Thank You Ma’am

Thank you Ma’am

It is one of the lesser known achievements of the 60 year reign of Your Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth that you are responsible for my addiction.

To be fair to Your Majesty as a 15 year old I was already a serious user, watching and playing (despite twice not making the school Under 15 side!) but it was the long weekend celebrating Your Majesty’s birthday in 1970 that took me over the edge into the state of full addiction that I exist in today.gener

As a third generation South Melbourne supporter every season was hard – a 9 and 9 season was a rare triumph. At times I flirted with my mother’s Moonee Ponds upbringing (think Dame Edna Your Majesty) and cheered on the Bomber’s as they flew up to the flags of 1962 and 1965. My mates were getting into surfing and some strange music was making its presence felt from outside the boundaries of the 3UZ top 40. And then three days of football turned all that back (for a while) and a love of football became hard wired in me.

On the Queen’s Birthday (yours Ma’am!) long weekend in 1970 I attended three football matches in three days. The total winning margin across the three games was 15 pts and all the teams I supported won! Where can I get more of this?

To set the scene South had started the season in great if not bewildering form – beating perennial finalists Geelong (8 goals) and Carlton (13 goals) but being thrashed by up and coming Hawthorn (13 goals). Norm Smith had taken over as coach, Bob Skilton was winding down his glittering career, Peter Bedford was at his sublime best and John Pitura was showing the style and form that would cause Richmond to initially drool and then lose the plot in their attempts to get him to Tigerland.

South’s game however had to wait until the Monday.

On the Saturday my mates and I trooped off to the MCG to see Victoria play Western Australia. What a cracking game! The WA team had some familiar names – my memory says Polly Farmer played but some of the unknowns (to us Vics) took the eye including Bruce Duperouzel who kicked 6 goals. Victoria won the match by 6 points largely thanks to Gary Dempsey who took mark after mark on the goal line in the last quarter. No review system in those days!

My father grew up in Sandringham (not your Royal residence Ma’am) and we spent many a Sunday afternoon at the Beach Rd oval watching the Zebras win enough games in the 1960s to make the finals nearly every year but only once take out the flag – remarkably coming from 46 pts behind at three quarter time to beat Moorabbin in 1962. On this Sunday Sandy battled Williamstown in a thrilling match to win by 9 pts. The intimate feel to the match and the crowd, the kick to kick on the ground at the breaks, the educational language used by the coaches in the huddle (sorry Ma’am not for your ears) and the black dog that chased the ball all day racing around the outside of the fence on the beach side wing (memory is dim but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a Corgi) all made this for a totally different but equally satisfying football experience

The Monday match was the clash of the top two teams at that stage of the season. Unbelievably South was one of them taking on the Magpie machine that had only lost one game for the season. The match was at the Lake Oval and was the biggest crowd I ever saw there – over 35,000. Players who had represented Victoria on Saturday backed up again on Monday – I bet you don’t get a six day break either Ma’am.

The Collingwood team was full of legends and champions not yet haunted by their tragic fate that was to reach its height (or one of them) in September – the Richardsons, Tuddenham, Thompson, McKenna, Potter, Price, Greening and Twiggy Dunne.

The Bloods had a healthy portion of youngsters in their first or second year at the club – Gary Brice, David McLeish, Steve Hoffman, Reg Gleeson, Shane McKew, Richard Luke and Pitura. Apart from the brilliant Bedford and Skilton (two years from his last Brownlow and one year after missing all of the 1969 season) the Bloods had high leaping Russell Cook and Tony Haenen both of whom fathered high profile sporting progeny, Greg Lambert and the bulky John Sudholz at full forward.

The match was tight all day with no more than a goal separating the teams at each break. South took a 3 pt lead into the last quarter. The details of much of the last quarter are lost in the noise of the crowd and the struggle for a vantage point on the grassy knoll in the South members. Well before the advent of the Dome it felt like there was a roof over the stadium and that we were cocooned from the rest of the world.

Entering time-on Collingwood had forged a 13pt lead and looked home. McKenna had 7 and the natural order of things seem to have asserted itself. Somehow how the Bloods dragged the lead back to less than a goal (I wish I could remember how!). The expectation in the crowd was that the siren would go at any time. The critical moment arrived – the ball was kicked into the Swans goal square and spilled to the diminutive Steve Hoffmann who put through his third goal and put the Swans in front by a point.

