Dark Blue, Maroon & White

 

Fitzroy.

 

I love and miss it. And love and miss the thought of it.

 

Not the suburb. Everything changes, which is fine. The Fitzroy I grew up in doesn’t exist anymore. You used to be still able to find it out back of Coburg, heading towards Thomastown, but even then, those places had the demographic, but not the crush.

 

Everything about Fitzroy was crushed. The worker’s cottages locals called home, the streets, Edinburgh Gardens, that had the Brunswick Street Oval, a parkland, a coal plant, railway line and timber yard. Smoke, mud, goal posts and industry.

 

The fact we were squashed between Carlton and Collingwood, with no corridor of suburbs heading towards the bush to claim as our own. No supporters fed to us by Lygon Street, No Punt Road or Hume Highway. No Tullamarine, taking our colours beyond. No Princess Highway.

 

As a youth you think you’re invincible. That you invented yourself. Then you grow up and see the human condition, that so many people are the same. In music, in movies, in my love of footy, I often have pangs for things just beyond my time.

 

I used to curse at just missing the ’60s, when music first became wild and free. If not for the tunes themselves, for the excitement of the times. But kids today miss the ’80s for the same reasons. That goes for footy, too. And even the very sort of nation they live in. Many of us want the Australia we didn’t quite live in. Not fully. We yearn for the country we were too young, and too full of love of life, without debt and responsibilities, to be critical of.

 

We always want what we just missed out on.

 

I try to ignore those urges, to be today’s child. Even as a grown man.

 

But then I saw this video of the ’58 Roys. At 2am, while drinking bourbon by my fire, frogs in the farm dam filling the background.

 

The clip is perfect. Perfect! The most beautiful piece of football footage of all time.

 

 

 

 

The full house Glenferrie crowd. The zero advertising on fences, on jumpers, on clothes. God, imagine it! Oh, the simplicity! Colours that weren’t hidden! A football that was just a bloody football! The everyday contests, hard bumps, raised elbows. The players who still clicked their fingers while swiping their hand at air when they were out-marked. Drat! Shucks!

 

The famous trains rattling through the background! Part of the Hawthorn folklore! That players joked about kicking the ball into, and doing a kick that was 40 miles long. That said: THIS IS HAWTHORN’S GROUND!

 

Like gasometers.

 

Like bayside junctions.

 

Stands that made a kick for goal bend with the wind, then straighten in their shelter, then bend again.

 

Like an Abbotsford wing, full of seething black and white supporters umpires and opposition players were too scared to play along.

 

Like the Windy Hill tram, that only ran on Saturdays, that was buried by a wave of humanity, hanging off every rafter like pirates, as it heaved its way up from the junction.

 

Like lakeside views.

 

Like long ovals with no wings, where you could watch the game for free from industrial overpasses.

 

Like Punt Road, where kids took to trees around the oval.

 

The personality of each ground.

 

This ten minute video, gloriously free of commentators and their painful hype! I don’t need them to think for me! To feel for me! Yammering away, telling me what’s in front of my eyes! Turn the bloody volume down and shout with and at your mates, people!

 

This ten minute video with Brian Pert! With Butch! With Kennedy!

 

With Muzza!

 

Muzza!

 

Wearing number 2 here.

 

Kevin Bulldog Murray, who won his Brownlow for everyone! God, how many people have worn that thing of his around their neck? How many thousands!

 

A bloke who’s generosity could still make modern champions like Mark Ricciuto feel guilty. “He’s done so much good with his, I keep mine in a sock draw.”

 

I’ll never forget interviewing Kevin for my footy book. Only, with him, it wasn’t an interview.

 

Bang, the beers were out! Bang, Charlie was around my neck! Bang, for every question I asked, a question about my footy was returned. Bang, five-plus hours of simply talking, footballer-to-footballer! An invite to his home in the bush extended.

 

 

Old Dog, Bulldog & Charlie. [Matt Zurbo]

 

Oh, the history! The smile, the tone in his voice. The way he still got teary, half a century later, when talking about how much Fitzroy meant to him. Tears! In some suburban lounge. Mate, the words on paper alone did no justice to the passion of the man – at all.

