Grand Final – It’s bloody hard to win away from home

Bloody Hard to Win Away from Home

 

By Declan Fay

 

It all begins with West Coast. In 1986 my family moved from Melbourne to Perth. Lots of families move, but we were Hawthorn supporters leaving Melbourne in the middle of Hawthorn’s most successful streak to live on the other side of the country.

 

A year later the West Coast Eagles entered the VFL and I was the only kid in my grade two who didn’t barrack for West Coast. I think it was worse that I barracked for such a successful team. It’s one thing to be an outsider, but it’s another to be a successful outsider. Every victory was lonely, and every loss was even more lonely.

 

In Perth, we’d get an hour football replay every Saturday night. Mostly it was Eagles games, then a few highlights from other games, so we’d spend the whole day hoping there might be a few fleeting glimpses from a Hawthorn game.

 

Our best bet for Hawthorn games was my dad’s portable radio, which he pressed against his ear during games like it was glued to the side of his head. Eventually he bought home a bigger radio, with a long extension cord that could stretch the length of the backyard, so we could listen to games together.

 

Sometimes we’d get Hawthorn games on the radio, but if the Eagles were playing on the same day, we’d have to sit through the entire Eagles’ game, waiting for those golden moments when they’d go “round the grounds” for a score update. If we were lucky, we’d get a short description of the Hawks’ game, like “It was tight for the first quarter, but Hawthorn broke away in the second quarter”, and “Dunstall has three to quarter time” or “Brereton was reported by three umpires” (That one seemed to happen a lot). Then from these tiny scraps of information, I’d try to fill in blanks, and build a whole narrative of the game: we’d broken away because John Platten had the ball on a string in the middle of the ground, Buckenara had streamed down the wing and hit Dunstall on the chest, or Brereton had was only reported because his opponent had been holding his jumper for the whole quarter.

 

So when the Hawks came to play West Coast at Subiaco in Round 18 in 1987, it was the greatest thing that could have happened. The game was on Sunday at 12.10pm, and we had to leave church early, so we could make it back  to the game on time. Mum always stayed until the very last line of the very last hymn, so when we left straight after communion, mum kept her eyes fixed on the floor to avoid making eye contact with the priest.

 

When we got home, my dad who didn’t go to church, was pacing the street in front of our house in his Hawks’ Scarf and Beanie, even though it was a warm day. The driver change over would have impressed a rally team. Mum and my younger sister slid out of the car, my dad jumped into the front seat and within seconds we were racing toward Subiaco Oval. Along the way, he told me we’d try to get into the Hawthorn change rooms after the game, because surely there wouldn’t be too many Perth kids queuing up.

 

My dad was determined not miss the first bounce. When he bought a Footy Record outside the ground, he didn’t stop, he just kept pressing on, foraging for change in his pocket while still walking toward the gate, as the record kid ran along beside him.

I remember the small pink ticket stub scrunched in my hand. I remember the rusted turnstile that creaked as we walked in. I remember walking through the concrete tunnel under the grandstand. I remember emerging out of the tunnel into the sunlight and then my dad dragging me along the hill, before finding a spot on the forward flank. I remember looking around the ground and realising we were a tiny brown and gold smudge in a sea of blue and gold. On the far side I could see the Hawthorn Cheer Squad shaking their giant balls of brown and gold streamers over the fence, but they seemed so far away.

 

As we waited for the teams to run out, I asked, “How much will we win by?”

My dad answered, “It’s bloody hard to win away from home.”

Then the Eagles ran out on the ground, tearing through the huge banner, and the crowd cheered wildly. When the Hawks ran out, the crowd booed, but the players didn’t seem bothered. My dad was starting to sweat under the beanie and scarf, but he didn’t take them off.

 

The ball was bounced and the whole ground became a blur. Somehow the Eagles kicked a goal, and my dad began chewing the skin around his fingers. Then they goaled again. We got one back, but the Eagles were a goal up at quarter time. Taking his fingers out of his mouth, my dad said, “We can’t let them get away early”.

 

In the second quarter we came back. Hawthorn kicked a goal early and my dad hissed, like a bike tire letting out pressure. Then another goal and another hiss. The Eagles got a goal, and his fingertips were back between his teeth. Then the Hawks goaled just before halftime and his hands were out of his mouth and pumping above his head, like a spring had uncoiled inside him. We went into the half time break up by twenty points. “That’s better,” he said.

