AFL Grand Final: Food for Thought

The Grand Final presented difficult choices for many West Australians.  The first part was easy in our house.  We were barracking for Hawthorn.  My beloved the Avenging Big Golden Bird would have it no other way.

It’s the 2 hour time difference that makes the Grand Final a lunch event in WA, rather than the Saturday arvo swim through for East Coasters.  In Melbourne the only choice is peanuts or chips with the game.  Here it’s the lunch menu.

My golf buddy Ken and his wife Gae were coming over, together with the Avenging Accipitridae’s best friend Jenny. I was given catering responsibilities on Friday.

“All done’” I assured the AA as I picked her up on Friday evening. “All the shopping is done and I’ll be cooking”.

There must have been something about my casual confidence that alerted the AA’s acute antennae.  Over the years she has developed more sensitive tripwires for trouble than a dwarf at the St Kilda Grand Final breakfast.

“What are we having?” she demanded with the tone usually reserved for bank statements. Over the years I have found that there is no point trying to hide the truth. The crumpled evidence is always discovered.

“Party pies, sausage rolls, little boys – the pink sav type – and dead horse,” I assured her with Matt Preston like debonair nonchalance.

“Bloody hell,” she said “I’ve got 2 of my girlfriends coming you know.  I don’t care how you and Ken choose to poison yourselves after golf on a Saturday; but my friends like to eat food that has been prepared in a recent decade.  Not deep frozen in a Rumanian rest room, or deep fried in a Shanghai shithouse.”

“Little boys are boiled not fried,” I protested.  Perhaps I should have said “poached” or “simmered”, or offered to wear a cravat.  She was having none of it.  So I tried a strategic change of direction.

The appeal to family and tradition is the last resort of the scoundrel. The AA’s niece Nadya from the UK is staying with us for a few months as part of her ‘gap year’ working holiday.

“I just thought we should show Nadya the sort of footy food we both ate when we were kids growing up,” I reasoned.

Nadya is a vegan.  She tells me that her new glam heels had to be certified ‘road kill’ before she would buy leather.  No animals could be sacrificed for human pleasure.  Why does a girl wear killer heels if not for human pleasure?

A compromised was reached.  When our friends arrived at noon on Saturday the AA’s elegant platter on fine bone china was on the lounge room table.  Avocado dip; blue cheese (not the ‘past use by date’ type from my student years); bread sticks; tzatziki; Croatian prosciut; and worst of all indignities – carrot and celery sticks.  Glasses of bubbles were poured to polite applause.

At 12.30 the ball was bounced and the pre-game trivialities were over.  The golden parcels of grey sludge of indeterminate origin emerged from the Westinghouse tunnel to greet a stunned crowd.  The blood red of the dead horse dripped succulently from the pink slime (no purple in our house) of the little boys.  Beers were poured to cleanse grease-dripped palates.

Lips slavered like Pavlovian (not Pavlichian) dogs at those childhood memories of watching The Winners with Mum and Dad in front of the oval-screened AWA “genuine teak” box.  Even the women joined in, joyously ignoring their figures in favour of their memories.  Shandy the Wonder Dog looked disconsolate as the steaming bowl of little boys was steadily reduced to single figures (he got the last 2).

And that was the Grand Final at our house.  A great day full of banter, beer and bad food induced ridiculous screaming at the Samsung flat screen.  One good quarter made the footy passable, but the companionship was memorable.

Life is too important to be taken seriously.

Oh the game?  Just a couple of thoughts.  Many of the Dockers players had clearly paid the game over in their heads a hundred times in the night and weeks before.  They were tighter than a temperance teacher at an Almanac lunch.  In need of sedatives more than supporters.

As someone who has frozen over a B Grade Golf Club Championship and parklands cricket finals I can empathise.  A counsellor friend is always telling me it is “the mind” not “my mind”.  “The mind” has a life of its own.  Throwing up childhood insecurities and the consequences of failure when it should be dealing with skill execution.

I well remember being at the 2005 Grand Final when Chris Judd’s zen-like master class saved my Eagles from humiliation, when in truth most of them froze.  For both Big Birds, the wilderness of 2005 and 2012 were the seeds of subsequent enlightenment.

Which brings me to Ross Lyon and the wrung out exhaustion of his Saints army by the time of the 2010 replay.  To a man with a hammer every problem is a nail.  Lyon is obviously a very smart man, so the question is whether he can expand his repertoire beyond one-dimensional kamikaze sacrifice to the cause.

And that brings me to the biggest joy I got out of yesterday.  The MCG and it’s wide open flanks – 19 metres broader than Subiaco.

