Finals Week 1 – West Coast v Hawthorn: Liberte’, Fraternite’, Eagle-ite’

PB WCvHaw

Peter Baulderstone is on tour with the Avenging Eagle in France.

 

At this time of year in 2007 the Avenging Eagle journeyed back for the first time to the ancestral home in Croatia that she left when she was two.

Hunger sated by two successive Grand Finals and a 2006 flag the minor premiers bowed out in straight sets. The playing list was aging. Bodies racked with injury. Their game style now predictable.

The Avenging Eagle huddled in Internet Cafes (remember them) for hours on end, while I trawled the streets of Split and Makarska looking for books (remember them), magazines (ditto) and CD’s (funny pieces of hard plastic with music encoded).  Just eight years later we can watch live video on the IPad; my books are on Kindle; the New Yorker and the Age are on the IPad; and I carry 30 (mostly Springsteen) albums around in my phone.

In 2007 I journeyed back every half hour to her dingy hiding place, having only to look at her scowl to know that things were not going well.

The Makarska Internet Cafe owner had record takings from the four hour Extra Time final against Collingwood. I don’t remember the details except that it took two bottles of rakia to console her, and several neighbourhood cats walk with a permanent limp.

We journeyed to the top of Croatia’s tallest mountain, Sveti Jura, with her Uncle Mick to pray at the little stone church for Chris Judd’s (remember him) groin. The silence was defeaning.

Ben Cousins’ (remember him – he doesn’t) hamstring snapped followed shortly by his sobriety.

For the past eight years we have planned another longer trip back, taking in more of southern Europe. At the start of this season I predicted solid improvement following on from the promising signs of Adam Simpson’s first season as coach. Sixth seemed about right.

Then our B&F the Big Easy did his knee in the first practice game and his replacement Mitch Brown’s went a few weeks later.

Our defensive unit was now Sleepy, Grumpy, Happy, Sneezy, Dopey, Bashful and Doc. Always an optimist and a keen student of form I told AE “book the tickets, mid table is the best we can hope for this season.”

Our itinerary is planned carefully to ensure wifi at every accommodation. I send Gillon the Ungrateful $14.99 for my IPad AFL Live Pass so we can video stream all the games. In return he schedules a Friday night game (lunchtime in Europe) for our first final.

We have a five hour drive from the Loire to Burgundy (tough work I know) and our travelling companions have only a passing interest in football. Three hours in a McDonalds with wifi seems an unlikely prospect.

Our only hope is radio so I let the moths out of the pocket and enable data roaming on our cell connection (buy Iinet shares Monday).

We are like giddy teenagers canoodling in the back seat of our car sharing an earphone each. The cell phone connection drops in and out as we take each bend or peak each crest. I am ten years old again in the family FC Holden on long country drives as Dad twiddles the knob searching for 3WV to get a VFL score update.

Now in my 60th year, I find happiness is largely innocence regained. “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive at the place we first started and know it for the first time.” (T.S. Eliot – Little Gidding)

The first quarter is tight, but our pressure is on and the Hawks cannot get their precision game going. XEllis seems to have learned unsociable football from somewhere and sits Cyril on his behind in a marking contest. A 50 metre penalty and goal results. No matter, it lets them know we won’t be bullied.

Yeo seems to be in everything. The speccie doesn’t stick, but the tap and run from the contest to goal has us high fiving in the back seat like we do in Row EE at Subi.

We are making good time on the four lane French tollway (450 kilometres = 45 Euros – don’t tell Gillon or Tony) and by the second quarter the flat farming land of the Loiret gives way to the rolling hills of northern Burgundy. Good for wine. Bad for football and cell phone reception.

Gerard is getting excited. Parko is surprised. Ken Judge is grumpily conceding (if only they’d given me another 12 years this could have been my side).

“And the Eagles kick it long toward the square. Josh………………………”

Hill or Kennedy? Mark or spoil? Tight angle or in front? The commentators rising inflexion sounded promising. Bloody hell navigator, aren’t the mobile phone towers shown on the GPS?

The Avenging Eagle doubts my technological competence (considerable prior evidence in support but I have planned hard for this event). She says her brothers would have made it work (default response in event of escalating frustration).

I watch the circle go round in endless loops on the AFL app home screen. It looks like the Dockers running the ball out of defence.

