From Waverley with love


By Jo Toscano


It is Grand Final day 2013 and the Hawks are in it again.


I’ve just got off the No.112 tram and I’m walking through the Fitzroy Gardens to the game.  It is good to be alone. Being a mother of three, it is a rare occurrence to be alone, and even if I walked around the park and headed home it would be a win. But then again, an eleventh Hawthorn flag would be nice.


Until three-quarter time last week, I thought Kennett’s Curse was no more than the lack of public secondary schools. Then I started to buy into the Curse; I thought the mozz might be on us. The good news was I wouldn’t have to spend the week hunting for a Grand Final ticket. Come Saturday, I could enjoy good food, wine and company and watch the game on the box in the relaxed manner of an unbiased supporter.


Not like last year. The final duel between the Hawks and the Swans of 2012 had left me wrung out and depressed for days. I felt childish – a 42-year-old mother of three feeling so low after “just” a footy match. The back-up singers in my mind were belting out “cheer, cheer the red and the white”.


At least last year wasn’t as bad as 1984. I made my inaugural Grand Final appearance that year, wearing my Hawthorn duffel coat, which was in fact my father’s brown parka on which I had stuck a yellow No.3. I left the ground in tears. Essendon supporters were heckling me as I walked up the hill towards the Hilton. On the way to the ground, I’d thought my coat was cool, but on the way home it felt home-made and stupid. I still remember waking up the next day, burying my head in the pillow and hoping the previous day’s events had been a bad dream.


I’ve just walked past Captain Cook’s Cottage in Fitzroy Gardens and yet again I wonder what on earth it is doing there.


The beauty of flying solo is that I can really take in what is happening around me. There are loads of real footy punters, with jumpers and scarves and badges; thankfully, they outnumber the theatre-goers.  People are talking, smiling and laughing. It strikes me how open some of the punters’ faces are. You can see that they are imagining the glory that is to come. They are putting their hearts on the line. They invest so much, knowing that they might get their hearts trampled on. To me, that is bravery – a different sort of bravery to Hodgey’s, but bravery nonetheless.


I am wearing a Hawthorn scarf. (I lost my Leigh Matthews badge years ago.) I receive a special look from Hawthorn supporters as I walk through the park. A half-smile, a nod, a twinkle in the eye.  There is a camaraderie between us and even though I am alone I have thousands of close friends. It is so nice to be among the brethren after a week of Hawthorn bashing.


My Hawthorn is not one of privilege and this born-to-rule nonsense. My Hawthorn is the family club. When I was a kid we had few premierships, no Brownlow and poo and wee colours.


My mother consoled me about our lack of Brownlows. She said it was because we were a club devoid of starlets that, as our club song says, played for each other: all for one and one for all. In those days, it wasn’t sexy to barrack for Hawthorn like it was to follow the Carltons and Collingwoods (got to love Ayresy). When we started to win in 1980s, however, I was guilty of feeling a bit like the cat who ate the cream.

We were daggy but we were winning. It was akin to the ugly girl getting the good-looking guy because she had a winning personality. I was so proud of being a Hawker.

My mum and dad had grown up in Kew and both sides of my family barracked for Hawthorn. I have fond memories of my grandmother sitting on her rubber cushion with a blanket over her knees, wearing a knitted hat that looked like a tea cosy, and shouting, “Go Bucky.” She would be glad that Bucky has remained part of the fold.  My uncle Clem shouted out, “You donkey” at the umpires because he was too much of a gentleman to say anything stronger.


On one occasion we were at Waverley and an opposition punter was getting into Dipper for being a thug (he probably was, but that wasn’t the point). My mum started defending him and the next minute she was involved in a highly vitriolic exchange. Before you could say “Cazaly”, Dad had moved up beside Mum to quieten her down. It was one of those moments when you sensed your parents were just grown-up kids after all.


I have many memories of Hawthorn playing at Waverley. To me, it was football at its most egalitarian. It was windy and you needed a hot-water bottle to keep your backside warm, but its value lay in the fact that it was a stadium for the masses.


I defy anyone who remembers the Hawks playing big games at Waverley to give me this “arrogance” baloney. Our players were hard and gutsy — Dermott’s green boots was as flashy as we got — and our supporters were a rabble. The move to Waverley in the ’90s gave the Hawks a much-needed supporter base in the outer east; these punters were far from the refined individuals of the leafy inner east. Lots of big families with kids (you saw heaps of Taragos in the car park), lots of mullets and tatts (before they were cool), cigarette-smoking, beer-drinking and white-maggot calls. And that was just our family.



