AFL Round 9 – North Melbourne v Adelaide: Un-ruffleable hair

North Melbourne versus Adelaide
3.20pm, Sunday, 26 May
Etihad Stadium, Melbourne



Adelaide pandemonium. A lot of noise for a small mob. Actually, there are more here than I realised. The family in front are bouncing up and down. The flog towards the back who’s been accusing the umps of cheating all day is squealing like a stuck pig. Players hug in groups and fall to the ground.

North fans leave like zombies. No talk, just white with shock. Brother-in-law Dean and I sit and stare. Nephew Lukey cries into his hands. His mate, Harry, a Tiger, shifts uncomfortably in his seat. Lindsay Thomas lies flat on his back for the fourth time in six weeks.

I write the final score in my Record. My hand shakes. My head is empty. Adelaide were behind all day. In front when it counted.

Suddenly, Dean, Lukey and Harry are gone. I shove everything in my bag and catch them up on the way out. Stunned looks everywhere. I ruffle Lukey’s hair like adults used to do to me when I was a kid and North lost. He shrugs my hand away. His neck is red with emotion. Shit, he reminds me of me at the same age. Now.

I go left and others turn right. Head up, Lukey. Another ruffle. Another shrug.

I walk against the crowd. Adelaide bounce and giggle. They know they’ve stolen one. North have seen it all before.

I fall in beside a mother and blue and white gaggle. Can’t believe it. Worst ever. How could they do it to us again? We’ll be back for more punishment next week,’ she says and waves good-bye.

It’s just gone 6pm. Not quite the club killer, grave yard shift. Can get home at a reasonable time.

My chest vibrates. Texts coming through. I ignore most, respond to a few: Gorn.

I cross the bridge. Trams rattle and roll past. Trains rumble below. It’s a nice night.

I recognise some faces. True Roos who come every week.

I can’t recall much. Already it’s gone. We kicked the first two or three goals of every quarter. Led by 6 goals early in the second, 5 halfway through the fourth. Adelaide always believed. Knew they could get over the top. Knew North would weaken. Game was too open, too quick. No defence or close down.

No belief. No killer instinct. Been saying it for years. Ever since the King and Pagan left.

Where to from here, North?

Behind the remand centre, a woman, mid-30s, woollen Kangaroo jumper, wearing callipers – is that what they’re called? – puts her crutches in the boot and struggles towards the front of the car. She’s on her own. Where are her family? Does the club do anything to help her? I should help but just stare and keep walking. (Fuck, I should’ve helped.)

A man pushes his mother in her wheelchair. She has a leather 1970s, Kangaroos bag on her lap. Another man, probably the father, carries the picnic basket and blanket.

At the lights, a red faced bloke walks up and shakes his head. Shit I get mad, mate, he says. I know. I cross over, leaving him with his fury.

On the other side, I have to wait again. A group of old ladies gathers around me. Silver and purple haired. Salt of the earth. Stick fat through the good and bad times. Already they’re planning next week. Boomer’s 350. A young guy in a scarf on the other side of the road can’t wait for the green man and darts between the crawling traffic, towards us. Be careful, darl, one of the old dears pleads. We need ya. He laughs, tugs on a dart and carries on.

More texts.

Cousin Lou Lou calls. Hers is the only call I’m answering tonight. I think of the 85 Elimination Final at Waverley. Lou was so small she could hardly see over the wooden seats. We came from behind to beat Carlton. Fairy tail stuff. Schimma, Phil Krakouer, AD, John Holt. Sun in our faces. Uncle Allan roaring. Dad, a Bomber, putting some old Carlton prick in his place in the last term. He left early.

What the fuck was that! She says. Lou Lou swears better than most. She Fs and blinds all the way up the hill. This one hurts, Lou. Where to from here? What sort of club are we?

They can go and get fucked! She hangs up.

Jim and Phil were at the game today. That makes it hurt more. What does Indigenous round say about us as a nation? Or the incident involving Adam Goodes on Friday night? I’m a white fella, therefore not in a position to comment on the real impact of racial taunts. Who am I to tell Goodes how to feel? The Warrnambool I grew up in was different to the one Jason Mifsud did. But for me the saddest thing out of the incident was the sight of that young girl taking the walk of shame on her own. Where were her parents?

Will we always need an Indigenous round? Will Majak ever be known as a footballer and not ‘the first Sudanese born footballer’? Should I care?

In the car, I think of ‘Singing in the Rain’. I was watching it this arvo before getting to the game. Shit that Gene Kelly can dance.

At home, Eloise gives me a hug. I watch the doco on Gough and the TV movie on Cliffy Young. What a legend.

Where to from here North?


  1. Superb. Of all the imagery, adding the last goal in your record is most vivid. Never has one pen stroke hurt so much.

  2. So raw. Beautifully done.

  3. Danielle says

    “Put it on North” I said., said it too confidently too.
    Don’t think dad will be asking me for my tip when he takes a punt again…

  4. Lord Bogan says

    Starkie, the AFL have done you no favours with the draw. Totally unfair. I really can’t claim to understand your pain as I’ve only experienced it in Grand Finals, but you really convey that feeling of the kid whose just found out that Santa isn’t real.

