Suffer the Little Children: KFC and the 2013 Grand Final.

 

by Sean Gorman

 

Its funny how the things you say come back to haunt you. Last year in the post Grand Final swim-through at a mates house I turned to a good friend and with a very strong Corona-induced conviction declared: ‘I would not like to be the poor bastards playing Hawthorn in the Granny next year. The Hawks will kill `em”.

How would you be?

On Tuesday of Grand Final week I got on a plane for Darwin. I have to admit it was good to get out of Perth and spend a few days in the tropical North. I had agreed, months ago, to head to Darwin to give a series of lectures on my work relating to Indigenous AFL players and the new best-practice guidelines for Indigenous players implemented by the AFL Players’ Association. The Darwin heat was great, and the people friendly. The time allowed me to think and dream. I thought a lot of Matt Price, the purple-hearted scribe: what a wonderful human being and great writer. His demise has been magnified this past few weeks as a good friend of mine has just been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. (He shuffled his chemo appointments to make the journey to the `G.)

 

I got back from Darwin at 6 pm on the Friday, was picked up by the good wife; home to shower, unpack, repack, get back out to the airport to get the red-eye with the Purple Pilot Light of Hope (my young fella, Clay).

“What film do you think they will show on the flight Dad?” he asked, as we sat in the Qantas lounge munching on sandwiches.

I tell him we’ll probably have a choice, but I’d prefer if he got a bit of shuteye. It was going to be a big few days.

 

Arriving into chilly Melbourne air at 6 in the morning we headed straight to Northcote where we were staying. The Pilot Light headed for the fold-out bed and my host generously drove me into town where I could pick up my tickets as the booth opened at 730. The day before I was in shorts and T-shirt, had a swim after breakfast. At this moment I had three layers on as the wind taunted me. I collected the precious tickets and headed to the Hilton to get a take-away coffee, got on the tram into town, got cash out, and then into a cab back to my Northcote digs.

I was rooted and it was only 830.

 

Arriving back I had another few coffees and some eggs that my hosts had prepared. I felt good and pondered the unspeakable “What if”?

The text messages started:

“Good luck mate”

“Hope to see you after the game – Go FREO”

“Mate in town – need a ticket”.

The Pilot Light asked if he could have KFC if we won – reminding me it had been two years since the Colonel’s finest had passed over his lips. What do you say? “Of course, but don’t tell your mother,” I winked.

He nodded: he understood that the 11 herbs and spices was a Black Ops gig.

 

 

At 11 we hopped on the train and alighted at Jolimont, less than 12 hours since we’d left Perth. The atmosphere crackled. The mood was heady. People smiled with expectation. We walked up to the park and stood, as I wanted the boy to get a sense of the park at this time of the year. We then got back on the tram and headed to Fed Square. It was festooned with purple. The throng was like some massive purple serpent slowly weaving and inching its way along the Birr rung Mar – I was impressed with the total positivity and bon homie. It was incredible. Fremantle’s imagined purple army was actualized.

 

We eventually got to the sacred site about 1145 and I caught up with an old, Mt Barker mate and had a beer up at the Hilton. The din in the subterranean bar was great. This is football. Footy talk. Footy thoughts. We bade my mate farewell and meandered down and into the G. Inside the great space I bumped into Kim Scott who had gone hard with an old school guernsey and beanie. The erudite dual Miles Franklin winner and colleague was beaming.

 

The ticket was for standing room only and already the concourse was three deep. The boy was not happy. As luck would have i,t the group I was standing with started to banter – they were Freo people and had a spare ticket right at the top of the Great Southern Stand. It was offered.  Off he took like a jackrabbit. I got a text from West Coaster and Hawk diehard, Craig Turley: “Bottle of Bourbon on the Hawks. May the best team win. Turls”

I replied: “makers mark dun”.

It’s happening.

I feel happy but unsettled. Like a kid a Christmas who wants the bike but is apprehensive of the 1000 piece jigsaw. All I can say is I am happy to be here, amazed that the flight and all the carry-on is worth it. I can say I was here with my son.

By the start of the official hoopla I have consumed 7 beers.  My back is tightening up and my eyes are sore.  Songs, announcements, anthem, bullshit banter and then it is on, not on the field but behind me as a Freo supporter has gone flying and a massive Hawk is reigning blows down. I’m glad the boy is not here to see it. Cops quickly arrive, cuff the Hawker and lead him away.

 

The ball bounces. I am 12 years old again standing on tiptoes at the 1981 WAFL GF. It’s hard to make out what is going on and I keep referring to the screen gulping beer as I go. Like manygrand finals the opening stanza is scrappy. The eddying wind does not help as players fumble and snatch at the ball and one another. Gunston gets the first goal four minutes in.  Freo get it and it is de Boer to Mzungu who kicks to Fyfe. Fyfe is silky but not showy he can do everything and in one gazelle movement spring-marks the ball 40 meters out. His set shots this year have been great. He misses everything.

