Grand Final Week

Ellie and Luke had their ear plugs in and portable TVs on before I had pulled out of the driveway,  Monday morning, grand final week.  High School Musical. 

I attempted conversation.

So, who’s going to win the grand final?

Geelong, said Luke, 8.

Collingwood, said Ellie, 10.

Why?

Dunno.

Dunno.

What about the Brownlow?

 Judd.

Judd.

 Anyone else a chance?

 Huh?

 Huh?

I gave up on the ring road.  

Ellie flopped her grubby feet on the dashboard.

My mind drifted to the weekend’s preliminary finals.  Hawthorn led by four goals halfway through the third quarter and threatened Collingwood’s premiership defence.  I thought of the line of chairs roped to the back fence of Reservoir Ticketek, with ‘DON’T TOUCH! MAGPIE MEMBERS QUEUEING FOR GRAND FINAL TICKETS!’ attached.

Cloak, Thomas and Ball willed the Pies home.  The Magpie Army boiled and bubbled and shook their fists with each last quarter goal.  I couldn’t bring myself to support the Pies, but I didn’t want them to lose.  I wanted the Army to be around in grand final week.  They bring more to our game than other supporter groups.  This means more to them than it does anyone else.

Saturday’s game was flat.  Sleepy.  The Eagles played their grand final the week before against Carlton.  Geelong had the preliminary final won by half-time.  The Eagles rose briefly in the third quarter, however, Bartel quelled the challenge.  With his short back and sides and permanent stubble on his honest face, Bartel looks as if he has just knocked off from a shift at an inner-city factory during the Depression.

Bartel and the Nik Natanui are my favourite players.  They play with a purity and authenticity so often honed out of professional footballers.  Nik Nat is the colt from old Regret.  Gangly, unbroken.  Powerful.  Free.  This September, Jolly from Collingwood was Clancey of the Overflow and West from Geelong, a young crack gathered to the fray.  Of course, neither tamed him.

At Cressy, I pulled over at the truck stop and dragged Ellie and Luke out for kick-to-kick.  Ellie showed off her netball catching skills.  Lukey sprayed his kicks in the stiff westerly.

Start it left, Lukey.  Let the wind bring it back.

 We carried onto Warrnambool, passing old farmers driving with their headlights on, and paddocks  deep in green, gold and purple.  Creeks and dams, dry for so long, are full.  It’s been a good Winter in the south west.

We pulled into mum and dad’s mid-afternoon.  Neighbour Ralph paused from his gardening and waved.  Mum had the soup on.

That night, we watched the Brownlow.  Ellie and Luke cheered when they caught a glimpse of their father, my brother-in-law, Dean, who, in his role as Auditor of the AFL, oversees the running of the count.

The next morning I went for a walk on the beach path.  Lady Bay was a flat, grey soup.  The breakwater stretched like a long finger into the ocean and race horses cantered across the sand.  In the afternoon, a strong northerly pushed the clouds away and the sun offered hope.

By Wednesday, the rain returned, the temperature plummeted and the open fire crackled in the corner of the lounge room.  Mum entertained the grand kids with Monopoly.  Dad’s bowls were cancelled, so he headed off to St. Vinnies.  A report on the radio said a Geelong priest had prayed for Steve Johnson’s knee.  A member of his congregation asked whether he was going to pray for the injured Collingwood players.  Next week, the priest replied.

On Thursday morning, leaving Ellie and Luke, I grabbed a jar of Dad’s prized homemade chutney and headed back to Melbourne.  I had a few stops on the way for coffee and petrol.  At a service station urinal, an old bloke and I shook our heads at the weather and price of fuel.  Even in grand final week, conversation doesn’t change.

Melbourne was in chaos: floods, storm damage, traffic jams, flight delays.  I joined a few mates at the Melbourne Cricket Club for lunch where we were able to watch grand final entertainment rehearsals.  As Meatloaf huffed and puffed through his medley, we acknowledged the AFL’s ongoing commitment to salvaging the careers of washed-up ’80s rock and pop stars.  Shakin’ Stevens was nominated for 2012.

