Fortress K.P.

By Chris Bracher

I have been going there for forty years. I lived in Winchelsea and Kardinia Park was my “local” VFL ground. Once a year I would persuade my less than enthusiastic Dad to take me to see my beloved red and white play. South was never much good when I was a kid and the Cats were not much better. But for me, the result of that one match a year almost came to define season success or otherwise.

My Dad would discourage me form wearing my footy jumper. “I don’t want to get into a fight” he would say. One day as South mounted a stirring comeback against a Cats side boasting the likes of Newman, Wade, Goggin and Ryan I proudly opened the jacket that was concealing my jumper and yelled “Carn’ South” at the top of my voice….Dad wanted the terraces to swallow us up so that he could hide from the eyes of the Geelong faithful at that point. But it’s pretty hard to hide when you have your kid on your shoulders.

I ran onto the ground after the match one year. John Pitura either didn’t see me or ignored the short guy waiting his turn for an autograph. My Dad said he saw me run to JP from the terrace behind the river end goal. I think he felt disappointed for me.

I wore my South jumper to junior footy training at Winchelsea. The local Geelong supporters thought it was a great joke to cover the mainly white jumper with mud. I scrubbed the jumper myself to restore its whiteness – it turned pink….the red “V” was not colourfast.

I went to secondary school in Geelong. It seemed that a pre-requisite for going to my school was that you barracked for the Cats. I dreaded Mondays after a loss to them. I felt like I was walking on air on the rare occasion that we had triumphed.

John Scarlett went from foe to hero when he came to us on match permits in about 1979. The Cats cleared him two days before we played them at Kardinia Park. Despite his obvious reluctance to take the field against his mates “Gunna” played on Larry Donohue and did us proud. South did not have the luxury of being able to accommodate human sensitivities. Clearly, neither did Geelong.

The rarity of our triumphs ensures that they are etched indelibly into my mind. John Roberts wobbled one through after the siren back in the late 70’s and we won by three points. Geelong’s Robert Scott hit the post from a shot after the siren in the 80’s and we prevailed by less than a goal. In mid- 80’s I worked in Geelong and sat in the Hickey stand as a corporate guest – a lone red scarf in a sea of blue and white. The Sydney Swans were almost friendless in Victoria in those days. I reckon the red in the jumper had almost taken on a luminous hue…very “Sydney”. Lack of popularity translated into easy access to the rooms and I sang the song with gusto with the small band of die-hards. Geographical remoteness was straining the emotional commitment and breaking my heart but ironically, on this occasion I felt like they needed me like never before.

I have fulfilled my paternal obligation to cultivate a family of Bloods supporters. I even converted a Geelong girl. Every now and then I perceive a tiny bit of residual support for the Cats but the annual visit to the Gary Ablett terrace generally quashes that. Commitment is strengthened through under-dog status. Supporter arrogance equals supporter ugliness; even if they are from the town of your birth.

These days us South fans get to see the boys five or six times in Victoria and inevitably, one of those is at Geelong. Ticketing hassles, the extra effort required with transport and our parlous record there means that most of our faithful abort their pre-season plans to make the trip. The pain of heavy defeat becomes somewhat masked if saved from having to run the gauntlet of chanting Cats fans whilst attempting to cross Moorabool St.

Last weekend I kept the faith. I went alone; circumstances and the probability of heavy defeat kept my family at home. I couldn’t blame them as frankly  the thought had crossed my mind that it was silly to put myself through such humiliation once again. We live on the side of Melbourne where Kardinia is spelt with a “C” and it is a long trip to the Cattery.  But deep within the recesses of my mind was that 70’s child from Winchelsea looking forward to his one VFL match for the year. The pilgrimage to Geelong is in-grained within my being and despite the massive changes to Kardinia Park (including its name!) it is still an experience like no other within Victoria. Standing in the terraces is the constant that has survived the sanitization of the football barrackers world. On the way I received a cryptic text from a Geelong supporting relative that I generally hear from just once a year: “You going to Geelong today?!!” – I interpreted this as code for “Ha ha, your weak mob is going to get smashed again!!”.

