‘Mad’ Barrackers

I mean ‘mad’ barrackers in the best sense of the word – as in crazy, funny, and strangely wonderful.  People who are passionate to a fault.

Ian and Kel’s terrific stories on the ‘My Friend Neil’ post had me reminiscing.  Thought it would be good to have an ongoing series of pieces dedicated to these amazing characters.  Their particular genius is in making footy a joy to attend, even when the match is all rugby scrums and skill errors (or your team is copping a drubbing).  It’s something you just don’t get from watching footy on the box.

My earliest football memories are of going with my Grandparents (my Dad had to work on Saturdays) to follow West Torrens in the SANFL in the early 60’s.  From when I was about 5 to 10 years of age we went every week.  Then Dad’s job took our family away from Adelaide to the country.  The only exceptions to the weekly ritual were Alberton Oval when we played Port Adelaide, as their supporters were considered too dangerous.  We didn’t drive to Elizabeth when we played Central Districts because it was too far.  Having lived all over the place over my life, I would still probably pick Torrens’ old home ground at Thebarton Oval as the place to scatter my ashes.  Wide-eyed memories from childhood heroes more vivid than anything in a Marvel comic book.

My grandparents (Nan and Pop) were solid, steady citizens for 6 and a half days of the week.  I can’t really remember them having a lot to say to each other.  But on Saturday afternoon they were both transformed into raucous, ranting, one-eyed Torrens barrackers.  Equal rights for women arrived on the terraces a long time before it dawned on the rest of Australian society.

I remember thinking at their funerals that West Torrens, footy and their son (my father) and grandkids were the things that united them.  As it is for so many people – then and now.  All the frustrations of the week could be vented on the opposition and the umpire (there was only one in those days).  After the game they packed their blanket, me and the thermos – and went back to silent suburbia.  What’s said on the terraces (I think we called them mounds in those days as there weren’t always concrete steps) – stays on the terraces.  Footy life could be compartmentalised from the hum-drum of the regular week.

My initial love of the Australian vernacular and its’ bone-dry wit came from observing their repartee, banter and abuse on a Saturday.  There are so many stories and one-liners that I vaguely remember.  My strongest memory of their deep and abiding passions concerned a field umpire called Mark Posa.

In those days field umpires were not announced until about a half hour before the game.  Not sure why – probably to prevent rabid supporters or unscrupulous crooks putting inappropriate pressure on the umpire in an attempt to influence the result.  Free kicks were more common in the single umpire days (I guess the poor bloke sometimes just needed a breather) – so umpires certainly had more influence on the outcome than they do these days.  There was no PA at most grounds, so the Football Budget (as the Record was called in SA) carried a coded list of umpire names and numbers.  Half an hour before the game a number would be posted on the scoreboard, and my Pop would scour the Budget to match that number to a name.  He had strong superstitions about which umpires gave Torrens a fair go, and those that were set against us.  Strange that it mattered so much – for many of those years Torrens couldn’t win most games even if they’d had a 5 goal start.  But footy, like life, is the triumph of hope over experience.

Pop’s most despised umpire was Mark Posa.  He was the State Secretary of the DLP – Bob Santamaria’s Catholic, Anti Communist defectors from the ALP split of the 50’s.  Nan was a devout Catholic, but they both remained dedicated ALP supporters all their lives.  In those days Labor people hated the DLP more than the Liberals.  Libs were toffs and cockies (honorable class enemies), while DLP members were ‘rats from the ranks’.

“Bloody Hell,” Pop would groan as his eye matched number to name in the Budget.  He’d roll his eyes and light up a rollie, muttering “they’ve given us bloody Posa again.  Might as well pack up and go home.”

We always stayed.


  1. John Butler says

    Peter, highly entertaining.

    Always enlightening to compare our ‘football’ selves with the everyday version.

  2. Peter – enjoyable read. You touched on the ALP/DLP split at the end. This is a fascinating part of Australia’s political history; arguably THE most fascinating part. Its not actually accurate to say that the DLP members “defected”. This implies they left which is not correct. In fact at the time the Victorian Supreme Court passed down a decision that the “Groupers” or those in the “Movement” (which largely made up what was to become the DLP) could rightly be referred to as the ALP.

    What’s also interesting is that the DLP did in fact have many Protestants in their ranks, particularly in the early days. It was an anti Communist party, not a religious entity.

    If I get the time I’ll put something up on this site about those times. That will really stir the pot!

  3. Alovesupreme says

    Depending on the age of Almanackers, your post is likely to rival the response to Vin Maskell’s photographic essay on Victoria Park.
    There’s a couple of contestable propositions in your preview, imno.

  4. I remember Mark Posa very well. Umps then were not the “posers” they are today and the policy was often to give a backline free to “bring it back”. Sounds like he’d have been a good ump for Westies. I was totally naive of the sectarian footy boundaries in Adelaide. Got a bit of a lecture on it at Warrnambool last week. My Dad would have been a trove but he never elaborated, other than to reinforce his hatred of Port. Alas, we are a few months late.

  5. Mulcaster says

    My vote for the maddest sports fan of all time is John “happy jack'” Toomey. He was a regular at Neuman Oval whenever the Fortitude Valley Diehards played. He was also a regular on the gabba hill. Easily recognised by his crooked glassses and odd angled hats. He was a regular around Brisbane for years. He was an incredibly odd charecter during an odd time.

    I believe he died and his body remained unclaimed for a time until a group of past Valleys players chiped in to pay for his funeral.

  6. johnharms says

    Mulcaster, I reckon your story about Happy Jack is right; that he spent 6 months in the morgue after his death. The glasses and the sombrero were distinctive. He used to stand in front of the Gabba Hill just after the start of play and ask what won the fourth at Randwick and then ask who was going to buy him a beer.

  7. johnharms says

    Sorry Dips, have to agree with ALS on that one. I’m not sure the decision of the courts mattered much in the working class homes of the nation. IN fact there may have been a view at some lino tables that the case was fought to assuage a fair bit of guilt.

  8. johnharms says

    Peter, there is a terrific poem by Colin Thiele called The Oval Barracker on this very topic. I reckon there are plenty like yuor grandparents.

  9. david butler says

    John, I went looking for that Colin Thiele poem on the internet, couldn’t find it. Any clues ?

  10. JTH – can’t let that one slide. The guilt should sit firmly at the feet of Dr Evatt and his snakey mates. Some weeks before he suggested that there were, as he put it, secret forces at work to unstable the ALP, he had in fact consulted Santamaria (circa 1952 or 1953?) on the Communist threat to the ALP (which was very real and very dangerous)! His actions in then labelling Santamaria and Co as “secret forces” was nothing more than a political manouvre to destroy him. In fact all it did is destroy the ALP. To my way of thinking the blame lies firmly there – at the feet of Evatt (who history shows was a very loose canon on several fronts).

    The classic defence by this cornered animal was to go the sectarian line – “Look at the Catholics destroying the Party!!. Totally inaccurate and totally unforgiveable. I just can’t see how people don’t see that. Many of the union leaders ( a lot of whom were NOT Catholic) rejected Evatt.

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