Bod’s big day out at the footy

by David Armstrong

I had reasoned that it was nigh impossible for a regulation football fan (me) to ever go to an AFL Grand Final.  So I committed myself to see a country league Granny, and chose Goulburn Valley as one of my sons lives in Shepparton and I was free on the day. So on Sunday 26 September 2010 I journeyed up the highway from Melbourne to taste the delights of a big one.

I’m a city lad (an old one now), but have had a long desire to taste a country footy match.  I don’t think I had any preconceptions, and was not sure what to expect.

I get to my son’s place for lunch.  It’s then a short drive and walk to the ground.  As we neared Deakin Reserve, we could near the noise from the crowd already there.  With others converging on the entrance gate, the streets jammed with parked cars, and a small queue to get in, it felt like an occasion. $15 was a lot cheaper than the MCG the day before.

Upon entry, MCC attire was not to be seen. A lot of shorts and thongs.  The outer extended more or less most of the ground, but with some small stands and coverings on one side, and food and beer outlets conveniently located everywhere.  No cars parked on the boundary line here – this is standing room completely encircling the ground, with seats in the stands and in the “members” by the fence.  I’m not good at estimating crowds, but maybe a number between 5 and 8 thousand.

Facilities looked good.  The playing surface was green and well manicured – it looked so much better than Docklands.  The electronic scoreboard stood out clearly despite the sunshine.  Is this a country footy match?

There was a good atmosphere, with families and lots of the non-competing clubs present.  Corporate team attire was rife, as I noticed Tatura Bulldogs milling together in their blue tops.  High on the outer terrace was a big jumping castle / slide for the kids.  It was going flat out.

The big match was between Shepparton United (known henceforth as “United”) and Kyabram (known as “Ky”).  Ky finished the season as the minor premiers, but United defeated them in the second semi by 7 goals to march straight into the GF.  Ky had to come via the Prelim.

A check of the playing list showed Kayne Pettifer (ex Richmond) to be the only ex-AFL spotted by me.  United was coached by Marc Quarrell, while the reins at Ky were controlled by David Williams  The footy record (known as the “Weekender)” was only $3, but a wealth of information. Russell Robertson (Shepparton Swans) won the league goal-kicking award.  Adam Yze won the Swans B& F.  Both United and Ky had won 11 premierships each.  Runners up in 1946 was a team called “POW Grp 13” (must have suffered the same fate as University).  And there have been two GF draws – 1931 and 1953 (replays conducted of course).  Are we due for another?

Each country club fields football and netball teams each week, and the competitions are conducted in tandem.  Today’s netball granny is between Shepparton United and Shepparton Swans (just  “Swans” will do here).  The netball uniforms are stylised versions of the footballers kit, or is it the other way around?

The day started early with junior and reserves matches.  The local radio station (3SR FM) are covering the big day non-stop from noon until 6pm.  The local TV station cameras are here.  No doubt the local press scribes are up in the back on the main stand.  It’s a football and netball carnival.

Ky wear the Essendon strip and are the Bombers, United are the Demons in the Melbourne outfit.  No clash jumpers here – traditional attire with the only compensation being the Bombers wearing white shorts.

The umpires march out wearing white with black trim.  The field and boundary are wearing peaked sun shades – not something you see down in the big smoke.  All day the umps are drilled with regulation umpire movements.  Just like hopeful players, I’m sure the younger umps are aiming for bigger things in the future.

Both teams break their run-throughs, go though pre-match drills before lining up for the national anthem. The senior netball teams line up as well, with United boys and girls next to each other.  One complaint of the day is that the PA system is not very loud – I struggle to hear the person singing.  The song finishes, the crowd cheer, and the teams line up for the big one.  The ground seems to sparkle.  Players in clean uniforms.  Sun shining brightly (factor 30 applied). Umpire holds the Sherrin aloft.  The siren sounds (softly – must be the same PA system) and we are away. Thank goodness no crap pre-match so-called entertainment!