It is rare for me to be a quiet onlooker at the footy. Rival supporters bellowing from behind usually trigger a response. Last weekend, despite feeling almost obligated to defend the honour of Goodesy and Mummy (and doesn’t seeing him in red and white “sting” Cats fans?!) I resisted the taunts and quietly hoped. Too often I have seen competitive performances for one, two or three quarters and then the inevitable wet sail gets hoisted and the locals steamroll us.

At the 25 minute mark of the last quarter it became apparent that this was our day. The tripe that was dished up against the lowly Tigers a fortnight ago was a distant memory. The mighty Cats were about to be beaten at home for the first time in 30 matches! Stop the press at the Geelong Advertiser – that 30-win celebratory poster that you had arrogantly flagged as a Monday insert before the match was even played was about to be pulped! In recent years I thought the ‘Addy had grown into a mature metropolitan daily, with regional self-indulgence a thing of the past. How wrong I was.

At 4.40 pm last Sunday I was again that 12 year-old boy proudly revealing his red and white jumper on Dad’s shoulders. My kids were not with me to complete the circle – I think they have now learned a great lesson about supporter loyalty when the chips are down – but in a sense my solitude was symbolic of the “South versus the rest” world that I endured as a child in enemy territory.

At 5.45 pm after singing on the terraces with strangers, a 50-year old man was reported as travelling alone back home along the freeway with every available red and white garment hanging from the windows of his car.  This win was for the true believers.

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!

Comments

  1. Richard Naco says

    Chris,

    I am your total opposite: a Catter living in Sydney. An oasis of blue, at times, in a desert of red.

    Your team deserved to win on Saturday, for the heart and the head, and to gain the renown of being the heroes that broke down the Kardinia Park fortress. And you personally certainly deserved to enjoy it every bit as much as you so obviously are right now.

    It would be churlish for the likes of me and mine to deny you and your’s the due rewards for courage, commitment and intelligence.

    (And you’re right: even though the Swans’ huge offer to Mummy was completely unmatchable for us at that time, he was a beloved son of the Pivot & will always be much missed. It hurt him watching him doing to us what we so wished no too long ago that he would be doing for us.)

  2. Great piece, Chris. I loved the sentiment and the memories and the stoicism.
    What was the origin of your Bloods support? Did your Dad secretly support them too, or did you just fall in love with Bobby Skilton (understandably he was a gem)?
    Mumford is the only ruckmen I have seen beat the Cox/Natanui combo this year. Good that he has got the chance to show his wares and not been consigned as Ottens bridesmaid.

  3. Matt Webber says

    Gold mate! I love my Saints, but spent significant moments of my childhood watching the Swans train at the Lake (Dad liked taking us there, Barry Round was the biggest man I’ve ever seen and lots of ‘Why’s the fullback tilt his head like that, Dad?’) and later, when living in Sydney the SCG hill used to be ripping spot for 17 year olds to get plastered when options were otherwise limited. Upshot is I’m glad the Saints share the Swans colours to a degree. For me there’s a vague kindred kind of spirit that extends beyond stifling game styles and the odd shared player and coach…

  4. Chris – nice one. My mother’s side of the family are all South Melbourne/Swans supporters. I spent a great many Saturday afternoons at the Lakeside oval with uncles and cousins watching Swans v Cats battles in the 70s. Because I am vertically challenged I could never see the whole field of play until into the second quarter when the blokes around us had dusted off enough Courage Draught cans that I could collect 4 of them to use as stilts.

    As a Cats supporter I usually went home in tears.

  5. Matt Webber says

    Dips re the can stilts… The reason I follow St Kilda is that fact while she was pregnant with me my mum, a short woman, used to stack up tins at Moorabbin to get a better look at Rossy Smith’s buttocks… She loved Smith. Still does …

