Superstition exerts a powerful influence over football. Many fans have a routine they follow leading into a game. For some, it involves wearing the same scarf or jumper. For others, a silent prayer to the footy gods and drinking from a club coffee mug the morning of a game.
We all have football idiosyncrasies and beliefs others might smirk at. For years I wore the same pair of North Melbourne socks to work on Friday, as though those socks had power beyond functional comfort and keeping my feet warm.
My mate Russ lives in Melbourne. He harbours a dreadful superstition. He’s been an occasional visitor when North play Brisbane at the Gabba. The first time he came to up in 1996, North led by eighteen-points midway through the second quarter and ended up losing by five goals.
In the last quarter, Wayne Carey hit the post from the top of the goal square. The Owens Curse, according to Russ, was born that night.
Russ has been to the Gabba four times and has never seen North win. Each trip has ended in agony. He blames the losses on his presence, proof that the curse lives.
As bad as the curse sounds, there is no totem pole or voodoo involved. The curse, despite its longevity, has limitations. It only exists in Queensland and is limited to North Melbourne playing Brisbane at the Gabba and only when Russ is in town.
Russ came up in May, 2011. North gave up a 22-point lead in the third quarter and lost by 14-points. After the game, over beers at the pub, Russ said he wasn’t coming back for another North game. ‘It’s the Owens Curse,’ he said. ‘I’ve come here three times and North has lost each one.’
Last year, Russ came back and brought the curse with him. The match was predictable. North, as they often did last year, gave up a big lead, 33-points midway through the third quarter. Brisbane kicked seven goals in the last term. Watching another capitulation was humiliating.
Afterwards, Russ was unequivocal. ‘We lost because I’m here,’ he said. ‘It’s my fault.’
When we got home, Russ sat inside watching the Ashes and playing poker on the iPad. Five mates were drinking and playing pool in the Arden Street Bar. Russ didn’t want to join in. He was hurting. It took about an hour before he joined in the commiserations.
When I dropped Russ off at the airport the following night, the last thing he said before he slammed the door was an affirmation.
‘I believe in the curse.’
With that, he walked away. I didn’t say anything. I wouldn’t have argued. Russ had been carrying his curse for eighteen years. It’s a heavy burden.
North Melbourne last won at the Gabba in 2005. After the game, my brother and I begged Jason Akermanis to do a handstand. Aker ignored us. Unfortunately, Russ wasn’t there that night.
Had his trips to Brisbane been timed differently, there would be no Owens Curse but football fans tend to be a superstitious bunch. The curse can’t be explained by absence, only by his presence.
Russ is coming back to Brisbane for the North game. He says he is bringing the Owens Curse with him. It’s flying for free. The timing could not be worse.
Jonathon Brown has retired after another sickening concussion. He made the right decision. A legend of Brisbane, Brown is irreplaceable. He might not be playing but his presence will be ample. The Lions will be fired up to honour his memory.
His spirit might feed the Owens Curse.
When I spoke to Russ on Wednesday, he was nervous. ‘North is paying $1.15,’ he said. ‘They can’t be that short and lose, can they?’
‘I’m worried about Brown’s influence,’ I said.
‘This is the curse of curses,’ Russ said. ‘If we lose will you believe me?’
‘North has been favourites every time I’ve been to the Gabba,’ Russ said. ‘If we lose this time the club won’t let me come back.’
Russ sounded serious. I was starting to believe Russ was serious. This damned Owens Curse was no longer a coincidence. Russ’s heartache last year extended beyond North losing. He found blame in his presence. North lost because of him. Everything else that contributed to the loss was incidental.
It was Russ’s fault, and that meant the Owens Curse lived. It wasn’t a figment of his imagination.
I talked to him on Thursday. He had been spreading the Owens Curse, convincing a couple of colleagues to put $20 on Brisbane at $6.00.
‘They believe in the curse,’ Russ said.
Brisbane won’t play finals. Their season has been reduced to winning on the sly, or putting it all together to honour Jonathon Brown. It would be a fitting tribute for loyalty and splendid performances.
A North win would kill the curse. A point will suffice. Russ can’t go on blaming himself when North loses to the Lions at the Gabba, when he is at the game.
Russ believes in the Owens Curse more than he believes in North. I don’t want to believe in curses…