My Life as a Crepe Artist

Caption: Richard Naco, The Chad!, and Pamela Sherpa.

Giants banner

Caption: The GWS banner.

 

It all started last Thursday night, when …

No.  Actually, that’s wrong.  It really began last year.  I was busy being a long distance lover of another club when the much-anticipated second Sydney club started playing.  OK, so they played NEAFL instead of AFL, and did so at Blacktown (a mere two hours by public transport from my home just inland of Cronulla) (assuming that the trains pretty much link up immediately at Redfern).  Which basically meant that I didn’t go to any games, but I did bookmark their home page and attempted three or four times to become a member (having no credit card back then basically nuked that idea).

I saw GWS as being a fantastic way to spread the word, to convert the faithless towards the true shining glory that is AFL (or rather, Australian Rules Football).  I would never, I was convinced, ever turn my back on my ‘real’ AFL side, and the Giants would remain nowt but a minor light-weight distraction, filling those odd moments spent away from that other, faraway club.

I didn’t even like either the club colours when they were initially announced, nor the name ‘Giants’.  I was dismissive and contemptuous, and oh so incredibly wrong!

It didn’t take long for my best-laid plans concerning any intended minimalist degree of support for GWS to basically dissolve.  I was so impressed by the vision, courage and basic integrity of the Giants’ early performances that I soon became a member.  Then, when cruising the club’s site, I saw an article about a bloke in the cheer squad, and how he, despite long held affections for another club, was totally committed to doing whatever he could to promote this exciting new club.  And that his chosen vehicle to sell the club and our code was the GWS Cheer Squad.

As the old saying goes: “Monkey see, monkey do”.  So monkey did.

Fast forward to last Thursday night, on a brisk Sydney evening, in a spanking new hall in the heart of Breakfast Point.  Usually we make two banners every second Sunday in an indoor cricket centre at Blacktown, but the renovation of that hall has caught us a tad off guard.  So we acolytes are now headed to the heart of the GWS dormitory suburb in order to create another crepe sensation.

I don’t propose this to be a tedious description of just what goes into the making of a banner, but the ‘away’ banners are 8m wide by 5m tall.  We use a fairly traditional method (for now) of laying layer upon layer of crepe in our trademark orange, and then attaching stencilled logos and script to the surface.  We’ve got it down to a four hour project, but making this banner was to be a bit of a challenge.

The problem we faced was that the pretty little hall at Breakfast Point was about 12m by 12m, so we would not be able to make our banner in one hit.  And at our designated 6pm start time, there was myself, Seb and Kath (The Most Passionate GWS Fans in the Universe), and a GWS staffer whose name has continued to completely elude me since we were first introduced (things like that happen when you get to my age).  We had a brief moment of panic, before deciding to forge ahead and simply make the banner in two pieces, and then join them up in the middle.  Our club, we decided collectively, was one that relished challenges, and that would one day be universally acknowledged throughout Australian sport as the one which never surrendered, but fought until the end!

Challenges for GWS are, after all, merely vehicles by which glory may be magnified as they are overcome.

All well and good in theory, but the danger with this option was that if the middle of the banner top could not survive the strain which would be placed right where it joined, the whole thing would basically peel open like a zipper and would not do anything remotely good for the club’s image.

Other members of the squad gradually drifted in to join Seb and Kath, the MPGWSFITU, and myself, namely Scot the Blue Giant (who tends to act as banner captain – at least for home games) and Martin the Disillusioned Demon.  We were also eventually joined by about a half a dozen GWS staff, so we accumulated a fair team in the end.

Just before we got really stuck in (and before our core workers had completely amassed), a couple of blokes wandered in, one of whom made a beeline for the cheer squad members and started shaking hands, and introducing himself as Kevin.  We were gobsmacked, as a head coach is the last person any self-respecting cheer squad would expect to meet during one of these sessions, and it gave us a tremendous fillip to know that Sheeds actually cared enough to come and meet us.  I really enjoyed talking with him, but he had Frequent Family Points to make up and set off home to start accruing them.  (I hope his wife lets him out this weekend!)