  6. chris bracher says

    How heartening to know that in the cyber-world there lives folk just like moi!
    Peter – my Dad was a Hawk….no affiliation with the Bloods…although signifiv=canlty he never removed the Swans car sticker than I plastered to the rear woindow of his ute after a particularly uplifting Bloods performance! My Mancunian grandmother bought me a red and white jumper when I was five…the one that is now behind glass oin my wall at home…..she knew nothing of the VFL and no doubt went for the one on sale!! Ijn the absence of any parental “guidance” to the contrary, I was red and white for life.
    Matt- thanks for your kind words. The kindred spirit is perhaps historically born of “Battle of the Lake” rivalries. I recently became involved in a campaign to help save the old red and whoite grandstand at the Lake “oval”and in researching same explored the origins of the Blackie-Ironmonger stand at the Junction Oval. This research underscored the local significance of the matches between our respective mobs. However…..our respect was tested when you “stole” Foschini and Paul Morwood!!
    Dipps – great stuff. You might have also struggled to see the old scoreboard on the Bowling Green wing….wasn’t the most prominent of structures! My beer can stilt memories are all MCG m,emories….standing in the stairwell on the old steel cans, trying to get a glimpse of the 1976 Hawthorn/North Grand Final……in the days of affordable “series” standing room tickets. Great memories of receiving the tickets in a brown envelope from the VFL in the mail.

  7. G’day Chris, a good article but a couple of points. John Scarlett went across to South in 1977, not 1979. Sorry, i can’t correlate South Melbourne with Sydney. To me there’s no link, thus no history. South Melbourne disappeared at the end of 1981, and Sydney is an entirely new entity dating to 1982. I find it galling to see them endeavour to take the history/ legacy of one of the founding VFL clubs. Sorry, but Sydney and Brisbane, have NO links to Fitzroy or Sydney. Glen!

  8. Andrew Fithall says

    Glen – regarding South Melbourne and Sydney, maybe there is no connection for you, but that doesn’t mean there is no connection. A friend of mine, Billy Williams, is the oldest living player named in the South/Swans team of the century. He took great joy in their 05 premiership win and often attends Swans fuinctions as a special invited guest. He is part of their history, and enjoys their present.

  9. Mark Doyle says

    Another bemusing essay from a one-eyed fanatical football supporter. It reminds me of my essays in primary school about the previous school holidays. My question to you Chris – Why are you unable to embrace the history of the Sydney Football Club since 1982 by referring to them as South Melbourne? Regardless of Glen’s comments, Sydney and South Melbourne have an obvious connection. South Melbourne could not survive as a Melbourne club because of poor management and had to relocate to Sydney to survive. The history of South Melbourne was not embraced by Sydney FC until the era of Paul Roos and Stuart Maxfield about ten years ago. I noticed on Saturday that Stuart Maxfield continues to have an important role; he is one of the runners, but would appear to have some coaching role as he was talking on the phone for most of the game and giving instructions to the other runner. South Melbourne supporters should be grateful that the history and traditions of South Melbourne are kept alive by the Sydney Football Club. Last Saturday’s game was a great game of footy and Sydney won because they played better football. The Sydney players had great motivation and commitment to support their team mate Jarrad McVeigh in his tragedy of losing his baby daughter. This tragedy should be a reminder to ‘South Melbourne’ supporters to recognise great Sydney people such as Jarrad McVeigh, Paul Roos, Stuart Maxfield, Paul Kelly, Brett Kirk, Adam Goodes and many others.

  10. chris bracher says

    Yep – one eyed as they come me. I love the Bloods. Sorry about the “primary school essay” format Mark…must have released the inner child!

    Whilst the departure of the team North of the border broke my heart and that of most other Victorian supporteres of the Bloods, I totally embrace the Sydney connection. Significantly, after a period of trying to establish a stand-alone identity in Sydney, the club came to recognise that if it shunned its past it did so at its peril…..in a support and commercial sense. SMFC on the guernsey, the reversion to “Cheer Cheer” and the abandonment of the Mike Brady hybrid “Up there for Sydney” plus the fact that the guernsey has remained red and white…not 2 BLues as was once mooted…is evidence of same.

    Comnercially we had no option but to move…the VFL was very well organised in the way it organised the member ballots and we were stone broke. Having voted to Keep South At South, I ak well familiar with this. If we had the resources to fught and hang on in Melbourne for a little while we would most certainly have ended up like poor old Fitzroy…God rest her soul. OUr impotence was outr strength in the long run. Mike Willessee, Craig Kimberley and Basil Sellars had a fair bit to do with our survival post-relocation it wmust alkso be noted! (few remember that Mike Willesse actually played reserves football for South Melbourne).

