By Sasha Lennon
Saturday the 18th of June 2011 was a special day. It was a day for good guys and heroes. It was about players past and present, and what happened on the field was just a side-story.
My eight year-old daughter Molly and I were in Hawthorn’s second home of Launceston, to watch the Hawks take on newcomers the Gold Coast Suns.
This was the third such trip in what is now officially our annual Dad-daughter weekend away, to bask in all things brown and gold.
I’m unashamedly proud of my little girl. By the time she was five years old, she knew footy, knew the Hawks, and she loved Crawf. Since the number 9 hung up his boots, Molly saves her football affection for Buddy and The General. But on match day, affection makes way for clinical, yet passionate and sometimes one-eyed observation. As a football supporter, Molly is what I would call ‘hard’.
As we left our hotel to walk to the ground, I spotted a couple of Gold Coast players milling around the lobby, waiting for their transport. Their captain was among them.
Sensing a photo opportunity I asked Molly “do you want to see if we can get a quick photo with Gary Ablett?”
“No” she replied sternly.
“Why not?” I asked, a little surprised (she knows who, or more importantly ‘what’ Gary Ablett is).
“He plays for the Suns. They’re not our team.”
Hard, I thought.
At the ground, with chips, pies and soft drinks in hand, we made our way to our seats. I spotted a bloke in a funny outfit entertaining some kids. My camera once more at the ready I said to Molly “do you want to get a photo with Hawka?”
“No, we haven’t got time, the game’s about to start. Hurry up Dad!”
Hard, I thought again. We still had 30 minutes to wait before the opening bounce.
The first half was a scrappy affair, frustrating to watch as the Suns threw everything at a Hawthorn side trying to find its rhythm, with a number of key players absent.
At half-time we were up by 17 points. I sensed we’d eventually run away with it but had hoped for a much bigger margin at this stage of the match.
“Well, we’re winning Molly, that’s good”, I said encouragingly.
“We should be up by more. Buddy’s missed a few.”
Sensing the tension, I suggested a half-time to wander around the many Hawthorn merchandise stalls and displays. Molly eyed off the Hawthorn teddy bears and ‘little Hawkas’ but didn’t push me too hard for a purchase. She was focussed on what the third quarter might bring.
With Molly keen to catch the start of the second half, we made our way back to the Eastern Terrace when I sensed something which stopped me in my tracks, a sort of presence.
It took a minute to register.
“Molly, that’s Peter Knights!”
Before I knew it, I’d tapped the great man on the shoulder and blurted out something about the 1970s, suburban Melbourne, my childhood and his brilliance.
Despite my initial bumbling, I do clearly remember saying this: “Molly, Peter was like Buddy Franklin when I was your age, only better!”
Number 24 smiled and said humbly “that was a very long time ago”. (He didn’t argue the point though).
As an eight year-old I would dream about Peter Knights, pretend to be Peter Knights, convince myself that, based on our similar hair cuts, fair complexions and my self-acknowledged ability to take a high mark, we were somehow, possibly, maybe three cousins removed, related to one another. (It made plenty of sense to me at the time).
And now, after getting the nervous talk quickly out of the way, here I was, face-to-face with the Hawthorn legend having a pleasant, rather intelligent and quite leisurely chat.
I’ve met favourite sportsmen or entertainers before and sadly, sometimes, they don’t quite live up to expectations. Peter Knights however did. Not only was he humble and quietly spoken, but he seemed genuinely interested in Molly and I, our interest in Hawthorn, our reason for being at a match in Tassie, the fact we’d flown down from Brisbane and our thoughts on the Suns. In fact, we spoke mostly about us, not him.
Looking back now I wish I’d kept the conversation going, asked him more about his playing days or told him of my interest in writing about the game. He seemed happy to stay and chat for as long as we liked.
Before we parted ways, I asked Knightsy for a photo. Of course, he was happy to oblige.
What’s more, Molly seemed to soften. I talked about Knightsy for the next quarter or more. Molly listened and I think she got it. I imagine Knightsy has that affect on people. Calming.
And from there, everything just seemed nicer, more pleasant. The Hawks switched into gear and finished the day winning by 71 points.
When we returned to the hotel a few hours after the final siren, none other than Gary Ablett was waiting at the lift.
With a friendly nod I offered Gary my commiserations for the loss and he thanked me, genuinely. We talked briefly. I asked him how he’s travelling, living on the Gold Coast. He told me he’s enjoying the change but he misses his family. Like Peter Knights, Gary Ablett just seemed nice, normal. He was a pleasure to chat to – a nice guy and no doubt, some other kid’s hero.
We didn’t need a photo with Gary. The conversation was enough.
“He was nice wasn’t he Molly?”
“Yes, he seemed very nice, and he’s a good player too.”
Not so hard after all.
Sasha Lennon is a Brisbane-based Knacker whose writing can be found at http://sashasoapbox.blogspot.com/