 

In the third quarter the Eagles got another one back and we went to the final change 13 points up. Allan Jeans strode out onto the ground and the team gathered around in him in such a tight huddle, so he seemed to disappear. The old wooden scoreboard read: “West Coast 11.8.74, Hawthorn 13.9.87”. My dad said, “I hope it’s enough.”

 

In the last quarter the Eagles came at us. They kicked a goal, then another goal, and the crowd got louder and fiercer. My dad gnawed his fingers like a dog trying to tear the last bits of meat off a bone. The Hawks got one back, but the Eagles kicked another. And another. A loud rumble was surging through the crowd. Even the brown and gold streamers behind the goals had stopped bouncing and just hung over the fence. Then with a minute left, we were two points down, and Brereton marked 30 metres out, directly in front. The boos swelled around the whole ground, but Brereton was unfazed. He casually walked back, turned around, ran in for the kick, and missed. The crowd exploded. I hadn’t called out anything for the game, but I yelled, “You can do it Hawks!” And guy next to us, clutching a beer tightly in his hand, snapped his toward us, so I could see he was missing a tooth and yelled, “F**kin’ bullshit they can!”

 

And that was it. My dad grabbed my hand and pulled me back along the hill, weaving through sea of blue and yellow, and down into the empty tunnel under the grandstand.

Then the siren went and the concrete around us shook. The Eagles won by a point. We pushed back through the rusty turnstiles and walked away from the ground, hearing the Eagles song playing behind us.

 

On the way out, my dad didn’t mention the Hawks’ change rooms. Maybe he forgot, maybe he thought we wouldn’t be allowed in after a loss, or maybe he just didn’t want to be the only people in brown and gold standing outside the team rooms when the victorious crowd poured out of the stands.

 

When we got in the car, he said, “It’s bloody hard to win away from home.” We drove home in silence, which was occasionally broken with his random reflections: “That’s what happens when you let the other team kick early goals”; “Brereton doesn’t normally miss those”; and “That might have cost the premiership.” (He might have been right on that. Because of that loss, we missed out on the top spot to Carlton, who got a week off, beat us in the qualifying final, and then again in the Grand Final).

 

We moved back to Melbourne in 1989, just in time to catch the tail end of Hawthorn’s glory days. We even got tickets to the 1989 Grand Final, where my dad almost choked on his fists.

 

Which brings us to today’s Grand Final. It’s almost twenty years since that first game at Subiaco and this time the Eagles are coming to Melbourne. They destroyed us in the first final and got the week off. They have Natanui, and Kennedy, and Priddis, and Masten, and that swagger of a team that knows it’s good. But it’s bloody hard to win away from home.

 

I’m sure they believe they can beat us at the MCG, and stop us getting our third premiership in a row, and take the premiership cup back to Western Australia. F**kin’ Bullshit they can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. I just watched the cavalcade of retiring players. So sad Adam Goodes is not there. What an indictment on the 2015 AFL season.

    Glen!

  2. Neil Anderson says:

    I too crossed the great divide from Footscray to Burwood only two short years after the Bulldogs premiership.
    I ran smack-dab into the Demons premiership run between 1955 to 1964. There was only me and one other kid in the schoolyard with a Bulldogs jumper so I might as well as been on the other side of the Nullarbor.
    Of course after Melbourne’s run finished, I had to contend with Hawthorn plaguing the Bulldogs, starting in 1961.
    Half an hour ago Hawthorn won their third premiership in a row to go with all the other premierships.
    All Clubs will have to study the Hawks intently if they want to be successful in this eighteen-team competition.

  3. Brian Houk says:

    Early in 1984 I was an out of work American diesel mechanic in Las Vegas, Nevada flipping through channels looking for something to watch when I stumbled across an odd sporting event… I was intrigued, though I did not understand much of what I was seeing. I was amazed at the athletes grabbing astounding catches, running full speed back and forth and making incredible tackles all without protective pads of any kind! I was immediately hooked and looked forward to weekly glimpses of Australian Rules Football whenever it came on.

    Through circumstance I lost my outlet to watching Footy for a number of years but I never forgot what a cracking sport it is. Around 2008 through the internet I managed to reconnect with the now AFL and began watching highlights of games each week. While I did not barrack for any team in particular, I instead barracked for the sport itself telling anyone that would listen about one of the greatest sports on the planet.