Like many footy purists I despair over the rolling maul scrappiness of much modern football.  Rossball is its apotheosis, not its originator.  Science, nutrition, business economics and analysis is the core of growth and change in our society.  Why should footy be any different?

I might dislike many aspects of celebrity culture and social media, but I can’t change it.  The internet that I decry for its effect on books and thought, is the same medium that I use to get my viewpoint and love of wry Australian vernacular across to the Almanac audience.

Looking down at the MCG from the Bruce blimp or the Cometti copter or whatever Channel 7 was using, I marvelled again that it was a cricket ground and not an oval.  Our forefathers knew something when they decreed that the Grand Final would always be theatre in the round.

Any military strategist looking down on this battlefield would have decreed “with strength and skill I reckon we can outflank their defences.”

Ross Lyon is a great trainer of Caulfield Cup winners.  But the Melbourne Cup is run over 2 miles on the wide expanses of Flemington.  Occasionally the race is won by an average horse in a modest field, when the pace is slow as with Green Moon last year.  But if the great skilled competitors like the current Hawks, recent Cats or earlier Lions are in the field, these honest triers find their limits at the clock tower on the open expanses of the Big Day.

Conservatism and traditional values have persisted for a reason.  They are not anachronisms.  They endure because they separate the excellent from the good.

Lyon and the Dockers are smart enough to work that out, and hone their skills and team makeup to learn from it.  But so will 16 other hungry teams.

For my part I am happy to offer some grit to shape the pearl of the Dockers first flag.

In 2043. That I can watch from the vantage point of Midland Cemetery.

My Votes:

  • MCG (3)
  • Party Pies (2)
  • Beer (1)







  1. Peter you are on fire. Just superb.

  2. Jeepers PB, looking at the votes they must have been very good party pies.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Fantastic Peter I like the Caulfield Cup re R Lyon analogy .we live to fight another day to find out whether the defensive Zones can work on the wider G but if there field and Goal kicking had been better it still may have
    Ballantyne Pearce and others choked geez you wonder whether Indian Bookmakers got to Ballantyne ! If I get to meet you Peter I will bring the Party Pies !
    Thanks for your contribution to the Knackery Peter

  4. daniel flesch says

    You’ve outdone yourself Peter. This is one of the Great Essays of Almanackery. Thank you. There’s a big GF party held in my small Northern NSW town of Rugby League types and Soccer buffs ,with only a few resident Indigenous Game afficionados . The host is a distant cousin of Ron Barassi with an autographed photo in the hallway to prove it. So not only does he have to barrack for Melbourne , but also has to be gracious to the footy ignorant who come to the party. It’s not easy to concentrate on the game on the screen , so when Hawthorn’s playing i stay home to watch. Looking forward to going next year to see Freo beat Footscray and the Dogs beat the Suns the year after.

  5. I was listening to a nice little comedy spot on Radio National this afternoon driving from one provender to another (as you can imagine, the Zampatti pantry, normally a source of wonder and admiration, looks like something out of Old Mother Hubbard after the past few weeks: “God, it’s three thirty AM and I still haven’t picked apart the Sydney defensive system. I’m starving – what’s this? a can of Edgell chick peas?? YUMMM.”
    (Incidentally, isn’t Radio National terrific. I’d almost forgotten it existed…).
    So anyway, there was a comedian telling a frightfully amusing story of how the first time he went parachuting, the canopy failed to open and, fortunately, his observant trainer noticed the problem, planed down on to his back and released the jammed mechanism.
    That must be what your first Grand Final is like. With only one thing missing…

  6. Party pies? Did you say party pies? You only serve them at book launches.

    We had full size pies, pasties and sausage rolls, sourced from Adelaide’s finest bakeries and served with Spring Gully chutney and sparkling shiraz.

    The only complaint from the ten guests was that they were served on plates and not in white paper bags.

    At half-time, we had Kyton’s* lamingtons, sticky buns and huge pots of tea. And, at half-time, Ross Lyon already had a problem.


  7. JK,
    I remember back in the 70’s when Spring Gully Riesling was the everyday Leasingham blend from Clare Valley. Bin 5 and Bin 7 were their top Rieslings back when Tim Knappstein made them.
    The first time I ate grilled trout was at the Astor (?) Hotel in Gawler Place, when I did not understand the skeletal physiology of fish. A nice Spring Gully Riesling helped washed down the mushed bones.
    You only do that once. It teaches you to cut at right angles to the spine not parallel.
    Bleasedale is our favourite sparkling shiraz.
    I am sure the Redlegs will get up in the SANFL. Alex Georgiou is near family for us.
    Its the occasion not the game that is important, when there is no skin in the contest.