As expected the Hawks are more coherent and less daunted than their purple antagonists.  Danyle Pearce gathers and loops a ball up from Freo’s half back line. For an experienced player it is an immature kick as it lands with Roughhead who goals.

Buddy marks fifty out and just as he kicks the whistle blows and McPharlin has infringed the mark. Buddy slots it from right in front and the scene is set. Freo have to start to concentrate and not let the occasion play them. Senior Fremantle players need to lead. At the first break it is Hawthorn 2.3 15 to Fremantle’s 3 points.

 

 

During the break I bump into Troy Cook and Antoni Grover. “How you feeling Cooky?”

“Fuckin nervous” he replies and smiles.

I get more beer and I think more about Matt Price. I also wonder who would Mark Harvey be going for? I would like to think that Price would be slightly tipsy and a tad misty-eyed. As for Harves I would hope he would be going for his past charges and not his professional nemesis.

 

The second quarter is very important. Freo need to be leading by half-time I feel. Scoreboard pressure is a cliché – it is also a reality. If you have it you can set the agenda. For me the quarter is epitomised by Freo mistakes and Gunston. Fyfe, under pressure, cannons a snap into a clutch of players. It ricochets cruelly into the path of Mitchell who is like a barracuda and gets it onto Franklin, onto Rioli, and onto Gunston. I wince like a man about to cop a slap. Two missed goals and a bad mistake buy young Nat – you do the math.

Mzungu kicks Freo’s first goal thus assuring himself to be forever etched in the quiz night questions 100 years from now. The ball then finds itself deep in the Hawks forward line – all Pearce has to do is pick it up. He fumbles like a first gamer as his old Port Adelaide team mate Shaun Burgoyne comes in to mop up. From the big screen you can see the moisture drain from Pearce’s cheeks. I gulp beer again and my back tightens further. By comparison Gunston has focused like a surgeon on the frontline.  The siren goes and it is Hawthorn 5.5 35 to Fremantle 1.6 12.

 

I head to the dunny and the Hawks supporters are rubbing it in “Get fucked Freo” screams one bloke relieving himself. A Hawk supporter standing next to me four deep looks at smiles and me “you are never more vulnerable when you have your dick in your hand.”

We laugh together, at the truth of it.

 

The boy finds me and says, “Dad there is heaps of room near me, come up.”

I nod and like a pair of mountain goats we make our ascent. I sit, get my breath, and gaze out at the view. I love the MCG. I recall the first time I came here. A Friday night game where Dermott Brereton was playing for Collingwood against Sydney in 1995. It was weird to see the great Hawk in another tribe’s colours.  I don’t drink another beer until well after the game.

 

The third quarter is much better for Freo as they finally compose themselves and start playing assured free-wheeling football. This epitomized by Sandilands getting a squirting handball to a moving Pearce who sends it long into the forward line. It bounces true and Clarke gathers and pops it over to his skipper goal. “Cmmmmoooon” I yell. Then Son Son Walters takes a lovely little mark and an elbow in the head from Lake. The umps have put the whistle away. Just like with Rioli doing a classic chicken wing on Barlow – holding the ball? Looks like Rioli will get time on the sidelines but is rewarded with a free kick. Jesus Christ. WTF?   Son Son goals then Mayne gets one.  I can feel it. Here it comes I whisper to myself. Mundy has stood up and breaks tackles and carries the ball.  Only a few points the difference now. But when Gunston goals the Hawks steady. They lead by 10 points going into the last change. I think we can still do this.

 

 

While I am hopeful going into the last I start to process what I will say to the boy if we lose. Clarke is subbed off despite Ballantyne having a dog of an afternoon.  It will be ammunition for his antagonists next year; a crease in his psyche he will have to iron out.

My future speech to the boy becomes even more acute around the 10 minute mark when Breust sharks a Sandilands’ tap – aah, we have been here before – it seems like Breust had S Hill, Pearce and Neale roll out the red carpet and usher him toward the goal. Then when Puopolo gathers a quickly snapped around his body  B Hill gathered and on the run and pumped the ball from 5 metres out.  The Hawks chant goes up but Freo are still running. They won’t stop despite the sense that things are slipping further away with 10 minutes or so to go. I look at the Pilot Light – his cheeks are red but he is wide-eyed – thankfully I can distract him as the 100 007  people flashes onto the screen. “Wow” I enthuse, “this is the biggest crowd I have ever seen.”

He smiles a wobbly smile. Lake has been an impenetrable wall – what must he be feeling like? As the time ticks down Freo score here and there and eventually get to within three kicks of the Hawks. Fittingly the marquee Hawk Franklin swoops on the ball and the siren sounds.  Hawthorn 11.11 77 to Fremantle 8.14 62. It is a perfect purple bitter pill to swallow –  same amount of shots (don’t mention the out of bounds). It will be a scoreline remembered for what Fremantle could not do early. Convert.

