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Round 9 – Hawthorn v Sydney: Yes Bloods – what a win! And a trip down memory lane.

I came to Melbourne for the footy: we lost one we should never have allowed ourselves to lose and we won one by gutsing it out and playing the close-in, hard contested style of footy needed to overcome the Hawks.

There is still a sense of excitement arriving back to a footy State; seeing those glorious four upright posts, instead of the H-shaped configuration in Queensland and NSW, and every time I drive over the border I marvel at the posts, and know I’m back where I belong.

During this 10-day trip I also wanted to revisit the VFL grounds of the olden days, the grounds that brought mostly unhappy footy memories for a Bloods supporter. We rarely won back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and despite the sadness when losing there were certainly some happy times, especially at Lake Oval.

So, with the clouds threatening mid-week, SWANZ sets off through suburb after suburb of enemy territory.

It starts with Glenferrie Oval on Wednesday. I remembered how to get there, even though it would have been 40+ years since I’d seen a game at the “Sardine Can” – four years before they left in 1974 to play their games at Princes Park and Waverley Park. The place hasn’t changed that much, though I had forgotten how small it was. The difference now is that the fence and seating have gone, but at least the goal posts are intact. With Friday night’s game looming and with recent Hawthorn memories still stinging, I don’t feel inclined to take a photo of the posters of Hawks players holding their premiership cups aloft at the front of the entrance, so I stay in the car and just look.

Then, Thursday afternoon it is all of the footy grounds – eight of them.

Junction Oval in St Kilda doesn’t excite me much. The park and lake surroundings are picturesque but the goal posts have gone completely, the scoreboard says Over and cricket seems to rule. I like the broken picket fence though and wonder if it’s the same fence as on my last visit there before they moved to Moorabbin in 1965. There is only one remaining grandstand: the Blackie Ironmonger Stand, named after the famous cricketers.

The Blackie Ironmonger Stand with broken picket fence

The Blackie Ironmonger Stand with broken picket fence

Lake Oval, the home of my beloved team, is hardly recognisable. Real footy has been taken over by an athletic track, a rectangular playing field and those nets attached to two posts. Boring old soccer. The Victorian Institute of Sport now inhabits the building that once contained the little ticket booths at the front of the entrance to the ground where excited red and white supporters holding membership cards or a sixpence to get into the ground in the hope of a win would congregate. The only red and white history that remains is the roof of the beautiful old Members’ stand, and the remnants of the wording above the ticket booths. A mixture of melancholy still pervades whenever I go there – the memories of South Melbourne and the memories of my Dad, who died there.

South Melbourne

Then we’re off to Fitzroy and Brunswick Street Oval. Although the original picket fence and seating have gone since my day, and since the team moved to Princes Park and various other grounds from 1967 until its sad demise in 1996, it’s very much still a functioning footy ground. The lovely grandstand remains and they’ve kept the small building that I assume was the front entrance to the ground. There’s a nice feel to this ground: it is alive and well.

FItzroy Entrance

Fitzroy Entrance

Then, it’s off to real enemy territory, Collingwood. Victoria Park, I reluctantly have to admit, is the best of the lot. Two rows of the old timber bench seats are still used, the grandstands are not only intact, but obviously maintained, with the black painted timber bench seats proudly showing their white painted numbers on each one. At intervals around the ground metal structures have been installed, each encasing old photographs of players and supporters, and all sorts of interesting snippets.

Collingwood signsCollingwood entrance

This ground is obviously still used for footy, and at the same time, has retained its long-standing historical perspective. It’s hard to believe that Collingwood was still playing some of their games there up until their move in 2000.

And it certainly still has an effect on its black and white tribe. An old guy, who I’d seen there a year or so ago when I visited, was sitting on one of the benches today.

“Hi, how you going?” I said to him.

“Go the Pies” he replied.

“Do you come here much?”

“Every day, mate, I love it here”.

“I know what you mean. It brings back memories, eh?”

“Bloody oath mate”.

“You must live close by”.

“Yeah, just round the corner, where do youse live?”

“Sydney”.

“Oh shit, Sydney. Yer barrack for them?”

“Sure do”.

“Gawd all mighty!!”

We chat a bit more, and I wish him luck. He even manages a smile, few teeth and all.

Jumping back into SWANZ, I’m wondering whether we can manage Carlton, North Melbourne, Footscray and Essendon before dark. It’s now 2.30pm and traffic is starting to become a grind. The clouds are looking very ominous and there are sprinkles on the windscreen.

