Grand Final day 2010: London

I woke to a horrific beeping sound. The room I lay in was illuminated red. I scanned about to seek out its source. The lights of the alarm clock were flashing and they formed to read 3:00am. I whacked it to silence before leaning back into my warm nest of pillows. “It’s too cold,” I told myself. I could only enjoy the relief briefly before I found myself lying on the floor, face in carpet with an increasingly cold back. Melissa – my girlfriend – had planted her foot into my stomach and forced me from the warmth.

I fumbled around and gathered my jeans. I slipped on a T-shirt as well as four to five further layers of clothing. I questioned whether the early morning was worth it. I felt as though I had sand under my eyelids and one of them would not even open. I stumbled, almost blindly, down the two flights of stairs to the kitchen. As I rounded the bend and passed the toilet I heard the unmistakable ‘crack’ and ‘hiss’ of an opening can.

I pushed at the kitchen door to find Matt, he glanced at me with an ear-to-ear grin and handed me a can of Fosters. “Get that down your throat,” he enthusiastically said. He must have been pottering around the kitchen for quite a while. The meat pies and sausage rolls were nearly cooked and he was beaming in full Collingwood kit – complete with tracksuit pants.

The location was London, United Kingdom, and the occasion was the 2010 AFL Grand Final between Collingwood and St. Kilda. It was Saturday morning and game time was 5:30am local time.

My first sip of the most un-Australian, Australian beer there is – Fosters – went down like razor blades. Matthew was on his second can. “About bloody time you got up,” he said. His behaviour reminded me of Bert – my dog back home in Ballarat – when Mum mentions the word ‘walk’. I tolerated it though, I can imagine I would be similarly crazy if my Western Bulldogs ever made it to the last Saturday in September.

It took me a while to wake up. The early rise had caused my head to feel light and the events which unfolded in front of me seemed surreal. Matthew ran around the kitchen kicking a football through the doorways whilst doing his best Dennis Cometti impersonation. Collingwood of course won in his dream match. I laughed as Melissa observed him with a look of bewilderment – she is not a footy fan, neither is her family. She does not understand why a man would run around a kitchen commentating a game of footy he is playing against himself.

Putney is very much an Australian expat area. The brisk walk up the High Street toward the pub is reminiscent of the pilgrimage through Fitzroy Gardens to the MCG. More and more people streamed from their buses and homes to join the footpath in front and behind us as we tried to get to the pub and more importantly the warmth as quickly as possible. Some fans braved the freezing conditions and wore their sleeveless guernseys – what else would you expect of a Pies supporter – and another group of blokes played a game of ‘markers up’ very enthusiastically down the main shopping strip.

Australians in London are a unique bunch. Some certainly stand out from the crowd. AFL Grand Final day is one of the best examples of this uniqueness – some may even argue embarrassment. There were men in their thirties dressed in crocodile suits and sheep costumes, because apparently that is what you do when you watch the football in London. The mood amongst this particular group was rowdy, if not slightly intimidating.

Matt – in his ripped trackies and sleeveless guernsey – ironically placed himself on a pedestal while observing those already well-lubricated individuals and shook his head as we walked past.

The antipodean themed pub where we planned to watch the game was just a short walk from home. It was not the infamous Walkabout, but not far off. It had less national accessories and a smaller number of highly patriotic Aussie regulars. Although, there was Fosters and ‘snake-bites’ aplenty.

We squashed in and found a reasonable spot to view the big screen. A couple of very well dressed men with strong English accents stumbled their way through the door just before the first bounce. Obviously post Friday after work drinks had escalated, they must have thought all of their Christmases had come at once to find a full, rowdy pub on their way home at 5am. They proceeded to join the men dressed as sheep for a beer sculling contest.

The game started to a rousing cheer. Every time ‘Eddie Everywhere’ showed up on screen his image was met with a rousing boo. It was so nice to be watching my game again.

I dished out a decent ribbing to Matthew throughout the match – as all good mates would. I cheered very loudly for St. Kilda whilst standing next to him. I did feel bad about this for a small amount of time, but then I remembered he was a Collingwood supporter.

As the match went on a tinge of homesickness crept in on me. The sound of Denis Cometti’s voice, the scene of the MCG – which is still to this day my favourite place in the world, the smell of meat pies and the taste of beer, brought the emotion out. Melissa had never watched an AFL game with me before – I am shocked she stayed with me following the match. She must be a keeper.

The final siren sounded and confusion reigned in the venue. Draw!? What happens now? I remember looking around the pub. Matt was close to tears, the men in sheep costumes were asleep in the corner and one of the British suits was deep in conversation with one of Australia’s finest examples of a lady. She came complete with a beer in each hand and had earlier come second in the sculling competition.

As the reality of the match became clear, jaws proceeded to hit the floor. I am not sure whether this was due to the strange outcome of the match, or the realisation that we all had to set our alarms for 3am again the following Saturday.

The sun had come up and the three of us wandered back towards home along the High Street. Stunned locals who had ventured out for a morning walk watched as a stream of intoxicated Aussies stumbled their way to the nearest open pub or back to bed. We decided on the latter and dreaded our next antipodean pub experience. It had to be done though – love my footy.

I climbed back into bed at 9am, slept well and dreamt of the day I would return to the ‘G’ and watch a game without a sheep or crocodile in sight.

About Brenton Shaughnessy

Brenton is a student Journo. Having grown up in Ballarat, he gained his football education on a wing at the North Ballarat City footy club. He is also a long suffering, ever optimistic Western Doggies fan.

Comments

  1. Tony Robb says:

    Good one Brenton
    I was in Edmonton in 89 when they were calling last drinks The GF came on I slipped the bar keep $50 and said we would make it worthwhile. What a night and what a 50 or so Canadian converts had just seen the Gretzky of footie at his mightiest
    cheers
    TR

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