As we worked on, players started trickling in.  Sometimes in groups, but more often alone.  Even Setanta, wearing a full length leg brace that was thick enough to turn bullets limped in (moving far more like a pirate than a ninja), and it quickly became very obvious why he was so respected at his previous club and is now so treasured by the Giants.

The players tended to hang around for quite some time, talking with any of us who cared to before drifting away, but special mention has to go to Liam Sumner, who after watching for some time rolled up his sleeves and pitched in beside us.  At one stage, as he was cutting the banner loose from the floor (it has to be taped down in order to create a fair bit of tension as we work on it), his phone rang in his back pocket.  Without stopping cutting (I should point out here that it was with scissors rather than a knife) (or a chainsaw), he answered it, and his side of the conversation went:

“Hello?”

“Oh, it’s you, Dad!  Guess what?  I’m working with the cheer squad making the banner for this week’s game, and I’m having so much fun right now!”

(Needless to say, when he nailed Jared Brennan in the square right in front of said cheer squad in the first quarter, won the free kick and then kicked the easiest of goals right over our heads, we celebrated it as though one of us had just scored.)

We finished off our creation at 10:30pm, and I eventually made it home by 12:20am on a work Friday morning.

Game day, and my wife, son and I left home at 7:00am and drove up the highway to Canberra.  We eventually arrived at Manuka at around 10:45, and I took a bit of time to actually find the other members of the cheer squad.  At 11am, we were poling up: inserting solid aluminium poles into the ends of the banner.  The home teams supply the poles for the visiting squads, so we and the Gold Coast squad basically worked side by side preparing our works of crepe art.  They only had four members on hand at this time, so a few of us also gave them a hand after our banner was ready.

We then drifted off for a while, and I got to indulge in one of my favourite pre and post game indulgences: talking footy with Pamela Sherpa.  Now, we all know and love Pamela on the Almanac site, and a few have even met her in the flesh. But being able to just sit down and talk with her was a revelation.  I first met her before (and after) the first of our games at Manuka, and it is a pleasure of the highest order to share my passion for this great indigenous game with somebody so enthusiastic, intelligent and flat out hilarious. Like so many of us who have taken up the challenge of trailblazing a new club in the AFL wilderness, she too, now shares her long-held passions for another team with a deep and abiding love and sense of excitement for the Giants.  Catching up with Pamela is now a very much-anticipated part of any home game for me.

The cheer squad banner team (of 14) regrouped at 1:15, and then, dressed in black shoes and black trousers, we were dolled up with our jackets (the type Sheeds seems to wear everywhere, and that I would kill for) in order to appear uniform (as per AFL requirements).  We took our pile of crepe out onto the fabulous Manuka turf, and after watching the visiting team run through their banner, it was our turn to raise our two piece wonder.  The five of us who had made the thing held our collective breath as the breeze seemed to rise just as our banner was lifting from the safety of the Manuka grass.

In the end, the masses of tape reinforcing the heart of the banner held fast, and the dreaded zipper effect was as much a factor as the Y2K bug.

The actual course of the game is well covered elsewhere, so I won’t go over old news here.  The cheer squad is still coalescing, so every game enables us to fit into roles within the group, and for the group as a whole to develop new cheers and routines.

Two that did stand out were directed at Israel Folau and Chad Cornes.  During our first quarter onslaught, Israel as acting as a human wrecking ball and basically causing contests throughout the forward line.  We took the old “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi … ” chant, and converted into “Izzy Izzy Izzy, Oi Oi Oi …”.  The fans surrounding us picked up on it immediately, so that became a keeper.

I got to chat with Izzy at the post game celebrations as he was being swamped by kids chasing his autograph, and as he tagged my son’s GWS hoody, I asked him whether he had heard the chant when he was playing.  So as to avoid sounding utterly naff, I won’t quote him, but he did, and he confirmed that it gave him a considerable lift.

The other classic interaction with the cheer squad was with Chad Cornes ….. my apologies: that should read, The CHAD!  Chad had been the rock upon which the Suns were wrecked in the final quarter, dominating in the air and on the ground in the defensive half, and operating at an insane 100% disposal efficiency when the game was on the line.  Inspired by his sheer guts and determination, our entire defensive unit rose as one, and basically slammed the door shut on any chance of the Gold Coast winning.