Adrian, originally from Yorkshire in the north of England, told the story of how, many years ago, the sister of popstar, Sheena Easton, came to sleep in his bed the night of his brother’s wedding.  Adrian endured an uncomfortable night on a cousin’s couch.

The CBD was invaded by the Magpie and Cat Armies for the annual grand final parade.  A relaxed and excited atmosphere draped over the city.  Family groups pressed against the temporary fencing on Swanston Street while fathers carried flag waving children on their shoulders. On stage, Mike Brady sang ‘Footy’s such a part of this whole town’  and Brett Kirk, declared ‘Footy’s about the people’.

The teams were presented.  Individual players’ journeys to the big day are often admirable.  Andrew Krakouer, son of North Melbourne legend Jim, spent time in prison before the Magpies offered him redemption.  Chris Tarrant’s father is gravely ill with cancer.  He has also been given another chance by Collingwood.  Geelong’s Tom Lonergan almost died after an on-field collision.  He has missed out on playing in previous Geelong flags.  A premiership would make his career complete.

At the Footy Almanac Grand Final Lunch in Carlton, Tom Hawkins’ mother spoke of his shyness as a boy and how he struggled in the shadow of his father when first joining Geelong.  Although he now owns his own house, he still has a messy bedroom and still kicks the footy inside.  She thinks his golf game is better than his goalkicking.

When Weddings, Parties, Anything sang ‘Ten cents short of a dollar’ that evening at the Palace on Bourke Street,  the middle-aged moshpit threw coins at them just like twenty years ago when, as a university student, I first saw them play at the same venue.

Handsome Joe – Collingwood supporter, international playboy – arrived sleepless on the red-eye from Hong Kong, grand final morning.  He showered, shaved and we arrived at the ‘G at midday.  Joe went off to join the corporate set, while I found my mate Simon in the carpark.  We huddled under a tree and ate soggy sausages as the rain fell.  Simon is my oldest mate.  Born a few days apart, our mothers shared a hospital room.  Mick, Simon’s dad and our first cricket coach, died earlier this year.  Mick hadn’t missed a grand final since the ’50s.

The weather hadn’t doused spirits in the carpark.  Fans erected tents, spits, barbecues and TVs.  Laughter, cheer and the two club songs filled the air.  The Hare Krishna climbed atop a van adorned  in black and white and images of Pendlebury and Thomas and led the Army in song and dance.

I took my seat on the top deck of the members’ enclosure as a raspy and out of breath Meatloaf finished his set.  Craig and his brother Damien, who had flown in from Singapore, gave him the thumbs down.

Before the first bounce, Maxwell formed a huddle with his team at the city end, drawing in the strength of the Army.  At three-quarter time, he pulled retiring coach Malthouse into the huddle and implored his players for a final effort.  It was too late, the reigning premiers succumbed to Geelong’s relentless pressure and belief.

That night, Sydney Road wore a tired look.  The Moonee Valley Drifters groaned out sad tunes under a single yellow light in an otherwise darkened front bar at the Retreat Hotel.  Handsome Joe was a jet-lagged and broken-hearted Lothario.  His phone vibrated incessantly with incoming texts.  He read a few and asked meekly: Why do people hate Collingwood?

That’s another conversation for another dayLet’s go home.

Footy over for another year.

 

Comments

  1. Peter Flynn says:

    G’day Andrew,

    Enjoyed the read.

    I love the Retreat and you’ve nailed Bartel.

    PF

  2. John Butler says:

    Andrew, bloody fantastic.

    Love this.

    But don’t joke about Shakin’. The AFL will take you seriously.

  3. No offence to everyone else but this is my favourite
    neutral grandfinal piece on the site.
    Andrew, you have this amazing eye for footy detail that most
    non-collingwood supports probably knowingly ignore, that being- There is more to Collingwood than what everyone thinks.
    I love the fact that you addressed Maxy’s actions as the proud, hard working leader he is.
    So many people just think he’s overrated but his role these past few years has been very important; to cut the story short im seriously in love with Nick Maxwell as a player.
    Your niece has good taste :)

  4. Love the Weddos Andrew. After I read your piece the other day I popped Donkey Serenade on. Hadn’t listened to it for a couple of years. Great band :)

  5. johnharms says:

    Delightful piece Andrew.

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