 

Best player? Damn, Muzza is the best bloke of all time!

 

Who was it that told me – Skilts, Fraser, Davis – one of those greats: when Kevin was putting on his jumper to do a Grand Final lap with his Brownlow, he needed a hand from them just to get into a big, leather back brace so he could simply jog without collapsing.

 

In that much pain, he won a Charlie. Never complained.

 

That ten minute video.

 

Of the way it was, with players than came and went. Not just the superstars. Not just the flashy goals. That is simply a photo of its time.

 

The video, in which the camera doesn’t zip and zoom, but stays on the wing, like us in the crowd.

 

That I love above all others, because it doesn’t have Carlton, or Collingwood, or Richmond, Or even the all-powerful Melbourne in it.

 

Because it’s not a Grand Final. It’s just dinosaurs. Everything!

 

Football.

 

That somewhere in the distant background swirl has the great Tony Ongarello, the last man to do a place kick goal (’55), Ron Vernon, who, whenever he had a shot at goal, the crowd would yell for him to kick it through the door of the milk bar he owned just outside the oval. Owen Abrahams, who couldn’t even make the Fitzroy Under 19s, squad, yet came back to be the Roy’s first ever All Australian in ’58, along with Murray. In this video’s year.

 

 

Tony Ongarello, last of the place kickers. [Boyles Photos]

 

That other Hawthorn greats feature: Peck, O’Mahony – what a gentleman! Arthur, Simmonds, the glorious bastard, who after a career of knuckles and service, was, in ’61, given one last chance to play in a flag by his former teammate, now coach, Kennedy, on the Thursday. They had a scratch match on the Thursday night before the Grand Final! Imagine it! A speech with an implication! Run through a teammate, take him out, and the spot is yours.

 

Simmonds, who’d had all those years without any success, said to O’Mahony after training; “I just couldn’t do it. They’re the future. I’ve had my time.”

 

That ten minute video I love because it has the best football jumper ever!

 

Damn! The best!

 

Don’t get me wrong, the one they tarted up for colour telly in ’74, that became our last, I would still go to battle in, was still Fitzroy. I still love it, but it just wasn’t a patch on this thing from before my time.

 

That I fell in love with as a child.

 

The ’56-’73 one. Deep blue, rich maroon. White that sticks out a mile. Dark colours, with that pure emblem.

 

Tough colours!

 

Mean!

 

The colours descended from the Maroons; blue, maroon, yellow, then just blue and maroon (1883-1938) Colours that won eight flags! Then, in the tail end of the Great Depression, the same colours, but with the FFC emblem as Maroons became Gorillas! Oh yeah! That Murray said we’re gorillas! Playing in mud, playing hard. A club that, by ’56 needed to move forward and become something more than Neanderthals. That then added that powerful white to the emblem, and became Lions.

 

Blue, Maroon, White.

 

The colours of this ’58 clip.

 

The. Best. Sports. Jumper. Of. Them. All!

 

If I had a time machine, I guess I’d get bumping off Hitler out of the way, then use the rest of the fuel in tank to get to this very game.

 

Find a way to watch it. To be in the crowd. To get there for pre-season, toughen up and get a spot in a back pocket. To umpire. Hell, to even be glued to the window, on that passing train!

 

Round 18, 1958.

 

Two tough, underdog teams, one playing for the double chance, the other for pride. Hawthorn won by four bastard points! Then, an Allen Aylett led North beat us in the first final by four bastard points! We were out!

 

Two weeks later, Collingwood went the full, unchained thug on silky Melbourne, to upset the great winning streak of Aussie Rules’ most dominant team of all time.

 

I tell myself; led by Butch, Googar, and co, if the Roys had just had one more straight kick against the Hawks, anything was possible against the Dees in the Second Semi. I tell myself, how good would have those jumpers looked lining up against each other in a final? Fitzroy and Melbourne? The coal workers and the silk!

 

I know a lot of that was toss, that Norm Smith was a steel worker. Barassi hates the silvertails tag! He said Norm preached against it. But a club is more than just the players. Melbourne’s then recently retired spiritual leader – the hard, proud Premiership captain, Noel McMahon – swore to me the silvertails thing was true. And I believe him; The difference in money, the volume of recruiting officers, the committees, the prestige, the crowds.

