The Personal Touch

One of the things I really enjoy about footy is those personal rivalries. Its one thing sticking it up some random in the crowd but I find it far more satisfying engaging with The Enemy supporters in a bit of banter one-on-one. Even in Sydney, where I’m outnumbered by a whole raft of Hawks, Blues and No-Teeth fans, there’s a great deal of opportunity for this kind of thing.

My best friend’s a Saints supporter. We’ve known each other about twenty years and came to our teams via where we landed after emigrating from Blighty twelve or so years ago; me in Sydney, him in St Kilda. The last time these teams fronted-up I was down in Melbourne and we’d discussed going to Docklands but the timing was rotten so we settled for his living room. Two years ago he’d expressed ‘admiration’ for me even daring to show up south of the border in red and white but back in round nine even the cops were praising the Swans. I suspect they were checking me out for jaywalking while I skulked around outside a Chapel Street boutique waiting for the wife to finish shopping.

I recall his disappointment at the first quarter score. Then the tables turned as Swans closed up shop for two quarters and I sunk into a red wine stupor, mumbling incoherently at our lack of effort and eventual loss.

Forward-wind eight rounds and the teams are fronting up again, this time at the more psychically comfortable surrounds of the SCG. It’s a different Swans side running through the banner this time too. Undefeated and looking like serious finals contenders. Still you just never know and with The Enemy coming in with form I settle in for the game, niggling text messages lined-up, ready to fire off.

It doesn’t start too well. My notes from the first quarter (smiley faces for our scores, frowning faces for The Enemy’s) show a column of frowns running down the page. On a side note I need a different indicator for appalling umpiring decisions. I mean how blatant must holding the man or ball be for us to win a free? The final tally of 15-13 masks what I feel is a general conspiracy to gift momentum back to any Enemy team as soon as the Swans look like pulling away.

Anyway, third shooter on the grassy knoll theories aside the first siren can’t come quickly enough. The Enemy racks up five goals and our kicking’s off target. LRT, playing full forward, is being double teamed and until McVeigh boots one late in the quarter we look like being overrun.

Quick ball movement after the bounce sees Reid line-up only to skew it off for one point. Perhaps it’s too much to hope for another blinder like he had against West Coast? Finally Goodes steps up to run in for a goal. Elsewhere though we’re playing ‘old school’ Swans. Shocking handballs and panicked decisions are putting the pressure on Richards and Grundy. Jetta jags his way though some slow Enemy defence, gets the pill to Hannebury who scores. Then it descends into a roving maul for a bit before the ball comes loose. Thankfully The Enemy are off target too. Some wag comments that it is ‘Women’s Round’ although I can’t tell who that was directed at.

Our intensity picks up. The Enemy takes forever to get the ball back out. Mumford shanks a chance after receiving a great kick. The Enemy kick it straight out to Pyke who also stuffs it. Third go ’round and Mumford steals another awful kick out, gets it to Kennedy who is a much better shot. The guy sitting next to me comments the game should be in the bag by now if we weren’t so off and there’s some general banter about dusting off Nick Davis and the target gizmos. More great ball movement results in another point courtesy of Hannebury. Kennedy has another crack but misses. Half time and we’re up by 9, equalling our lead on behinds. Again the holding off of our forwards has been blatantly ignored. Still you have to applaud such consistency in a season marred by more questionable decisions than the Gulf Invasion.

Potential disaster looms in the third as Mumford is subbed-off. Pyke, however, seems up to the task, dominating in the hit outs. Goodes gets another goal. The Enemy are doing their best to take advantage of our appalling decisions. Grundy has a clanger of a kick out but redeems himself shortly with a goal. The Enemy run free but there’s contention as the video ump is brought into play. Did Pyke touch it on the line? It seems he did. Still we’re not playing fantastically and The Enemy, with loose men everywhere, scores twice. Finally Richards comes in to save the day, gets the ball out and Jetta scores from a set shot just before the siren. Goodes goes down thanks to a cheap shot off the ball, started I think from some shoving of Jetta. We’re up by nearly three goals but my thumb remains frozen over the send button.

Early in the forth it’s an unbroken line of frowning faces in the notepad. We’re getting swarmed and its only errant kicking saving our collective backsides from a flogging. Finally the ball flies out of our defensive fifty, up to O’Keefe who for the second week in a row wakes us up for the charge home. The Enemy get another umpire-assisted goal. After that the ball is locked steadfastly in heart attack territory for several minutes and then they goal and suddenly the scores are level.

The boys kick it up a gear. Jack crumbs, snaps and scores. From there on in we’re coasting on five unanswered goals. The final twenty-nine point blowout doesn’t reflect, though, what was a fairly tough and, at times, dour game of footy. Maybe it was the effects of the trip out west but the boys didn’t look as if they were firing on all cylinders except in the mental toughness region. Still we’ll take the four points and move on.

Waiting in line for the bus I phone my mate to remind him that his team can’t win even with the help of the umpires. I’m sure he appreciated the personal touch.

About Tom Bally

Born in 1834 Tom Bally was instrumental in establishing the rules of the modern game. It's a little known fact and the rare times he talks about it all he'll say is "that bloody Wills chap got me full of grape one night and the next thing I know he's peacocking around Richmond Paddock like he dreamt up the whole thing on his lonesome. Still I got the last laugh didn't I eh? Introducing the Umpire and all that."

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