    Now, I do have a team from each of the major American sports that I am a fan of (most from my home state) Each of these teams are immersed in decades of tradition (in one case, over a century) and collectively those teams have won 44 Championships in their histories (Though not all had had so much success when I came to be a fan) SO, when i FINALLY got around to deciding that I would barrack for a single AFL team there was plenty of teams with a rich history of tradition to choose from. At the time of my choosing the West Coast Eagles and the Hawthorn Hawks were playing the most pleasing brand of footy (to me at least). Based on the fact that I ACTUALLY found a Hawks training guernsey to buy here in the US, I chose the Hawks, over the Eagles lame reason but, there it is.

    The Hawks also had more tradition and had won the premiership in 2008 (which didn’t hurt) but while they were a good side they had lost a few rungs on the ladder! I could not have predicted that the Hawks would become the Footy powerhouse that have now won three Grand Fiinals in a row STILL, I’m happy and In the end I live and bleed with the Hawks fortunes (I could barely watch the first week of Finals against the Eagles in Perth.

    I am as ever a huge supporter of the AFL and in 2015 besides watching every Hawks game, in total I may be the only American to watch over 200 Footy games this year!

    CAIRN THE HAWKS!!!

    That’s my Footy story and I’m sticking to it!

  4. Steve Hodder says:

    Onya Declan. Onya Brian!

  5. I have aslogan for the hawks for next year
    Back to back to back we WHACK all teams. ALWAYS.

  6. G’day Brian

    Great to hear from you.

    Terrific personal story.

    We would love to hear more from your vantage point in the US.

    JTH

    PS We also have a website about American footy – http://www.pigskinalmanac.com

  7. Brian Houk says:

    G’day John!

    I’m pleased that you enjoyed my footy journey of discovery! I really cannot put into words how much enjoyment I have received from watching Aussie Rules over the years, but it has been substantial.

    I would be delighted to give you more of this American’s viewpoint of your fantastic sport.

    As for American footy, I do hope that in time it catches on here in the US (I have watched a couple of their games) but I have to tell you, I’m a bit of a sports snob. I revel in athletic contests that are played at the pinnacle of their respective sport, yet have always had great difficulty watching lower tier players of any sport.

    I am a huge fan of Australians playing their awesome game. I would love it if Americans someday embrace and play footy as a major league sport, if and when that day comes you can bet I’ll be watching, until then I will have to stick with watching it being played by the masters of the sport down under.

    My perspective on footy… One thing I can tell you as an American that has lived through the introduction of free agency in US sports, is this: in my opinion, in a fairly short period of time, I believe that the old standard of footy players staying their entire careers at one team will become a rarity, something remarked upon rather than the norm.

    I believe that players salaries, even WITH salary caps, will escalate far faster than has been envisioned.

    Truthfully, I am puzzled by how aging players are treated by AFL teams and with free agency I see that changing as well.

    For instance, Dustin Fletcher, he is apparently set to appear in the International Rules Series in November; do I think he wanted to retire from footy after injuring his groin in game 400? No, I surely do not. I give you this from the International Rules article “Fletcher did not return phone calls on Tuesday when contacted for comment.” That may mean nothing at all, but it may mean Fletch is not pleased at his sudden retirement.

    Kane Cornes retired after game 300 for his own reasons and was called selfish by some for leaving Port in the middle of a finals push. That just doesn’t make sense to me, the man gave his effort and his body to the club for 15 years; won glory. a premiership, honors, medals.

    Did Kane see the writing on the wall and decide to get out on his own terms? I do not know, but I will say this: of all the milestones in sport to retire on, I find players retiring (or being retired) after a certain amount of games is the most nonsensical to me, They suddenly can no longer play one week to the next?

    Why is the entertainment at Grand Finals something of a running joke more often than not? Is this something intended? Is that what the pinnacle moment of this great sport is deserving of? Even if Bryan Adams was a great show and not close to being a Meatloaf, he is STILL 30 years beyond his prime, is the AFL demographic really 30 years beyond IT’S prime?

    The Brownlow medal, Coleman medal etc. I LOVE the fact the best and fairest medals for each footy club is named after human beings rather than the US habit of simply using Most Valuable Player. I love that the AFL season best and fairest and leading goal kicker medals are named after people as well.

    The Brownlow dinner and counting ceremony. I thought it was an entertaining and enjoyable way to spend an evening. I don’t know if US sports have anything remotely like it for pomp and circumstance. Perhaps the closest thing to it is the Heisman Trophy Award dinner (named after a human being) given to acknowledge the most outstanding American college football player, and It is a pale comparison at best, I personally think US sports are missing out on a further chance to highlight their great athletes via a Brownlow type ceremony.

