My Grand Final

by Bob Utber

I decided on Friday night that I would line up at 4.00am instead of the original time of 5 as I had every reason to think that there might be a crowd already.

Driving through the streets of East Melbourne it was hard to find a parking spot and I took a punt that the grey army would not be out until late and parked illegally at least a mile from the ground.

The morning was warm at that time and already the early birds mostly magpies were on the rise. It was more like a late winter’s afternoon on a Saturday such was the hubbub going on.

The fruiterer was going about his business hoping for some early trade. “G’day maate” he said as I stumbled past still bleary eyed and unsure of my footing.

On reaching the Jolimont overpass I was gob smacked by the crowd that was already there.  There were at least three thousand members lined up who had missed out on the ballot for seats. I was one of them.  The question was not whether Presti would play but would I get a ticket.  Usually I get a ticket in the ballot so the nightman’s time was foreign to me.

The line snaked around until it nearly reached the canoe tree and people were still coming in. The Wurrundigiri people would have had a huge smile on their faces as they saw these boat people lining up to see the game that they had invented and in the middle of the night too.  These white fellas have strange ways.

One thing about the members though, we all love our sport and I would have no trouble in filling in the four and a half hours before the gates were open, my card verified and my seat obtained.

The first person I met had what is called a Guest Card, formally a ladies ticket.

When her mother died her father gave it to one of his five son’s wife. “The wife was not even blood – how come she got the ticket when I was the Collingwood fan” she told me.  Any how after an impasse of a couple of years the family resolved that the daughter should get the Guest Card and so it was to be that she was next to me in the crowd.  Standing with us was a young family man who had flown down form the Gold Coast. Forever a Saints fan he had left Melbourne with his wife and two small boys five years ago to make a new life on the Gold coast.   He had travelled down by Virgin and was returning home on Sunday (little did he know that Virgin would be in big trouble with their ticketing system!).  “I should have come straight to the ground instead of staying with a mate” he lamented.  Like all of us we were getting a little concerned that the seats would be gone before we hit the gate.

AT 6.30am there was a rush forward like Dane Swan or even better Billy Goggin breaking from the pack.  We moved 50 metres but it felt like the Gods were with us as we got nearer the winning post.

My next neighbour was a former Essendon off-spin bowler who barracked for Hawthorn and I was able to regale him with my intimate knowledge of the Hawthorn players of the seventies. The Abletts, Rice, Goad, Tuck, Russo, Knights almost half the team.  I was involved in the local football League as Secretary at the time and Hawthorn was our zone.  We got to know the club very well as they often came cap in hand to us.   The offie’s main love was cricket I found out and once again I thought that I was the consummate cricket lover and said that I had cricket paraphernalia including over 500 cricket books and nearly 100 ties in my collection, lamenting that none of my family wanted to inherit it!

The offie replied with a beautiful top spinner saying that he had over 1300 cricket books and had visited every major cricket ground in the world.  I was out for a duck.   As the skinny annoying South African would say we had a maaarvellus day and the next two hours went quickly.  The offie and I bid farewell at the turnstiles and vowed to meet again.  The time was 8.15am and we had reached the zenith of our day anything else must pale in to insignificance we would have a seat for yet another Grand Final.

In the mean time my friend from Korumburra (he arrived at 2.00am) had phoned me to say that he had saved me a seat.  Miracle of miracles the offie was only five rows in front.

Getting out of the ground was harder than getting in.  The routine is that once you get your seat you go home for a shower and breakfast.  Apparently we all wanted to do this and the offie was most concerned that he would get a ticket.

Home in Box Hill by 10.00am I said to my host, “don’t worry about waking me up I get too excited to sleep on the big day”.

I woke at 12:30 pm, too late to shower and eat and so of to the ground just as the teams burst out of the change rooms.  It had been a marvellous day.

About Bob Utber

At 75 years of age, 'Citrus Bob' Utber is doing what he wanted to do as a 14-year old: writing, talking and watching sport. How good is that!?! He lives in Mildura with his wife and 'furry kids'; a labradoodle "Freddy Flintoff" and a groodle named "Chloe on Flinders".

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