At Prospect Oval

My Aunty Helen is an artist: a former-painter, but now a ceramicist. I remember ‘artist’ was how she was introduced to my brother and myself as boys: she had been living in the Netherlands for some years and my first proper memories of her are only as a boy, about 4-5. I remember meeting her; other relatives had always just been around. ‘Artist’ was used as a way of explaining her unorthodox way of behaving, talking, and most importantly, arguing with my engineer father.

 

I meet her with her friend, Mark – also a ceramicist – whom lives between Adelaide and Manila. ‘He is in the top 15 in the Philippines, but, here in Adelaide, he is just ‘Mark on the bike’; she jokes about his anonymity here in comparison to his success ‘back home’.

 

Helen says, ‘it is funny how you have kept up your interest in footy. Your father and Thomas don’t seem to have kept it up.’ She continues: ‘I hate it. I hate the sound of it. If my father didn’t go to the games, he would always be out in the back shed with the radio on; listening to the footy commentary. That monotonous, rhythmic, sound grated me somehow. I couldn’t understand what propelled his excitement in the game. Dad – your grandfather – would go off with grandpa – your great-grandfather – to games, and they would come home arguing and fighting with each other. They would talk to each other as if they had actually taken part in the game. It was like they were angry with the other person for not actually having kicked a goal, or kicked it to a certain player.’

 

I visited her at her crowded suburban home: full of works by others and herself and a large TV and the superfluous elements of her adult son’s life. Helen handed me a black and white photograph of my grandfather holding a football; poised, footy-card style. He’s standing in front of a hedge and has thin, but tightly muscled arms. I barely recognise him. I tell her how I too remember him listening to the footy while doing his work in the back garage of Helmsdale Avenue. I never remember him making any gestures of pleasure or disappointment at the result; he seemed too focused on his job at hand. I was only fluent in VFL and couldn’t understand the different language of SANFL.

 

Helen then gives me a Sherrin she picked up from the local op-shop. It has the marking of the school to which it once belonged. She gives it to me half-jokingly, smirking, I ask her too, half-jokingly: ‘you don’t need it? Alex doesn’t need it?’ Alex is her rap dancing, Mandarin-speaking son, who not long ago, asserted that he was ‘Yellow’. No, he too, was not interested in footy; let alone the footy itself. It’s flat of course and a touch faded. But still retains its vitality.

**

Stan and I parked the car on a narrow street in suburban north Adelaide: Prospect. Parking is only allowed on one side of the road and many spots were taken. He finally squeezed his sedan next to a driveway and we stepped out onto the pavement. A middle-aged couple, greeted us and said, ‘enjoy the game’. Stan was in his North Adelaide Roosters red scarf, I was anticipating the evening game in my Richmond cap. We turned left into Don Lindner Walk and could already hear the cheering of the pro-North crowd.

 

We bought our tickets: $8 for a pensioner (Stan was apparently above 60) and $14 for a regular adult. The ticket was a simple paper stub and a second staff member was afoot to place the ticket into a perspex box: tickets would be then checked against the till – no, you cannot keep your ticket. A pillar holding up the grandstand, was painted in red and white and listed North Adelaide’s premierships; the last of which came in the distant year of 1991.

‘At which end do you want to stand, Stan?’

‘Well, “The Fuller End” of course’.

Behind us was Don Lindner Walk, and to the left, just outside of the ground, was the bowling green. We made our way past the coffee cart, hot-dog stand and the drinks shed. The pro-North stronghold was on the wing and in the stand. It was spacious and relatively quiet on the southern (Robran) end and its eastern pocket. This was the end that Stan could remember watching from when he came as a boy with his father, Bonython, and other relatives. “I haven’t been here since Dad died.” Twenty-six years had passed since his death: the SANFL was no longer a parallel league to that of the newly-minted AFL: it was now marginal. A source of potential AFL recruits, and for those on their way down from the big league.

 

The net behind the goals remained up during the game. There was perhaps a gap of only one or two meters between the low-fence and the boundary line. The proximity of the playing field to the terraces, the shallow pockets, and the sparse crowd meant the sounds of the game travelled easily. We heard the collisions of flesh on flesh; the striking of the boot on the leather ball, and of course the arguments between team-mates and opposition. The hecklers too in the crowd could convey their abuse, sarcasm and encouragement knowing that they would be heard by the players. The players too would be able to trace from where the abuse came.

‘Don’t you like losing, South’.

‘Come on, North, this is the quarter!’

Stan regretted the passing of the locally-made pasties. Vili’s had asserted themselves as official pastry of Prospect and their name adorned the scoreboard. A nearby bakery had supplied the pasties an pies in the past and were walked around through the crowd by itinerant sellers. The crowded terraces would have made movement difficult: now, the fans in the nearly-empty terraces made the short walk to stalls set up on the south-western pocket.

 

‘We would go and have lunch at grandma and grandpa’s before the game, and then walk down here. After the game, we’d have a debrief while having some kind of tea and cake. Although we lived down near Glenelg, North was always our team. Dad might have had a soft-spot in his later years for Glenelg, but he retained his animosity to other clubs: particularly Norwood and Port Adelaide.’

**

North win easily and the supporters pass under the grandstand on to the quiet suburban street. There is a pinkish winter-light falling upon the hills. I begin my walk to another footy ground to watch another game. The game had been a medium to imagine the intensities of Adelaide footy rivalries and to imagine the footy anxieties of my grandfather. These are the same terraces.

 

Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Prospect Oval was a bit like Thebarton, running on a North-East / South-West angle, I always found that a bit disconcerting.

    I can’t recall what the local pie at Prospect was, Glover Gibbs maybe?

    You did well to see a North win Andy. Will Stan be returning to Prospect?

  2. Dave Brown says:

    Great read thanks Andy. Love going to Prospect (intending to do so this Saturday) and sitting on the terraces on the South Eastern flank. The unique feature of the visitors and umpires entering and exiting through the crowd has made for interesting times over the years.

  3. Rulebook says:

    Well done,Andy love reading any thing SANFl

  4. Thanks for your comments Swish, Dave Brown and Rulebook,
    Swish: Stan hadn’t been to see North for 20plus years. He is an occasional watcher of the Crows. BUT, I managed to convince him of the pleasures of the SANFL (and non-AFL footy in general) and he is planning on going again soon :)
    Dave: I am heaps jealous. I also really regret not being able to see a game at The Parade (I went there on a Monday). Great to see that Prospect retains the red point posts :) I loved the crowd/player interaction at the end, when they were virtually singing the song together.
    Rulebook: Yes, the SANFL is wonderful – but it seems a little under-threat from the imperialist Australian Football League.

  5. charlie brown says:

    Enjoyed that thanks Andy.
    I’ve been going to Prospect Oval for almost 50 years.
    My grandpa (First secretary of Prospect Cricket Club when it moved from Adelaide to Prospect Oval in the late 1920s) took my brother and I to prospect quite regularly back in the 70s. We saw a few more North wins back then!
    We sat/stood on the Eastern terraces and entered the oval from the Main North Road gate (now temporarily closed) so didn’t use what is now Don Lindner walk.
    I’m sure Grandpa gave us some money for a pasty! No hot dog nor coffee stand back then.
    I now watch North games from the Grandstand side (old age) and was also there for that South match. I live in hope for a similar result on Saturday against Norwood!

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