Literally with the penultimate play of the day, The CHAD! was retreating back to the goal line as Campbell Brown was awarded a free kick on the left side of the 50m arc, and as The CHAD! moved toward us we rose as one, calling him The Man and singing his praises (as you do).  He saw us, laughed, then winked, and as Brown’s shot veered off towards the right of the goals he launched himself just like his father had so often in his prime during the early 70’s and quite literally tore down a screamer from behind the pack.

The crowd was only 8000 odd for this game, but the disappointment over the numbers was easily counter-balanced by just how loud they were.  The citrus sea was literally spreading everywhere as more and more fans added GWS gear to their attire, and orange is clearly the new orange (who really gives a stuff about black?).  Like our primary colour, the Giants are bright, bold and innovative, and the Canberra faithful are clearly having fun at the footy when the Giants are about.  As the game teetered on the edge for most of that tense final stanza, all eight thousand of us rode every bump, every kick, every smother and every desperate tackle as one.  And as it became increasingly obvious just how determined our players were to not let this victory escape us, we grew ever louder, ever prouder of what this fine young group were doing for us.

Then when GWS produced the most insane burst of three goals in forty five seconds of playing time to tear the game ferociously away from the favoured visitors, we literally went delirious.  As the final siren attempted to be heard, the cheer squad erupted into masses of high fives and hugs, tears and laughter.  As we were celebrating, my son received a phone call from my brother in law back in Sydney advising him that we were on the TV.  And it was our squad: Bryce the Citrus Swan singing (with tears in his eyes, I think, although not evident in the picture); me bawling out that most amazing of anthems (as Matty Campbell commented on Fox that “The fans know the words to the song”); Martin the Disillusioned Demon shouting out thanks to the footy gods; my son Limo dancing behind him; and my brother Loofah standing, arms folded, and huge huge grin creasing his face.

Later, as we returned the floggers, flags and other equipment to the opposite end of the ground for transportation home to Blacktown, fans were actually cheering the cheer squad, high fiving us and asking about how to join our group.  We later came across the GCFC cheer squad, and although obviously shattered at being beaten, they were gracious and friendly, and we made sure we didn’t gloat.  They and us have a special bond that defies inter-club rivalries, as we are both the unpaid enthusiasts who are absolutely committed to raising the profile of our wonderful code within our respective territories.

Meanwhile, the team – no no no – the entire squad produced arguably the Greatest Rendition of any club song in AFL history, after which Mark Williams reportedly tore down the tarps taped over the windows of the GWS change rooms in order to allow the fans to see their heroes in their moment of triumph.  It was such a massive statement of just how this club differs from other, more traditional bodies.  This is, after all, the footy club that advertises for members by asking fans to actually own that club.

The game didn’t end there.  Half an hour after the game, I took the three minute stroll to the Eastlakes Footy Club that is GWS’s home away from Blacktown with Bryce, Martin, Loofah, Limo, Pamela and my wife, and we enjoyed one of the most intimate and renewing celebrations you could imagine.  After their recovery session, the AFL team arrived, and with no great fanfare, just entered the room quietly, and mixed freely with the members.  I won’t name drop, as – like everybody else there, I spoke to plenty – but the openness and accessibility of all players, coaches and staff was sensational and greatly appreciated.  And the lack of artifice, pretension and just plain b.s. was again a magnificent statement of why GWS is destined for greatness, as such humility is truly the hallmark of champions.

So where does that leave me?  I still have strong affections for my previous club, but the more that I have to do with GWS, the more that I identify myself as a Giant.  Pamela and Bryce the Citrus Swan and Steve the Blue Giant may all be able to maintain their sense of perspective, but I cannot.  I am, without ever being conscious of the change during its transition, now very much in thrall of the Giants.

I was lucky enough to enter and win a competition this week run by Virgin Airlines which asked contestants to describe in twenty five words of less (so you know it wasn’t this piece) about why they should go to their club’s next away game.  My subject, and now my destination, is the Gabba.

To see my Giants play the Lions.

GO GIANTS!

About Richard Naco

We are Geelong.