I am filled with these memories of a lifetime ago as I head into Yarra Park. I feel like I am part of a large sea that is unstoppable. People are teeming into the gates; they remind me of a wave pushing through a gap in the rocks. Then I remember: shit, I have to concentrate and try to look inconspicuous.


During the week, the footy gods (I always picture them as Jack Dyer and Lou Richards) had shone on me; a friend had offered a spare ticket in the AFL members. I was truly blessed. There were, however, a few snags. I had to sit by myself. On reflection I decided that this was a good omen. Last year I sat with my crazy brother and sister and our particular triumvirate had brought us bad luck and a hangover the next day.


The other hiccup was more bothersome. While I had a ticket, I might also be asked to produce my AFL membership as well. I was afraid my friend’s mother would then lose her membership – and, worse, I wouldn’t get into game. I know, I have heard it before: “But that never happens.” Well, it has to happen to someone and, just my luck, and I was afraid it would happen to me.


My friend had said: “Keep your head down as you walk through the gates, stick close to the person in front of you, and then peel off.”


As I walk through the gates, I am worried that my peeling-off manouevre is going to look like Josh Kennedy’s run-up. My sweat (sorry, ladies perspire) rises and I developed a new empathy for spies. I have worked myself up into a lather but, unsurprisingly to everyone except me, I walk through without a hitch and keep moving with my head down until I find my seat.


I sit down and then look up and I am blown away. I am sitting five or six rows in front of the AFL members dining room. Outstanding!  I am sitting betwseen two young Hawks supporters and a guy who barracks for Fremantle. I have a polite conversation with the Freo guy which reveals that this is his first Grand final and he is quietly optimistic. I am slightly older than him, but it seems there are many years separating us when I reveal that I have never heard of Birds of Tokyo. I want to ask, “Are they Japanese?” but think better of it. I get him back, though, as he doesn’t know who Mike Brady is.  Unforgivable! I am not ashamed to admit it (well, I am actually), but when I hear Mike begin the chorus of Up There Cazaly I almost cry. The ’G is heaving.


I have been to a few Grand Finals in recent times but I don’t remember an atmosphere like this. Punters are singing the national anthem along with Tiny Tina Arena. I am sure Johnny Young is swaying somewhere in the crowd. I don’t remember a crowd joining in the national anthem like this. I have to give Freo the credit.


The siren sounds and the young Hawk to my left exchanges nervous banter. It is fair to say we are not confident. We both saw Freo attack Sydney like a swarm of bees, and after last year, well, we are none too confident.


The first quarter is a hesitant affair, with neither the Hawks nor the Dockers finding any rhythm. Gunston kicks a goal and Buddy has a shot early in the term from the fifty-metre mark.  His kick as always takes a wide arc and while it’s curving back in I am thinking, if Buddy gets one early he might kick a bag. Unfortunately this one misses to the left, prompting a punter behind me to yell scathing abuse at Buddy. I turn around to find the abuser is a Hawk. He sees my shock and explains to me that Buddy is crap and he is glad he is going to GWS. I am sure he doesn’t really mean it; it’s self-preservation. In the expectation of being dumped, he is trying to convince himself and everyone else in P27 that he doesn’t love Buddy any more. My love remains.


Fortunately McPharlin (to me, once a Hawk always a Hawk) has run over the mark and Buddy gets another go, this time from the top of the goalsquare. He goals.


Gunston again finds the goals, unlike Nathan Fyfe, who definitely doesn’t. I am, however, enjoying his aerial work. He is so West Australian: blond, tanned and colourful. It makes me think that maybe Ross Lyons teams aren’t so dour after all.


At quarter-time, the punters on each side of me wear blank expressions. We agree that no side has any real advantage. I have picked Sam Mitchell for the Norm Smith in my in-laws’ competition but Crowley is keeping him quiet.


I am now busting for the loo. I have put it off for fear of running into the membership police. I leave my seat and cautiously make my way to the ladies’.  The only good thing about the size of the queue is that it is marginally shorter than the men’s. Memo to self: write a letter to Andrew D. complaining about the lack of toilets.


Back in my seat, I notice that the Hawks have scored a couple more goals. My young Hawk friend informs me that Gunston and Rioli have kicked them, and I feel cheated that I have missed a turning point in the game while waiting in a toilet queue.

