AFL Round 17 – North Melbourne v St.Kilda: A Funny Thing happened on the way to the…..


Funny things just keep happening in my football life.  Really, life in general.

I run into people on train stations on game day (two weeks ago), who email me the history of the black cross in the St.Kilda emblem.  About the islands off Scotland, called St.Kilda.  According to Tom Steel (Life and Death of St.Kilda, Fontana Original 1975), St.Kilda is not one island but an archipelago lying in the Atlantic Ocean about 110 miles off the Scottish mainland. Even though there is some dispute as to the origin, Tom Steel tells us that there was no saint called Kilda that he could find in the research.  The island was called Hirta, Hirtha, Hiort (meaning “death” or “gloom”) and Hirt.  The author poses that with Scottish pronunciation, the Hirta sounded like Kilta.

“Death” and “Gloom”.  Hmm. Keep talking.

Further on in the book, abstracts of which Julie from Queensland painstakingly typed out to send to me, Tom said that the island was poor, rugged, desolate, and was rarely visited.  One skipper of a trawler who took pity on the inhabitants, regularly returned to give them food, essential supplies like flour, fresh fish, meat, sugar and tea, coal, paraffin and would not accept money.  Donald Craig, the skipper, fell in love with the islanders as they did with him.  The seafarers, used to the poor cramped conditions of their boats, took pity on the poverty of those stranded on the islands, surrounded by terrible weather and rough sea edges.

The “Brilliant Star” and its skipper and crew, first visited St.Kilda in 1903.  Donald Craig claims he was also the first to introduce the game of football (which code is not specified).  He discovered that the children had never seen a proper ball before, and he took one from his hometown of Aberdeen.  He didn’t just take any ball but the winning ball.

I’ll quote from the book directly:

“I went to see Aberdeen beat Rangers 2-1”, he recalled, “and I followed the secretary around the pitch”.  I said, “I want that ball to take to St.Kilda”.  He said, “You’d get a ball for two shillings and sixpence anywhere”, and I said, “I want that ball for St.Kilda – it beat Rangers 2 -1.  Come on, I’ll give you ten shillings for it”.  So I got the ball and when I went back to St.Kilda the four boys and the four girls were down at the water’s edge shouting “Have you got the ball, Donald, have you got the ball?”  So I got the ball ashore and the minister and his wife and daughter were in goal and the other people watched.  We showed them how to play.  When we went back one month later, however, they showed us.”

A history of fanaticism in sport and those who support either the isle of St.Kilda or the latter day team?

There are three other parts of the story, where Craig purchased eighty wooden daggers resembling crosses and presented them to the St.Kildians.  Each islander (sounding like true Saints supporters) said “By the help of God, may the day that I betray my fellow man or woman, may this dagger pierce my heart.  Fear God, fear no man.”

How can we incorporate that kind of attitude in our team of 2014 and onwards?

Now the last link, according to Tom, is that large numbers of people had to emigrate away from the islands, and in 1852 a number came to Australia.  The sixteen St.Kilda islanders who survived the trip settled and gave the name of their island birthplace to the district of the city of Melbourne.

Finally, a group of some 600 Australians of Scots extraction made a trip back to Hirta in 1928 and couldn’t believe the poverty before their eyes.  Julie, the source of my story, thinks her family were amongst this group of descendants who returned from whence their ancestors came.

In exchange for all this, Julie asked for my help in locating sources for her searches into her family.  I went to my researcher sister Denise, who provided her with several links and we are waiting to hear how successful Julie was.  This all happened because she spoke to me at the entrance of Malvern Station.  One mad Sainter to another.

Now this week, I had to visit the emergency department at Cabrini with a USA friend staying with her brother around the corner.  Shoshana was having eye problems and so it came to be that I took her at 8am to Cabrini in Malvern.  After triage we were sent to the administration desk, where the clerk, Glenys, saw my Saints cup and we were off.  Forget about my friend and her eyes, we were totally one eyed Saints supporters reviewing our season and the likely series of losses to face us for the rest of the year.  Glenys talked about the 94 year old friend Aileen that she and friends take every week.  This woman was hard core and positive, she’d seen it all over the years.  We had to pull ourselves out of our St.Kilda reverie.  Shoshana, thankfully, was not in pain or dropping dead beside us, but she did need tending to.  We did amuse her though, she couldn’t believe the reaction my cup, and my love of St.Kilda, keeps creating.

Shoshana got great attention and the day was spent having lunch and then seeing a specialist back at the hospital in the afternoon.  She even wore a St.Kilda scarf to see if we could re-create the madness.  No such luck.  At the eye specialist, people were actually wearing eye patches and were truly one eyed, but not of the football variety.

So the next day, when my beloved Saints were in Tassie, I was recovering from the day at Cabrini and watching my boys struggle through.  It is hard to observe.  There was a better second quarter but every goal missed meant the margin was going to be ugly.  On a positive note, it wasn’t as ugly as I expected and that was solely because there was a better defensive effort.  It is hard to watch my team being beat up every week.  Next week it is with Freo, and the losses of Collingwood and Carlton at least salved the wounds.  You can beat St.Kilda but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll beat better opposition.  Mind you, Doggies supporters will be salivating at the prospect of playing us shortly, if my sister is any indication.  She’s booked a seat with me at the Saints home game that week.

Thankfully, the Tassie game didn’t seem to have created new injury concerns and we got some old soldiers back like Fischer in defence and it is good to see Roberton again running around, without his headband and at least back in the team.  When I get momentarily worried about what will become of us when Lenny and Rooey and Joey retire, I am comforted by the fact that when they started as young players, they too were in a team that sucked.  Let’s hope that the new generation of Saints supporters and players live to see the next one.

Finally, North looked slick and hard and it will be interesting to see how their year develops.

Go Saints.  Onwards and upwards.

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. Loved the history lesson Yvette. Had always wondered about the origins of the name.
    To paraphrase John Lennon:
    “AFL is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”

  2. matt watson says

    This was a wonderful story.
    History is truly fascinating.
    On Sunday in a suburban shopping centre, clad in my North Melbourne zip-up hoodie, I walked past a man clad in a zip-up Saints hoodie.
    We gave each other a nod.
    The shopping centre was Taigum, north of Brisbane. Good to see a Saints fan in Brisbane. Good to see a Saints fan proudly wearing his colours they day after a big loss.
    That is passion.
    I hope that Saints fan reads your story.

  3. Keiran Croker says

    Hi Yvette,
    I have a book called “St Kilda – Island on the Edge of the World” by Charles MacLean, which I picked up in Scotland many years ago. Its published by Canongate Classics.

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