For my Nanny

In November 2017, my grandmother died.


Known to me as ‘Nanny’, she had been everything I could have asked for in my life, and provided me with many amazing memories throughout my childhood.


The endless walks to the park down the road. The timeless conversations about neighbours, friends and family. The late night hot Milos. The dedicated love for the Collingwood Magpies, where she would listen to all games over the kitchen radio, as the television broadcast made her too nervous if it was a close finish. The religious tendency to revert to Hail Mary’s at this same radio when a tight game was reaching its ending.


Coming into 2018, I had matured due to this loss and was understandably unexcited about Collingwood’s prospects. With Nanny gone, who was going to spur them on to any greater heights than their 13th placed finish last year?


But after the Round 4 Adelaide win, something had changed. By halfway through the season there was some belief that we could make finals in a pleasant response to the 2017 review. Maybe Nanny was up there, nudging the youthful Magpies along as they steadily improved.


By the time September swung around, our third place position meant we had an opportunity to have a decent run in the finals. Why not?


Grinding out a victory against GWS, I first verbalised to my family that Collingwood had done well to get to a Preliminary Final, and that the 10 point win in the Semi Final was for Nanny. Yet what was to come in the First Preliminary Final captured my heart and my hopes, as the first half assault of reigning premiers Richmond, led by the lanky American Mason Cox and a fleet-footed brigade of youth, managed to hold on for an unexpected victory.


I remember staying until long after the game, taking a seat in the Ponsford Stand on a balmy September night and just telling myself that Nanny was up there, grinning like a Cheshire cat at the MCG after a few successful rounds of Hail Mary’s during the last quarter. For the first time, I was emotional about Collingwood, and as the Grand Final week progressed, I yearned more and more for a Premiership to salute Nanny.


Come the big match, and there I was again in standing room in the Ponsford Stand. Watching the likes of Stephenson, De Goey and Varcoe put us five goals up towards the end of the first quarter. Nanny had cast her eye on the ground and gotten us off to a flyer.


Yet as the mature Eagles worked their way back into it, my head told me that this might not be a famous day for Collingwood. However, my heart continued to overrule it, pleading with life to get the Pies over the line. Performing my own internal Hail Mary’s for Nanny.


When Mihocek and De Goey went bang-bang and put us two goals up, the MCG roared, with men and women of all ages jumping for joy and embracing whoever they could while alcohol was sprayed over everyone. The roar was guttural – a deeper noise from the pits of people’s stomach. It wasn’t just for Nanny, it was for anyone in that crowd who had lost someone. For the Varcoes, for the everyday person who had someone in mind that they cheered along for.


But it was not to be. When Sheed lined up on an acute angle, my heart sank in a way that it hadn’t when countless other Eagles had missed from straight in front. It all went so quick. Goal. Hysterics. Rushed defending. Siren. Loss.


I steadily stepped back, trudging to a wall and leaning on it to rest my aching feet that had been walking the MCG pavement since 7.30AM. I cast my eyes up around me, watching the endless stream of black and white clad people wiping tears from their eyes as they exited the ground, or walked aimlessly around the concourse.


While sitting through the presentation, my body still feels numb. It’s an empty feeling. I knew that Nanny had been performing Hail Mary after Hail Mary all day, all finals series, all season. Yet it just couldn’t quite get the Pies over the line for her.


But that’s ok. Because the whole season was for her, a final thank you for the countless hours spent listening to the kitchen radio on edge. And following the game, a realisation hit me. Maybe there were numerous Eagles supporters who went into the Grand Final wishing that their team would win for their Nannys, their family, their friends. Maybe there was a person on the opposite side of the MCG picturing their Nanny when Sheed slotted the impossible. That allows me to give a small smile. I hope that was a fitting send-off for them.


In 2018, this has all become so clear to me. Footy is drastically important to so many people. It’s a lifestyle, a religion – one that causes people to pray and beg for a goal, a score, a win. It unites people, and helps us cope with loss. And what could be better than that?


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  1. Peter Fuller says

    Beautifully realised account of the day, Sean, which resonated powerfully for me. My mother was a firm believer in the power of prayer including football petitions. However since her entreaties were on behalf of the benighted and ultimately doomed Fitzroy, she was well aware of the limitations. Your observation that the Eagles may well have had equally fervent and worthy people praying may well be relevant.
    The 1980s Lions did give Mum some wonderful moments, particularly their wonderful finals campaign in 1986, ultimately derailed by the Hawthorn machine.
    I’m touched by this lovely tribute to your Nanny, you convey that she was a special person and you honour her memory.

  2. Thanks for the comment Peter! Very glad that you can resonate with my piece, your mother sounds like a very lovely lady!

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