Norm Smith seemed to order the whole team into defence – anything to beat the old enemy and take revenge for 1958! From the bounce the ball came out to the member’s wing where John Rantall won a free kick. Shades of Ross Lyon in that he had no one to kick it to. He held it as long as he could as South players streamed forward. (Historical note: “streamed forward” in 1970 is not to be confused with the hyper athletic surging up and down the ground of 40 years later.)

The ball bobbled around the South half forward line (a contest in today’s language), Collingwood won the ball and broke forward, a beautiful pass hit McKenna on the chest at centre half forward. Groans mixed with cheers – the deadliest kick in the game would have a kick after the siren to win the match. But no! The umpire had his hands in the air. Full time. The siren had sounded while the ball was in the air to McKenna. How the umpire heard it I have no idea. I know I didn’t but then I didn’t hear it in 2005 either. Pandemonium! The Bloods had won by a point. We were legitimate contenders or so it seemed.

My father’s Collingwood supporting mate could not believe it. Collingwood didn’t lose to South, that was the rule, but the final score of 16.15.111 to 16.14.110 was official.

There was a great photo in the paper the next day that showed Steve Hoffman, knees flexed, poised for glory as two Collingwood players (I think Lee Adamson and Jeff Clifton) both contested the critical mark with John Sudholz.

Ma’am from that moment my fate was sealed. It was not your visit to the Richmond/Fitzroy match earlier that year that did it but rather the quaint and curious rite that a country on the other side of the world has a public holiday to celebrate your birthday – although this is probably more curious in 2012 than it was in 1970.

Ma’am I thank you.

Where are they now?

Collingwood’s fate is well documented. They thrashed South by 96 pts in the last round of 1970 and stretched their losing Grand Final sequence to 8 before breaking through in 1990.

The Swans won 7 more games for the year including the famous apple core match at Geelong and made the finals for the first time in 25 years. Despite a 7 goal second quarter and a 5 point lead at half time in the First Semi Final South went down to St Kilda in Bob Skilton’s first and last final. Things then went seriously pear shaped. It would take until the last Round of 1974 for the Swans to beat Collingwood again and they only won 9 games in the next three seasons. Then came the move to Sydney. With all the recent stability its easy to forget the roller coaster ride of the first two decades in the Harbour City but the results show that we have won half as many Flags since 1970 as Collingwood. Old South supporters would probably take that.

As for me I went home from that Queen’s Birthday match and started cutting up newspapers and keeping a scrapbook of South’s progress, which I kept up for a few years. Dad still has them somewhere. The move to Sydney didn’t throw me and the 2005 flag was a great moment.

Your Majesty has been a model of stability. You have weathered some difficult times but your longevity at the top is unmatched. After some tricky internal personnel issues recent savvy recruiting seems to have ensured that the Windsor’s will continue to reign fro some time to come.

Happy Birthday Ma’am!

Comments

  1. The Wrap says:

    I remember the day Johnno. I was at the Light Car Club on Queens Road that day and while I can’t remember if I’d been to another match or not, or was just passing the time. but the delirious South Fans came streaming into the bar, reliving every moment of the event. Someone said one of Bobby Skilton’s stab passes travelled 60 yards and never went higher than four foot above the turf.

    And weren’t they the days when you could gather at the pub and talk about the games with other punters from other gamers, and the round, and what it all meant for next week? None of this spoon fed entertainment we are served up today, eh?

  2. Peter McC says:

    Beautifully done John. I’m sure Buckingham Palace has recorded your thoughts for posterity. It is kind of Her Maj. to grant us all the Monday holiday, even if it is not her actual birthday. Maybe we could have another break for her real one?

    1970 was a great year for the Swans and the match you describe must just about rank as the highlight of their season. For the Magpies it was a precurser to the even more bitter outcome in the grand final. It was so sad that your grand-dad did not live to see the Swans make the finals that year as he died early in 1970. Unfortunately, I also experienced nothing of those exciting times for the Swans as we were living in New Guinea at the time and all that I recall seeing was a black and white 16mm film of the grand final, and Jezza’s mark, that the Rathman’s Company brought up to show around the Territory. Ah, those were the good old days! .Cough!; Gasp!

    Your report of the Sandy game also brought on a wave of nostalgia for me. Living as we did just a few blocks from the beach oval, I remember as a young boy the great roars that would swell up from the ground on a Saturday arvo during the 1940s and 50s. Yes, the VFA used to attract really big crowds in those days! I think it was Barry Dickens (?) who described the even greater roar he heard from the MCG in his infancy as the “monster in the bottom of the garden”. that’s exactly as I remember it.

    Thanks John. More reports please!

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