(or These here are crazy times Pt II)

Like most knackers I’m loving Sam Steele’s time warp.

It may have been at my mob’s expense, yet I envy Stainless’ uncanny recollections of Richmond’s path to glory, the characters, and the suburban fortresses of the day.  All I can remember of 1980 is the shattering Grand Final humiliation which had me tear up my Kevin Bartlett footy card in all the fury a 6 year old can muster.

To me Sam’s series illustrates the power and excitement of being there, and how being there forges the kind of bond that a multitude of dog day afternoons can’t prize apart.

The earliest season I can recall in anything approaching Sam-esque vividness is 1984.  As you can see in the photo, duffle coats were clinging to fashion by their last thread.  As for big brother #2 and his girlfriend in matching gloweave Advance Australia sweaters…  well, to cut them some slack, it was 1984!  At least they had their day – less can be said for the thing on my noggin which had me looking like the Elephant Kid.  Meanwhile, the only uncool thing about my father is the Viscount cigarette which he’s ironically sucking the life out of.

The photo was actually taken at Victoria Park by a kind Essendon supporter seated in front of us.  He sent the pic to us by snail mail with a letter I’ve sadly lost.  It’s the only image I have of us, or me as a kid, at the footy.  He’d have no idea how much I appreciate his trouble now (even less if he’s passed on too).  People just don’t do stuff like that anymore.

At VFL Park on ANZAC Day we held on to beat the Blues by 5 points in an epic struggle. When the siren sounded a Collingwood larrikan jubilantly hoisted me high in the air as the rain tumbled down. These are the ties that bind – for that one moment in time the notion of family extended to anyone within hugging distance wearing black and white.   With today’s sensibilities, people just aren’t like that anymore.

There was no such rejoicing when my patriotic brother and his Footscray supporting girlfriend took me across town to the Western Oval.  As it does now, the traffic along Cemetery Road and through Royal Park moved at glacial speed.  It was a memorable year for music too, and I’m pretty certain the radio made the journey seem shorter pumping out the likes of The Models, Queen, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Tears for Fears and Feargul Sharkey.  Having spent a couple years balancing on a small stool at Vic Park, I had no qualms about the Western Oval outer.  As if it was yesterday I can see a horizontal Denis Banks taking mark of the year, and the ‘Pies grimly holding on as the timekeeper shifted in his seat.  Alas, Gubby Allen pinpointed Simon Beasley with an across goal pass meant for Greg Phillips (if only Gubby had Frankie in his head telling him ‘Relax, don’t do it…’).

For some reason I can easily access random memories of 1984.  Such as Darren Millane bursting onto the scene via the ressies at the MCG, subsequently providing a dynamic presence in the ones.. Daics averting an upset loss to the Dees by roosting a torpedo goal about 60m out from the boundary, despite his stumpy injury prone legs..  Much later, armed with porn moustache and blonde rinse, my hero busted the Blues with 7 in a Semi Final at a sunny Waverley.  I even managed a few goes myself on the other side of the fence for the Tiger Littlies, including a Moorabbin mud heap and on the ‘G when Collingwood eliminated Fitzroy.  A tumultuous season ended at the hands of the Bombers by a margin I can’t even bring myself to type.

During those ‘wonder years’ when my grip on the game firmed by the week, there was rarely a compelling reason or distraction preventing us making the effort. The rudimentary facilities barely entered the equation; we went to the footy on autopilot.

The game was at a crossroads though in 1984.  I had no idea my club was so close to being shut down by the bank. TV rights were given away to Seven for little more than a Patra OJ and a Ballantyne Entertainment Mint.  No more baby steps towards a national competition, things had to progress, pronto.  The masses were slow to warm, but apart from some collateral damage along the way, for a good period the national competition struck a fine balance, affording football goers and TV viewers the best of both worlds.

Getting to games in the 2010’s isn’t such a drag for inner city Gillon McLachlan types, and others who don’t know any better might be happy at home on the couch, but as suggested last week, it appears the rest of us are being weened off the real life experience.  I don’t see this as progress – or a solid long term strategy.   That a world of other entertainment is just a click away doesn’t seem to concern the bean counters who forget the communal outlet, and feeling part of something on a grand scale, is the game’s greatest hook.  I don’t get any of that consuming footy on the teev, no matter how wide my screen.