  8. The Rap from NYC says

    Mr B, embedded deep in NYC, with The Comander-in-Cheif of the Free World staying around the corner at the Waldorf Astoria, with men in black talking into cuff links lurking in every doorway, and fresh from watching Mariano Riviera’s last pitch for the Yankees, if fresh is the right word for such a solemn occasion and drear contest, I would have sold my soul for a plate of party pies when the feed to the Wrap Pad failed 2 minutes into the Last Quarter of the 2013 Toyota Premiership Season. By the time we got it back The Barry Crockers needed to kick the next five goals to win & Ross Lyon was warming up for his Hitler bunker routine.

    My votes?

    3. The Party Pies – for helping us be who we are
    2. The Family Club – for choking the life out of The Purple Python
    1. The Footy Almanac for services to spleen venting & adoration of The Glue That Holds Us Together, across Terra Australis & the Wider World.

  9. I don’t know about Spring Gully Riesling. I think you may be confusing that with Leasingham Clare Valley Riesling Bins 5 and 7, as you say.

    Spring Gully Foods are a sixty-year-old Rostrevor, Adelaide family company, iconic in South Australia for their jars of pickles. And if anyone thinks that pickles shouldn’t be called iconic, they have never spread Spring Gully pickles over a piece of corned beef.

    Early this year, Spring Gully Foods were faced with insolvency and the good people of South Australia rallied in a people’s campaign to save their business. Within weeks, every Spring Gully product in every SA supermarket was sold out. The company was saved… but the campaign has some faults. As good as their pickles are, there’s only so much of corned beef and pickles that you can consume.

    And then the Grand Final. One of us discovered Spring Gully Tomato Sauce. Now, here is a sustainable product. I swear to you that after you have tasted this sauce, you’ll never buy Rosella Tomato Sauce again. It’s marketed as a tomato sauce but it is, as I say, more like a chutney. It has real tomatoes in it and a delicate blend of spices. I wish Spring Gully could swing a catering contract at the new Adelaide Oval for season 2014.
    If they did that, they’d never look back.

    peter, you also write about the Astor Hotel in Gawler Place. Maybe you meant the Astor Hotel in Rundle Street East. There;s only one of them, I think and Gawler Place only has snack bars for day-time city workers.

    But I agree with you that Bleasdale Sparkling Shiraz is delicious. On sparkling shiraz, it seems to be a south australian sensation that much of the rest of the country has yet to discover. Once you drink a fine sparkling red, made in the champagne method, most of Australia’s sparkling whites then seem to taste like gassed-up cats’ piss.

    As for the SANFL Grand Final, I was a devoted North Adelaide supporter before South Australia paid its money to prop up the VFL. And the Norwood/North contests were always the best. I loved the south-western hill at Prospect Oval but I also loved Cooper’s Hill at Norwood Parade. Cans of Coopers Ale were $2 each and they served pies and pasties in white bags, not the plastic wrapping we get these days.

    Norwood’s the form side for this week’s GF under the deft coaching of ex-Adelaide intelligent backman Nathan Bassett. And I won’t mind if he wins back-to-back. But my North, under Margarey Medalist ex-Port centreman Josh Francou has rediscovered some superb form through the SANFL finals and North will give Norwood a fair shake.

    This will be a battle between two creative coaches and should be a beauty.

  10. JK – at Thebarton you bought pasties outside the gates, straight out of the home oven, kept warm under hessian bags (washed out you hoped) after games in the 60’s.

  11. Yep! And the same family would sell warm pasties after the last at Morphettville, Cheltenham and Victoria Park. You had to organise your punting so that you always had enough left to buy a pasty for the long miserable trek back to the carpark.
    On the other hand, if you’d had a good day, you’d buy an extra pasty for your mate.

  12. PB – really lovely stuff.

    What a horrible game it was. We also ate party pies (which sat like a dead horse in my stomach later that night) and had a few cold frothies. I’ll remember these a lot more than the game.

    For the first quarter I thought I was watching Melbourne Storm. Aussie Rules has some very large issues to deal with as all the coaches have reduced our beautiful game down to a tackle count.


