AFL Round 15 – Greater Western Sydney v St Kilda: A win for storytelling

Greater Western Sydney v St Kilda

Spotless Stadium

Sunday 12th July 2015, 1.10pm


1. Footy conversations and connections

The footy story of the weekend begins as I get through security at Melbourne airport. For the third time over my journeys, I am pulled aside to be scanned, but I am on to the staff now. It seems an excuse to talk footy. This time a Geelong-supporting security man calls over his Western Bulldogs mate to talk about the Saints’ win last weekend the moment I am all cleared by the little wand-y thing that checks over my body and my little case. We all wish our respective teams well for the weekend, and I spend the spare hour doing fast walks up the two wings of the Qantas section.

On the plane, my neighbour is silent all trip, but as we get ready to disembark, he says, “Hope GWS wins.” I ask him if that’s who he barracks for, but he says he’s a Geelong man who now works in Sydney and supports the local team.

I spend the day in Sydney city orienting myself, and shopping a little. Working out how I will get to the ground the following day for the practice. Getting lost in these tricky Sydney streets. Walking until my feet hurt.

Friday night sees me taxiing to my fellow Almanackers house for dinner. Braham Dabscheck spoke at a Footy Almanac lunch last year, and I went especially early to meet him. We’d chatted via comments on the site, both being mad Saint supporters. We’ve shared time together in Melbourne at a game, he as my guest, and now here in Sydney, he’s invited me to sit with him at the game. I’d already organised a ticket, so I passed that on via the Travelling Saints Facebook page and accepted the invitation.

I got to meet Braham’s wife Pam, was fed a magnificent, delicious dinner after being kindly asked my food preferences, and relaxed after a long day travelling and walking, getting to know my hosts a little better. Pam hasn’t got a football interest in the tip of her fingers; she loves reading and bridge and cooking and anything other than men running around and playing with a pigskin. Braham reminded me of “Fever Pitch” written by Nick Hornby, how when Nick got a girlfriend who he introduced to soccer/football, she became as obsessed as he was and he hated it. It was his obsession and his alone. Braham has no fear that Pam will ever get involved in the Saints.

Braham’s parents were born in Australia, too. His father’s side were Russian and his mother’s side English, and they lived with his father’s family before they moved to East Brighton in 1949. Even at 5 years old, he fell in love with footy, and the Saints, he just liked the colours and lived in the right area for them. He used to go to Hurlingham Park in Brighton as a kid, and saw Carl Ditterich and Jimmy Read playing at the local ground, and he fell in love with Carl and Jimmy and the team they eventually played for.

As a child, he listened to games on the radio. He remembered ’58 when Allan Jeans kicked goals and St Kilda won the game, a rarity. At 12, he went to his first-ever game in 1961 with a school friend who barracked for South Melbourne Swans at the Junction Oval and the Saints won by over 12 goals. Braham has a brilliant mind and memory.

Eric Guy, he said, shirtfronted Bob Skilton. He and his friend went onto the oval to listen to the coach at three-quarter time, and for some reason many of the supporters followed the players back into the showers after the game. He did so as well. He has two distinct memories of this moment – Bob Skilton in a suit assuring people he was OK (from the shirt front which was pretty hefty), and the players coming out of the showers with all the spectators of all ages watching them. He couldn’t recognise the players without their jumpers.

Braham said that he stood there watching this scene, half-naked players and supporters and fans watching, and he thought, why was everyone watching them now? Why couldn’t they just let them have privacy? The players had just given their all on the field for the crowd’s amusement, but the boys and men wanted more. This was the moment his interest was piqued about players’ rights. It was a moment that directed the rest of his life.

Braham never entered a changing room again, except when he was catching up with a friend who was a doctor at North Melbourne at the time of the Krakouer brothers, and to stay with his friend, they had to go into the rooms after the game.

He said being a Saints supporter is character building. He saw the 1965 Grand Final loss against Essendon because his father got tickets, but they couldn’t get them for the next year.