As I leave for the footy now, usually in the remains of the day, I sense a guilt trip ahead.  My boy asked to come for the first time a few weeks ago and I struggled to provide a 5yo-friendly answer.  For now he’s happy enough with Spiderman, but it won’t get any easier methinks.

But taking the kids to the footy on even a semi regular basis the way the game is heading…  people just won’t be able to do that kind of stuff anymore.

Unlike the players, coaches, umpires and media though, no supporter association or lobby group has been mobilised.  Just lone voices like mine struggling to be heard above Jaimee and the rest of the white noise.  I shudder to think what learnings Andy D will bring back from his Olympics junket broadcasting reconnaissance mission.


About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.


  1. Andrew Else says


    I always enjoy your writing and I loved the story about the photo in the mail.

    I’m not sure I can agree, however, with the feeling of AFL being too detached from folk. Maybe it’s just people of a certain vintage who yearn for the days gone by? I remember the days of 1 x game Friday night, the Swans on Sunday and the rest on Saturday arvo, and it was great, but it wouldn’t have suited me from age 18 til now (nearly 31) as my Saturdays are taken up with local footy. There are plenty in that boat.

    My cousin’s kids (aged 7) are besotted with footy. They are Roos fans and travel from Werribee for home games, which obviously involve the Sunday twilight timeslot. It suits them because they play footy in the morning and go to the game in the arvo. I reckon in 30 years time they will reminisce about how much they loved Sundays growing up.

    As for being a Pies fan in 2012 compared to 1984, well, there’s plenty to be happy about. Average Vic Park attendance in 1984 was 27,052. From your experience, how many of those would’ve been female? Last month, the Pies played an interstate team at 4:40 on a Saturday and got 62,957. Their average home crowd is currently 56,479 and almost all their games are live on free TV. Plus, for all but a couple of big games, Pies fans can pay $20 on the day and get a good enough seat (or standing room, as per 1984) in one of the best stadiums in the world.

    Don’t get me wrong, the fixture gives me the irrits sometimes. The Dons this week are playing their 8th Saturday night game in 9 weeks. Fortunately, my fiancé is a footy fan and we’re yet to start a family, but there would be many who are inconvenienced.

    I know there are plenty of folk who can’t afford pay TV, but that wasn’t available in 1984 either and we now get 4 live games free a weekend. It sure beats the Friday night 9:30 replay, a one hour highlights package on Saturday and the Swans on Sunday (as good as they were to watch)

    As for supporters not getting a voice, surely there are more options than ever before? Radio talkback, article comments, social media etc. Having said that, there’s a bit of ‘whistling in the dark’ associated with that. I think the ‘fanzines’ in the UK are great platforms. But if no one is starting these things, surely we only have ourselves to blame.

    As I said, I enjoyed your tale (as I’m enjoying S Steele’s memoir) but I just think footy is being enjoyed by more folk than ever before, across many times and platforms, and that’s a good thing.

  2. Appreciate the considered response Andrew.

    It’s really only been the past couple seasons, particularly this one, that I believe has pushed the friendship too far with too many. I understand the AFL can’t please everyone – particularly when there’s a very diverse audience to consider. But I think the AFL is on a dangerous track taking the cash cow’s needs for granted, and putting up barriers to kids going to the game they want them to play and form a lifelong love. Hence the point I was trying to make in this follow-up on last week’s rant. Had I grown up watching footy on TV, I’m not sure I’d have stuck with it through thick and thin. And that equates to a lot of revenue I’ve donated over 25 years or so.

    It’s great your cousins are prepared to go to such lengths for their kids’ passion, but many parents wouldn’t, or couldn’t.

    I certainly agree that in many ways the game is in a far better place than 1984 – as you mentioned, the limitations of grounds like Vic Park cannot be argued. The AFL built a successful juggarnaut, but I also think the game’s growing omnipresence might hit a saturation point as well (e.g. cricket).