Comments

  1. Pamela Sherpa says:

    You’ve captured the joy of the day and how it feels to belong to GWS wonderfully Richard. Hope you have your voice back.

  2. Peter_B says:

    Bloody brilliant, Richard. My 80 year old Dad is a Port Power supporter, and he bleeds for the loss of Giles, Cornes and Choco Williams. As an outsider it seems to me that GWS are very shrewd in cooking up the best of the old and the new. Choco is channeling the Port Magpies grassroots passion of his father (the great Foster) together with the carney barker showmanship of Sheeds. They are building a club and a community of players and fans from the ground up. Marrying that with a 5 year plan for recruiting and development using the best sports science from US College sport models. I love the playing assistant coach/mentor model of Cornes/Power/Brogan. It is retro and new age in the one breath. Back to the future. Brilliant.
    Love your passion, Richard and Pamela. I have watched Stephen Coniglio from age 15 playing Colts at Swan Districts. When Swans put him in the league team as a skinny little 17yo in 2010 I was sure he would get crunched. His 4 goals in the one point GF win over Claremont (alongside Krakouer heroics) is one of my greatest sporting joys. I love the infectious spirit of your team. Thanks for sharing the journey with us.

  3. Mark Doyle says:

    Well done Richard! I am curious about whether you and/or Pamela Sherpa are putting your hands up to play a similar role or duet to the famous middle aged silver haired Sydney supporter who leads the cheer squad and team song after a win.

  4. Skip of Skipton says:

    At least you’re putting your mid-life crisis to good use evangelising in the last frontier. Some people buy Harley-Davidsons, or take up boot-scootin’ or it’s present day equivalent. You’ll always be welcome back at the Cattery; we are an understanding and non-confrontational lot.

  5. Richard Naco says:

    I’ll always have a soft spot for Geelong, Skip, but the cold hard reality is that I can actually do something hands on with GWS while it was a very one sided relationship with the Cats. My circle of mates is very much reforming in Breakfast Point right now, and I got to spend Sunday with quite a few of them.

    Mark: I prefer to leave the players in the spotlight. I derive enormous satisfaction standing in the shadows & doing whatever I can to ensure that the players, coaches & the club itself get the kudos. I wouldn’t have wanted to have this photo taken except for the chance to share it with Pamela as much as with The CHAD!

    Peter: I agree with everything you say. Coniglio is the real deal, and he was great to watch even in Sunday’s “underwhelming performance” (to quote Rhys Palmer). I met him briefly after the Coast game as well (Pamela will vouch that this isn’t bragging as all of the players were circulating and chatting with anybody and everybody) and he is a decent bloke on top of it all. Talent tempered by humility. A common Giants’ trait, I’ve found.

    We seem to becoming the second favourite team of a heck of a lot of supporters. If things go according to plan, that may well change over the next couple of years.

  6. Richard Naco says:

    And to correct th edimensions cited in the article: ‘away’ banners are 5m high and 14m long.

    Home banners are 8m high & 14m long, so making it in the restricted confines of the hall at Brekkie Point will be some challenge this week.

  7. pamela sherpa says:

    This could be a one in a million shot Richard. How often has Chad Cornes been photographed smiling?

  8. Phantom says:

    That’s a nice pair of Knackers Richard. No wonder he is smiling.

  9. Richard Naco says:

    Pamela can back me up here, but Chad was generous & charming that night. There are undoubtedly a few scars from his Alberton experience, but he’s respected and cherished at GWS and I think he’s appreciating the change of environment. He was certainly highly accessible that night, and extremely engaging. My son now has his signature on the back of a GWS hoody.

    Putting his warmth into context: everybody was open, friendly and available that night. If Pamela and I were to name drop we’d look like a right pair of celebrity stalkers, but the reality is that everybody – players, coaches & officials – were circulating throughout the members and engaging with all of us. It was a wondrous heartwarming evening, and a complete contrast to certain clubs who seem to be populated exclusively by reclusive elites.

    It really does bear truth to the Giants’ constant calls for members: Giants’ members really are made to feel that they own this club. And how refreshing is that!

  10. pamela sherpa says:

    Agreed Richard. Like you, I felt completely relaxed and at ease mingling among the Giants.They’re a nice mob.

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