    One last thought, someone in the US once said “Never let the venue become part of the story (of the sporting event)” This year Jarryd Roughhead barely escaped serious injury at ANZ stadium when exposed bolts behind the goal posts tore his jumper and scraped across his back. There were two fires before matches at AFL venues (at Domain Stadium and the Gabba) this past season and one (at Aurora stadium I believe) DURING a game. I have seen large rust streaks marring Simonds stadium and ugly brown stains on Domain stadium seating (spied during a lightly attended juniors game). I may be a cynical American but is maintenance an issue at AFL stadiums?

    I am sorry if this turned out to be a complaint filled commentary about the accouterments surrounding what I believe is one of the most enjoyable and toughest sports on the planet (and one of the most exciting to watch when played well) but I suppose I have had these niggling things in my head for a while and no one to tell them to!

  8. Brian Houk says:

    Well, now that I have purged those negative things that I’ve had nudging me, let me tell you what I absolutely LOVE about footy.

    Earlier this year I was watching the Western Bulldogs in the first round against the West Coast Eagles and at one point the Doggies got possession of the ball at midfield full of run the Bulldogs, four abreast, instantly burst forward and streamed toward the offensive zone. The eruption of speed and the synchronized rise and fall of the players feet elevated so high behind them the soles of their feet were all pointing skyward. It was simply mesmerizing in it’s display of athletic grace and power.

    Man is simply no where near as capable of precision while using his feet as he is with his hands, yet I have seen astounding passes and marks that even the best NFL quarterbacks and wide receivers would have difficulty emmulating. I have seen goals kicked that make the NFL field goal record of 58.5 meters look puny… I’ve seen goals kicked from THAT distance off of one step! I have seen goals kicked from impossible angles that were threaded through the barest sliver of daylight.
    I’ve seen balls kicked in such a way that they curve in a tight arc through the air; balls kicked that caused the ball to tumble end over end then land on a point to perform a sharp turn and dart through the posts. All magical things that footy players perform with fair regularity!

    The running, the RUNNING, footy players may cover more ground than any other athlete in the pursuit of their sport… with the possible exception of long distance runners! 50 meter sprints followed by 30 meter sprints followed by 100 meter sprints seemingly over and over

    Nowhere but the in AFL can you see marks (worthy of the NFL ) made by players without pads leaping incredible heights and almost without a care for their own safety, come crashing to the ground THEN have to settle themselves go back and kick a 50m goal as if the catch itself wasn’t amazing enough on it’s own.

    This year saw the rise of a young side under their new coach Luke Beverage, I’m talking about the Western Bulldogs of course, and it is my fervent hope that their chasing/attacking, “play on” style of footy is the future of all of footy because when it’s played well, it is a true pleasure to watch.

  9. Brian Houk says:

    At the risk of overextending my welcome here, I have one more thought about Australian Rules Football that has struck me only recently. By way of explanation let me first say that I have heard stories and seen documentaries about American Major League Baseball, NFL football and NHL hockey and according to many of those sources in the 40’s and early 50’s major league players of every sport often had off season jobs in the community/city of the team they played for, it was not unusual for a player to be seen frequenting a particular diner or restaurant. For instance New York City in the early 50’s had three MLB teams and year round their players were a PART of the fabric of the city. People got to know those players intimately and that strengthened the ties fans felt for “their” boys, their teams.

    This type of comradeship within the community has pretty much gone away in the US, people still fervently cheer for “their” teams but from a distance, and that is true for virtually every single major US sports team with, perhaps, the exception of the Green Bay Packers who it may be said are owned by the people of Green Bay, a small city in frigid Wisconsin. Yet even in Green Bay while the community bonds are still very strong they are not nearly as tight as in the past. How could they be when players are making millions. live in big mansions and mostly leave the city once the season ends?

    After winning the Premiership in 2013, 2014, and this past weekend the Hawks players gathered together the day after each of the wins at Jarryd Roughead’s modest house to party and relish their successful finals campaigns. On this Sunday past, In the midst of this celebration Luke Hodge had the camera turn and face the street to show neighbors and fans standing in the street to show their appreciation for the Hawks.

    Such a scene in this day and age in the US just does not happen as multimillionaires with a hundred different agendas often scatter to the winds on their private/chartered jets after winning championships (even if they return for parades.)

    I for one feel a jealous nostalgia when I see scenes like the one at Roughie’s house, I only hope that type of closeness and community interaction continues for a long long while, it’s a breath of the past for me and warms my heart to see.

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