VFL Round 1 – Williamstown v Casey: Across The Bay

It’s fitting that I drove from Middle Park to Williamstown for the VFL on Easter Monday.

 

My grandmother lived in Middle Park until she passed away of cancer a year ago. On Christmas days long past, young me would walk along the seafront wondering what was over the other side of the water, and how on earth you could get there?

 

That’s Williamstown, champ. Point Gellibrand, to be specific. You just drive over the West Gate.

 

Luke Beveridge has spoken before about how much he loves the drive over the West Gate. I love it too. The shipping containers. The cranes. Signs of busyness. But still, I always feel I’m leaving the bustle of the city behind. I avoid the outside lanes. It’s a long way down.

 

Off the bridge, I turn left (Bevo would go right) towards Williamstown FC – Liam Picken’s former club and a VFA powerhouse of old. Now, the Seagulls are one of the five remaining (and much-discussed) standalone VFL clubs. They’re the most recent standalone premier (2015).

 

Of the other five, Frankston is battling to be readmitted to the VFL.

 

Port Melbourne is in debt and its players went without pay for their winning effort last weekend.

 

Coburg ran out valiant 2-point losers on Saturday to Collingwood, who fielded no less than 18 AFL-listed players.

 

Almost as if to stifle the optimism from Port Melbourne’s opening win and Coburg’s efforts, North Ballarat went to Punt Road on Sunday and lost to Richmond by 188 points (33.21.219 to 4.7.31)

 

That hideous scoreboard (for all involved) was the reason I skipped a date with the MCG in favour of a windy afternoon on the other side of the bay.

 

I’m glad I did.

 

The Williamstown Cricket Ground is an absolute beauty, perched right on the ocean. Shipping boats float behind the ball ups. There’s no protection from the wind, though. I dread to think how many fingers have been frozen by the icy winds rolling in off the bay in the deep dark depths of July.

 

In 2011 Victoria’s oldest military bunker was discovered at the ground, while the grandstand was redeveloped.

 

It’s overcast and a bit nippy, but certainly not cold enough to warrant the eskimo-style winter coat I’ve gone for. The only seagull in sight is the Towners’ mascot. The only seagull-like noises are squawks for the ball.

 

A scuffle breaks out between the players after a knock.

 

Casey looks the cleaner side early on and they sneak out to an early two-goal lead. Both sides made the top four last year. As Williamstown work their way into the game, it’s obvious they aren’t going to cop a flogging. They trail by 7 at the first break.

 

Walking across the ground to the home side’s huddle, I notice how hard the square is. It’s cracked, harsh and rock solid earth, devoid of grass in places. Cricket season isn’t long gone.

 

The Seagulls are getting a bit of a whack. Not a full-on spray, just a stern talking to, as if they’ve been playing up in Grade 4 Maths.

 

The coach’s rev up their players.

 

Senior coach Andrew Collins is urging them to be better in marking contests and to stick their tackles. One of their forward line themes, he says, is making it happen. They’re getting out-marked and making sod all happen. His words don’t fall on deaf ears.

 

The second quarter begins a shift and it starts early. Good team pressure leads to an early goal from livewire Michael Gibbons, which levels the scores. A few minutes later, Gibbons is involved against, causing chaos near the behind post and pinning his opponent holding the ball. He nails the snap to put his side in front.

 

I find myself sitting near an elderly couple. They’re flicking between explaining the game to an English girl (a tough task), and ship-watching. Their ship-talking is just as marvelous. Where is this ship going? What’s it carrying? Navy or cargo? How many on board? It’s a game you can easily lose yourself in as the footy floats by in the background.

 

Casey stays in touch with a kick from Jack Trengrove just before the main break. But if the second quarter shifts the terms of the contest, the third quarter gets rid of any such terms. The Towners slam on four unanswered goals and go into the final change up by 31.

 

Michael Gibbons prepares for a snap at goal.

 

They’ve been dominant for two quarters now, looking more polished, more precise and harder at it than their AFL-affiliated opponents.

 

Choking on a chip is probably the only way the Seagulls can come unstuck. They resist the temptation of fried potato and run out 23-point winners.

 

As I leave the ground, I notice #WeStandAlone painted onto the turf beneath the grandstand. The club has been tweeting the tag throughout the game.

 

For now, they’re standing alone quite comfortably, and I hope that remains the case. For less than 100 bucks, it’s pretty easy to buy a membership and support any of the five standalone VFL clubs, including Frankston.

 

Our game would be much poorer without them, their histories, their grounds, their colours and their stories.

 

I’ll be back at the little ground across the bay soon. I suspect I’ll be needing my winter coat.

About Jack Banister

Journalism student @ Melbourne Uni, Brunswick Hockey Club Men's Coach, tortured Tigers fan.

Comments

  1. Nice work, Jack.

    Obviously, as someone born and bred in Willy, I have been a Seagulls fan all my life – even through those difficult times when they affiliated with Collingwood. (It was tough seeing Joffa walking around Pt Gellibrand supporting my team). From the brink of extinction in the mid-1990’s (saved in no small part by Greg Swann) to where they have been in the past couple of years has been an incredible journey.
    The only slightly sour note for me, I guess, is that WFC depends on pokies revenue for much of its revenue – it is the lifeblood of the club and allows it to recruit and pay for the ex-AFL players whom you would have seen running around yesterday.
    It will be very interesting to see what happens with the VFL, as I believe many AFL clubs are agitating for an old reserves-type competition which would be to the exclusion of the stand-alone clubs. It is sad to see old rivals Port Melbourne struggling financially; and who wants to see North Ballarat getting monstered like they did on the weekend? Look at Frankston – in hiatus this season.

    I hope you enjoyed your journey to my hometown.

  2. Well done, Jack. As you say, the Williamstown Cricket Ground is an absolute beauty. In summer, it’s gorgeous. Try to get down there, Jack, when the wind’s blowing a gale and the rain is horizontal.

  3. JBanister says:

    Thanks Smokie. There’s so much history down at Williamstown and their win felt significant given althaea has been going on. The connection between the VFL clubs and pokies revenue is very sour, but tricky. What are there other options to generate revenue? Interesting that Frankston ditched their machines in 2016 – although apparently they were losing the club money.

    It really remains to be seen where all of this leads. I’m not sure a national competition 100% suits the VFL/AFL clubs. But it certainly isn’t looking promising for a couple of the stand-alones.

  4. JBanister says:

    Thanks Vin – I’ll definitely be back!

  5. Rulebook says:

    Thanks Jack the back drop reminds me of umpiring at Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island.How did,Jack Trengove go injuries have deprived the Afl world of a v v good player.National res comp will happen and the sooner the better in my opinion for all concerned I detest the Afl sides being in the SANFL and it sounds like the vfl clubs are dying a slow death

  6. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    This has time and place, Jack, and space for all sorts of thinking. Much like a game of VFL footy I guess.
    Boats behind the ball ups. So nice.

  7. JBanister says:

    Thanks Mathilde!

  8. JBanister says:

    Rulebook – Trengrove very good, seemed to be everywhere for a lot of the game.
    Not sure if National Reserves comp will happen – leaves clubs like Williamstown in a precarious position if that’s the way things go!

  9. Rulebook says:

    Jack the game desperately needs a reformed and proper vfa comp we can’t have afl sides in the comp with different aims and a uneven playing field it has stuffed up all the state leagues
    ( geez I hope Trenners makes it back ! )

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