Maybe audio requires too much bandwidth, so after the fifth failed reboot I check the Age website for a score. We have kicked 3 goals in that 10 minutes. Maybe thats a lucky omen. Footy reduces us all to primitive cavemen looking for signs in the heavens that hint at some control over our fates.

I hit the refresh button every minute. Our lead is 4 goals. Now 5. I wonder if my efforts are enough to get me into the best players?

I know it’s half time back in Perth. Lunch in Beaune seems the best prospect for a wifi connection. We eventually find a park in the medieval town square, littered with fine dining restaurants in one of the gourmet capitals of the world.

I rush to the first hostelry and enquire “can I use your toilet and do you have wifi?” The maitre d inspects the wild eyed anglaise with a backpack in shorts wearing blue and gold insignia of an unknown fanatic cult.

“We are full monsieur.” “But you have all these empty tables?” “Sorry monsieur lunch service is over.”

“Is there anywhere near here with wifi that we could eat?” I plead desperately. “Sir this is an ancient city with high walls. There is no, what you say, weefee, within 5 kilometres of here.”

I get the hint that he is not keen on football crazed foreigners, so I move on and the third restaurant we try is behind in the mortgage and takes us in.

Restaurant Fleury (now 5 star rated on Trip Advisor for Australians) does not offer enough bandwidth for a video connection, but sound and stats updates are restored on the AFL app (we use headphones – we aren’t total savages you know).

I order the pork loin in mustard sauce accompanied by a Josh Hill left foot snap over his shoulder from the top of the square. We share a delightful chablis finished off with a LeCras (surely his family own a Premier Cru vineyard near here) special from deep in the left pocket.

Does fine dining get any better than this? By 3 quarter time we are 8 goals in front.

Brad Carr emails from Washington.  He booked flights with his young son to Melbourne for the Grand Final and he can’t believe what he is seeing.  I check the score on several different websites to ensure that we are not being sent score updates by a former Nigerian Finance Minister in desperate need of family assistance. All is well. I email Brad that this only feels like a parallel universe.

The other patrons dwindle away, perhaps a little intimidated by the “you ripper – pardon” inadvertent cries from the couple with the severe hearing impediment. We journey outside for final quarter dessert, coffee and pastis under the market umbrellas.

The Eagles seem to decide that their main course is finished also. 4 goals in 15 minutes to the Hawks hint at a bad aftertaste, so I order a new bottle. Josh Hill responds with a Thierry Henry special volley into the top left hand corner of the goal. Bliss. Sublime. Superb.

Who knows what to make of all this at a distance. But all season the ageing Hawks have reminded me of the 2007 Eagles. The skill is still there, but what about the hunger and the legs?

And what to make of our dramatic improvement, that I certainly didn’t see coming? I was reflecting on some comments from when we went to Adelaide for our first big win of the season over a then surging Port.

The Avenging Eagle went straight up to our President Alan Cransberg. “I just want to thank you for appointing Adam Simpson. He is the best thing to happen at this football club in a decade.”

Cransberg beamed like a new father with babe in arms. “Everyone expected us to appoint Suma, but I knew that would be a step backwards.”

Later Luke Shuey spoke when receiving a match award. Shuey had been a serial underachiever since just missing out to Dustin Heppell for the AFL Rising Star in 2011. He seemed to have all the pace and skill to become an elite footballer but something was missing.

Shuey talked about how important Brady Rawlings as assistant coach had been to him personally. He referred to him as “Simpson’s shadow. You never see one without the other.”

I pondered that these warriors were such raw, naive young men when you saw them up close. Talent was one thing, but what gives you confidence and self-belief when you go up against Ablett, Pendlebury and Mitchell on a weekly basis?

And what was that “step backwards” all about? The obvious answer was a step backward into the introverted, back slapping, “hard at it” Eagles culture of the Mick and Woosha era.

But to my mind it hinted at something more profound. A strategic long view on where the game was headed and how you develop young men. What did Suma know that Blind Freddy and the pub parrot in the corner didn’t already? What “secrets” had a year with Ross Lyon unlocked?

Simpson and his shadow Rawlings are young enough to have had playing success under Pagan and know how to communicate the stresses and strategies of the modern game to young men. Simpson worked under Clarkson – a general who has always planned for the battles ahead.

Perhaps footy’s modern day Napoleon met his Waterloo today by understandably maintaining the faith too long in the battle weary troops of former campaigns. Outflanked by one of his former lieutenants and hoist on his own petard? Eagles 2007 reincarnate?