 

The post match is significant for two things: no Freo supporter leaves the MCG. Despite the loss this is our first Grand Final and we will stay until our vanquished charges retreat into the bowels of the great oval. Also it is notable that there has been no ‘Grand Final moment’. No Scarlett toe-poke, no Chappy hang, no Chick handball and shepherd. Some will say it is the worst Grand Final for 20 years. I am not one of them.

 

I turn to the boy his cheeks are flushed but he does not cry. I hug him and rub his head saying that this is just the start and there will be more trying to assure him of something that I cannot guarantee. I turn to the Hawks people around me and congratulate them. My beer infused words from last year ring in my mind. Who would have thought? I make my descent. Shaking more hands. I turn to make my way to the tier below and a young Hawks supporter, pissed and twerking it sees me and yells “Get Fucked Freo – you weak C****”

I proffer my hand and he gives me a double bird. I look him square in the eye – he is dead-fish eye pissed. His mates chide him and mouth, ‘Sorry’.

A weird feeling comes over me: the same feeling as last year – only this time I am mostly sober. I am sure Freo will play in next year’s Grand Final. This moment will burn them and they have the players to cope. I also feel so strongly that  Fyfe will win a Brownlow. At the moment the difference between him and Hird or Judd is concentration. It is controlling every action and the moments into the future like Eddie Charlton knowing where his next shot and the shot after will go. So hard to do when the madness swirls. It is about allowing the world to drip away while the heat is at its hottest.

 

I meet up with Harms, and meet Tim Harcourt and the suburban boy Dave Warner. The words of the pissed Hawk fan dissolve with meeting such great people. I look at the boy. He is spent. I hail a cab.

“To the nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken joint my good man, and don’t spare the horses”.

 

Best: Lake (3), Gunston (2) , Mundy (1)

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Great piece. Spot on about Fyfe. Hope we read this again in the book.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Great Read Sean I concur re Fype Pearce is another story not there in the crunch and Ballantyne will be interesting how he copes next year after meeting Tim Plug Harcourt you may be interested in his Peice Fremantle helps Africa rebuild Thanks Sean

  3. sean gorman says:

    Thanks boys im in a bit of a quiet mad monday ting. Iam going to grow a beard – a proper one not like these other afl wannnas – like masten. you gotta roll rolll roll thrill mu soul……. save our city ……. you getttit

  4. Joanne Daniher says:

    I hope the boy got some KFC ?

  5. bob speechley says:

    KFC is obviously the remedy for over exertion. Given your “meandering”, the celebs you rubbed shoulders with and your remarkable restraint under the circumstances I’m flabbergasted that you’ve captured the flavour of the BIG DAY so coherently. You’re now in legion with an army of Essendon supporters who HATE everything about Hawthorn from their jumper to their high-faluting pretentiousness emanating from the debacle of 1983. It may be worthwhile contemplating the revenge the Bombers meted out in1984/5 – it was sweet!

  6. Thanks Sean. I really felt for your young bloke. But they need to see and feel defeat so the victory means something.

    That numbskull Hawk supporter giving you the double bird is probably the same bloke I had behind us at the Prelim Final. At least your description of him is the same.

  7. e.regnans says:

    G’day Sean,
    Epic trans-continental story. What a beauty.
    You’ve done very well to maintain composure & perspective in the face of life’s unfolding drama there. And a terrific picture you paint of the kaleidoscope of experience of Grand Final day at the G.
    Very well played, indeed.

  8. A great read Sean. I hope one day I can share a similar experience with my kids.

  9. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Great read Sean. I have no doubt the Dockers will be up there for a few years yet. I think that young Hawk supporter was the same one who waddled home with my footy record up his arse earlier in the year. Hmmm…

  10. Tasman Hughes says:

    Bob S, I hate everything about Hawthorn and we BEAT them in a GF!

  11. Great read Sean and some nice cameos. Proud of the boys but still hurting.

  12. Glen Potter says:

    Sean,
    It was gut-wrenching to hear a supporter carry on like that in front of your son. A great read and I could certainly relate to a lot of what you wrote. Did the young Hawks supporter at the end look like some indulged, spoilt, obnoxious eastern-suburbs prat? Apologies to any sensible Hawks supporters who find this reference cliched.

  13. sean gorman says:

    Glenno he was that pissed he just looked like a tool. I reckon he would have battled to have seen 8pm. It was a sad way to end a tough day. I’m just glad I laid off the gas in case it was battle of the beer barons.

  14. Great piece Sean – he’s staunch, that Clay – heading up to the upper tiers by hisself. Would have been great for him to have seen them win…

  15. Shane Kennedy says:

    A great read Sean, well done.

    I remember watching the Hawks beat my Eagles in ’91 as a 15 year old from the stands at Waverley.

    It certainly made the ’92 win feel a little more earned.

    It worries me, but I think the Dockers will be thereabouts for a while yet.

  16. Cracking read, cobber.

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