AFL Round 16: Blues torch Swans in Flame Trees spin-off

by Rick Newbery

Four years since The Move and I still can’t get the hang of this joint, whatever it’s called this week, and the frustration mounts as I crawl up and down the side streets of West Melbourne looking for a parking spot which is easy to get away from, and within reasonable range of the Spencer Street Outhouse (hereafter SSO) and doesn’t charge like a wounded heifer (ruling out anywhere south of Victoria Street).

I had come in down Royal Parade past the building site where once had been the Social Club, and felt the usual wave of  Flame Trees nostalgic angst, and for the thousandth time cursed the day John Elliott became a Carlton supporter. A single-digit percentage of the squingitillion he threw at that always-empty monstrosity up the other end, spent instead on fixing up the Harris and Heatley Stands and some half-decent training facilities, and we’d still be here. (Oh – but who needs that sentimental bullshit anyway.)

Finally, at 12.21, I settle on a spot in the middle of Batman Street where the metres get turned off at 12.30, and walk into the SSO. The roof is shut and the lights on, although the weather is fine, which always makes the place feel like a dodgy snooker hall. It also means that the draught which blows through the place from end to end when all the gates are open, can just about take your head off if you’re up the wrong end.

As the game starts, it quickly becomes plain that neither of these mobs is much chop. Fans of both teams quickly latch onto their favorite scapegoats – for Carlton, it’s Thornton, Fev and Stevens, for Sydney it seems to be Jude Bolton and Rhyce Shaw, and for both the umpires are to blame not only for the dismal standard of play but also for the GFC, the  cost of petrol, and most likely AIDS and the break-up of the Beatles as well. Frankly, I’ve heard it all before, and, not unusually for a Carlton supporter these last few years, I wish I was just about anywhere else.

For all the noise and static, the sense of occasion, the atmosphere is absolutely zero, and the way players on both teams are kicking backwards and sideways and always seeking the safe option to keep their clanger count at 0, isn’t helping. (Ted Hopkins has a lifetime supply of brownie points for winning the 1970 Grand Final for Carlton, but as the evil genius behind Champion Data, he might need them. I don’t buy that there is absolutely no link between football statistics becoming one of Australiua’s few remaining  growth industries on the one hand, and AFL football reaching unseen depths of tedious, anal, over-coached, over-umpired lack of adventure on the other.)

In the second quarter, after Carlton’s ‘Browns Cows’ forward line wastes 15 minutes of midfield dominance, Swans veteran Ryan O’Keefe and  boy-mountain Jesse White take us apart, turning our slim quarter-time lead into a 15-point deficit just after half time. But then ‘St Christopher’ and our own boy-wonders Marc Murphy and Matt Kreuzer (whose resemblance in playing style to Paul Salmon is uncanny – hope like hell he has better luck with his knees), along with Kade Simpson and at-last-warm and reasonably focussed Fevola, at last find some system – even Brad Fisher kicks two in two minutes – and the crowd stops whinging, but only temporarily.

Two goals in the last minute to the Swans throw the game back into the balance and you could just about see the Carlton crowd roll its eyes in unison. They flash the crowd figure on the scoreboard – 40-odd thousand. They have to be kidding. Where the hell are they all hiding?

As the three-quarter time siren blows I head for the Captains Club, the barely-adequate substitute for the old Harris Stand social club. Before I’m halfway through my first Cascade, Carlton have kicked two goals and it’s plain now that the Swans are a spent force. Suddenly, the Captains Club is gaining chef’s hats as fast as Carlton is now kicking goals, it’s much roomier than the old social club, it can handle a bigger crowd, the service is heaps better, and the outside area where the smokers congregate overlooks the docks area and you can watch the boats come in and out. One bloke says that Roos should hire one of those launches and make the Swans row the damned thing back to Sydney. It’s the best line I’ve heard all afternoon.

As the siren blows, with Carlton 61 points up in its first win over Sydney since before the 2000 Olympics, all the talk is now of the Blues making the top four. Sure, in the end we beat sweet Frankie Avalon, but nobody cares – like wins over Sydney, wins by 10 goals are still a novelty, no matter how crap the other crowd.

It will be even better once that kind of scorecard is seen as routine, but hey!  Enjoy it for now.

It’s amazing the difference a nine-goal-to-none last quarter can make, even compared with a similarly lop-sided second quarter with the other three fairly even. It’s also uncanny how all the things that can give you the irrits about the AFL, the crowds, the venue, the way the game is played, and umpired, and administered, can grow strangely dim in the light of an emphatic, historic win …


  1. Engaging writing Rick – full of fresh images and phrases that make me think through the connections.

    Love your work!


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