AFLW Round 1 – St Kilda v Western Bulldogs: Moorabbin reflections, past and present

 

It’s Moorabbin, but not as we knew it.

 

After a day of rain, no mud but a velvety green oval.

 

For us fans, no preciously guarded patch of gravel but an inviting spread of lush grass.

 

No pie and hot dog stalls but hipster food trucks. I sample a vegan ’shroom burger and choose home-made sauce for the chips.

 

A new building, sleek and low-slung, skims the opposite pocket and cradles the northern goals. The boys are in there spectating (Lyd’s had a report from a friend who’s spotted them); it’s the girls out on the field to put on the show. And there’s Nathan Burke, coaching the opposition, daughter Alice out there in the red, white and black.

 

I’ve come with a mate I met at this very place through mutual friends, almost four decades ago. During our last season here, so we thought, he’d regularly helped carry a chair onto the terrace for me as I grew more heavily pregnant. This is his first AFLW game, which means his first live footy for 16 months.

 

And we’re here with my now-28-year-old daughter, who calls him one of her two ‘footy dads’. Lyd and I have been watching AFLW games since the beginning, and still thrill to memories of our girls’ first game here.

 

And she’s with her mate from the footy club she plays at now, who turned out to be the daughter of old friends. Chloe can’t remember coming to the footy with us as a teenager, but she remembers being a flower girl at my wedding, walking across to St Kilda’s botanical gardens from her flat across the road. Perhaps it’s the year of enforced absences, or just part of getting older, but I love how these webs, loose and sticky, catch us as we drift.

 

In those days, it was David who’d round up the St Kilda-in-St Kilda contingent with our Saturday morning hangovers and Friday night stories for the trip to the ’bin. Today, our last-minute anxieties (online tickets, QR codes, covid zones: none of this comes naturally) see Chloe agreeing to chauffeur us all. It got a lot calmer once we were in her car and heading down the Nepean. And so the baton passes gently to a new generation.

 

*

 

It’s almost game time. There’s a Welcome to Country (I never realised Moorabbin was an Indigenous name, says David. I tell him about the massacre site nearby, which I’d read about on the club website. Such acknowledgements were unimaginable a few years ago, much less in the days watching Nicky Winmar, Robbie Muir and Gillie McAdam make this ground their own).

 

There’s a female chorus to welcome the opposition with Daughters of the West. The alliterative parochialism of Sons of the Scray is long gone, neutered in an AFL-era rebranding, so I’ll happily take this version. After all, it’s got all the glee club cheese of the old Fable Label Singers.

 

Then there’s a minute’s silence, players linking arms in the centre, for Jacinda Barclay, and we get the obligatory PSAs for mental health support.

 

*

 

As the game gets underway, it’s hard enough to remember last season’s players, much less keep track of the debutants. But there’s Caitlin Greiser, unmissable going for goal; there’s Georgia Petrikios’s, all class in the midfield. The game is faster, the skills cleaner, the teamplay more fluid than our first season. Our girls tackle with assurance, offering back up and second efforts. David and I cheer one goal, then start tracking it back, possession by possession, to deep in the back pocket. By the time we get there, we’re shaking our heads with pride. When Alice Burke finally comes on, we discover something in the way she moves, a concerted stiffness in the shoulders, that evokes a young Nathan.

 

The evening’s dramatic sky has been a bonus. A weight of grey settles just above the horizon in the third quarter, and the setting sun beams straight across the ground. I turn to look at the crowd behind, starkly illuminated. Family groups, mates, all ages, men and women, boys and girls, mainly Saints, a few Bulldogs, in safe little clusters. The ground announcer keeps reminding us not to crowd the boundary, though everyone seems content where they are. In front of us, silhouetted hands rise; some of them are shielding eyes to catch the action, others are just photographing that sky.

 

The Bulldogs kick on in the last quarter, threatening our lead, and we get a thrilling end to a high quality game. Saints victorious. We whoop and clap and sing and let the joy seep in.

 

*

 

There’s no jumping the fence after the game. We make an orderly zone-by-zone departure. Lyd and Chloe start bouncing and handballing and kicking their way back to the car, drawing David in for a few kicks.

 

That was Darcy, Darcy Vescio, says Lyd, leaning in, in a droll stage whisper, as we make our way along a suburban footpath through a straggle of fans. She knows I’ve had a crush on Darcy since her 4-goal-haul for Carlton in the first AFLW game. She goes for the Saints, adds Lyd. Lyd’s about to play a season with a local club for the first time; Chloe’s just started training with a VFLW team.

 

I’ve been thinking about something Matt Finniss (I think it was) said in an interview last year, one of the many the club sent to fans to keep us engaged during that strangest of seasons. How it wasn’t till he watched our girls played their first game at Moorabbin that he realised something had been missing all along.

 

We’re a long way from a token bit of post-game kick-to-kick.

 

*

 

That night, a Facebook friend messages me approvingly. She’s shown my photos of the game to her Dad. He’s in his 90s. ‘He said it is almost looking like the old days.’

 

It’s so good to have footy back, back at the ’bin.

 

ST KILDA                                  3.0     6.0     6.2     8.3     (51)
WESTERN BULLDOGS            3.3     3.5     4.6     6.6     (42)

 

GOALS
St Kilda:
 Greiser 2, Guttridge 2, Patrikios, Shierlaw, Smith, Vogt
Western Bulldogs: Blackburn 2, Huntington 2, Toogood 2

 

BEST 
St Kilda:
 Patrikios, White, Smith, Phillips, Greiser
Western Bulldogs: Blackburn, Toogood, Huntington, Hunt, Lamb

 

INJURIES 
St Kilda:
 Nil
Western Bulldogs: Nil

 

Reports: Nil

 

Crowd: 2523 at RSEA Park

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