Princes Park has a few things going for it. The parkland setting helps outweigh the ugliness of the external building structure of the ground and the unsightly mix of grandstands inside, some old, some not so old. The timber benches remind me of the ‘60s and ‘70s and the surface of the ground is kept in good shape for Carlton to train there. A sense of history greets you as you walk into the main entrance: the large mural with the Team of the Century plaque surrounding images of the players sits diagonally opposite a large screen showing film of past games. There is also a sense of Swans history when my phone rings as I approach the desk to ask a few questions. Cheer Cheer….. The woman behind the desk has a laugh.

Carlton Hall of Fame

Carlton Hall of Fame

CarltonCarlton Mural

Arden Street Oval, for some reason, doesn’t feel very familiar. I don’t remember the entrance to the ground, or the structure of the building at the front. Today doesn’t help with the memory. It is now just a footy ground with no grandstand, no fence and no seats, and a modern building at the front telling us that it is the home of the Kangaroos. They train here, but there is no sense of history at this ground since they played their last VFL game here in 1985.

North

The home of the Bullies, Whitten Oval, is also alive and well, despite them finishing their games here in 1997. They train here and red white and blue is everywhere – on the seats and along the fence line. The EJ Whitten grandstand is intact and the adjoining stand heralds their former stars: Allan Hopkins, Norman Ware, Arthur Olliver, Charlie Sutton and John Schultz. At the entrance there’s a wonderful sculpture of Teddy Whitten, next to road signs Whitten Ave and Sutton Ave. A good feel in Footscray.

Footscray statue

The clouds are getting heavier and the headlights are on. As we crawl along a street through Kensington to Essendon, the light is fading and I’m wondering whether the iPhone camera will work in the dark.

We arrive at Windy Hill at 5pm and walk out onto the turf and take a few photos. Not that much to take really: a couple of grandstands remain since they departed the ground in 1991 and a sign at the front tells us we’re in Bomberland. Again, I don’t have strong memories of this ground, and although it is still used by the VFL and for cricket, I’m sure it once had more atmosphere that I feel today. However, I really like the terracotta tiles covering the ground outside the club entrance. There are 1084 of them, each stating every player’s name and when they played. The first tile is for someone who started in 1897 and the 1084th tile is for David Zaharakis, 2009. Pity they haven’t continued with the history.

EssendonEssendon plaques

Punt Road Oval, the home of the yellow and black, is a ground that I wanted to avoid this week. Problem is that I can’t really miss it as it’s next to the G, and staying in St Kilda, Punt Road becomes the most travelled road for SWANZ. I’ve probably passed it fifteen times this trip, only adding to my misery since last weekend. It is obviously another alive and well place, with its large black hoardings covered in yellow strips staring out at you as you drive past. It’s just in your face, unfortunately. No pics taken – too soon after last Saturday night.

And Kardinia Park. I didn’t drive there but how lucky are those Geelong supporters! They haven’t had to move and are still able to play at their one and only home ground, even though different sponsors keep changing its name.

Tradition is certainly steeped in those local suburban footy grounds. Every supporter, I am sure, felt a sense of belonging when playing at home; there was familiarity and almost a feeling of security back then, being amongst the like-minded. Although the facilities, by today’s standards, were pretty appalling at most grounds, we didn’t know any differently, so we certainly weren’t missing out on anything.

I am very happy to have the memories of being at the different grounds around Melbourne (and in Geelong) in those early years, and in some ways feel a little sorry for the generations who have only ever seen games at the colosseum-like sanitised stadiums of today, even though nothing can really compare to the MCG.

And, now, the MCG, Friday night against our arch enemy.

Tonight’s game isn’t just about the footy and the four points, even though in the backs of our minds, those points are indeed precious.

Fortunately in this day and age, we are not backward in talking about issues that affect all and sundry. Issues relating to depression, suicide, anxiety, and issues relating to sexual, physical and emotional abuse of human against human. There is always a long way to go, even in just coming out and talking, but at least there is dialogue now, and therefore some hope. Tonight it is Beyond Blue’s turn to bring awareness.

Tonight’s game is also about Roughy and his battle with cancer. Not just Roughy, but all those suffering, or have suffered from major life-threatening illnesses. It is a reminder to keep footy in perspective.

The Swans players run through a banner congratulating Nick Smith on his 150th game and a message to Roughy: We are right behind you Roughy in large red letters. Very thoughtful.