I am back in time, however, to see Freo post their first goal for the match, courtesy of Mzungu. It is the twelve-minute mark of the second quarter. Unbelievable. I can’t work out if I am more incredulous that it has taken Freo this long to score a major or that it took me thirty minutes to get back from the toilet.


Gunston kicks another goal and Fyfe misses again. Big Pav also misses,  depriving the commentators of the chance to utter the phrase “a much-need captain’s goal”. It is half-time and the Hawks are 23 points up, but I feel the game really hasn’t started.


The Freo guy beside me looks shocking; for him it is not that the game hasn’t started, but it is over. The image comes into my head of a cartoon character that has been punctured and slowly deflates. I go to say something but can’t think of any words of comfort and let’s face it, my team is the cause of his pain, so I say nothing and decide to get a beer. I figure that, as the game is half-over, the membership police wouldn’t kick me out now.


I can’t believe I have to stand in another queue. This one is a little more awkward than the queue for the ladies as there are no ladies in the queue (unbelievable), but it’s much more entertaining. I eavesdrop on the robust footy talk. There is more energy here. It must be the proximity to beer.


I return just in time to hear Hunters and Collectors tuning up. Another oldy but a goody. I still remember swaying to Throw your Arms around me” at the 1990 Melbourne Uni Chocolate Ball.  Those were the days. I bop around a bit and do that awkward sort of half-dancing that you do when you’re not really dancing, which is great fun as long as you’re not on the big screen. I have been told I dance like Elaine from Seinfeld. I decide it’s best to sit down.


As the premiership quarter begins, my young friend to the left and I agree that the Hawks are in a good position but what goes unsaid is that we have lost it form here before. We are not reassured when the Dockers kick three out of the first four goals. My Freo mate has been missing since half-time but he reappears. Freo’s accuracy has breathed life back into him. Freo comes within three points a couple of times. Gunston kicks his fourth. The Hawks are ten points up at three-quarter time. Hardly a premiership quarter. Holy cow.


The Hawks surge when Isaac Smith kicks a long bomb that sails through. He leaps up in excitement, and I realise it’s the only jubilation we have seen in the entire match. Breust and Bradley Hill (who is playing better than his brother) kick goals to put us 31 points up, but I am still not feeling confident. Freo then has a purple patch. Let’s call it a mauve patch. They have their chances but keep fluffing them. I don’t even need to yell out, “Chewy on your boot.” No miss is more enjoyable than Hayden Ballantyne’s when he makes a goose out of himself and kicks it out on the full from in front of the goals. I feel a bit mean but he seems like such a tool.


Freo are getting the ball into their half. Pearce and Pavlich boot goals. But they generally they kick a behind or Brian Lake propels it back. I tell my Hawk friend that I feel more confident with Lake in the last line of defence than I ever did with Schoenmakers there. By the 25-minute mark, it is a mathematical possibility (as they say) that the Dockers could score the three goals they need, but my excitement is building. We are going to win another premiership and I won’t feel crap like last year.

I do, however, feel sorry for my Freo friend. As veteran of a few losing Grand finals, I know how gutted he must feel. I want say something nice, something that will ease his pain. Instead as the siren sounds I jump to my feet and belt out “We’re a happy team at Hawthorn…”  In deference to his feelings, I am not as loud as usual.
After a few run-throughs of the song, I feel less excitement than relief. We did it, we got through. But I am also feeling, for the first time of the day, alone. As I watch Brian Lake grab his kid, I wish I was with my family. I want to give someone a hug and share this moment.


My parents and my two brothers are somewhere in the ’G so I send out a text.  Where are we meeting up?


I soak up the scenes on the ground, most notably the exchange between Clarkson and the great John Kennedy Snr. Clarkson seems to crumble in Kennedy’s embrace.  I felt like it was a private moment that I shouldn’t have been watching. I remember John Kennedy saying in an interview before last year’s Grand Final that he wanted his grandson to get best on ground, but he wanted the Hawks to win. Well, now they’ve won.


I have guessed the Norm Smith winner.  To me, Brian had no competition. It is a game in which few players have stood out—even Hogdey, who I always have my eye on. He had a solid game but was less Herculean than usual.  But Lake always seemed to be repelling the ball. If Jacky Boy Gunston had kicked a couple more in the second half, he might have taken Norman home, but in my view it had to be Brian Lake.