    Where it’s all headed, time will tell I guess. Personally I think it’s sad that my kids, once they’re old enough, will probably be lucky to go to more than a few games a year.

  3. Stainless says


    Love the piece (and your kind words). I think your recollections are pretty impressive too.

    My starting point for my 1980 series was that my experience of being a footy fan has never been better than it was that year. Obviously, a Premiership season has special memories but I hope among the indulgent stuff about the mighty Tiges, I’m conveying a similar sentiment to yours about the sheer joy and excitement of “being there”.

    I have to say, however, that through this exercise, I’ve given myself cause to reflect about whether I would really want footy today to be unchanged from those days. I reckon Andrew makes some valid points about many ways in which our footy experience has improved since then and I could add quite a few about the way the game and the competition have become better. However, I think the key point that Jeff and I are making is that being a footy supporter in the 1980s was a unique sensation, one that we’ll never recapture and which younger fans will never know except through these sorts of stories.

    Was it better or worse than today? To demonstrate the impossibility of answering that question I give you – the Sunday twilight fixture. It’s a pr*%k of a time for actually attending, but for kicking back late on a cold, winter afternoon in front of the live TV coverage with a glass of red, it’s a great way to end the weekend. Go figure.

    The point about the AFL being detatched is also an interesting one. I recall exactly the same accusations being levelled at Messrs Aylett, Hamilton et al back in the 1980s as they embarked on the first wave of national expansion of the VFL. I didn’t like the changes to the competition in those days at the time, but three decades on, I’d have to admit that the League was visionary in its thinking about the game’s future. There were some moments of heartbreaking callousness along the way (South Melbourne to Sydney, the Footscray-Fitzroy merger attempt, the eventual demise of Fitzroy), but that said, I think the League has done a remarkable job of balancing commercial realities and long-term strategies with the need to bring the fans along with them. As Andrew says, the sheer numbers attending games and watching the sport on TV and the fact that footy is as embedded in the national psyche as ever is testimony to how this thirty year revolution has been (and is still being) handled.

  4. Stainless says

    Jeff – a further point on your remarks about the experience of kids today. My two boys are both young adults now and were brought up on the mix of live games and TV that you describe. They never did the weekly ritual that you and I did, but they sure as hell know and love the game and show no signs of losing interest.

    They’ll both be at the Richmond-Melbourne game tomorrow, whereas I’m still weighing it up whether to go or not. Don’t know what this proves but…

  5. Thanks Stainless.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily pining for 1984 – sure it was quite a different experience – but it just happens to be a year that for some reason I particularly remember, at an age when kids really get into following their passions. As Andrew mentioned, what the kids of today are experiencing is just as valid and will no doubt leave an indelible imprint on their minds as well.

    But the key here is that kids of today need to have parents willing to navigate a wide gamut of times from week to week, and be prepared to have them in bed very late (especially if coming from outer suburbs). And at the other end of the spectrum, those of say retirement age and older are pretty loathe to be out and about late at night on public transport, or battling peak hour traffic. They are also less likely to be engaged via pay TV or the various other media platforms of today. That’s a hell of a lot of people potentially lost to the sport, especially as the population ages.

  6. I’ll have two bites of the cherry as well Stainless!

    I think what your sons prove is that as young adults they are the perfect age where their youthfullness and freedom renders the various issues I’ve identified as being of much less relevance than those of Gen X’ers >.

  7. Pamela Sherpa says

    Jeff, I attended my first VFL game in 1968, the Carlton- Essendon second semi-final at the MCG. I’ll never forget the sensation of being sucked out of the lift by the enormous roar coming up from from the ground during the reserves match. It was spine tingling.
    The 80’s were the best footballing days of my life. A group of us used to travel from Shepparton to Windy Hill for home games every second week.
    Now I’m absolutely loving the experience of following the Giants as well and being able to go to games in various states.
    Despite inconvenient times etc as you mention there are still ways to appreciate and enjoy the game. This year I’ve attended 6 live games and will go to at least another 3-4 before finals. I also enjoy the weekends rugged up in front of the fire and the Free to air TV coverage has never been better (in quantity) – I’m enjoying having the best of both worlds.

