AFL Grand Final – Sydney v Hawthorn: United in Despair

When Nick Malcevski’s book-end goals broke Hawthorn hearts in 2012, only one of my immediate family members was with me at the MCG to witness our triumph. We had tickets for all of the clan but two chose to believe the doomsday prophecies of an inevitable Hawthorn victory and storm and tempest from the weather gods. They sold their tickets.  A value-assessment from a peripheral barrackers perspective, not that of rusted-on fanatics.

As Mal’s winning snap to the city end floated through on a force-ten gale, we at once all rued that decision. Their disconnection exacerbated by the dis-interest of an unaligned pub TV audience and my Bloods joy tempered by the fact that they weren’t there to feel the exuberance. However irrational, my feelings of vicarious responsibility for allowing the ticket re-sale transaction to proceed have been with me since.

Grand Final 2014 was to be the day of experiential redemption for our family unit. Stellar preliminary final form from our team, a ticket ballot successfully negotiated and a quiet confidence prompted by media talk was feeding the dream. A day when previous two-tier family footy enthusiasm would become gloriously united in red and white bliss.

I dreamed of the post-siren familial embrace; the kind of embrace that says “we did this together”. Voices hoarse from countless renditions of “Cheer Cheer” and the pilgrimage from Level 4 Row BB to a ringside position, to be with our boys as they paraded with the cup.

On Grand Final Day 2014 at around 5 pm, embrace we did. However, our embrace was well outside the gates of The G, where the final siren delivering the wrong result was somewhat muted; a sombre family embrace that in its simplicity said more than any garbled words of consolation ever could.

We sat with glazed expressions, over the bridge on the Melbourne Park concourse, removed a little from the writhing throng of joyous poo-brown. We heard the crowd roar when Hodge got his Norm Smith and knew that when the bigger roar came it was the same man lifting the cup above his head. We endured the perplexed stares and smirks of suit-clad corporates leaving the arena as if they were leaving a night at the theatre; their red and white scarves affirming the Sydney-stereotype that I still find hard to reconcile with the heartfelt passion that is intrinsic to my supporters world.

And then amidst the numbness, a moment of perverse pleasure. My two peripheral barrackers from 2012 were in a world of pain. The kind of pain derived from a deep sense of emotional loss. We weren’t united in red and white bliss as hoped but something deeper now resonated. We were now a family united in red and white despair. Their engagement had been elevated to another level and the carnage that was playing out in our hearts and minds was collective, for the first time in our family footy life.

This was planned to be a night that I celebrated long and hard in the South heartland, followed by a bleary-eyed morning pilgrimage to our spiritual home with the family, to greet our warriors and share in the victory spoils. Defying a sense of wanting to hide-away, I willed myself to pay historical homage. Grand Final nights for the Bloods have been few and far-between over the journey and win, lose or draw I found that a compelling reason to continue. My family understandably opted for the 6.30 pm to Belgrave; my fanatical youngest breaking my heart as she said “sorry Dad, I just want to go home and cry”.

Historically, South Melbourne was referenced by its identity which was distinct from the CBD. Enter Clarendon St and you felt the beating heart of a separate red and white world.  These days, South is referenced by its links to the city. Apartment towers on City Rd deliver a completely different ambience and population. Only at the Lake end of the strip does one get a sense of the South that once was. The Limerick, The Emerald and The “Riser” were still showing signs of a day that started so full of red and white potential. However, as the unaligned Saturday night party goers arrived to hijack the pubs, the residual streamers only served to remind me of what could have been. I had come to be with my tribe, but they were no longer there. A sombre journey on the train to Belgrave might have been a better option.

I saw the Swans cheer squad on my way to my tram stop. On Clarendon Street, eating burgers. The gravitational pull of the red and white was compelling but I got a sense that they wished to be “alone” with their misery. The tight Cheer Squad communities are like quirky driftwood in a corporate oil slick. Long may they remain afloat.

My digs that night were a haven from all things brown and gold. A TV code switch to the NRL Prelim Final helped a bit. Phone off, lights out. One last rite of passage to complete the next morning, then bring on the Spring Carnival.

South Districts Footy Club are known as The Bloods, just like us.  I camped with our people on the “Districts” home ground the night after the 2005 Preliminary Final, in the last of the years that the queuing ritual for Grand Final tickets was in operation.  We welcomed our victorious team there the next week and we did likewise for our heart-broken boys in the year of the tainted Eagles Premiership. The place has developed its own history for us and a sense of identity is indelibly linked to the experiences played out in that place.

Loyal Swans fans of recent years have become familiar with “morning after” rituals at Districts.  Whether to hail conquering heroes or cleanse wounds after a loss, the process is cathartic. The great disinfectant that is early Spring sunlight has the capacity to re-calibrate spirit and look to the future with promise. Our 2014 Grand Final team arrived for this ritual at 9.15, hearts heavy with humiliation. With the SCG fan function cancelled, this was their only public post-Grand Final appearance.

Accountability to the grass-roots supporter is about as honest as it gets, in an age of stage-managed corporate appearances. Sunglasses hid eyes still red with disappointment as they confronted the faithful, apologetic for promise un-fulfilled. Buddy with a massive bruise on his forehead, Jetts still seeing stars and Goodesy swatting away media questions about his playing future. Harry Cunningham stopped for a photo with my youngest. In an instant, all was right with her red and white world again.

Normally, the fans disappointment of our Bloods  heroes being herded back onto the airport-bound bus after just a few minutes causes annoyance and frustration. This time, there was a calm sense of just letting things be. The wake was over, they had shared it with a loyal, grateful and authentic flock and it was now time to close the chapter and move on. Thanks for a wonderful year boys.

About chris bracher

Known to stare longingly down Clarendon St still wondering how his red and white heroes ever left him, Chris Bracher's pining for his relocated team has been somewhat appeased by recent Bloods glory....but the pain never truly goes away!

Comments

  1. Wow…reminds me of how i felt in ’67, ’89, ’92, ’94’, ’95 and 2008….

    It’s not a good feeling…but I’m certain the Bloods will be back!

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