a one-horse race according to the media.  The team everyone loves to hate was crowing over their dominance and the aura of inevitable back to back premierships they carried with them. They also happened to be scarily good and getting better. The pretenders would be left in their wake.

 

My team took on a rookie coach who showed enormous respect for the achievements that had come before and the players and club that had delivered them – but had a strong view that an injection of youth and some tinkering would have us challenging again. We were dared to believe.

 

The rejuvenation of older bodies intent to prove the knockers wrong sprung from a pride that had been hurt and a passion for the contest and the challenge ahead that was insatiable. We had, however, lost our best player. No team serious about challenging for a premiership could afford to lose their star. Nonetheless, we went about our footy in basically the same way though tightened our defence. We still played with attacking flair, with skill, with a committed team ethos and a resolve that took some of us by surprise – except the players and an increasing band of believers.

 

The season decider came down to two teams, and one of those was the apparent ‘invincible’. Thing was we had beaten them twice whereas no other team had beaten them at all!

 

For the first time ever I had been allocated tickets in the very hard to win membership lottery. Could I lose five grand finals as a spectator in succession – ‘possibly’. When one of our star forwards was carried off mid-way through the second quarter to play no further part in the game, the likelihood increased to a ‘probably’. Yet somehow the players hung in there and clawed back a dangerous deficit to be within a whisker at the main break.

 

To say the second half of the match was what dreams are made of, in a sporting sense, is to speak a prophetic truth. Our team hung tough and started to run and create. The players drew on an individual self belief and faith in both the collective and the method. They truly believed they had worked harder and smarter to achieve greatness and went about it in the most exhilarating of ways.

 

The man who typified our fragile past became the man of the moment and the future. Four years of potential unleashed itself on the game when it was in the balance and when the stakes were at their highest. His team mates lifted around him and quietly, yet explosively (an impossible contradiction) tore the ‘invincibles’ apart, giving the team and our fans a victory so sweet those who witnessed it should always consider themselves blessed with their sporting lot.

 

High up in the stands our supporters lost ourselves in our joy, in each other and in the quality of the effort and the execution, in the daring, the run, the finishing under pressure. We were awesome.

 

This team had done more than win a wonderful premiership. We had done it, yet again, with aplomb and humility – qualities that win us almost universal admiration. This was a big change from years of universal derision!

 

Though blessed with fathers that produced sons more talented than themselves, we had no advantages in the draft for we had never been too bad. All that potential which at times realised snippets of brilliance meant we really never got close enough to the bottom of the ladder to be in line for high draft picks.

 

This team, over five years, has been as tough as nails, both mentally and physically, but never considered dirty. We developed a way that was consistent with our heritage but a much better model. We never succumbed to adopting suffocating, stifling tactics. We believed our footy, our way, was good enough and then moved it to another plain when others deconstructed it. We got in terrific people and then more wanted to come.

 

This team has honoured its traditions, and also rose beyond them to come of age, to become great. Sitting in the stands in 1995 as one of the vanquished and hearing the triumphant song of the victors over and over, I knew I wanted that feeling so much – just once. At that moment, and during many that followed it, such a wish appeared impossibly far away.

 

Now it has come, come again and finally the third coming. I know what it feels like to be singing the song as a premiership winner. It is magnificent and I hope to have the where with all to never take it for granted and know lady luck eventually found me. My football team has risen into the pantheon of greatness. It has come from a long way back, and that is immensely satisfying.  I was at a meeting in 1997 held in the recently demolished Reg Hickey/Doug Wade stand to rally supporters when the club was on the verge of insolvency – I still have the t-shirt that boldly demands us to ‘stand up and fight’.

 

Further, it gives those who find themselves either back in the pack or so close yet so far, a renewed sense of hope when the ball is bounced again at the start of the new season. Those flaws in the clay can be remoulded. It just might take a longer time than most of us think we have. Believe!

 

We are Geelong!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘WE ARE GEELONG, THE GREATEST TEAM OF ALL…’

Now this, for so long the most ‘cringeworthy’ line in any AFL team song, finally rang true at the end of the 2011 grand final when we were able to belt it out with gusto and conviction. Beautiful!

 

Dear Family,

 

In light of this magnificent run of sustained success, I felt the time had come to put our relationship with the Geelong Football Club into a historical perspective, both for us and those that follow.

 

As such I have written three pieces that I hope give insights into the link the Dalton/Peat/Dunstans have with this now great football club.

 

  1. Why the Hoops?

Explains our links and gives some background to who, when and why

 

  1. Purgatory

Written in 1995 at the height of my frustration when we got so close, so often but couldn’t crack it for a GF win and at that point, I felt we never would

  1. From Purgatory to Redemption

How did we manage to achieve this turnaround and how good does it feel? It is written, in part, with supporters of a couple of other clubs in mind who are now where we once were.

 

 

Separating each story are snippets from my Geelong scrapbook written when I was 10!  I would like to think my writing has improved a little since then.

 

I hope you enjoy this recollection

 

Happy Christmas,

December, 2011

 

 

Simon

(husband, father, brother, brother in law, uncle, GREAT uncle)

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Clearsighted says:

    Wonderful.

  2. Ken Richards says:

    Thanks Simon, a beautiful piece, told with verve and heart!
    I grew up in a Richmond household, but went against the family tradition and supported the Cats
    I suffered the ’67 Grand Final, and the Tiger dominance of the 70’s and drifted away from Footy.
    The Coodabeens attracted me back by their irreverence, just in time for the rollercoaster ride of ’89 through ’97.
    I remember playing Neil Young’s Ragged Glory at earsplitting volume to drown out the memory of that Navy Blue theme song! I cursed Wayne Carey & whoever umpired Colbert’s mark in ’97.I cursed Sydney, and it’s undeserved Davised steal in ’05. And wondered if it would ever happen.
    But I bought my first Cats membership in 2007, on my Tiger supporting brother’s urging. We saw the game AFTER the line in the sand game in ’07, and to their credit, they sat to the end.
    My membership has blessed me with tickets to all 4 grand finals since 2007. I cheered the breaking of the drought, and lamented the horror that was 2008. My ticket in 2009 went to a mate who missed the 2007 ballot, and I cheered the boys home from a bar in far Taipei.
    But I was back again this year for the Greatest Win of All.
    Redemption Indeed!

  3. Simon
    Well done! You have told it so well.
    As a life-long Cats supporter myself and member for the past 30+ years I have been to them all. Like yourself i was unsure untill finals time in 2007 that we would ever win one.
    I have no crystal ball for 2012 but as someone who lives in Geelong and knows some of what is going on down here and at KP let me say these 5 VERY important words: IT IS SCARLETT’S LAST YEAR.
    Those of us who TRULY believe will know what I mean. We can climb the mountain again!

  4. WOW…just WOW.

  5. Have you posted the first two instalments anywhere? How can I read them?

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