  13. daniel flesch says

    Dips , i think it’s a bit odd that when Freo smothered Sydney in the Prelim there was much praise for how “powerful” and “uncompromising” and “ruthless” they were ; but when a week later their next opponents played the same way , to make sure they weren’t overrun , it becomes a “horrible game.” You’re right , it wasn’t pretty , but are not a lot of G.F.’s scrambly ? Like h. & a. games , they can’t all be classics. And in this one we had one young nervous side and a swirly wind. Even so , i hope Ross Lyon has a change of mind and next year coaches attack as much as defence. How likely is that ? Ha.

  14. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Peter B I reckon I can remember the exact spot at every SANFL Ground where
    The Pies and Pasties were sold by the Guys under The Hessian bag Great Memories !

  15. I feel I am failing as a parent. My kids, growing up in Singapore barely touched the pies and sausage rolls that were freely distributed at our grand final event and don’t get me started on mashed potatoes – how is it possible for kids not to like mashed potatoes.

    Anyway, back to the game – certainly wasn’t one for the ages. Will be interesting to see how more offensive Ross Lyon will be next year (and I’m not talking about his post match pressers).

  16. Daniel – The Swans v Freo game the week before was a boring shocker too.

    If 300 tackles, 350 stoppages and ball ups, and the sight of 8 blokes lying on top of each other is the best that footy can do , then we have a huge problem. There are more coaches, assistant coaches, assistant-assistant coaches than ever before. And what’s their collective way to play football? Smother, strangle, stoppages, tackle, tackle, tackle. Talk about dumbing down. It’s not just about this game, its been going on for a few years now. The NRL turkeys must be giggling their hearts out. We have a far superior product and we trash it. Just plain stupid in my view.

    I wouldn’t be putting this GF in a time capsule. Vlad and his mates at AFL House had better come up with something. They get paid enough.

  17. Gregor Hedley says

    The game ,as a neutral observer, offered little.Inaccurate kicking cost the Dockers a decent chance,just as it cost the Hawks last year. If it had been 5 points at the siren , would there have been an outcry about the goal gifted to Franklin after an almighty stuff-up by the umpire?
    When a backman wins the Norm Smith for taking 7 marks from opposition kicks that went straight to him, I despair.
    But I despair even more when I hear the Venerable Cometti and his acolyte the Most Reverend McAvaney referring to the Hawks’ 11th Premiership.(By the way,Sydney have won two ,not South Melbourne)
    The Hawks have now joined the Eagles,the Lions and the Cats as triple premiership winners of the AFL Premiership.This ,as readers will know, is a competition that began in 1990. Does this mean that interstate clubs have been playing for the VFL premiership all along? Which suggests Jolimont House has been taking money under false pretences.I suppose it fits in well with the Coleman,the Norm Smith and the McHale….
    The VFL is populated by other teams now,none of whom were good enough to make to the club championship decider this year.
    As a side note,if Fremantle had succeded,,that would have meant that interstate sides have won a majority of AFL Premierships

  18. Lachlan Waterman says

    Entertaining read Peter. Reminded me of Bruce Lindsay before his knee injuries, could have been in the Lindsay Head category.

    Ballantine is a similar player and temperament to Milne. Flat track bullies. Chokers on the big stage.

    Also noticed you are calling yourself a West Australian. You can take the boy out of the pug hole …

  19. Thanks for the comment Lachlan. You are spot on about Bruce Lindsay. He and Rocky Roberts were going to be Torrens’ saviours when Knuckles Kerley and then Wayne Jackson coached us. What might have been.
    I think you read too much into my first sentence. I have moved around too much in my life (even as a kid in SA Dad was a country bank manager) to have any particular State allegiance. I am an Australian first, second and third.

  20. Luke Reynolds says

    Great stuff yet again Peter. Your last two lines are just brilliant.

    ‘Why does a girl wear killer heals if not for human pleasure?’ Gold.

  21. Lovely work, PB. One can only imagine that if the Dockers do win a flag, they will party like they did in 2005… Midland Cemetary might indeed be a good place to be.

    I actually cheered for the Dockers on the day, and empathised with their supporters who trekked across the country to be part of eventual pain. I hope our club doesn’t revoke my membership for this, and I hope it’s not a sign that I’m going soft.

    I haven’t forgotten the eruption of gloating text messages I got from many Dockers fans (some being distant jerks that I hadn’t seen in years, another being my own brother) in the 60 seconds after Leo Barry’s mark. When given the chance to reciporicate, I just thought I’d take the high road instead.

  22. mickey randall says

    Peter- footy writing at its best! You draw many cultural strands together in your recount. Lovely to read of the disparate elements that made your day. Wonderful to see Bleasdale sparkling red get an airing in the comments too. I’m proud to count myself as a fan too!

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