I check my text messages and my mum has sent one saying that she would love to join me but she is heading back into her marquee. My parents have corporate tickets but surely you would choose your daughter over free champagne. Times have changed since the Waverley days.


I watch the boys come past with the cup. Amazingly, there are still heaps of Freo supporters in the ground. I am taken aback by the number of Freo supporters still there. Last year I headed home straight after the siren.


With friends hard to find, I start making my way home to Northcote.


As I get to the city, my friend Gerard calls me.  Ten years ago we used to go to the footy together religiously. He is a mad Hawk and so his son Angus, who is now twelve. I reckon I only ever saw Angus in his Hawthorn footy gear from the ages of four to ten (except for the odd day in summer when he would wear his Australian cricket shirt). Angus is his father’s son.


I remember being at Waverley with Gerard the last time the Hawks played there. More than 70,000 turned up (see, we were popular) to see us play Sydney. Dunstall kicked eight or ten and Gerard took home some Waverley turf to plant in his back yard. He has since moved house.  I’ve never asked if he took the turf with him.


Back in the days when we both lived in Richmond, we would have our pre-game or post-game beers in the front bar at the London Tavern (pre-massive renovation). Today, however, we are both in the city so we meet at another old haunt, the Six Degrees bar. (It was a revelation at the time because it sold long-neck beers.)


We meet up in Meyers Place, but the bar is closed so we go to the one across the road. We sit outside and have a few beers like we used to. There is an ease to our conversation that you can get with an old friend. We are not as close as we used to be, but we fall into familiar banter. We recall the game, reminisce about Hawthorn and discuss life. A perfect end to the day.


As I leave, the thought crosses my mind that if I never get to another Grand Final then I am OK with that. It wasn’t a game for the ages, but I was there to see my Hawks win the flag in a workman-like way, befitting our culture, with no stars – all for one and one for all.


Now, where’s the champagne?







  1. Beautiful Jo, both you and the essay. I meandered through the Gardens with you and was with you through the game, especially as the last 10 minutes of the game counted down. I love how you observed the Freo fan, including when singing our song. It was a great win, the first time I have been at the game to see the mighty Hawks hold the cup aloft and I feel good.


  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Excellent my favorite so far Harmsy will these Hawtorn match reports finish by 2020 ?
    Seriously Jo , a well written fun article on your day have been to Waverley, twice to see
    Norwood d Footscray , in 83 The Sterling cup it was a v enjoyable night and lose to Richmond which I got in ti the after match function having supposedly played so I have good memories of Waverley

  3. Tosca fantastic stuff! Every Hawthorn supporter I know is about as passionate as a dead fish – except for you! You’ve obviously got a bit of youth on your side as your mob were pretty good in the late 70s from memory…. Deserved winner this year well done – and I look forward to your piece next year when the Blues finally beat the Hawks for the first time since around 1987!

  4. Neil Belford says

    Agreed. Very perplexing that Captains Cook cottage.

  5. Paul Campbell says

    Really enjoyed the piece, Jo. Took me back the Grand Final again….and also to Waverley! ‘And that was just our family’ – nice. Appreciated the ‘going to the loo during play dilemma’. Like you on GF day, it is a stream of Hawthorn goals whenever I go.

    A terrific closing, ‘the workman-like way’. Cheers.

  6. Jo, you might dance like Elaine from Seinfeld but you write like Jo from Northcote. When’s Paul going to write a cookbook?

  7. Every Hawthorn supporter I know is about as passionate as a dead fish –

    Oh Dear Wocka! You clearly werent at the G when the siren went in this years prelim – the passion was almost R Rated :-) Never hugged and kissed so many complete strangers within a 3 minute time span. I was so embarrassed I apologized to the Tiger mate I was with. His measured response was – “Mate, enjoy. I’m dying for the day that I can behave just as poorly”.
    By the way folks I’m sad to report the grass is dead. It grew in a pot for many years but suffered in a house move.
    That said, I have many bomber supporting friends and family and there is always a bottle of ’round-up in the shed??
    Great work Tosca. enjoyed the post match beers with my old Waverley mate.

  8. I enjoyed your piece Jo, wish I had been there! I’m living in Singapore and watched the game with my husband and in-laws – all of them Richmond supporters. I just wanted someone to hug at the final siren too, I was thrilled of course but also a bit lonely without my brother and erstwhile game day companion. Hope I get a chance a see one live someday!

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