Purgatory

By Simon Dalton

November, 1995

This is my first attempt at confronting the devil since the last Saturday in September, 1995. He has been chiding me and probably kindred souls of the same ilk. Come April he will undoubtedly crank it up. The worst insult has been implanting in my subconscious a song, not unlike a repetitive advertising jingle or a jarring tune from the radio which, inexplicably, you find yourself parroting. Yes, the Navy Blue’s anthem has come from my own lips. I recall that song being played time and again as I sat numb and defeated in my grand final seat. In sporting circles I am laughed at, ridiculed, a victim of the snigger. You may have already guessed; aGeelongsupporter!

 

Since the beginning of 89’ probably no other team has provided its supporters with as many single moments of skill, delight… and frustration. Few rival fans would dispute thatGeelongare, for pure entertainment value and audacity, the team to watch when they are ‘on’. Few in the know would have failed to see the increasing numbers of kids decked out in the blue and white hoops. Struggling clubs, envious of the raw talent and finals appearances, would love to have been up there so regularly. Most of our supporters are, however, a deflated and grieving lot.

 

Geelonghas been achievers though the dictates of a harsher reality say otherwise. For deep in the psyche of the game and among many hardy supporters, Geelong Football Club has achieved nothing since its last flag in 1963. To come unstuck so often when it counts most brands you with football’s least desired tag – pretender. Among the football fraternityGeelongare no longer taken seriously. They are both court jester and party spoiler.

 

For confirmation of this, the unwritten code, (here written!) states very clearly that;

  1. The underdog or sentimental favourite must win or go down gallantly. Anything less invites nasty recriminations by those who bestowed on it ‘second team status’ for the big day.
  2. Any team that makes a contest of a GF are expected, in the natural order of things, to take the next step the following year. If not, they are obliged to clear off for someone else to ‘have a real go’.
  3. Any team who, on the day, are adjudged to have performed so badly as to undermine their right to have been there, shall be held with contempt until they can one day manage to win one.
  4. Any team that gets a total shellacking in successive grand finals must accept its fate – unrelenting taunts and derision.

 

Clearly my team,Geelong, has transgressed every code and are in footballing purgatory as a consequence. Collingwood were there for thirty years and no matter how honourable in defeat, only winning the GF exorcised the demon and beheaded the colliwobble.Geelong’s perennial ‘handbag’ tag will only cease when a flag is won. Harsh perhaps, but true.

 

The public memory of the brave, aggressive and skilfulGeelongof 89’ wore off after 92’ especially given that their conquerors were the first interstaters. Come the flogging in 94’ from the same side and the rot had truly set in. People remember contests andGeelonghad not given them one in 92’ or 94’. Still, a chance for forgiveness when 95’ offered two in form and fresh sides loaded with skill and desire, pumped up for the genuine battle the football world so keenly awaited.Geelongwere primed to do what they forswore destiny had said it would deliver – and it looked like they spent the afternoon waiting for its arrival. The devil was there to foil the Cats as he locked horns in a fight against an enemy riding on the back of destiny, albeit self proclaimed. Destiny was emphatically rebuked.

 

The Blues, most agree, were men on a mission and near unstoppable.Geelongwas unstartable and got worse. This is the most serious of allegations and the main one for whichGeelongare in most disgrace. The match was over ten minutes in.

 

After the 94’ debacle I forlornly boarded a departing train only to be confronted by a drunkenGeelongsupporter who, on noting my scarf, spat ‘loser’ from the anguished depths of his football supporting soul. In 95’ anger became disbelief. There were few words. There were only blanks. Even those lucky enough to be drunk were sobered. The sounds ofCarlton’s jubilation reverberated but it did not quell the silence of dismay.Carltonwas the deserved premiers, no question. But of the supporters of the annually vanquished; did they deserve this fate?

 

The theme song of the premiers is like the shell you put to your ear. You hear the sea no matter where you are. How I crave to be those singing, joyous, uplifted victors. Sport does that; it gives you bare emotional extremes. The pain only feeds the gain or so they say. I see thousands of Blues’ fans dancing in their seats and I hear that song over and over again. All I see and hear is euphoria. All I feel is pain; the same pain as last year and a few years before that.

 

I felt proud in defeat in a long remembered classic against the Hawks, bitterly disappointed but realistic against the Eagles ‘take one’, shell shocked and hurt during ‘take two’ leading to that horrible sinking feeling of humiliation, disgust and despair against the Blues. The pain, in fact, feeds the pain. The gain – who knows?

 

In the film ‘Clockwise’ the comedian, John Cleese, as a government school principal, was on the verge of fulfilling a life long ambition that had burnt within and driven him. In a bizarre twist of fate and circumstance, the realisation of his dream was plucked from his grasp at the last moment. Destroyed and resigned to the new reality of defeat, impossibly, another chance appeared from out of the blue. In an illuminating moment he proffered,

‘It’s not the despair so much as the hope’.

 

For those afflicted with the curse of beingGeelongsupporters, a more appropriate adage might read  – ‘it’s the despair inherent in the hope’. Perhaps this is why regularGeelongsupporters don’t really know how to face another season, let alone speak about it. Instead, there is a lot of shaking of heads, mumbling and talking about the weather to fill the void. How is it possible to be so close and yet so far away at the same time in the same place twice in succession, three times in four years, four times in seven? It shouldn’t be so.

 

The devil blitzed in 95’ pitted as he was against God, Buddha and Co’. Should Geelong Football Club be involved in a most improbable rise from purgatory through to resurrection and onto the doorstep of football redemption, I will once again be faced with the dilemma of the prized grand final ticket.

 

To go would be like travelling on an Indiana Jones rollercoaster only I would know it would not be high tech cinematic trickery as I watched Harrison Ford being obliterated in the first scene (Ablett didn’t kick a goal in only one game all season!). The possibility of later heroics already snuffed out, the audience would traipse home with their dream extinguished before they had time to warm their seats. Or… could…Geelong… win?

 

Call it providence or the devil with a wink of compassion – I don’t know. My second child is due on the last Saturday in September, 1996 and for that I truly give thanks.

 

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    Sorry for your suffering Simon, but I had quite a different take on ’95. :)

  2. Watching Earl Spalding’s smother and goal in the second quarter made the pleasure center of my brain explode…

  3. tony robb says:

    Thanks for the memory Simon but having attended said game I, like JB, saw it from a slightly different view point. Still that joy was replaced by the Blues own purgatory and the Cats elevation to one of the all time great team. So your purgatory has become your navana. I look foward to the next chapter of the Trilogy
    cheer
    TR

  4. John Butler says:

    Funny you should mention that Litza.

    I just happen to have this handy:

  5. Simon I admire your courage, I myself cannot go back to that part of my life, thank God for the new breed!

  6. Just a blip over the horizon now Simon.

    The forces of evil have been exorcised through the salary cap and the draft system by the great Greek diety Androus.

    Those devil worshippers have endured several wooden spoons in their time in purgatory while they have been stoking the fires with square handled shovels with splinters in them.

    Their pain has been eased slightly recently with the introduction of cardboard handles into the system to attract a ‘better type’ to Hades.

    We who had suffered under the satanic times have since transcended to the after life where all is good forever more.

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