The speed of our improvement is staggering, and maybe it hints at how little difference there is between the playing skill of different teams and how much difference effective leadership can make. And how subtle and multi-dimensional the difference is between truly great leaders and worthy “try hards”.

I well recall writing my match report after a thumping by the Hawks early in the 2013 season after our tentative finals successes of 2011 and 2012. I wrote our season off because our players seemed bewildered and dazzled by the Hawks game style and rapid ball movement. Woosha was our Napoleon frozen on the steppes of Russia. His troops still brave, but quickly a disheartened and fleeing rabble. We finished 13th and the emperor was exiled.

Grand final or not, Adam Simpson is a quiet genius. The Steve Jobs of football.

After lunch the Avenging Eagle, our friends Gae and Ken and I journeyed on to our beautiful accommodation in the idyllic village of Lechatelet, 30 kilometres from Beaune, on the banks of the River Saone with white swans gliding by (good omen Mathilde). In a small hotel with a few gorgeously restored rooms and sublime food and wine. Lovingly restored and operated by Elizabeth, a former radio journallst from Perth. With excellent wifi.

Do yourself a favour if you ever journey to France. www.cascarot.eu or search for “cascarot” on Facebook for more tempting photos and stories.

We are here four nights. The sweet life. La dolce vita.

Or la belle vie as we French say.

PB and the Avenging Eagle are eating their way around Europe, raising a glass and a spoon to the their West Coast boys wherever they go.

Comments

  1. Hi Peter, also currently in France, in Paris at the moment, journeying to Avignon in a couple of days. Brilliant piece.

  2. Or as they say along the Paris End of Hay Street Mr B – le Rapace est mort . Vive le Rapace!

    It wasn’t the outcome we wanted at Punt Road. It means we don’t get our Bunnies in the Preliminary Final.

    Nor was it the outcome Mrs Wrap wanted, mais, c’est le vie. Or should that be takav je život

    Putujte sigurno

  3. Enjoy the journey Peter. It will be a premiership to savour if the Weagles can win it.

    Glen!

  4. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Are the premiership caps on sale over there already?

  5. Sounds like you are having a great time Peter. Being away will most likely mean you will remember this finals series even more.

  6. Très Bon PB. The Eagles very very bloody très bon on Friday night.

  7. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    PB loved it you took us around the world with humour and I dsep hope the Crows don’t appoint,Woosha as coach he is in the role which suits him now.I didn’t see this game as helped out at a fundraising night for a seriously I’ll boy named,Zac Butler in which nearly 15 grand was raised to help the family the night was a reminder footy is only a game in the scheme of things all the best to the Butler family.
    Thanks PB and the avenging eagle

  8. Oh PB,
    The cats with permanent limps
    Napoleon on the steppes
    West Coast 2007 reincarnate.
    Your name in the best players

    A lot of highlights in this.
    Love it.
    A lot to like about the helter-skelter high-wire run run run of those Eagles, too. Yer NicNat did well.
    The ducks are lining up.

  9. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    Le match entre le Loire et Bourgogne – quelle joie!
    Et un reportage très rigolo. Bravo et merci.

    I enjoyed every minute of that match. Almost alarmingly so! The Eaglet – sorry Cygnet – and I rode the high waves. Couldn’t help thinking that you have an angel on your side with Nic Nat’s mum. How about the torrential rain straight after the final siren?

    En route, mauvaise troupe! Dans les deux cas …

  10. Trucker Slim says:

    Hi PB and AE

    I imagine you have these albums but just in case, I’ll pass this link on (http://live.brucespringsteen.net/). Springsteen has released (top quality versions) of 4 live shows spanning 1975-1988. In some instances you are hearing the first live versions of songs from Born to Run and Darkness. Sensational stuff. A fellow Evils supporter and Almanacer, Matty Q alerted me to this treasure trove.

    As for the rest of your essay, France is beautiful, footy sux.

    Cheers

  11. Merci pour votre rapport, c’était magnifique.

    It looks like you had better weather. Five minutes after the siren, it absolutely threw down and those of us heading back to our cars got drenched.

  12. Mickey Randall says:

    Peter- wonderful combination of travelogue and footy insights.

    Fear not. I just had a squizz and for the grand final weekend Reykjavik to Melbourne is cheaper than Petth to Melbourne.

    Keep enjoying your travels.

  13. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    Or go to Reykjavik! Excellent WiFi everywhere in Iceland.

Leave a Comment

*