Braham’s long and continuing life as an economist has seen him become a professor and academic and working in the labour market. He wrote the paper “Labour Market for Australian Rules Footballers,” in which he argued that the transfer system was bad for sports and the players. In 1973, Geoff Pryor, who had played with Essendon, contacted Braham to know whether he thought it was a good idea for players to form an association. Braham’s answer was yes, and he helped the players organise their association which has continued until today, as has his interest in players’ rights and his connection to AFLPA.

2. Olympic Park, Spotless Stadium and late practice runs

(I’m only going to ask once. Why can’t Melbourne have double story trains, with fancy, flexible seating that fits way more people in at any time? Our infrastructure can’t be so different as to not allow the height. Is it so bad to envy the trains of Sydney?)

I got information as to how to get to Spotless, and a day ticket (as my game-day ticket includes public transport) and headed out, far out, to get to the Olympic Park district. I had to change trains at Lidcombe, from the main system to a small offshoot going through to the stadiums and beyond. All good, it was a cold but sunny afternoon, and the players were going for training at 2.30. I texted Jason Spinks, the organiser of St Kilda Harbour City Saints, for directions; I could see the giant ANZ Stadium but not the much smaller Spotless one. Moments later, I could see him on his mobile talking to me, and we caught up.

Jason, his friend Juan, and I walked over to entrance 4, ready for the training run, to be told by security that they’d been informed that the players were running late and wouldn’t be there until after 4. Bec was there, too, another fan come on time to see the players, so while Jason waited around to direct other Saints fans to coffee (an organiser’s job is never done), Bec and I wondered over to the Gloria Jeans for something warm. Bec, in ordinary life, is a nurse. Her Dad grew up in Melbourne, giving the family an interest in Aussie rules. Bec could have been a Swan or a Saint, but Bec just followed Adam Schneider from the Swans down south in 2009, and has been a member since 2011.

While we are chatting, Sam Fisher comes wandering in for a drink. We say g’day, as you do, and ask whether that means the Saints boys have arrived. No, he says, they’re delayed. He came 24 hours earlier. He likes to always come up a bit before the rest. Bec wishes him happy birthday, she’s obviously knowledgeable about such things. He says thanks, and we let him get back to his private moment waiting for his order.

Then I catch up with Jason and Juan. In Jason’s regular life, he works in insurance. It’s given him work and plenty of good friends. He follows St George Illawarra and the New Orleans Saints, and so it was only right that he’d follow the St Kilda Saints. He knew Neroli Walker (another mad Sainter) as a co-worker who was also a past president of the supporter group which Jason joined, helped with and now leads. As with all the other supporter group presidents I have met, Jason does the work, sometimes a lot of it, for the club for love. He’s brought his friend Juan from Peru, a supporter of Real Madrid, to his first training, and tomorrow for his first-ever game of footy. They met through mutual friends at a night out. Juan will be wearing a guernsey that Jason won at an earlier group function in Sydney.

Billy Longer is Jason’s favourite player, and when we finally could get into training just before 4, he waited for another photo with his man. He’s worried Billy will think he’s stalking him, but he just loves his favourite player, who remembers him, too.

Standing at the fence, watching the players go through their practice routines in the last of the Sydney sun before the real chill of the early evening sets in, I ponder our fandom. Does it ever stop? Another open training, watching the players kick through the goals or behinds over and over again. Watching them closely, they are like kids again, as are the trainers, having fun, kicking the ball, trying different angles and positions. Doing what they probably have done since young boys.

The players once again come along the fence line, signing autographs and having photos with the fans. Once again, I join in, getting this lot signed on behalf of my little Luke.

When Jack Sinclair comes along, we find that his father Ian is standing next to us, and they catch up. Ian goes to most of Jack’s games, and this time his partner Sue is with him. She currently lives in Sydney and will be shifting down to Melbourne sometime soon. Sue’s nephew is Jamie Macmillan, No. 34 for North Melbourne. Ian’s father is a longtime Melbourne tragic, and the whole family are connected by friendship to the Cordner family, especially with John, a first-class cricket player as well as a Melbourne Footy Club player. On Ian’s mother’s side, there’s Bill Woodfull, who’s her father. An OBE, Victoria and Australian cricket captain, and star of the bodyline series. He and Bill Ponsford were the most successful opening partnership for Australia ever.