 

Collingwood had working class grit, but also, like Melbourne, had money. Collingwood, like Melbourne, had huge support staff and crowds. Fitzroy versus Melbourne, the mud, the coal plant, versus the MCG, now that would have been a thundering, symbolic game!

 

A game I tell myself Fitzroy could have won.

 

And if Collingwood overcame North, who were no saints themselves, then Melbourne, and the Pies played us in the Grand Final… Well, I tell myself, that knuckle shit wouldn’t have worked on the Lions!

 

But each step, beating Hawthorn, then beating Melbourne, then beating Collingwood, the rocks in the stream get further and further apart. In the end I land in the water and realise things are what they are. That game in that video was heartbreaking, even though it happened before I was born, because it was Fitzroy just missing out again.

 

But so damn what?

 

I try to love the modern AFL, and do. I love its brains, its intensity, its pace and freakish skills. Its test of endurance and character. The two fisted punch is thankfully fading; players are going for speckies again!

 

I don’t want to be stuck in the ’70s and ’80s, be one of those faded people always yearning for 30, 40, 50 years ago.

 

But I can do two things at once, live in today, without a team, simply love football, and still painfully miss my beloved Roy Boys.

 

This ten minute clip is everything right here and now, in our house in the back of the Otway Ranges. The best footy clip of all time.

 

Because it is my beloved Fitzroy.

 

 

The club we hold so dear. [Boyles Photos]

 

 

In memory of the great Bill Stephen (1928-2020)

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. David Leydon says

    Absolutely magnificent.
    What a great read.
    We are the boys and girls from old Fitzroy forever.

  2. This is superb Old Dog, as another Roy Boy born after the days of Muzza trotting around in the greatest sports jumper of them all (hell, even born after Wilson running around in the yellow shorts period!) I wholly concur that there is just something special about that guernsey.

  3. Terrific expression Matt, really enjoyable imagery.
    The 8mm film of Glenferrie oval brought back memories of school boy days. It was always a horrible ground to play on. Nothing like the wide open spaces of the Brunswick St ground.

  4. Malby Dangles says

    As per usual Matt you written an insightful and great article. The power of a well designed jumper. I agree that jumper is the best Roys one. I love the Blues and still rate their jumper as no 1 but yes the Fitzroy one is great (maybe because of the insignia reminded me of Carlton).

    I agree with you regarding the commentators. My volume is off when I watch the footy. Once upon a time I wouldn’t have done that at all, but yes nowadays I cannot stand them. Maybe it is the nostalgia effect you mentioned. maybe commentary sucked when it was Mike Williamson and Butch Gale. I wasn’t really a fan of Peter Landy and I hated Sandy Roberts, but then McKenna sounded like a kind man and Morphett seemed to be on the ball and had a good voice…I wish they were calling now.

    That is really sensational footage. So close to the action and the whole Glenerrie Oval vibe is super cool. I loved seeing the Red Rattler towering above the play.

  5. Mervyn .Magee says

    In 1958 I was 11 years. Loved the Roy’s. Was so nervous listening to the North Melbourne semi final, went to the Hoyts Merri cinema matinee. When the movie ended someone came on stage and told us Fitzroy was in front(last quarter). We all cheered. Ran home to find Dad with head in hands. Someone had slipped and North kicked the winning goal. I cried.

  6. This is grand stuff, Old Dog. Just grand!
    Thanks

  7. The best footy jumper of all time. “We wear the colours, Maroon and Blue”

  8. Beautiful, Old Dog.

    An odd-shaped home ground with a grandstand and a tricky pocket is a wonderful thing.
    A jumper you associate with romance is a wonderful thing.
    A sense of place and a sense of home and a sense of belonging are wonderful things.

    I wonder what the Footy Almanac jumper would look like.

  9. Great article and that video is just magnificent, a bit hard to see because I had tears in my eyes. Almost certainly there: 10 years old and we went pretty much every week. I saw so many players I recognised – I loved those guys. Their names are like incantations to me. Loved that jumper too. The article doesn’t quite show that Fitzroy was Melbourne’s first suburb, and the others grew around it.

