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Finals Week 1 – Sydney v Greater Western Sydney: The hot house flowers



“It’s good for football”. I copped this on Sunday; the anthem of the uninvested observer. A proclamation that underscores the yawning emotional chasm between irrational, heartfelt devotion to a team and the rational greater good. “Greater good” is not my forte when it comes to commentary involving my red and white mob.


The inherent tension between organically-grown, club-centred footy culture and fertilized hot-house AFL development was not lost on me, as I strayed into foreign lands. A foray into Rooty Hill to an AFL-structured island in a sea of League. The footy equivalent of Chinese disputed land reclamation in the South China Sea. “It’s good for football”….. not around me please whilst my emotional bruising from Leg One of my Bloods/Giants double-header weekend is still as real as Joey and Tippo’s headaches from the same encounter.


By the time the clock strikes four, I am further bruised. NEAFL Leg Two of my double-header has yielded a heart-breaking Grand Final loss to the younger GWS “hot-house flowers”, boasting a few in their line-up that would be lauded as senior team stars in half of the AFL clubs.


Yes, the younger hot-house flowers have also bloomed, earlier than expected. Not quite as vigorous in habit as others from their nursery that emerged at the Olympic stadium the night before but strong enough to illustrate the promise of healthy yields for many seasons to come. To borrow an analogy embedded in 2005 Swans history, today we have witnessed a shiny production line of Lamborgini’s, versus our windswept car yard of sturdy Ford Cortina’s (sometimes of course, the Cortina does get the job done).


A grand final loss at any level has funereal elements. Family and friends silent, staring at the turf. Less than a goal shy of a premiership….again. Literally the end of the AFL road for some. “It’s good for football” has no place in this space.


But this incursion into the “good for football” zone is not without some glimpses of authenticity. Some seeds have fallen naturally it seems, outside the hot-house. Footy culture in its most raw form is present in the canteen manned by a voluntary tribe, where every rule in the food handlers guide is bent and twisted. At once I am re-connected with my country and suburban footy soul. “Real” footy clubs have cheer squads that almost without exception provide a haven for quirky, challenged folk who find a sense of belonging on the fence-line amidst flags, clappers and banners. There they are, banging out a crude rhythm on the fence.


I muse that the seed source for these tribes may be in the down-to-earth culture of the thick-neck code, blown in on the wind that swirls outside the GWS hot-house. On our side, Mrs Jones tending directly to her son Zac, as he is stretchered down the race with his lights still off. A reminder that location is irrelevant, when it comes to the embedded dangers within the code and a mother’s nervousness every time her boy takes the field.


I also think of the night before and the orange hijab adorning the head of the Giants fan behind me – a show of support that is contextual to the GWS geography. Later, amidst my post-match red and white gloom in League heartland Parramatta, I endured a taunt from a Giants fan. Annoying on one level but perversely pleasing on another as representative of a sign of footy authenticity. Impoliteness and footy authenticity often run together.


On the other hand, when filtered through the prism of a traditional footy mind counter-balances to authenticity are not hard to find. A grand final without run-through banners! Clearly, the crepe allocation had been exhausted at Homebush.


And what of a fixture that has local combatants St.George versus North Shore running onto the ground as the presentations for the semi-elite NEAFL premiership are in progress? Juniors, then reserves, then seniors is the time-honoured, natural footy finals scheduling order. An uplift in match standard at each increment, culminating with the big boys (at least the grass-roots tradition of no hooks being available in the shared change-rooms is not under threat!) Perhaps more significantly, an opportunity lost the night before for a reserves grand final between the main game combatant clubs, as a curtain-raiser in front of 60 000?


And whilst understanding the feeder-team rationale, the withdrawal of key Swans players from the NEAFL Grand Final team as a big league finals safety measure must cut deep amongst the Swans NEAFL regulars who have busted their guts for the chance to be Premiers. Whilst still in the Cortina mould, the likelihood is that if Laidler and Nankervis play the Premiership is won. Reserve teams have been sacrificial lambs for the seniors since time immemorial. However, the sense of structural separation of the NEAFL and AFL (and by extension, the VFL and AFL) plays counter to my sense of reward being commensurate with effort expended.


By anyone’s estimation, Blacktown International Sportspark is in the Boondocks. Closer to the Blue Mountains than the city.  Even via the series of M-something toll roads that snake their way West it requires effort to get there. Not a destination that would be typed frequently into the dashboard route computers of Messrs Franklin, Kennedy and Hannebery. Nevertheless, fresh from their bruising under the lights of the Olympic stadium for the last time the entire senior team is there in support of the cygnets, and perhaps to pay due respect to Old Ted in what is probably his last game in the red and white.


In fact, it is a whole of club affair. Horse is there, Directors, coaches, Kenny. An affirmation of the sense of family that I feel in taking the true-believer trek and a shared experience aligned with the grass-roots tradition of the game; ironically magnified by a loss. My fifty years of devotion legitimizes my sharing of the turf with our contemporary brethren. A fundamental building block of club and community underscored, through our shared disappointment. We have lost twice in a weekend to the hot house flowers. Disappointment multiplied by a factor of two. But a negative multiplied by another equals a positive.


About chris bracher

Known to stare longingly down Clarendon St still wondering how his red and white heroes ever left him, Chris Bracher's pining for his relocated team has been somewhat appeased by recent Bloods glory....but the pain never truly goes away!


  1. Earl O'Neill says

    Horticultural AND automotive analogies!

  2. Keiran Croker says

    Great piece Chris. I have not yet grown to hate the Giants, though it won’t be long!

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