Ian tells me ever since a little kid Jack Sinclair wanted to be a Saint. I hope he’s as successful a Saint as his friends and family are footballers and cricketers.

Walking back to the station, I talk to Rebecca, who has loved the Saints since being young. She knows Stan Alves well. Her Dad used to go to Moorabbin to watch the footy all the time, and Rebecca used to babysit Nicky Winmar’s kids. Connections and more connections. Rebecca told me she’s a screamer at the footy and has been pulled up once or twice by her dad. A very passionate woman indeed.

3. Pre-game at The Lidcombe Catholic Club

There weren’t many of us coming to the pregame function organised by the Club and Jason on behalf of the Harbour City Saints. But I find over and over people are happy and enthusiastic at sharing their footy stories. People see me coming, with my pen and small book, and they don’t run the other way.

I met Chris and son Brendon, two Geelong men who barrack for the Saints. Chris says it’s been hard on Brendon at school over the successful Cats tenure at the top. They’d flown up from Avalon Airport this morning, would stay the night, and head home the next day. Chris lived in Moorabbin in his younger days and went to the first game in Moorabbin in 1965, but his family moved away the next day. Now he’s an AFL Member living in Geelong and goes to the footy when he can, taking either his two sons or daughter when they are available. He and Brendon used to go to Waverly.

“It’s in the blood,” he says, “I want to see them win a Premiership.”

He says in Geelong, all their workmates barrack for the Cats. On top of that, all Saints supporters took a collective “sigh” after losing the two Premierships.

Brendon tells me he played junior footy with Luke Delaney out at Grovedale.

Then I chat to the St Kilda Football Club President since 2013, Peter Summers. Peter’s family have been Sainters for generations. He went to St Kilda East Primary and played footy at St Kilda City.

“How could I not (barrack for the Saints)?” he says. “You follow what is around you.”

I have seen Peter at all the Club functions I have attended this year, in Gold Coast, Adelaide and now Sydney. He is generous in his support of the local groups and is always up for a chat about the Saints boys. He speaks as a President, and as a huge fan who loves watching his team play. He remembers an Essendon CEO telling him that he thought the Round 14 2009 game between St Kilda and Geelong was the best game of footy he’s ever seen, and if we ever wanted to introduce a stranger to the game, it should be this one.

Matt Finnis, our CEO, is there too. I had heard he was a Doggies supporter and asked him why he barracked for the Western Bulldogs. Matt said ALL his family lived there, and his father barracked for the Dogs. All his extended family were Doggies supporters, and his two great uncles, who shared a house near Western Oval, on Nicholson Street, Footscray, used to be the meeting point for the whole mob to park or gather, and then walk to the ground.

Matt said his grandfather moved to Beaumaris and ran a news agency, and so Matt’s family lived in Beaumaris and he grew up in the Bayside/St Kilda areas. He would go with the family when it was a home game at Western Oval to watch his beloved Doggies play, and when they weren’t at home, he’d go up the road to watch the Saints at Moorabbin as it was his closest ground.

So it is kinda neat that our CEO has been at Moorabbin and knows its significance and barracks for the other team with one Premiership Cup. Another team full on incredibly long suffering supporters and dreamers. He has a soul who recognises kinship and heart. He’s been a brilliant helmsman for our Club since 2014. At least the red and white colours are linked, just a bit conflicted about the black and blue bits.

Matt and Peter have to leave for another function, so I talk with Andy and Russ. I have given Russ my ticket for the game via the Travelling Saints Facebook Page. I met Andy in GCS and Adelaide, and Russ in Adelaide. I’ve seen them at Docklands. They are mates with Bruce Eva and Scott Gooding (Scott I will meet post-game).

