From Father To Son

Dear Harley,
I was eight months from meeting you but I couldn’t stop thinking of you when I walked to the MCG on a warm March night. Your mum and I had not long found out that you would be joining us in November.
I was meeting Paul to watch the Cats and the Hawks. They beat us in the Grand Final the year before but you weren’t even on the radar then. I wish Luke Hodge wasn’t either, as it turned out.
My joy of life was heightened when I knew you were coming. I didn’t know at the time just how much you would enhance it.
The light from the MCG towers is surprisingly warm and inviting. The warm, soft glow welcomes people from all over Australia; indeed all over the world. On that night the light seemed to bath the entire park in gold, like the greatest sunset I’d ever seen.
Some may not see it, but the walk to the G in autumn and spring on the warm night of a big match provides one of life’s joyous moments.
There’s the anticipation of a great contest and what it means for your season; there’s the addition of another chapter in your own history with the game; and there’s the ritual of sharing all this with those who understand.
I caught a brief glimpse of a family that night heading into the ground. Mum and dad, a teenage son and his young brother. Allegiance to their teams was split down the middle.
The two boys were probably six or seven years apart but wore the same expression.
They were glad the moment had arrived. They were going to the footy. Mum and dad were taking them. Nothing else mattered in that moment. A win was crucial, of course, but if it didn’t go their way, mum and dad would be there for support – and to buy the donuts.
Mum and dad were excited too, for reasons I didn’t fully understand at the time. I do now.
For all the sleep deprivation, back chat, financial worries and health concerns that are part of a parent’s lot, there are periods (sometimes sustained, sometimes fleeting) of pure joy: when children giggle uncontrollably; when they mimic their parents; when they smile sheepishly after encouragement; when they discover the joy of running in the backyard.
Providing an environment for this is its own reward. Mum and dad that night felt that, I can see that now.
I haven’t forgotten the look on the face of that teenage boy since. I can only imagine he’s caused his parents some sort of grief over the years, he wouldn’t be a teenager if he hadn’t.
He could have been two years old that night. It was the same look you give me when I buy you a new Thomas train.
So I sat there that night next to Paul watching the game and thinking of you. Thinking of the day we would attend the footy together as a family. Thinking of how we would discuss the match all week and why we would win. Thinking of the trip home and explaining why there’s always next week if we lost.
We won the game but it didn’t matter. I can’t remember anything about it now except for the walk to the G and that family.
I’ll never forget that.

About Stephen Cooke

Cumbersome ruckman of the garden variety


  1. John Harms says

    Cookie, I remember one of the first times I came to Melbourne (from Qld) to watch footy, (in the days when people still didn’t travel much and it really was a sojourn) seeing families grow outside the MCG as they waited for the next set of cousins to arrive. It’s such a part of footy.

  2. Ian Hauser says


    Your piece touched a nerve. My son and I have been going to the footy (mostly NRL) on and off for the best part of twenty years. The sheer pleasure of it never diminishes. It’s one of many connection points for us and, fortunately, we support the same teams. The highs are very high (Redcliffe Dolphins winning the Queensland Cup on several occasions); some of the lows are very low (a particular Qld loss in State of Origin at Lang Park still causes aches); even some of the lows have a special significance and remain wonderful memories(Dolphins losing a very close grand final but in what was the best game of the year in all levels of rugby league). We’ve even taken in soccer and, as recently as last weekend, Super 15 rugby union in Canberra. The pinnacle was State of Origin III in July 2010 at the Olympic Stadium. I had flown down from Brisbane, Liam had come up from Tumut and we had just a couple of days together in Sydney. We were there courtesy of Liam’s publisher just two months after the release of his book on the first 30 years of SOO. The Maroons were going for their first clean sweep in 15 years and we were only too willing to see that result at NSW headquarters – all the sweeter. Something we’ll never forget.

    From one Dad to another, I can only hope that you and Harley have many similar times together over the years ahead.

  3. That’s so cute :)
    Me and my dad are having a daddy&daughter footy day 2mro, plenty of those days to come for you Stephen :)

  4. Beautiful Stephen.

    My 5yo boy is just starting to get into footy – the old VFL traditions of the basic colours & jumper designs, the song and the mascot were pure genius in terms of hooking the next generation. He started singing Good Old Collingwood Forever in church (unprompted) a couple weeks ago, much to my wife’s embarrassment.

    As much as anything it’s other kids in childcare that have set the ball rolling but I’m only to happy to foster his enthusiasm, which is growing by the day. He’s too small to take that magical walk to the ‘G under the watchful gaze of the possums in the elm trees, but the odd VFL game at Vic Park will work a treat.

    It’s like I’m reliving my own life. God I hope he doesn’t get scarred by any near Premiership experiences like I did!

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