    Hang in there mate.

  5. Andrew – that is just beautifully written.

    I read the bit about your nephew Lukey … I know the feeling – I know the feeling of crying after losing the game we should’ve won (in my case, the 1982 GF) and I know the feeling of an uncle or father ruffling my hair – “Hey, its OK, there’ll be another time”.

    Problem is, since 1982 there hasn’t been a lot of second chances for Richmond supporters. That’s the thing – you just don’t know when your team might get another chance, another opportunity.

    Now I go to the footy with my son, I ruffle his hair when we lose, I say to him – “Its only one loss, there’s always next time” knowing full well that those words might provide him comfort, but might not be the truth.

    Who knows if there will be another chance.

  6. Love your passion for your team Andrew. Hang in there mate

  7. LB,
    North can’t blame the AFL or the draw.

  8. Petrie to CHB in the last 10 minutes?

  9. Lord Bogan says


    Coll, Geel, Syd, Haw, and West Coast in Perth in 8 rounds? North finished 8th last year. It’s a joke.

  10. It is Tuesday now, and I am still down…
    Andrew, I sympathise because I am sharing your pain and disappointment.
    Cookie / Phil, North cannot blame the fixture or the umpires or anyone else.
    Dips, As mentioned elsewhere…Sunday was the first time I thought that Brad Scott coached poorly. It is all very well to stick to your beliefs and philosophies, but there comes a time when you swallow your pride and say “It’s not working, move to Plan B”.
    Speaking of Swallow, his comments yesterday about “drawing a line in the sand” were just a little hard to take. What…it takes 4 losses by less than a kick to finally draw a line in the sand? Curses on D Brereton for introducing that line into the footy vernacular.

  11. Andrew Starkie says

    Cookie – my hand still shakes; we can blame the draw to a point; fronting up every second Sunday night yr after yr is a drag on fans and profits; Etihad is a horrible place on a dark, Sunday night; Lukey was allowed to go Sunday only because the game started at 3.20; it’s his second game of the year;
    BG – I’m recovered; Cmon North, man up!
    Dani – sorry.
    Phil – I’ve said for years the AFL fixture (it’s not a draw) is pure corruption; should be a 3 year rolling fixture, every team playing each other 4 times; but it won’t be because the AFL’s priorities are not in the best interest of the game; five of our first ten are on Sunday nights; would the AFL do it to Rich or Cwood? No. Even EPL sides play each other home and away!
    Dips: yep, last 2 weeks; and Drew has bombed long to packs on the wing in both games; and missed important goals during this season against Hawks and WCE.
    Smokie: I’ve moved through the stages of grief; Sunday night was so acute it hurt; yesterday, i was determined; today, let’s get back to basics and win games of footy; keep it simple; let’s get up for Boomer’s 350; Cmon North!

  12. Followed the Roys from 1947 till extinction. I rember these feelings too well. The hurt never goes.

  13. LB,
    The issue is not what teams North play in the first 9 rounds, it is the fact they could have won most of them but lost in the same way. If they played GWS, Gold Coast and Melbourne first up, they would still have to meet the top teams and beat them.
    I agree with Andrew, fixturing North constantly in the Sunday twilight time slot is unfair on the team and their fans. And Etihad is a horrible place to watch footy.

  14. Neil Anderson says

    Welcome to the Bulldog nightmare of 1997. I didn’t think anyone could be as gut-wrenched as us Doggie supporters on PF day that year, but you have described the feeling as close as anyone.
    I was seated behind the Crow faithful that day as and I was too numb to even shake as it all sunk in. It was horrible.

  15. Brilliant stuff, Andrew. Neil’s right. Reading this piece took me back to the walk out of the MCG after the ’97 PF.

    Beautifully painful. Painfully beautiful.

  16. Luke Reynolds says

    Fantastic writing Andrew. This kind of loss is very hard to take.

  17. Dan Crane says

    Love it Andrew – it was robbery to the nth degree on Sunday afternoon……i remember the leaving KP at 3/4 time against the Eagles in 06 because i needed to catch a flight – being 54 points up i was sure we were home and looking like real contenders….daniel kerr and the weagles had other ideas….i’ll never forget the car full of collingwood fans tooting their horn and laughing at me with my cats jumper on the western ring road… was a low in a season of lows…
    finally – the best bit of your article – the singing in the rain reference —-simply brilliant…..thank you so much for the entertainment.

  18. Peter Flynn says

    Great Man,

    I see a photo of Brad Scott (John Northey) pointing at Michael Firrito (Jim Stynes).

    A very raw and outstanding piece.

  19. David Downer says

    Vivid reading, A,Starkie, could picture every step.

    Watching your coach blow up is compelling viewing. Not in a schadenfreude sense, it’s just bloody entertaining.

    I don’t think you’ll have such concerns this week, however.

    I am bracing for a spankering, to be honest.

  20. Have you got a hankering for a spankering, DD?

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