The first quarter is a tight, messy affair, riddled with errors, and there’s a sense of each team feeling each other out/testing the waters. Although Hawthorn have more possessions in the first 30 minutes, the score line isn’t very appealing: 1.2 to 0.2 to our advantage, and Teddy is off with concussion.

Tippo kicks our first goal in the second quarter, followed by a spectacular balletic mark from our new star, Isaac. He misses. Then Benny McGlynn cleverly intercepts a Hawks’ handball, taps it forward, picks it up and kicks truly. We are on the march. Reg Grundy is certainly compensating for his mediocre performance the week before, and with the help of Dane Rampe, is repelling everything that comes his way.

Isaac and Benny combine, and another goal is added minutes later. Buddy then marks in between three of his best mates from Hawthorn, and we add a further six points. He decides it’s time for some more Buddy magic and glides across the centreline to scoop up the ball – which was heading into a Hawthorn player’s hands – spots Gary Rohan running forward (faster than his two opponents) kicks perfectly, allowing the ball to bounce into Gazza’s arms one metre out from goal, and the red and white in the crowd are getting pretty excited. Two goals to Gunston in the last few minutes of the quarter sees us in the lead by 25 points, although the two free kicks missed by the men in white to Tippo (around the neck in the goalsquare) and Buddy (being so obviously tripped 30 metres out) would have helped.

As most expect, Hawthorn fight back, and two consecutive goals to Gunston and Puopolo at the beginning of the third quarter bring their up-until-now quiet supporters to life. It takes us 23 minutes to kick our first goal for the term, thanks to Gazza’s strong marking and fast running. It’s great to have him back in the team. Puopolo and Cyril combine for another goal to them and 11 points separate us at three quarter time.

In several of their games this year Hawthorn have come from behind at three quarter time to win. I’m feeling tense and the heart is starting to race a little faster. We need to show what the mighty Bloods are made of in this final term.

Oh dear! Gunston goals and they’re only a kick away from taking the lead. Tippo, playing a blinder, juggles a mark on the goal line and it’s now 10 points. Our cygnet Georgie isn’t allowed a pretty obvious goal and our next six-pointer comes from a bad error from Hawthorn: Ceglar handballs to an unsuspecting Langford – the ball lands in Lloydy’s hands who passes to Callum Sinclair and suddenly Buddy has it again 75 metres out. It bounces, just once, and through the goals!

Forays into the Hawthorn forward line are repelled time and again, and Georgie and our half-backs are doing a wonderful job. The next passage of play allows us to give thanks that our number 23 has swapped his allegiance. From a Benny McGlynn mark 50 metres out, with Buddy and Ceglar lurking behind, Hanners seems to know just what is required. He runs towards them, executing a perfect shepherd, as Buddy runs to his left, receives the hand-off from Benny, and kicks another beauty. We’re 21 points up.

Still nervous about these Hawks and their comebacks, and with 24 minutes gone on the clock, the heart is still racing. Hawthorn supporters head for the exits, Puopolo hits the post and there is some relief, but when Gunston gets a goal, all I can think of is the clock. As the Sydneeeey chants rings around the ground, 32 minutes have gone, and where’s the bloody siren?, I yell. It hears me and we’re suddenly all in full Cheer Cheer voice and spirit.

My highlights from the game:

Hanners (love him)

Tippo – all over the ground

Nick Smith on Cyril

Dane Rampe

Heath Grundy

Our Mitchell on their Mitchell

Gary Rohan in his comeback game

Buddy for making all the difference

4 points!

About Jan Courtin

A Bloods tragic since first game at Lake Oval in 1948. Moved interstate to Sydney to be closer to beloved Swans in 1998. My book "My Lifelong Love Affair with the Swans" was launched by the Swans at their headquarters at the SCG in August 2016. www.myswansloveaffair.com

Comments

  1. You had a busy time Jan – sounds like a cross between VFL and Santiago de Compostela. Windy Hill was the venue for my first ever live game.

    And what a great night it turned out to be!

  2. Great to beat those Hawks, Jan! Loved that you travelled back to the Melbourne clubs’ grounds. I’ve not been to them, but very interesting history no doubt.
    Thanks

  3. jan courtin says:

    Thanks Don & Marcel
    Good analogy Don, although not quite in the same bracket as Santiago de Compostela.
    Tell me, what game was it you refer to – your first live game?

    Yes Marcel, good to bring back memories from 30 and 40 years ago!

  4. craig dodson says:

    Brilliant effort to get to the grounds in one day. Enjoyed the snapshot of another time. Agree that Collingwood has done a sterling effort.

