AFL Round 11 – Essendon v Carlton: Thank You Friends

By Daniel Fanshawe

I guess I should declare my interest, or lack thereof, from the outset. I’ve been a Collingwood man since one fateful day in the early ’80s when my paternal grandmother gifted me a black and white scarf, beanie and footy. The photographic evidence of this still sits proudly on my Mum’s sideboard; myself as a 4 year old, beaming with pride, swaddled in black and white, struggling to hang on to a footy which outsized my head two to one. We weren’t a footy family, and whether my late grandmother’s choice of team was inspired, arbitrary or spiteful is a subject debated at family gatherings to this day.

In the intervening years I’ve developed a healthy dislike of both Essendon and Carlton, while concurrently enjoying watching their rivalry build to where it currently stands, as one of the most spiteful in the competition. So when the call came through early in the week, that a gang of old mates – Blues, Bombers and neutrals – were meeting up for this Friday night blockbuster, I couldn’t text back to confirm my interest quickly enough. Friday night games seem to bring with them their own brand of gladiatorial magic, and in memory at least, Fridays tend to produce more shootouts and thrillers than ugly scraps or blowouts.

My knowledge of footy history is fairly patchy, but it’s my understanding that the catalyst for igniting the modern era of this rivalry was the arrival of Kevin Sheedy at Essendon in ’81. Bringing with him from Punt Road an instinctive hatred of all things Navy Blue, it was when Sheeds walked though the doors at Windy Hill that Bomber DNA underwent a major and important mutation. A modern rivalry was born. Buckley and Lygon Streets have run parallel ever since, and never the twain shall meet.

Perhaps their most famous meeting occurred on Preliminary Final day 1999, the unfancied Blues pipping the Bombers by the slimmest of margins, on the same day that the Victorian Labor Party inflicted a similarly unexpected result on Kennett’s cocky Liberals. Forever will these two events and their unlikely outcomes remain linked in the cultural memory, as undeniable proof of two essential truths; that in a two horse race, you’re always a chance; and that sometimes, the good guys get up.

Less prevalent in the cultural memory is Round 3, 2007, a chilly Saturday afternoon where Carlton found themselves 48 points down against a rampaging Essendon deep into the second quarter. On that day, the Fevolution was televised, the big fella bagging 8 in a thrilling comeback for a 3 point Carlton victory. I remember, because I was there, dragged along unwillingly by an overly-enthusiastic girlfriend to whom I’m still grateful.

And six years later, here I am again. Arriving at our traditional designated meeting point under the Haydn Bunton statue, I find Beno and Sheena – both North fans, who like me, are unaffiliated with tonights’ teams, and just here to see the Big Show. Sensing a big crowd building, we head inside to secure enough seats for the stragglers, mentally calculating how much backside-space will be needed. Initially we need 8 seats, but as the texts keep beeping through that number grows. There’s always some clown texting you at 7:30pm – “save us a couple of seats would ya?”. On a night like this, where ultimately 82,000 Melburnians descend upon the ‘G, saving seats becomes a stressful venture in a general admission area. We’re using body language to indicate that “yep, we’re gonna need this whole row mate!” I start stripping down, throwing my scarf four seats to my left, my duffle coat three seats to my right, hoping to cover enough real estate with haberdashery to cater for the late arrivals.

Finally our row is filled with mates, some old, some new, some close, some not so much. The siren blows, the rivalry reignites. I’ve got one eye on the game, but to be truthful I’m more engaged in catching up with some guys I haven’t seen in a while; some for months, some years. The game itself is a low scoring affair, peppered with skill errors from both sides; at any break in play the catch-up conversations restart, so eager am I to discover what the others have been up to since last we met. This more than anything is what gets me off the couch and into the stadium – the opportunity to reconnect with the mates who’ve drifted over the years.

The first half belongs unarguably to Jarrad Waite. Eager to atone for the undisciplined act which saw him sidelined (and held responsible by his new coach) for Carlton’s 9 point loss to a middling St Kilda in round 7, Waite takes 10 grabs and bags 5 majors as a literal one-man forward line, putting Jake Carlisle to the sword for the first time in 2013. Carlton seem to own the momentum, but the Blues fans in our contingent don’t look comfortable; there’s the sense that this low scoring encounter could break open at any time. The Blues have a handy lead at the long break, but have left the door ajar, and if recent history has demonstrated anything between these two clubs, it’s that nothing is predetermined, and anything is possible.

Hird has one trump card to play; the switch. There’s nothing complicated about this move, as Michael Hurley leaves the forward line to take over Carlisle’s duties down back, muffling if not completely silencing the rampaging Waite. Carlisle in turn goes forward and immediately has an influence, marking when he can, spoiling when he needs to and even slotting one late in the last quarter, keeping the Bombers in touch. The trump card works like a Tarot, and Carlton’s short term future suddenly seems far from certain. The momentum has swung completely, and the Blues’ players and supporters can only watch as a 31 point third quarter lead slowly dwindles. The Blues begin to look slow. There is a sense of inevitability in the air.

In the final quarter I find myself sitting next to Ash, a mad Bomber who, if not for a dodgy knee would’ve came close to playing league footy himself. His enthusiasm for his team is infectious, and before long I’ve forgotten about the cheeky tenner I’ve wagered on the Blues, and am barracking hard for the ‘Dons. The game see-saws back and forth. Melksham runs into an open goal early in the final term to give the Bombers the lead, but it’s a lead immediately reversed by Waite, who slots his seventh for the night. Surely he’s done enough in the eyes of Malthouse to make up for his former indiscretions. But only if they can win it. Otherwise it’s all been for nought.

The last ten minutes of the game are something of a blur. What stands out most is the old fella behind me. He’s seen my earpiece, and once we reach time-on he’s constantly tapping me on the shoulder, wanting – no, desperately needing to know how many minutes are left in the game. He’s a Bombers man, and as the end draws closer I’m turning around to tell him every time Huddo mentions the minutes, then seconds left to play on the AM broadcast.

Finally, the siren blows. The Bombers have done enough. The Blues have coughed it up. The Bombers have hung on. All hell breaks loose.

Later, as I amble back towards Richmond station, I ponder all that tonight meant, to me and those around me. The rivalries and allegiances, the loyalty and enmity. The power of footy to divide and unite in one fluid motion. Tonight was about friends, united in witnessing a grand spectacle, winners and losers both. And as corny as it sounds, Jarrad Waite’s effort tonight showed us that in football, as in life, you can achieve more with others than you can on your own.

 

 

About Daniel Fanshawe

Just a regular guy, who enjoys the art of football and all that surrounds it.

Comments

  1. Steve Baker says:

    Well done!

  2. Benjamin Lichtenstein says:

    Great yarn, mate. Really felt like I was there. In fact, I was there. But you put retell the experience so beautifully.

    PS. Did you know that Ash’s late father played for Essendon in the early ’70s? Ken Hogan.

  3. twenty6dollars says:

    thanks Beno, the footy’s always fun but that night was particularly special… You know, I did know about Ash’s dad, but I’d forgotten… I went to a party at Ash’s place back in ’05, and there was a huge photo or portrait of Ken on the wall, and Ash told me all about him then – something I’d forgotten about until now… Adds another layer to the tale…

  4. James Pickering says:

    Loved it mate, I remember that game and I agree the Bombers and Blues suck!

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