General Footy Writing: All’s fair in love and footy

Ursula, Audrey and Herb were born nine weeks ahead of schedule in May 1997. For quite a few years we didn’t let on to the children the actual order of birth. We thought it might avoid the “I’m older than you” hierarchical claims. After all, that is how Mark Waugh got the nickname “Junior”. However, we eventually relented.

Herb was born first – he had had enough of the other two and came via the route babies are expected to exit – while Helen was still being prepared for the caesarean. (Before you ask – and most people do – on the subject of routes, no homophones were used in the production of these children.) A subsequent examination revealed a tangle of arms and legs so the obstetrician proceeded with the planned caesarean. Audrey was next, and then just narrowly avoiding a Wakelin (Darryl and Shane were actually born on different days), Ursula was born at one minute to midnight.

It is often the case that the last born of multiples is a bit sicker, and so it was with Ursula. As a result she spent longer in intensive care, and in the following weeks (they spent nine weeks in hospital) while Herb and Audrey were often placed together in the one humidicrib, Ursula was left on her own. When they were well enough to come home, Ursula still lagged and spent an additional week in hospital.

Bill is three years older than his siblings. As the first-born male it was his right to be bestowed with the paternal allegiance and he therefore joined the black and white. He didn’t receive his first guernsey until his first birthday. We were on an Easter camping weekend at Mt Cole, west of Beaufort. I had secretly bought the jumper and dressed him before presenting him to his mother. Geelong played Collingwood that day and Geelong gave them a hiding.

Bill’s only period of Collingwood-supporting frailty was his first year at school (2000) when a bit of peer pressure, a very successful Essendon and some not-to-be-trusted Essendon-supporting cousins had him wavering. After two years of home-schooling and a refusal to attend any family events,  eventually I had him back solid. And just a bit behind in his formal education.

With the en-masse arrival of the other three, Helen and I agreed. While you can offer children guidance on matters religious, encourage free thinking and invite them to explore alternatives, football supporting is too important to be left to chance. It would be boys to Collingwood and girls to Geelong. Numerically balanced. Each according to their gender.

I don’t know how it happened. I certainly didn’t undermine my wife’s authority, and I don’t think older brother Bill applied any undue influence, but around 2002/2003 (vulnerable years – just starting school – one team doing well and the other foundering) Audrey switched. Maybe it was all that time that Herb and Audrey had spent together in the humidicrib. Whatever the reason, Audrey’s defection left Ursula as the sole back-up supporter for her mother. Helen was OK about it all. She certainly took it better that I would have if one of the boys had made a similar decision. I suppose we were all just grateful that she hadn’t left the fold entirely and done something that would have most likely resulted in familial excommunication, like barrack for Carlton.

We all like going to the football. As MCC members we see more Collingwood than Geelong. And every effort is made to get to the (rarely biannual) Collingwood-Geelong matches. Ursula reacts (understandably) negatively when the “vomit match” is raised in conversation. This was the 102-point thrashing that Collingwood handed Geelong in 2006. Ursula determined to leave before the final siren and Helen escorted her outside. The voiding of the stomach on the grass was a sign of how cruel was the loss. After twelve months we had to impose a ban on any reference by any sibling to either the game or to Ursula’s response. Still they persist. At least Ursula has the 2007 premiership as a retort. The other three don’t have a premiership in their lifetime, something their father endured for thirty-one years. But 1990 is already a long time ago.

So the Fithall family enters the finals series with both teams in contention. Week one. Guest passes have been purchased (we can nearly afford them in week one). Ursula will join her mother at the game on Saturday. I would normally go along as well but Bill and I are away on the Williamstown Juniors Under 16s fathers and sons footy trip. I could write about that next week, but as they say, what happens on the footy trip, stays on the footy trip. However, on Sunday we will make the long and arduous trip back from Creswick in time to pick up Audrey and Herb and get along to watch Collingwood and St Kilda. Ursula will be billeted out so Helen can come along as well.

If Collingwood are to meet Geelong in the Grand Final, either both have to win this weekend or both have to lose. However, is a Grand Final meeting a desirable outcome? It would certainly be more desirable than either or both going out in straight sets. Helen enjoyed 2007 so much, if it wasn’t to be Geelong this year, she would be happy if it was to be Collingwood. Me? I just don’t want a repeat of 2007’s heartbreaking Preliminary Final loss to Geelong. Or 2002’s heartbreaking loss to Brisbane in the Grand Final. Or 2003, which wasn’t so much heartbreaking as depressing. Or 1981. ’80. ’79…

If the truth be known, anything other than a Collingwood premiership wouldn’t be fair. You see, if Collingwood win, then all the children will have enjoyed one premiership in their lifetime, and each of their parents will have enjoyed two (oops – sorry Helen, I think I just gave away your age), and family balance will have been restored. Then, next year, when the three young ones head off to secondary school, and once again Herb ventures off via a different route, this time it will be according to plan.

About Andrew Fithall

Probably the most rational, level-headed Collingwood supporter in existence. Not a lot of competition mind you.


  1. Stephen Cooke says

    We have our first child arriving in 10 weeks and his mother and I resorted to rock/paper/scissors to determine his team. His Navy Blue mother won but when we learned baby was a boy she turned him over to me. I didn’t realise it was the first-born male’s right to be bestowed with the paternal allegiance but the right decision was made nonetheless. She’s a gem that Navy Blue.

  2. Andrew Fithall says


    You haven’t actually indicated which team will be the lucky recipient of your son’s support, but it is not Carlton so it doesn’t matter. Good luck for the forthcoming birth. For some additional advice on those matters, I must refer you to an article by Matt Quartermaine at . For we who are past it, it is hilarious. For those about to enter the realm of childbirth, it might be a bit scary. On the process of conception, Matt is a little less discreet than me.


  3. Lads,

    Matt is an Almanacker. He’s written a report for this year’s book.

    Just put up the link for The Scrivener’s Fancy.

    What’s a scrivener?

  4. Andrew Fithall says

    According to wikipedia, a scrivener is a person who can read or write, particularly in a population where many are illiterate.

  5. Pamela Sherpa says

    Great article Andrew. What a challenge having triplets must be.

  6. Stephen Cooke says

    Little ‘Peanut’ Cooke will be a Geelong man and will have 14 on his first jumper. His aunty had a plan to buy a Carlton jumper and have it signed by Fev to sweeten the deal. Have you ever heard anything more ridiculous? Using Fev as a bargaining tool – I haven’t and I told her so.

  7. Reminds me of the Bruce Dawe poem Life Cycle which begins:
    “When children are born in Victoria
    they are wrapped in the club-colours, laid in beribboned cots,
    having already begun a lifetime’s barracking….” and ends:
    “But the dance forever the same – the elderly still
    loyally crying Carn … Carn … (if feebly) unto the very end,
    having seen in the six-foot recruit from Eaglehawk their hope of salvation”

  8. Cookey,

    This is a good, solid grounding for any young man about to make his way in the world.

    People should learn about Fev as early as possible.

  9. PS. Greg Denham (ex-Colleague at The Age, always an entertaining fella) said on SEN that Carlton won’t win a flag with Fev in the team.

    I reckon he’s right.

    I also reckon the coach is battling.

  10. Stephen Cooke says

    I’ll also be interested to see how Ratten goes over the next few years. If it’s the Carlton of old he’ll be axed by then.

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