Going to the footy.
We always met every Saturday at the Prospect Hill Hotel during the footy season. Usually we’d arrive within minutes of one another around midday, amble to the bar, buy ourselves a beer and move to our favourite spot by the pool table. There, lively and intense discussions of the game ahead would commence with everybody adding their two bob’s worth; thoughts about the team selections for the match; were they the right choices and how could we win the game were all considered for comment. As die-hard supporters we were forever the optimists. In those lowly days we believed we would win; we were the mighty Bombers! It didn’t matter where we were placed on the ladder, the belief was we had the team to win. A quick look at the clock, a last beer, anticipation rising and off to the game we’d go.
Throughout the seventies we followed Essendon with a passion. We’d arrive at half-time during the reserves match. Parking wasn’t a problem. We had a special spot that nobody else seemed to want so we’d park the car there, a leisurely stroll to the ground psyching ourselves up as we went with playful banter about the game, membership cards clipped ,then through the turnstiles and into the ground. And that first wave of emotion would instantly flood over us. It never failed. It was always there. To the bar, buy ourselves the first of many cans for the game, perhaps a bite to eat from the hot dog stand then settle into our position between the half forward flank and forward pocket. We always stood there.
We enjoyed watching the seconds. With our eyes on up and coming players, the players who’d been dropped or who were returning from injury we contemplated whether they were up to being in the “firsts” or not. Bobby Greenwood was a favourite of mine and I could never understand why he didn’t play more senior games. Too much talent to be playing in the seconds was my opinion. My mates did not always agree wiith me as they had their own favourites to support and promote. But this question together with many others were hotly debated week after week. We saw ourselves as the Lou, Jack and Bob of “Footy Teams” as we discussed the various merits of our players and team.
Three quarter time, a quick visit to the horrible old dykes out the back so typical of suburban grounds at the time, another can of beer, maybe a pie or bag of chips and back to the game.
In the outer it was only standing room for the punters such as us. Cans became important as they added inches to the vertically challenged like me. If a large crowd was in and taller supporters were hindering my view those cans were the difference between an uninterrupted view or not. Fortunately my mates looked after me and before long I had those extra inches in height to watch the match without any obstructions. That is unless you fell off the cans as often happened later in the match.
Familiar faces were acknowledged with a nod, a “good-day” or “how do you think we will go?” while opposition supporters were sized up and down and commented upon. “Looks like a loud-mouth, might have to watch him if things get nasty” but most times they didn’t. Tension would build as the reserves game finished and our attention would focus towards the main game. Then the real theatre of the game would emerge.
Cheer squads chanted, run throughs were raised and lowered and raised again, comments made about the banner, floggers would flog, cheers increased, until the moment we all waited for, and through the banner and onto the ground the mighty Dons would run. We cheered and cheered and yelled with one voice. All week we’d waited for this moment. This outlet of feelings and emotions held over since the last match gushed out to join the rising crescendo of noise from around the ground. Would Nifty Nev have a good one? What about Johnny Cassin? Would he be up to it? Can Kenny Roberts help kick a winning score? Thoughts raced through our minds as we we psyched ourselves up for the bounce of the ball. “What’s his number what’s his name number seven Charlie Payne”. Chants and more chants. The thrill of the game was about to start. The excitement , the buzz, the roar of the crowd, and seeing our heroes in action was what the game meant to us. And then, through the crowd, as he did week after week with his huge hessian bag slung over his shoulder, the peanut seller’s cry of, “peanuts, peanuts, shilling a bag” would resound breaking the spell of the football momentarily. Hands quickly plunged into pockets searching for that “shilling” to buy a bag of peanuts. He never missed a match in all the time I went to Windy Hill and I often wonder what became of him. You don’t see characters like that anymore at football matches. Peanuts were shelled, a sip of beer then our thoughts were back to the game.
More often than not we lost more games than we won in those days. No matter how hard we barracked and cajoled our team to rise up and lift themselves to a higher effort had little effect leaving us exhausted and devastated by the end of the match. We would ponder our diminishing hopes of making the final four as we trudged dejectedly back to the car and eventually back to the Prospect Hill Hotel. There the game would be reviewed, discussed, dissected and analysed around the table with a few beers before finally heading home to wives, girlfriends and family and the night ahead.
I moved to the country in 1981 to follow my career. Gradually over time regular contact with my footy mates diminished though we did meet up on special occasions. Two of them , sadly have since passed away, both in their fifties and far too young to die. Now that I have retired I have returned to following football but it’s not like the old days. Sure it’s far more comfortable, the grounds, amenities and facilities are first class but somehow it lacks that atmosphere of past times. To stand shoulder to shoulder with your mates, swaying, following the flight of the ball as we once did is not quite the same experience as sitting in the comfort of our modern stadiums of today. Sometimes I just think it would be nice to go back in time and relive those days again.