THE THERMOS IS EMPTY

After years of crisis, Saturday after Saturday of hoping, Fitzroy Football club finally died. For our mob it ended at the M.C.G with that game against Richmond. The last game on TV against Freemantle just didn’t seem real somehow. Almost 12 months on I still can’t believe that game couldn’t have been moved to Melbourne. It was like a final insult. A punishment for years of defiance.

We’d left the “G”, that day as a family. The third and fourth generation of our mob to have barracked for the Roy boys. (I deliberately call them the Roys and not the lions because the latter now represents something of which my mob don’t know or care about). We’d gone past wondering why. Given up trying to understand the AFL’s bigger picture. Gone past all that, to just tears and emptiness. We’d loved that team, that jumper, those players. Over emotional?  Probably.  Illogical? Definitely. But then if you take the emotion out of footy. If you try and be logical about just what makes you love a footy team, if you dissect it and try to analyse it, you will kill the magic. Kill the faith.

Our grandparents, Clarence and Eileen Garner, had trekked to every home game at the Brunswick St Oval.  They reckon Pop used to chain smoke behind the Brunswick St goal in those days.  I have a vague memory of them leaving our place with my older brother Rob in tow.  Pop always wore a suit, Nan her best dress and Brother Rob a hand knitted Fitzroy footy jumper.  Going to the footy was a special thing.  Cheering for the Roy Boys was a religion.  In those days, like in the last days wins were few and far between, but that never stopped them.  And at that last game my big brother Rob, now 44, was remembering those treks.  Remembering Nan and Pop.  And reminding the rest of us that somehow going to the footy, Fitzroy, and Nan and  Pop were interwoven.

We had the summer to get over the loss. Six months to resign our self to the fact that the Fitzroy Football Club and that chapter of our family history was over.  But when the first round of ’97 came round I realised that it will take years of summers for our mob to adjust to life without the Roy boys.

On my way home from work on the morning of the new season my sense of life was overwhelming. I drove passed the Western Oval and saw doggy fans boarding a bus for a home game at Optus oval. More change. More adjustments. But at least they had somewhere to go. Our mob didn’t. The Couldabeens were going through their paces on my car radio, it should’ve felt like a footy day. But it didn’t.

When I got home there was no call from the brothers to check on arrival times at the ground. My daughter wasn’t packing up sandwiches and unpacking scares, she was off somewhere trying to be busy, trying to forget.

In the kitchen cupboard I saw our thermos and again I thought of the Roy boys I remembered that the last thing we did before leaving for the game was to argue over whether it was a soup or coffee day. The arguments had become part of the ritual. It was like Pop Garner suit. Like picking a spot to meet. It was part of loving Fitzroy.

About Barry Garner

I’m a 55 year old daydreamer who’s childhood hero’s were Kevin Murry and my older brother Rob who played in the ycw comp in Collingwood. I like to write and am having a collection of stories published in September,by Apricot Tree Press. I love this site!

Comments

  1. Adam Muyt says:

    Barry, lots to love about the Roys. Thanks for the recollection. So what footy paths have you and the rest of the family taken?

  2. Barry, The Roys still play. The Fitzroy Football Club play home games at the Brunswick Street oval in the Ammos, and they look great in the old Roy colours.

  3. johnharms says:

    I’m with Rod on that one. I love going down to Brunswick St. I know it is not the same (not anywhere near the same). But I suppose it is something.

    Did your grandparents talk much about the really old days?

    Have you read much Barry Dickins?

  4. Great piece, Barry – and you’re right, you can’t be logical about what makes you love a footy team.

  5. Barry – my old man was a Fitzroy supporter because he spent most of his young days living in its squalid streets (his words not mine). When they died and were reinvented in Quennsland I asked him if he would follow them. He said no. He became a supporter of brilliant individual players rather than a team. He loved gary Ablett senior (and junior), James Hird, Dermie, Tim Watson.

  6. As someone whose heart sinks everytime he drives past the lakeside oval, i fully understand. I still call out “Come on Sth Melb” and get howls of derision.
    Love Barry’s writing. Love to hear more.
    Bruno Lettieri

  7. Barry Garner says:

    Thanks to you all for the warm welcome. A couple of years after the fall my 3 brothers began to follow Brisbane. I maintained my rage and followed North, who had been my second team. But I realised after a while that deep down your second team is always your second team, so I joined my brothers on the Brisy bandwagon. It’s not the same but I love sharing that connection with my Bro’s. I’m a big Barry dickens fan and had the good fortune to join him at a reading night about six years ago. I’m gonna ring the boy’s and see if we can get together and make a trek down to Brunswick Street. Thanks again for the welcome! GO ROYS..

  8. Mark Doyle says:

    An interesting memory Barry! I was not a Fitzroy supporter, but have always been interested in the history of all clubs and have had some experience with Fitzroy people. My family in Albury were friendly with a former Fitzroy player and Brownlow medalist named Dinny Ryan and I used to love listening to his stories of playing in the VFL with Fitzroy in the 1930’s. He gave me a great insight into how good a player was the great Haydn Bunton, who was also from Albury. He also told me about other former Albury players in the VFL such as Gordon and Doug Strang, who played with Richmond. I also knew Haydn Bunton’s brother, Cleaver, who used to tell me how good a player was Dinny Ryan himself. One of my childhood heros in Albury in the 1960’s was a former Fitzroy player named Graeme MacKenzie, who was captain coach of my team North Albury in the O & M Football League. I and other kids used to get a real buzz from kicking the footy with Graeme after school. North Albury also had two other former Fitzroy players named David Sykes and Eric Vinar. Eric Vinar had a brother Paul who played with my team Geelong in the 1960’s. I think from memory that Sykes won a Morris medal for the best player in the O & M Football league. North Albury’s home ground is also called Bunton Park. I also got an understanding of how tough it was for Fitzroy in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s from another family friend named Bob Hodgkin, who played 20 odd games with Fitzroy during this time. Perhaps with this history I should have supported Fitzroy! However, I am more than happy to have been a Geelong supporter of more than 50 years. It is unfortunate that Fitzroy Football Club no longer exists, but I believe that you can be grateful that it’s history and traditions are maintained by the Brisbane Football Club. I believe that Fitzroy did not survive as a Melbourne based club in the AFL was because of poor management. They were forced to give their better players to other clubs in the early 1990’s because of financial problems; these included blokes such as Alistair Lynch, Paul Roos, John Blakey, Gary Pert, Richard Osborne, Paul Broderick and Michael Gale. I am sure you got a buzz from the three Brisbane premierships in the early part of the last decade.

    Finally, I am often bemused how people in Melbourne are parochial and romanticise the past Melbourne football culture. For a hundred odd years from the 1880’s to the 1980’s, Melbourne was very fortunate to have a strong and rich football culture, which included the elite level VFL suburban competition, two divisions of the the VFA and a strong amateur competition. All these competitions had a high media profile with good newspaper coverage and TV replays on all stations plus panel shows on all stations. I particularly enjoyed the pure football coverage of the ‘Sporting Globe’ and Hugh Buggy’s articles on football history in the Catholic newspaper ‘The Advocate’. I sometimes get the impression that Melbourne people do not like to share this culture with all Australians. I believe that the best football development in the last 25-30 years is the AFL, which is the most democratic, equal, well managed and affordable world wide football competition. It is fantastic to share the elite level Aussie Rules comp. with the whole country.

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