Eva, a sports commentator with 3AW, head of Fairfax Radio Cricket, a journalist, author and MC, is completely nuts about the Saints. He was at the pregame function as a fan. He said he had no choice about barracking for the Saints. His Dad was St Kilda and his Mum was Melbourne. They made a deal between them. Girls will be Melbourne, boys will be Saints. (Bruce says that his Mum has since crossed over to the Saints side). Bruce has always had a good network of friends to attend to footy with, going to Moorabbin and to Waverly and now Docklands and beyond. He has been made a Life Member at St Kilda as well as being part of the “Keep Saints at Moorabbin” group. Bruce often is the organiser when this current group of men travel, and he tries to ensure that his calling of two games a week for 3AW doesn’t interfere with his Saints madness.

I seem to talk to everyone from the Saints at the Catholic Club. Janice is there with her son Nick, who have come from the western suburbs of Sydney. Nick was born at Sandringham hospital and later played with the Mentone Tigers. Even when Janice had four kids in three years, she went to the games. She remembers the night cup in 1996 against Carlton, and loved her Saints.

Janice was the white sheep in the family, as all of the rest of the extended family were Essendon supporters. Now she and her family are living in NSW, they follow GWS so as not to miss out on going to footy, and her elder children and grandchildren all come as well. She tells me that when her beautiful grandchild Sebastian was seen by Heath Shaw, he came and gave him the game ball.

It was almost time to go to the ground. Finally, Sara was more into Rugby Union and the Waratahs but came to support her friend Jason Spinks, and her first-ever footy game was with Jason at the first Saints game in Wellington.

4. The game we’d rather forget

I was full of Saints stories as we split up to our various seats. I still had time to chat to Tim the bloke sitting on my right, who grew up in Beaumaris. He had an elder sister who was a “mad keen Saint supporter” who dressed Tim up in Saints gear, as bigger girl siblings often do to torture younger siblings. He had a big shot of white blond hair, and looked like Carl Ditterich. He played under-19 reserve along with Rod Buttress and Michael Nettlefold (ex-Saints President and CEO).

On this very cold day, the sun was out, and we had it on us the whole afternoon. That was the bright and happy news of the afternoon. If last week the Saints could do no wrong, this week they could do no right. Over and over, hand passes failed, targets went astray, goals missed, running led to slipping and losing the ball, it was a mess. GWS didn’t seem to suffer from the conditions as much, plugging away more accurately and more often. We kicked no goals in the first (to their 4), 2 in the second (to their 4), kicked three after half time (and keeping GWS goalless) bringing us to within 16 points to get us a little excited, and then one last pot in the last (with their four). At least the sun was warm — until it wasn’t — again. The boys gave it a crack, and Nick Riewoldt strained his calf. It was a pretty ordinary day all round at the game. The best bit was sharing it with Braham and getting to know him a little better. His refrain, “it’s just not their day,” or “some days, nothing goes right,” pretty much summed it all up. They were great seats and it was good company, and it didn’t rain.

5. Post-match drinks

At least Sainters enjoy a gathering, and a mob reassembled at the pub. On the way, I chatted to Geoff Huggins, his wife Cheryl and their son Kale, all from Coffs Harbour. They were looking lost after the game, and so I directed them to the station and the pub. My public service for the night. When I asked Geoff why they were Sainters, he said because his dad was Graham Huggins. I said, “Like the Huggins the stand is named after at Moorabbin,” and he said yes. His dad was President of the Saints for their best 10 years ever, in their most successful era.

I am constantly surprised what is in the package of answers to this simple question of why people barrack for the Saints. There has been some beauties of answers. Geoff, Cheryl and Kale drove down from Coffs Harbour and are returning the next day. They have some drinks at one of the tables and have dinner, and I later introduce them to Bruce, Scott, Andy and Russ.