The footy is fast and flowing. The skills are impressive.  There is nothing better than daytime footy as a spectacle.  The ball shoots back and forth and it takes until the 9 minute mark before United gets the first goal.  United’s full forward is Jason Eagle, who has one of Dane Swan’s arms (the one with pictures).  Eagle leads and marks well, but is a bit of a hit and miss with accuracy.  For most of the day he keeps an even ledger – goals and points seem to amount on an even-handed basis.

Ky are keeping up with United on the behinds count, but not so with the goals. By quarter time United are up by 3 goals up.

But as the siren blows to signal the end of the first term, a scuffle starts.  Tempers flare.  Like a bushfire it spotted quickly and next thing it’s an all-in brawl. A couple of players have their jumpers ripped off.  Umpires can’t do much.  It’s a running battle.  Is this what I came to see?  Finally the teams calm down and head off to their huddles.  From my possie I didn’t detect any preceding niggle, but being an out-of-towner I am not up with recent history.  The radio broadcasters describe the stoush as a blight on the game.

Kick to kick takes over the oval while the quarter rituals are taken.  After the break I overhear other spectators talk about Pettifer being involved in the scuffle (no guilty implication), and drawing “line in the sand”.  I reckon it may have been the low volume of the siren that set them off.

Play resumed for the second term as if there was no fight – good clean fast hard footy.  United keep pressing and gradually add another 3 goals. An “Eagle” chant goes up while he lines up for another score – and keeps matching goals for points.  With 6 goals in arrears, I feared I was not at the “close one”.  It was not until the 19 minute mark of this quarter do Ky get their first goal.  They go in at the half time break 5 goals down. It’s not looking good for the minor premiers.

Time to wander over to the netball court.  We cross the oval and confirm the excellent condition of the surface (Ian Collins, eat your heart out). The women are into the third quarter of their final. The Swans are in front. They were up by 12 early, but the gap is now down to 4 goals.  The court is crowded with spectators – I’m struggling to peer over the heads in front of me.  Lots of cheering for every goal – there is more noise here than for the footy game.  At three quarter time it’s level at 43 all, but the momentum is with the Demons.  The play is even faster than the footy.  United storm home to take the win 53-48.  I think the women sing the theme song better than the men.

I was so engrossed with the netball, I didn’t realise the oval ball game had restarted.  By the time I can pay any attention, Ky have bounced out of the blocks in the second half with 2 quick goals.  Then a third and they are within 2 kicks of hitting the front. Game on.

United keep applying the pressure and gradually turn the tide back with a couple of goals, but Ky have a sniff.  Clint Edwards is the big United ruckman, and when he hits the deck awkwardly I can feel the thud on my side of the fence.  Is he ok?  He gets up slowly. At three quarter time United have stretched the lead back to 4 goals.

Let’s get on the ground to listen to the huddle speech. I choose United as they are closest.  Up close the footballers seem like gladiators.  Drying sweat.  Corpuscles with blood pumped to cool near the skin surface.  A taped nose to stop the bleeding.  The club faithful gather closely.  The support staff administer massage and support.  The three quarter time huddle at a Grand Final is a strange clash of hope, fear, urge and tiredness. Quarrell starts the motivation speech slowly and quietly, but gradually builds to a crescendo with a good old passionate plea for one more quarter of pain for  eternal glory (OK, I embellish, but you get the drift).  I think United want this premiership.

There is something unique about the light for the last quarter of a Grand Final.  It must be the late September angle of the sun – just past the equinox. The shadows are stretching across the ground, but the sun still has just enough strength to give an eerie yellow tint.  We are now into that twilight zone.

Ky are on a mission.  They score first goal in the final stanza.  Back to a 3 goal deficit.  They score again.  Now within 2 goals.  The crowd are making a noise.  United dig deep and counter with a goal, but Ky bounce back with another immediately.  Then we get into a bit of a stalemate.  The Sidebottom brothers continue to hold United together.  Meanwhile the jumping castle / slide up on the outer hill is still going flat-chat with kids.