  8. DBalassone says

    You bring back some fond memories of ’84 Jeff. Never will forget Warren Ralph’s miss after the siren on Anzac Day, or the come from behind win against Melbourne in Round 1 (I think we were 27 points behind at the 15 minute mark of the final term and yet went on a rampage after that Daicos torp). Also the Elimination and 1st semi finals were good wins. Fitzroy were favourites in the Elimination after stampeding into the finals, but we blitzed them in the final term, and the 1st semi was a rare finals win over Carlton with the Marvel booting 7. We won’t mention the Prelim. By the way I was there that at Vic Park vs. Essendon as well – from memory that was the day Salmon done his knee – he was a sure thing to kick the ton that season.

    By the way, how does a computer illiterate like myself buy your e-book? Can you only purchase if you have kindle? Would really love to read it.

  9. Thanks for your kind words – 1984 was a strange rollercoaster year really. A resurrection of sorts that ultimately went nowhere for various reasons.

    You can download a free sample or the whole shebang ($4.95) at the link below. It’s available in a range of formats, including PDF that’s easy for regular PC viewing. Let me know if you have any hassles…


  10. Andrew Starkie says

    You look like Jack Hawkins, the Artful Dodger and your dad, Marlboro Man.

  11. Jeff Dowsing says

    LOL, Viscount Man perhaps! No one smoked Viscount like my old man. No one smoked Viscount!

    He used to get mistaken for Brian Dixon. A kid once asked for his autograph and he signed it under his own name. I’d imagine the boy was dumbfounded!

    He looks a bit like Freddie Mercury in this photo but Omar Sheriffe (spelling?) was his doppelgänger.

  12. Skip of Skipton says

    Keep it up, Jeff. I dig your writing, your stories, your mentality, and totally concur with you here. I thought you were a 55yr old bloke etc, but you’re younger than me. Wow.

  13. Jeff Dowsing says

    Thanks Skip, you’ve cheered me up on a black night in Collingwood.

  14. Skip of Skipton says

    Cheers Jeff. I’m upset that the Woods lost last night also. It means they will be fired up and switched on against the Cats next week.

  15. Lord Bogan says

    Great stuff Jeff. I love that hat mate. They should bring it back into fashion. They were rippers. I miss the sense of place that the old days used to offer, but I don’t miss the lack of facilities. People will create their own meanings if the game is good and the fans are respected by the clubs and the AFL. Still, would have loved to have seen Vic Park turned into a 40,000 seater and able to host 5-6 games a year. Topos still matters, but not as much as it used to.

  16. DBalassone says

    Thanks for the link Jeff. Managed to download a pdf copy. Look forward to the read.

  17. Fantastic Jeff. Have also been loving Sam Steele’s recollections, I really value them as it’s all before my time. I have trouble connecting the fact that it is the same Richmond he is talking about!

    What a fantastic pic. I love the hat you’ve got on by the way. Like you, it is only now as I read about footy’s history do I realise what a tumultuous time the 80’s was for footy. Like you, I was sheltered from that, it was pure magic, until of course in 1990 when the club nearly went bust! That was a real eye opener.

    I agree that it’s harder today with kids, but have found that creatine our own little traditions around going to the footy seem to be working, whether its some doughtnuts on the way out, a nostalgic walk around Punt Road oval or Richmond the suburb, I think it’s woking! Hopefully anyway. Our kids are growing up in a VERY different time to us!

    Oh, and that Dennis Banks mark is one of my favourites!

  18. Anyone interested in the ‘state of the game’ circa 1980’s…I’m reading an intriguing book called Football LTD by Garry Linnell. It’s an in depth look at the game behind the scenes, Aylett, Hamilton, Oakley and co. It’s well written and uncovers, to me at least, a lot of what was going on while I was happily watching VFL squadron with Garry Lyon and seeing Richmond getting thumped from the top deck of the old Southern Stand! It was written in 1995, thus just missing out on the greatest turmoil of all, Fitzroy’s final days. But like Jeff is saying, while it was in a terrible state, at times it seems to be going too far the other way. Mine and my kids patronage at games the last few years has certainly been hampered by timeslots. Sunday nights are a near impossibility!