Janine and Nick, Chris and Brendon and I share more stories. Chris used to be a boot studder and tells us that John Nicholls gave him socks after a game. He tried to nick a Premiership match jumper, but the property steward was on to him and he missed out. Janine talked about how Sydney was split, and it reminded me of Adelaide and Port Adelaide (perhaps until next week when they come together, for a game laced with sorrow). She said that Kevin Sheedy once said that the Sydney Swans were the Double Bay Club. The only Sydney player who ever visited fans in the western suburbs was Sean Dempster the year he was delisted by Sydney. She said anything west of the eastern suburbs doesn’t exist for the Swans.

I shifted benches and met Andrew Mathieson, a journalist who is just finishing up a stint with Choice Magazine. He describes himself a Sydney transient. His father barracked for Essendon, but his cousin, five years older, was Saints player Geoff Cunningham (1977-89, 224 games, 58 goals). My Saints encyclopaedia says “His tough rollicking style made him a St Kilda favourite.” Andrew followed his cousin, who still supports the Saints. Even though the family lived in Geelong, his father didn’t want him to be a Cats supporter and would drive him to games, starting in 1980 when he was 7. I told Andrew he can write fan pieces for the Footy Almanac. We need more Sainters.

Finally, I met Scott Gooding, Bruce’s good mate, who tells me he was in vitro in 1966, so it was kind of a done deal. He grew up in Cheltenham and still goes to most Sandringham games. He went to one St Kilda game in ’72, and from ’73 round one with his uncle he became a full time member and participant. He was even part of the 2011 St Kilda membership ad. He has a dog named Harvey. Need more be said?

Scott is a passionate man, passionate about his friends and his Saints. He has a go at any members who have a crack at our players. He bleeds red, white and black, and feels it’s an honour and a privilege to be a Saints supporter. If you leave, like Brendon Goddard, you are out. He can’t wear his “200” game Goddard t-shirt anymore.

Scott and Bruce, it turns out, are like friends and family to each other. They met at Young and Jackson when Bruce was 19 and Scott was 21 and St Kilda had lost a game by a point. Mates and good friends for 26 years. Two very different peas in a pod.

Scott, a freelance television reviewer and a self-confessed TV freak (according to Google), Bruce and all the other lovely people who shared their stories, were happy to end the night talking, eating and drinking. Scott’s driven up from Melbourne with Jo, the young man from the Saints Cheer Squad I keep meeting, and they are heading home tomorrow.

By 9pm, I began to fade, am assured by the local Saints that travelling on Sydney’s public transport is perfectly fine at night on my own, and so head back to my hotel to crash almost as soon as I return. It has been a full-on three-day journey, and I fly back the next day.

At the airport, I once again do some exercise, walking up and down like a maniac, trying to get some mileage on my Fitbit (my newfangled device which counts steps amongst other things). Trying to become more active. Watching young fit men run around — and not trying to become fitter myself — seems really pointless. While waiting to board, Leslie comes to say g’day to another Sainter. She and her hubby John just flew back from Europe and were exhausted. But still happy to talk St Kilda to me, Leslie saying that when she was a young woman in Adelaide, she and her friends went out drinking on Friday nights, she’d meet up with some lovely blokes who played for the Saints, and became a fan. Funnily enough, John came as a migrant from Austria and went straight to a migrant centre on arrival. His mate there barracked for St Kilda. It was a perfect match when they met, and a perfect end to a story-telling weekend.

About Yvette Wroby

Yvette Wroby writes, cartoons, paints through life and gets most pleasure when it's about football, and more specifically the Saints. Believes in following dreams and having a go.


  1. Geoff Huggins says

    Great article Yvette

  2. Guru Gus - Singapore says

    Another ripping read about the Mighty Saints. Always great to hear people’s stories, and their history with the Sainters. Another great question is what is your favorite Saints game ever? Those ’97, ’09, and ’10 Prelims were all great (especially ’97, it having been 26 years since our previous GF), but the one I remember best was Round 2, 1989 down at Moorabin, and we were playing the hated Carlton. Plugger kicked 10 goals 7, out of 13-18, including the winning goal to put us ahead by 4 points at the final siren – on a brilliant pass from Nicky Winmar. What a game – I will never forget the last quarter, of which Plugger kicked all 4 of our goals.

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