Muz returns to see the Lions less mighty

It is 25 years since my last journey to a Melbourne stadium to watch a Brisbane team in a home and away game. A late Saturday night text invite from a mate in Bris Vegas had me rearranging my Sunday to go to the footy. Brad is originally from Townsville, a Kangaroos sponsor, and he was flying his son Archer to the “big game” for his ninth birthday. By the time I arrived at Ethihad Gate 5, Archer was face painted blue and white with a large number 11 on his pink right cheek.

 

Work had brought me to the home of footy earlier this year. I had forgotten the football madness of this town. I had forgotten how that obsession could allow the anguish of the winless Demon’s coach Mark Neeld to somehow receive more inches of space in the Herald Sun than the woes of the embattled parliamentarian Craig Thomson.

 

When I was last living in Melbourne 25 years ago the Brisbane Bears were newly born. Round One: North Melbourne v Brisbane 1987. I was one of what seemed about 50 Queenslanders at the MCG at a match that no one expected the Bears to be competitive in. I stood by myself at the back of the wooden southern stand with four cans of Melbourne Bitter I had smuggled into the great arena. The fourth warm can tasted like Fourex as the Bears somehow stole a long forgotten first win.

 

On the way out of the MCG that night I proudly purchased my Brisbane Bears scarf. Five years earlier, on a visit to Melbourne, I acquired my Fitzroy Lions scarf. You need a scarf when you go to the footy down here. Never really needed one at the Gabba. I barracked for the Fitzroy Lions from the early 80s. My Introduction to Marxism lecturer, Graeme Duncan, over a cask of cheap red, convinced me that life as a Working Class Lion was more ideologically acceptable and nourishing than my waning support for John Elliot’s Capitalist Blues.

 

On the morning of the 2001 Grand Final my scarves were halved by a kitchen knife and the Lions and Bears were stitched together with fishing line. What a day that was! A decade later and the mighty Lions were no longer. My scarves had seen all of it. Bears at Carrara … Lion’s Wooden spoons … Fitzroy agony …  One of its happiest times was at the Vine Hotel in Richmond in 2002, when a pretty French girl and I stood on the bar and sang La Marseillaise. She had no idea who the Brisbane Lions were and I don’t speak French.

 

The Bears/Lions scarf was on today and I felt that I had the face painted Archer covered in the public display of loyalty stakes. Brad had arranged for our seats adjacent to the Kangaroos cheer squad. Not a Bear in sight and only a handful of Lions. After Archer described his West Junior Bulldog’s under 9 victory over the Yeronga Bombers from the previous day, we were ready for an important game for the thirteenth and fourteenth placed AFL teams.

 

North was coming off three losses. A last quarter fade out against Port Adelaide the previous week had the Kangaroos fans more worried than they possibly should have been. Brisbane had struggled for competitiveness against all but the bottom three teams and had looked anything but a finals contender for the first eight weeks of 2012.

 

Ten minutes in, and Archer sent a chill through me worse than the swirling Melbourne winter wind. “Dad if we win by 100 today can we get a later flight home and go to the rooms after the game?” The Kangaroos kicked the first three after a rare Simon Black error handed a goal to Jack Ziebell. Brisbane had hardly touched the ball and the backline was under siege. Drew Petrie looked dangerous and I mentioned to Archer that I didn’t think Goose Maguire had a chance against him if the ball kept coming in the way it was. Jonathan Brown imposed himself only to give away a 50m penalty. Luke Delaney courageously challenged the imposing Brown after he had flattened his younger brother Cameron. It was a rare moment of emotion and grunt on what was to turn into a relatively tame Sunday afternoon game. Brown was redeemed with an impossible boundary line goal after the quarter time siren. The Lions “only” trailed by 20. I switched on the radio to hear Drew Morphett say: “The Kangaroos could have kicked 10 for the quarter.”

 

Todd Goldstein was dominating and North was running free. The Kangaroo midfield were providing a host of opportunities to likely young forwards Sam Wright and second gamer Aaron Black.  Both were stars and if they had kicked straighter it could have been much worse for the Lions. A three-goal burst in three minutes by the Kangaroos and the game was seemingly over before it had begun. The Kangaroos lead by 43 half way through the second quarter and the Brisbane Lions were whimpering. Brent Harvey and Andrew Swallow were rampant whilst the 33-year-old Simon Black had hurt his knee. Daniel Merrett was getting regular treatment on what appeared to be a calf. When the ball made rare appearances inside 50 metres for the Lions, Kangaroo defenders Luke Delaney and Scott Thompson had the key forwards well covered.

 

Archer dug me in the ribs and I seriously considered an adjournment to the bar and TAB for a consolation pot and quadrella. I decided to just spread my disappointment via text to family and friends. We were hopeless. It really was a most insipid performance. By half time the margin was 52 and could have been more. I headed outside for a smoke with Brad, and some ridicule from Archer and the smokers in the cheer squad. My scarf was drawing unwanted attention.

 

I was looking for some positives but they were almost impossible to find. Lion’s first gamer Elliot Yeo had displayed some ability and Josh Green was a lively replacement for Todd Banfield in the forward line. Josh Drummond showed poise under extreme pressure and his free reign in the backline was occasionally effective. A couple of early North goals in the third quarter though, had me contemplating an early exit. It was out to a ten-goal margin and there were no signs of any sought of fight. Archer said something about the Lions and the Yeronga Bombers under 9’s. I grunted back and made my scarf as inconspicuous as possible inside my coat.

