Hometowns and Upside Down Frowns

2015 will mark a couple of significant milestones for The North Melbourne Football Club. This year will be the 90th anniversary of North’s (as well as Hawthorn’s and Footscray’s) first season in the VFL. It will also mark the 40th anniversary of the 1975 VFL Premiership, the first for the ‘Roos.

It will also bring up a meaningful anniversary in my relationship with the club. 2015 will officially be my 25th year supporting North Melbourne. While I can’t pinpoint an exact date, 1990 was the first season that North received my undying support.

Here was I, a boy of nine years old going on ten, and I had never really had a team. There was a couple of years where, at the behest of an Aunty and a schoolfriend, I had thrown my support behind Footscray. Simon Beasley was my favourite player, from memory. That association didn’t last, though. Footscray was soon replaced by Hawthorn.

In 1987 my family moved from Rutherglen, Vic., to Wagga Wagga, NSW. Six months after arriving, in 1988, we attached to the East Wagga-Kooringal Football Club – The Hawks. It seemed logical to me that if I was to play for The Hawks in the Wagga & District Junior Australian Football League, then I should support The Hawks in the Victorian Football League. It certainly didn’t hurt their cause that they’d played in the last five Grand Finals, and would win the next two.

In actual fact, that did hurt their cause. I wasn’t one for bandwagons. Almost every kid with whom I played junior footy was onboard the Hawks juggernaut. They’ve had their time, I surmised. I had to give much thought to which team I would follow from that point on. This was not a decision to made willy-nilly. This was a choice that would largely affect the rest of my life.

In the end it came down to two factors, both of which stemmed from a slight “home-sickness.” After a couple of years living in Ladysmith (a very small town, 20 minutes east of Wagga), I was beginning to long for Rutherglen. Things weren’t quite the same up here. People used different words for things, a great many of them followed a strange beast known as Rugby League. Although I’d not yet turned seven when we moved north, I had a very real connection to our hometown.

Through this nostalgia I arrived at the decision to follow the now-AFL equivalent of Rutherglen, the Kangaroos. Corowa-Rutherglen, at this time, effectively had two football clubs. One of them competed in the Ovens & Murray League, the other in the Coreen League. The O&M club was essentially a Corowa team, while the Coreen outfit represented Rutherglen. Both of them were the Kangaroos and wore the colours of North Melbourne.

So, as the 1990 season dawned I had decided on a team. Now I set about learning all I could about them. To start with, they effectively ‘owned’ Friday night games. That instilled a certain amount of glamour in my eyes. I remember vividly a footy card of the great Jim Krakouer in full flight during a night game. What a sight. Unfortunately, Jim had moved on from North at the end of 1989. I needed a different player to claim as my favourite.

Then came the second factor that absolutely solidified my love of the Roos. My parents mentioned a young man that was making waves at North. My Dad said he remembered watching him play for Corowa-Rutherglen. A teenager that was dominating fully grown men. The man, of course, was John Longmire. In Round 2 of 1990 he kicked 12 goals against a hapless Richmond. He followed that up later in the year with 14 against Melbourne, still a club record.

It was fate. I’d chosen this team based almost solely on a sentimental attachment to their colours and mascot. I now had a favourite player that came from the same town as me (almost, anyway. Longmire actually came from Corowa, not Rutherglen).

I gleefully rode the waves of that season. North finished sixth, a year before the AFL introduced a Top Six finals series, and Longmire won the Coleman Medal with 98 goals. The following year was similar. North recorded the same number of wins, this time finishing eighth, and Longmire kicked 91 goals.

I also noted with excitement that North won the Under 19s flag in both those years. The disappointment of the Senior team missing finals in the first few years of my support of the club was quelled by the expectation of better things to come. Soon enough a number of these talented youngsters would find their way into the Firsts.

It all came together in 1993. Denis Pagan, who had coached those Under 19s premierships, returned to the club as Senior Coach to replace Wayne Schimmelbusch. He promptly made the decision to anoint Wayne Carey as Captain. A 21-year-old with only 60 games to his name. For me, it was another fateful sign. My connection with Longmire had come from my original hometown, now my adopted hometown had produced my club’s Captain.

It was a heady time for home-grown sportspeople in Wagga. The opening pair in the Test team, Michael Slater and Mark Taylor, both hailed from Wagga. Terry Daniher, who grew up a couple of hours away in Ungarie, came to Wagga at the end of his VFL-AFL career to take up the role as Captain-Coach of Wagga Tigers. And two young stars of the AFL, Carey and Paul Kelly, were named Captain of their respective clubs. You can imagine the excitement when both men were pitted against each other in the Grand Final, three years later.

The rest is history. North Melbourne went on to win two flags by the end of the decade, cementing themselves as “The Team of the ’90s” (with the possible exception of West Coast). While the following years have not brought the same success, not for a moment have I questioned my irrational love for this group of men that wear blue and white stripes.

Every one of the past 25 years I have entered the season with high hopes for my club. More often than not I have been disappointed, but that is what footy is all about. You pick your club for whatever nonsensical reason and stick by them. It may bring more heartache than is logical for a grown-up, but its all worth it for the odd time you see your team win on the weekend.

This year is no different. I am celebrating my 25th anniversary with North Melbourne by paraphrasing Peter Schwab on the eve of the 2004 season, “We WILL win the Premiership.” Do I believe it deep down? Honestly, probably not, but this club has been good to me and the least I can do in return is give them my absolute trust they will achieve more on-field success. Bring on 2015.

About Josh Pinn

Blogger and Podcaster for footygospel.com

Comments

  1. Nice opening piece. Look forward to some more throughout the 2015 season.

  2. Neil Anderson says

    Enjoyed your story of where your football ‘ DNA ‘ came from. It all came together nicely with the team colours and with local heroes from your town starting their AFL careers. To top it off the team you decide to follow dominate the nineties and win two premierships.
    I’m always interested in how someone not from the Melbourne suburbs selects a team.
    Some would say I backed the wrong horse from the 1925 inductees after seeing it win in 1954, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Living in Footscray at that time…you know it made sense, to quote one of your Kangaroo heroes.

  3. Dave Brown says

    Welcome Josh – a good start (hopefully as you mean to go on). Good to see the connection with that great South Australian Wayne Carey… well I always maintained he was more South Australian than Jim Stynes was Victorian, anyway.

  4. Outstanding Josh. I’ve become a fan of Ovens and King footy, and try to make it up n.e Vic at least once a month. I’m told the standard at the O&M is so much better, but there’s something about watching footy a torpedo punt away from the Brown Brothers vineyards or at the gateway to Mt Hotham in Bright that I’m not keen to trade.

    That region though; definitely God’s country. I can understand your love for Rutherglen and the surrounds. Norf Melbourne? err, not so sure…

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Welcome aboard Mr Armchair

    The NAFC Roosters would have been a fair side if they could have kept Carey

  6. Pam Byron says

    That is very intetesting Josh. I oftenbeonder how we all chose our teams

  7. Top stuff Josh. I was at the ‘G’ the night John Longmire kicked 12 against Richmond in R 2 1990. Now can i test your mind. Reading this it appears you were born in 1980 coinciding with the merger of Corowa and Rutherglen. I can’t recall the team colours and moniker ? Can you fill in this void in my recollection?

    Glen!

  8. Thanks Glen.
    Do you mean what were the colours before the merger? Rutherglen were called the Redlegs and wore a jumper similar to Carlton. Corowa were the Spiders but I’m not sure what colours they wore. I’ll ask my old man, he’ll definitely know.

  9. I can confirm that Corowa wore Essendon-style red and black.

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