    Any Sydney-based Swan that thinks there is a shortfall in gratitude for the the role of committed Harbor city personnel by Melbourne Swans members are generally misguided. Granted, many of the Melbourne flock still poke a bit of fun at our Noirthern counterparts when the support levels drop off if the team is not travelling so well but there is now universal acknowledgement of the strength of the “two cities, one team” approach. Spiritually, the club and its players draw heavily upon the cultural influence of the South Melbourne connection…the great “Bloods” ethos. That is of great comfort to us Southerners and reflects that fact that Sydney Swans supporters all around the country have a “real” footy team…no longer an unwelcome implant in another city.

    Glen – I was with some Fitzroy faithful when the Lions won their first flag under the Brisbane banner. The joy and emotion that they displayed on that day seemed bloody real to me. Allegiance to the colours is not easily dislodged. Chris

  11. Good stuff, Chris. As a lone Bomber growing up in Moorabbin, The dim, dark 70’s held their own fascination with being a Blood Stained [email protected]@er, as opposed to you being a Blood Stained Angel. A loss to St Kilda became a relentless ribbing at school on the following Monday.

    The 70s were so poor for the Dons, I even became deliriously overjoyed and bursting with pride when my team actually won the Truth Newspaper’s Footy Olympics one year. Many years later, the first signs of success were in the wind when the Baby Bombers actually won something of note… the 81 Escort Cup against that hated foe, Carlton, on what was the coldest night I had experienced at a football match. I was in my sleeping bag and my exposed, clutching left hand braving the cold whilst clutching my beer.

    The joy you experienced with Sydney’s Grand Final win was matched by that most glorious of years, 1984. After suffering the ignominy of getting belted by Whorefolorn the year before, I was disconsolate at 3/4 time with being 23 points down from memory. My red and black wife (at the time) urged me to keep the faith, they’re still in it. I wasn’t too sure, after frankly struggling against this powerhouse for 3 qtrs. At age 25, I finally got to see my Bombers win something real – and significant – and it took 25 years of my life to see this in the flesh. I was far too young to comprehend the victories in 62 and 65.

    And now, after 39 consecutive years of membership of my beloved Bombers, the next joyous chapter, though yet to be written, is not too far around the corner, once more. Sauviter in Modo, Fortiter in Re.

  12. @Chris, very enjoyable read. Could feel your passion.

    My dad was a South Melbourne supporter and still is so I have an affinity for them. One of my favourite and most enduring memories in footy is a the game between the Swannies and North at Arden Street in 1996. Despite it being in Melbourne, there was a sea of read and white, and they were LOUD! It was inspiring.

    Mick Martyn tried to run through Wade Chapman at CHF, but Chapman duly wrapped him up, rolled, and slammed Mickey into the ground. Amazing stuff.

  13. Chris

    Surprised you didn’t mention the ‘apple incident’ from 1970 that got South into the finals:

    Peter Flynn says:
    October 15, 2010 at 1:47 pm
    This tale from the legendary Col Hutchinson who was standing in the outer at Kardinia Park in 1970.
    Geelong was hosting South Melbourne, with the winner virtually assured of a finals berth, and when scores were tight in the final minutes, the tension was at fever pitch.
    “Doug Wade took a mark about 25m out on a 45-degree angle,” Hutchinson said.
    “He ran in to kick, and we just thought ‘This is a formality, it’ll go straight through and we’ll win the match’.
    “To our dismay, the ball just dribbled off his boot and went about two metres and rolled away from him.”
    Hutchinson recalled South Melbourne pouncing on Wade’s errant “kick”, racing down the other end of Kardinia Park and kicking the winning goal.
    A South Melbourne supporter, frustrated that Wade had taken the mark, had thrown an apple at the Geelong full-forward as he was about to kick for goal.
    His accurate throw did enough to move the football from its intended path – the middle of Wade’s boot – to merely brush the instep of the Geelong champ’s foot.
    “Wade complained to the umpire and said ‘Hey, give me another kick!’,” Hutchinson said.
    “The umpire apparently said, ‘There’s nothing in the rule book about apples’.”

  14. The Emerald Hill Chronicle says

    Just a little young for first-hand experience of that one Gerry!
    Thanks for taking the time to read my pieces.
    Chris

  15. I was only 12yo at the time Chris but have never forgotten that one.

    I’ve only just discovered your thoughtful pieces & enjoy them very much.

    Cheers, Gerry

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