It’s Footy Time Again

This piece first appeared in ‘Back Page Lead’, March 2013.

Every year in late March that strange combination of excitement and tension returns. After months of anticipation it’s footy time again as the siren sounds, and the umpires prepare to bounce the shiny red oval-shaped ball on the perfect green grass surface.

I began attending Fitzroy games at the Junction Oval way back in 1970 with my father and grandmother. We sat in the St Kilda Cricket Club grandstand, stared at high profile supporters such as journalist John Blackman and the actors Paula Duncan and Gil Tucker, and waited patiently for Fitzroy to enjoy some success. Finally in 1979 the club returned to September action, and competed successfully in four more finals series over the next seven years.

Those were the last glory years of this grand old club. Champions “Superboot” Bernie Quinlan and “the flea” Gary Wilson dominated goal kicking ladders and Brownlow Medal tallies. They were supported by other top-liners such as “the tank” Michael Conlan, David McMahon, Grant Lawrie, Matt Rendell, Leon Harris and Laurie Serafini, and later by the crop of outstanding youngsters lead by Paul Roos, Richard Osborne, Gary Pert and Doug Barwick.

In its last five or so years Fitzroy became a basket-case, but I prefer to remember the years of success rather than obsessing over the causes of the tragic decline. When the club died, I quickly decided to switch my allegiance to North Melbourne. Brisbane was never an option given their back-handed collusion with the AFL to eliminate our club. I considered popular mass supported local teams such as Collingwood and Essendon, but only for one minute. I wouldn’t have been able to keep a straight face. North was the obvious choice. They had a similar culture to Fitzroy, the few North supporters I knew were likeable people, and most importantly Fitzroy members had only recently endorsed a North-Fitzroy merger.

It took me a few months to feel comfortable yelling “Go Kangaroos” instead of “Go Roys”, but after that I never looked back. North was a great team to watch in the late 1990s. Sure, Carey was the best player of his generation. But it is easy to forget the many other stars of those premiership teams: the tough backman Mick Martyn, Glenn Archer and later Byron Pickett, the brilliant ruck-forward Corey McKernan, the resilient on-ballers Anthony Stevens and Peter Bell, and the brilliant finishers Wayne Schwass before he left for Sydney, David King, and later Winston Abraham and Shannon Grant.

North has struggled a bit since that time, but have always competed and never tanked. Today they seem to have a good blending of experience (Petrie, Wells and Harvey) and up and coming stars (Swallow, Atley, Bastinak and Adams). I can’t wait for round one. The umpire bounces the ball, and big Todd Goldstein gets the tap to Ziebell who dashes off with the pill…

Associate Professor Philip Mendes is the Director of the Social Inclusion and Social Policy Research Unit at Monash University

About Philip Mendes

Philip Mendes is an academic who follows AFL, soccer, tennis and cricket. He supported Fitzroy Football Club from 1970-1996, and on their death he adopted the North Melbourne Kangaroos as his new team. In his spare time, he occasionally writes about his current and past football teams.

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