The ball fires into United’s forward line and Eagle snares the leather tightly in his mitts. He lines up – but misses.  Then another mark to Eagle, but this time he nails it between the big sticks.  The rotund female soprano is starting to clear her throat.  Now the United boys start milking the clock.  They are chipping it around.  Then coffin nail is hammered in with another United goal and it’s all over.  Siren goes (albeit faintly – lucky no Launceston repeat).  United by 4 goals.

The players embrace.  Ky despondent.  Doesn’t matter if it’s AFL or GVFL – the emotions are exactly the same.  Presentations take place and then the celebrations begin.

Driving away from the ground, the local radio broadcast are going through the stats.  This is serious stuff to the locals.  They are passionate and committed, and it is being repeated around the state and country in numerous minor leagues.  But who understands the ingredients of effort and passion to produce such a day? I hope I do.

I was impressed.  It was a professional production.  Was this country footy as I imagined it?  Was this what footy used to be like back in Melbourne?  I was confused, but glad I came.  What I know is that my copy of the “Weekender” is now a treasured item in my slim collection of footy paraphernalia.  But I can’t help wondering what would the Goulburn Valley be like if POW Grp 13 had got up back in ’46. That we will never know.


  1. G’day David

    Wonderful to have you on the site – with such a terrific yarn about the GV Grand Final. A vivid portrayal, and you have given us plenty to think about as well.

    My Dad took me to see Ky in about 1969?? He wanted to see Fred Wooller, the Geelong premiership skipper, play. I think it was early season because I remember the light – bright and sunny. And the colours of the teams and the crowd. Interesting that we find such simple things worthy of comment. I loved your description of the fourth quarter sun. I have always found a certain melancholy in the final moments of a Grand Final – it’s all over.

    Next year I hope we can do an Almanac trip to a country footy match. I’ll keep people posted.


  2. Peter Schumacher says

    Thanks for a great report.

    I am ashamed to admit that I am actually within walking distance of Deakin Reserve.

    I keep admonishing myself that having now lived in Shepparton for nearly ten years I have taken little or no interest in local footy even though I gained my interest in footy in the first place by following the Birdwood Roosters in what was then known as the Torrens Valley League in country South Australia. And there too netball and football went hand in hand.

    Your piece which I reckon captured a lot of memories for me as to the intimacy of country footy might just be the catalyst for me to go to local games. I think though that I will be supporting the Shepparton Bears, as an acquaintance of mine at the local gym has invited me many times to start taking an interest.

  3. Excellent piece David – loved it.

    That is all

  4. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    Another heartbreak for “Dirty” Dave Williams now coaching Ky. By the way Dave – Williams who also had VFL experience with Melbourne and Richmond and played in Melbourne’s 1988 losing GF team.

    A Rochy boy, he returned home and coached the club for 15 years netting 2 flags out of 7 GF appearences, but like Tommy Hafey at Collingwood he got teams with lesser ability into GFs through sheer determination and and by building team spirit. A real us against the world approach.

    Dirty has coached Ky for the past two years, but alas they’ve lost both GFs. Kayne Pettifer grew up in Rochy, but went to Richmond from Ky. He asked for Dirty’s old number at Tigerland.

    You’re right Harmsey, Fred Wooller went to coach Ky in 1969 from Penguin, Tasmania where he went after Geelong. In Kyabram he operated the local shoe shop and sold Gold Medal football boots.

    Peter Schumacker – you could be in for more heartbreak id you decide to follow Shepp. They didn’t win a game this season! But they have been the most successful club in the GVL. That’s changed a bit since they’ve become the Bears…don’t know why they changed from the Maroons. They just get called “Shepp” anyway.

    By the way, the bloke in the Toyota TV adverts is wearing an old Shepp jumper.

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