Based on a True VFL Story…

Following the salted air through the backstreets of Williamstown, our disparate mob stumbles its way toward Morris St.  Truth be told, none really knew what we were doing there; the luring prospect of a cheap can and a decent blue could not be discounted.  Disenchantment with the corporate code and its roofed and soulless monsters drives the search for an alternative more pure.

One hunted after a replacement for the local football in England that had further dulled his waning passion for the indigenous code.  His was a recently injected love of the West, a Seagull no more than his team’s ring-ins from the affiliate up the road, committed for no more bar the day.

Me, I went as an ersatz Borough boy, clinging to the delusion of working class roots long diminished by middle class aspiration.  I went Red and Blue, the echo of a Port breeze strong enough in my genes to make Willy feel enemy territory.

Point Gellibrand rears up suddenly, the windswept outer familiar from childhood trips when Williamstown was a world away from the embracing smells of a Port Melbourne biscuit factory.  Recollections of the tobacco stained air at North Port come flooding back, half remembered, half imagined, a boon to nostalgia.  Then, to reassuringly sit in the stand with a distant old man was a young boy’s blessing.  Young boy no longer, I offer quiet thanks for a game where grass overcomes concrete and replays remain a construct of the mind.

In contrast to the manufactured enmity of the corporate code, this feels real.  Blue is the shade of the commons, but the wings are divided, yellow or red.  No marketing exercise is needed to inform us that this is rivalry round; there is no need to grasp for or manufacture heritage, it surrounds both us and the faithful.  We stand on the grassy rise, cans in hand, prepared.

Nostalgia dominates all but the game; the footy is willing but the skills ambivalent, the local glory days living on only in pictures behind the bar.  Willy look the goods from near the first bounce, an organised mob, comfortable with the variable gusts that beset their nest.  Port are blunt up forward, lacking the polish of the hosts.  Occasional Seagull Minson is everywhere, fleetingly made Polly Farmer by his temporary teammates and even the old widows on the Port wing give him a grudging nod.  Typically, Port hang in, but the result never looks in doubt; the house is on Willy by five goals.

At the breaks we are aware of a collective failing; none has thought to bring the leather.  With glances green for the kick-to-kick, we head toward the huddles.  Coach Ayres channels the dour energy that served his playing days well, but his lack of vigour fails his tired men.  A mechanical rendition of statistics is of little help here.

As cans flow and crumple, the air turns blue as the Borough wing questions the legitimacy of all within eyeshot.  One hopes that the ump is either deaf of thick-skinned.  Dotted groups make noise but no doubt the numbers are disappointing; communities changed, we wonder who will man these terraces in the years to come?  The communal wharves replaced now by shared wealth and insularity, neither a blessing for a local club.

Meandering on with no great heights or ambition, the game slowly slips away from Port, from us.  Observing the other great tradition of Gellibrand, a cargo ship hypnotically treads the horizon beyond the stand.  Our lack of passion marks us outsiders, disappointment in the outcome temporary as my thoughts turn to the night to come, of the emotional investment in Glenferrie taking on Windy Hill.

A disparate mob threads back through the channels of Williamstown, both buoyed and saddened by the day.  Communal spirit perceives a success in this token support of a grassroots game, a faded glory of decades past. Again we wonder, who will man these terraces, if not us?


  1. Chris,
    I remember that game. Ayers was incredibly uninspiring at 3/4 time. I looked in awe at his perfect hair and teeth and then realised the problem – other than a speech that gave his players an “out” – he was wearring beautiful designer sunnies. The Ayers glare is the thing, and it was eliminated by his fashion sense on that lovely afternoon.
    Hope you has a snag from the barby there?
    Great spot to go to the footy.

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