  5. Yes Jan, Santiago de Compostela was a bit of a reach, but it popped into my head while I was reading your Melbourne footy pilgrimage. I meant no aspersions, simply an appreciative recognition of the rich heritage that lies behind the (by comparison) tinselled glamour of these days.

    The great night I had in mind was last Friday; I could have been a bit clearer! You’ve seen the story of my first ever live game here: http://www.footyalmanac.com.au/round-17-west-coast-eagles-v-sydney-swans-hand-me-up/

    And by the way, have you read David Lodge’s novel Therapy?

  6. jan courtin says:

    Thanks Craig. Melburnians probably don’t take much notice of the grounds these days as they most likely pass them in their daily rituals – unless of course they attend local games there – but for me (attending those grounds in the ’50’s and ’60s in Melbourne) my visits last week felt important.

    Thanks for clarifying Don. I’ve re-read your article and the “first ever live game” is now clear. No. I haven’t read that particular David Lodge book, but thanks for bringing it to my attention. I’ve just now read the synopsis.

    Cheer Cheer

  7. Tony Courtin says:

    Great compilation ,Jan. Lots of memories. I enjoy history,not least footy nostalgia. I not infrequently remind my 2 Swans fanatics sons,Joel and Sam (Kane chose to live on the dark side) about the decades of hardship their father endured witnessing South Melbourne suffer frequent beatings at the old suburban grounds.Sam and Joel timed their worldly entries perfectly,enjoying their journey supporting a very successful club,relatively speaking. Fond memories as a South fan and the old grounds,but these pale up against 2005 and 2012! Cheer loudly this Friday night.

  8. jan courtin says:

    I will certainly be Cheer Cheering loudly this Friday night.

    I’m grateful that you’ve got two sons who will hopefully have kids and therefore carry-on the Swans/Courtin connection!

    Thanks

  9. Peter Fuller says:

    Jan,
    The trip down memory lane was a lovely reminder for those of us of a certain age. My technique when I am occasionally having trouble falling asleep is to recall the grounds I’ve played on – most of the old VFL and VFA grounds – in what I hasten to add was an extremely undistinguished playing career; grounds on which I’ve umpired, which includes several of the VFL grounds and quite a number of the VFA, as many have now been pressed into service for the Amateurs (e.g. Brunswick Street Oval often referred to on the Almanac); and finally those on which I have been a spectator.

    Don, I’m a great fan of David Lodge, and have read and enjoyed Therapy, among most of his catalogue. Given my personal disability Deaf Sentence speaks more directly to me.

  10. jan courtin says:

    Thanks Peter
    I’m afraid that my only claim to fame regarding the VFL and VFA grounds is that of a dedicator spectator. When I jumped the fence every week after our games, I often used to imagine what it would be like if I’d been a boy and been able to play footy. Alas, running up to the South players and giving them a hug was the best I could manage!

    Sounds as if I need to read “Therapy”.

  11. Peter Fuller says:

    Jan,
    In football as in so many other fields, the lack of opportunities for women of your era and mine represents a scandalous waste. While many aspects of inequality remain, there has been considerable progress in areas of conventional work, and now the prospect of a serious football competition means that young women can take up this challenge.

  12. jan courtin says:

    Very true Peter. It’s wonderful that young girls and women can now play the game, but the concern is that it will certainly not be taken as seriously as the big boys’ game. All forms of football, especially those involving physical contact, will always be very much seen as a male pursuit in the public eye; male physicality is admired and seen as a requirement for acceptance, whereas female physicality – if demonstrated in the same way – is seen as butch and unfeminine, and not admired.

    In a few generations’ time, who knows?
    Thanks

  13. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Thank you for putting wonderful compilation together Jan. It is a timely reminder that heritage and place are still a vital part of the fabric in footy, not just in Victoria. Would have loved to have been part of huge crowd at Brunswick Street or Punt Road. Decade before my time. I feel fortunate to have experienced going to all the other grounds as youngster.

    Having your home patch wasn’t about winning and losing, it was about the power of the ritual and the people you shared that ritual with while making memories through the game, the atmosphere, the banter and the feelings that existed before, during and after the game. Kudos to you Jan.

  14. jan courtin says:

    Thanks Phil
    I think the older we get, we tend to cherish the recollections of the footy club of our childhood, including the home patch. The memories from those times almost seem more important than those of the more recent years – or maybe that’s simply because earlier memories come to the fore more easily! Unless of course a 57 year wait for a Premiership comes along! I certainly haven’t forgotten that, and I’m sure, never will!

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