People and Memories: Barry Ross, St.Kilda Cheer Squad

Barry Ross, St Kilda Cheer Squad

People and Memories: Barry Ross – St. Kilda Football Club

Every football club has people like Barry Ross. Dedicated, unflinching volunteers, working quietly behind the scenes, sweeping floors, running the canteen, selling raffle tickets. In a life given to St. Kilda, Barry’s done all that and more. These days he drives the bus for the cheer squad.

We meet inside Etihad Stadium on a wintry Sunday afternoon. The Saints are to play North Melbourne in a few hours and already squad members have unloaded the run-through and floggers and set up behind the northern end goals.

Barry greets me with an enthusiastic, generous smile and we head off to find a quiet spot to discuss his devotion to St. Kilda.

‘It’s just for the love of the club,’ he says. ‘Being with the cheer squad, you feel that one day, when they win it again [the grand Final], even if you’ve only helped the club a little bit, you’re part of that Premiership. That’s what everyone strives for.’

Barry’s love for St. Kilda started at Elsternwick Primary School in the late 1950s, when the club would drop off free game tickets for students. Barry started attending home games at the Junction Oval.

He joined the cheer squad in 1965, but as a new member, missed out on a ticket for the club’s only Premiership the following year.

‘I listened on the radio at a Collingwood supporter’s place. I had the last laugh by beating them by a point,’ he recalls with a smile.

Barry has been a dedicated Sainter since, yet modestly insists the club has done as much for him as he has for it.

‘The cheer squad’s like an extended family… I’ve made a lot of life-long friends. I even met my ex-wife through the cheer squad!’

St. Kilda’s time at Moorabbin, which Barry mischievously calls ‘rainy city’, in reference to the ground’s perennially muddy centre square, which often made life difficult for visiting teams, holds many special memories.

‘When the footy was played on a Saturday, the cheer squad would sleep out on the cold concrete outside the ground. We’d be there early and put the banners around the fence. Them days are gone now.’

They were difficult times for St. Kilda – the club finished wooden-spooner five times in the 1980s, when it was more renowned for its ‘lemon rinse disco’ – however Barry’s love for the Saints never wavered.

‘I never missed a game [during the ’80s]. The hope’s always there. People say “You gunna win today?” I always say “Yep”.’

Eventually the good times did return with regular finals appearances. However, the ultimate prize eludes the Saints and the pain of lost Grand Finals is still acute for Barry. He refuses to watch a replay of 1997, when Adelaide’s Darren Jarman ‘rang rings around us’. Against Geelong in 2009, St. Kilda had a number of non-performers on the day, but such is the depth of his affection, Barry refuses to criticise players. The drawn Grand Final and disastrous replay the following year were the most difficult to take.

‘It was Terrible…. The bounce of the ball, you couldn’t blame Milney [Stephen Milne].’

Barry has cheered on some of the greatest Saints: legends Daryl Baldock, Ian Stewart, Carl Ditterich, Tony Lockett and Robert Harvey. However, his all time favourite is Robbie Muir, who, despite ‘white line fever’, possessed great natural ability and always had time for cheer squad members. Barry and Muir formed a friendship during the latter’s time at the club.

As colourful as many St. Kilda players have been, its coaches have also drawn as much opinion from the football public. Barry rates Grant Thomas as ‘brilliant’ and responsible for transforming the club’s ‘party’ culture. He believes Thomas was a victim of St. Kilda politics and was pushed out well before his time. Although grateful for all Ross Lyon achieved at the club, Barry believed time had come for him to move on at the end of last season. However, the manner of his departure – without communicating effectively to players and members – disappointed many.

‘After the last game, he retired a few players and then suddenly he left himself.’

According to Barry, new coach Scott Watters needs to be given a chance to prove himself and likewise the players require time to adjust to his more positive game plan. He likes the way Watters has given young players Ahmed Saad and Terry Milera senior games and believes they will assist Lenny Hayes and Milne to break the Premiership drought.

‘Next year will be our year.’

In 2003, Barry was awarded life membership at St. Kilda.

‘It’s been my life,’ the retired railways station master says before heading off to take his place behind the goals like he has for the past five decades. ‘I just love the red, white and black. I’ll love ’em to the day I die.’

Comments

  1. Ben Footner says:

    I love stories like this. Thanks for bringing it to us Andrew.

  2. Jeff Dowsing says:

    Barry must surely be the inspiration behind the Coodabeens’ Massive Merv from Moorabbin (hope he doesn’t read this though, lest he get his mate Robbie Muir onto me)!

    Good on the club giving Barry a life membership. A much worthier recipient than Jim O’Dea.

  3. Great series, Andrew…

  4. Great article Andrew, it’s good going into the lives of others and what makes them tick. And I thought I was fanatical! I have many more years to live up to Barry.

    Thanks

    Yvette

  5. Really enjoying these pieces, AS.

    Do you think that, as the AFL becomes ever slicker, we will see less and less of Barry and his like? Or will there always be a place for these down-to-earth footy fans? In answer to the second question: I certainly hope so, imagine footy without them.

  6. Andrew Starkie says:

    Gday guys, have just discovered your messages – they haven’t gone through to my hotmail.

    Smokie, as I said to Ben, clubs keep real fans at arms length while depending on them for survival. It’s a weird dynamic. I hope the likes of Barry are always around.

  7. Well done Barry and AS. Good story.

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