 

Todd Goldstein went for a rest and Jack Ziebell had been subbed through injury. Bill Longer won a couple of tap outs for the Lions and Daniel Rich and Jack Redden started getting some of the ball in clear space. Josh Green kicked his first AFL goal and was followed by Redden, Rich, Tom Rockliff and Aaron Cornelius. North fans near me started mumbling and I could see them mouthing “Port Adelaide” as they were silenced by 10 minutes of Lion’s dominance. When Scott Thompson kicked into the man on the mark and Daniel Merrett goaled, Archer said to Brad: “Do you think we can hang on Dad?” The margin was down to 26 points at three quarter time and I pulled my Brisbane Lions beanie out of my bag as the temperature dropped with the confidence of the Kangaroos and their fans.

 

How does that happen? Ineptitude replaced by total brilliance. The match had at least regained some real tension as the Lions sensed they had a chance. The start of the last quarter saw the ball flow reasonably freely in what had largely been a mistake-riddled affair. Ten minutes into the final quarter the tension was broken by a goal of the year contender by Kieran Harper. He broke free from a pack, ran directly to the boundary line, and kicked across his body from 20 metres. Harper had slotted a goal that surpassed the standard of anything else for the day. Levi Greenwood had tagged Daniel Rich effectively to that point. He finished off the Lions and a good day with the final Kangaroo’s goal with about 10 minutes remaining. The cheer squad was roaring and Archer accidently poked me in the cheek with an out of control Kangaroo flag. Josh Green followed Harper’s lead with a successful boundary line snap as the Lion’s kicked the last four goals to go down by 16.

 

Archer had a memorable ninth birthday and he and his dad caught a cab to the airport in high spirits. I went to the Waterside Hotel to ruminate on when the Lions might be mighty again. I fear I will be too old to stand on a bar and sing the song in late September. I took my oldest daughters Hannah and Caitlin to the 2002 and 2003 Grand Finals. Phoebe my youngest said to me on a recent visit to Melbourne that she might have to take me to the next Lion’s Grand Final. I hope my scarf can last that long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Murray – glad you could make it down south to watch the footy. Melbourne turned on some pretty ordinary weather for you.

    The Lions only seem to fire up when all is lost?

  2. Peter_B says:

    Loved your piece and your scarf, Murray. I reckon I had a politics lecturer at Adelaide Uni in the 70’s called Graeme Duncan, but the memory fades. Don’t know if it was the same bloke.
    Your mob should have beaten the Eagles in a late season game on a sodden Gabba last season. I reckon you are a silly chance if the heavens open. I’ve put in a bid for Vossie’s son to join the Eagles under the father/son rule given that Michael coached us for 3 weeks. I remember that young Voss was a fan of ‘big Lynchy’.

  3. Tony Roberts says:

    Murray
    I too was one of (more than 50! – at least 200, surely) ex-Queenslanders at the MCG that Friday night in late March 1987 for the first-ever Bears match – top deck of the old Southern stand above Bay 10.

    As it happened, we were playing North, the pioneers of night-time premiership-points football, then as well. If there had been wall-to-wall footy betting back then, we’d have paid about $8 or $10, but cantered away to win by about six goals.

    I know that Brenton Phillips kicked five and Philip Walsh looked the busiest – he won the Bears inaugural B&F that year – but my abiding memory is of Neil Hein, our beanpole SA recruit playing the ‘lighthouse’ role down in the forward pocket. Never amounted to anything, of course – he WAS an early Bear, after all.

    We won down at Geelong the following week too, and briefly topped the ladder. This falsest of dawns seemed to panic a formerly complacent QRL into rushing ahead with moves to get the Brisbane Broncos into what is now the NRL for 1988.

    Then we lost our first ‘home’ game at Cararra – against our future better half, Fitzroy – after which things entered an extremely dreary holding pattern for over six years until we moved to the Gabba (where we should have been from the start) and Robert Walls and Scott Clayton slowly assembled the team that gained credibility in 1994 and our first finals spot the following year.

    That credibility lasted for 15 years, way beyond the triple flags, until late 2009, when Donna Voss, wife of Wallsy’s greatest PLAYING protege, was startled to be told: ‘Honey, I blew up the club!’

  4. Murray Bird says:

    Dips – All is lost …
    Peter_B – Yep Graeme was in Adelaide .. he wrote a great piece about Fitzroy in an anthology published in the 80’s … Lions $12 Eagles $1.05
    Tony Roberts – i reckon we can point the finger at more people than just the great player … what i can’t understand is the club saying we are on target for 2016 … i am an optimist … just need a thread to hang onto …

  5. Murray,
    Your reference to Graeme Duncan immediately had me recall his contribution in the book to which you allude. It’s “The Greatest Game” edited by Ross Fitzgerald and Ken Spillman. I share with Peter B and you the status of a student of Graeme’s, in my case, at Monash in the late ’60s.

    I was actually at the MCG on Sunday watching the Blues’ strenuous efforts to prove unconvincing. I had a couple of doubles riding on the Kangaroos to win by 30+. I didn’t have access to the scores, which apparently every-one else has these days, as the score-board provided only an occasional update. I had no knowledge until I returned home that the margin had been 58 points, and saw only numbers like 32, 26; it was at least an hour after the game finished before the score-board revealed the dreaded news that Brisbane had been permitted to close to considerably less than the margin I needed.

  6. Peter_B says:

    Murray – thanks for the $12.00. On the Marsh/Lillee scale – you owe me $12,000.

  7. Murray Bird says:

    very happy to be very wrong … that is why i went broke as a bookmaker … haven’t seen the game yet as i was on a plane

  8. Shane Johnson says:

    Muz….Melbourne Bitter in 87…thats a disgrace…terrible stuff…my first experience of that was Under17 footy trip in 68 when Mickey Desmond bought me two LARGE cans that you opensd with a can opener with money out of Mums purse that she sent me away with….I was 14

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