  10. What a wonderful article. I can now add 58 to the ‘What if?’ playlist. I love your line, ‘a club is more than just the players.’ Much, much more. I remember reading that Barry Dicken’s opined that Fitzroy’s ultimate fate was sealed by the decision to run a train line through Collingwood and through Carlton. Thank you

  11. Love the passion old dog I admit I’m in the wish list pre afl when over here the Sanfl was still the big real deal ohh to be transported back to packed suburban grounds tribal warfare for me it just meant so much more

  12. Thanks everyone. Some killer comments.

    Jarrod, those yellow shorts were really something! haha.

    Yeah, Malby, Drew was a favourite of mine, too. Kept it simple.

  13. Tell ‘im e’s dreamin’. Lucky bastard. Isn’t footy a great game when its one on one, or two on one? Helier Skelter. Fast and crazy and full of mistakes and brilliance like life.
    8 on 8. Round in circles going nowhere. That’s life too but not one I want to live or watch.
    Thanks Matt.

  14. Mervin, that is a fantastic, sad story! Haha. It pains a beautiful picture. Thank you!!!

    I understand, Rulebook. Whatever the outcome, ironically, you are a dead set credit to SA footy.

    Dave Wilson, that is a killer idea. The Almanac jumper. Shall I do a story o it, or you!?

  15. Thanks for this Matt, just amazing. I especially love the bit when the train whizzes past while they are playing, that just takes me back to another time. That’s my train – the Lilydale/Belgrave line.

  16. love what you say about ‘having pangs for things you have just missed’. I have a thing for the sound of footy, radio commentary from the 60’s. Why, why why? It’s not for the details as such, so I’ve wondered, does the brain remember the sounds of our infancy?…same with 60’s music, too young at the time to have been a part of it, yet there’s a strong sense of it being familiar.

  17. Ah…Go Roys!

  18. Spot on, I think, Kate. Absolutely

  19. E.r and Old Dog discussing an Almanac jumper – where do I sign up?!

  20. Fabulous piece! Loved it Matt. Great writing, great story. Fitzroy forever. Forever Fitzroy.

  21. Well done Matt!
    Good story and rare footage. I reckon the video is probably earlier than 1960s. Figuring 1958-59. There is a #21 which looks like Leo Smyth (54-58); after that there was no #21 till John Carmody (61-62) – no #10 in 59-60. Then there is #10 which looks like Vin Williams (53-59). The next #10 was Bill Stevens in 1960 only, but he only played 2 games, neither against Hawks. After that was Bob Beattie and #10 in the video doesn’t look like him.
    But there is #7 for the Hawks which could be Ian Law who only started in 1960 (they appear to not have had #7 in 58-59).
    All considered, it looks like the match was 18 July 1959, using data from afltables.com. – maybe there was a temp #7 for Hawks that day?
    Great day on camera for Ian Aston especially, given that the camera was on the wing and that’s where he played! The on-ballers naturally were frequent on-screeners also – Butch, Muzza, Keith Bromage (was it?), Perty, and so on.
    Thanks for the memories!
    Macca

  22. Last round ’58 Macca. This should help…

    https://australianfootball.com/game/view/5930

  23. Love your work, Matt, while Muzza looks as proud as punch that you’re wearing Charlie.
    I loved both the white FFC and gold FFC-monogrammed guernseys equally, but certainly not the much-maligned gold shorts of 1975.
    Though also before my time, it would’ve been nice had we beaten Hawthorn in Round 18, 1958.
    North had opened the door for us by beating Collingwood on the same day, a door that we clumsily got stuck in.
    Then the Kangaroos cruelly closed the door on us the following week.
    To think that we’d beaten the Roos by 20 goals at Arden Street in Len Smith’s first game in charge some 4.5 months earlier.

  24. Thanks for the pointer Matt. I placed too much weight on the #7 jumper in opting for the 1959 game, forgetting that players don’t stick to the same number throughout their career! Bill Shelton began with #40 but had been promoted to #7 for the 1958 season.
    The “australianfootball” site you pointed me to is a good one. I had been using the “afltables” site and have now added your recommendation to my library!
    Cheers
    Macca

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