  19. Jeff

    Great piece. Brings back great memories, expecially abouit footy in the 80s. Love the jumpers on your brother and his girlfriend too. One would have been funny, but matching…

    I am lucky with my son and his football watching, but see your point. At 12 he loves the Hawks, but isn’t a night owl, so it’s only this year he’s seen Friday games through to the finish and we’ve only ever done 2 night games together, one a big ask a few years back for the Hawks over the Saints in 08 prelim.

    As a MCC member, and with his junior Hawks membership, I do like the option of deciding at lunch on a Saturday to go to a game, and get a seat. And the ability to get kid tickets easily and for him to go with a few school friends is a good move.

    If we were faced with pre booking tickets for the Great Southern Stand and going to a game was more of a chore, I may feel differently.

    It will be funny when he first goes without me, although that can’t be far away.

    I can’t afford or justify Foxtel, but also feel that if I had it I’d watch too much footy, so am happy with the free to air, as much as Ch 7 pains me.

    The old days will always feel better, the older I get, the better I was, and the more fun they seem.

    Lovely piece though, great photo, nice bookend to the Stainless series. More please


  20. Stainless says

    John – Agree about Football Ltd – cracking good read.

    My top 10 recollections of 1984, in no particular order:

    1. Standing behind the goals at the Punt Road end as Leon Baker, Paul Weston & co. barnstormed their way to victory in the GF. The noise was deafening.

    2. Brian Taylor (still at Richmond) kicking 6 goals in a quarter to turn the game on its head against Hawthorn at Waverley.

    3. The Michael Roach – Brian Taylor “which one plays full forward” conundrum – solved the next season by BT’s departure to Collingwood.

    4. The beginning of the Richmond-Collingwood trade wars – Philip Walsh and John Annear formed a cracking midfield duo for the Tiges – not!

    5. Experiencing a 100 point loss for the first time (v Carlton at Princes Park). Sadly – the first time of many.

    6. Watching most of that appalling Prelim Final from the bar in the members at Waverley, alongside numerous members of the Richmond U/19s (who’d won their match earlier that day). They were on soft drinks but that didn’t stop them getting hammered the next week by Denis Pagan’s North Melbourne.

    7. The first of many G. Ablett “superman” performances v Richmond. We made a gallant comeback but Ablett sank a long bomb late in the game to seal it. My watch flew off my wrist during the late-game pandemonium and disappeared without trace. Bad day all round!

    8. Fitzroy’s extraordinary charge from being about 1-8 to pinch 5th spot (and losing the Elimination Final to Collingwood – as noted above).

    9. XXXX served at VFL venues as part of a major Queensland assault on the Victorian beer market.

    10. An almost-empty top deck of the northern stand on Grand Final day after the League opened it up to VFL Park members who failed to show – a consequence of the League’s attempt to move the GF to Waverley, which the State Government quashed.

  21. Jeff Dowsing says

    Yes, Football Ltd is an excellent read John. It would be interesting to revisit again in context with today. I don’t know if any Almanackers caught Sporting Nation on the ABC last night but Gideon Haigh made some excellent points (as always) on the commodification of sport. The one that resonated with me was that in some sports (i.e. cricket & AFL) are in danger of forgetting why they actually exist.

    Thanks Sean. I can’t justify $600 on Foxtel either. And I tend to watch Seven with the sound down low anyway – the coverage only bothers or frustrates me if my team is playing.

    Good list Sam – one I’d sneak into a top 10 is John Bourke ‘ya gotta take the boy off’ meltdown in the Army Reserve Cup at Lakeside Oval.

    And thanks Damian, hope it sparks some good memories & feel free to debate my choices!

  22. Chris Weaver says


    Probably no help, but this popped up on YouTube recently.

    You should be able to pinpoint the moment your watch disappeared.


    Incidentally, how good a caller is Ted Whitten?

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