Passing the Baton

As some Almanackers know, my allegiances to North Melbourne were sealed the day Uncle Alan took me to Arden St to watch Blighty play. We parked near the ground and walked a cobbled lane, my hand in Uncle Al’s, carried by a slow moving river of white shirted men. Myself and another boy named Michael sat on the fence in the pocket on the Macaulay Road, outer side, while his dad and Uncle Al stood behind us drinking cans.


During one passage of play, North cleared out of defence and Blighty walked past almost within touching distance. He wore long sleeves and was broad shouldered with long, blond hair. He was beautiful, but there was also something different about Blighty. At that young age I couldn’t explain it, but years later I learned the word ‘aloof’ and it applied perfectly. Blighty lived in his own world and played his own game.


North beat South by three goals and Snake Baker had a kick after the final siren. He waited until hundreds of fans, mostly kids, had crowded around before slotting it through. I was buzzing all the way back to Uncle Al’s in Dingley. I was a Roo for life.


Well, that’s how I remember it anyway.


A few years later we were back at Arden St with a good portion of mum’s family, to watch North take on Geelong. The Clearys, farmers from Elaine, near Meredith, on the Geelong Ballarat Road, are mad Cat fans, and that day our extended mob was split fairly evenly down the middle. I was there to see the Krakouers, but unfortunately Jimmy was suspended and watched from the old wooden stand. Before the match the sneering Geelong cheer squad circled the ground chanting ‘Chocolate chip Krakouer bread’. Different times, I suppose. Ross Glendinning kicked a trademark long running goal but the Cats won easily.


Eloise was a club member before she was baptised, something not lost on mum, who likes to have a dig at where my weekend priorities lie. On a handful of occasions over the last two footy seasons, I’ve loaded Eloise up and walked the few blocks to Coburg City Oval to catch the Burgers. We take her little royal blue and white footy and between quarters venture out for a kick. I got it Daddy, I got it, she screams, grin spread across her face as she wobbles and bustles off in pursuit, all bum and chafing thighs.


Whenever we walk past the ground on our way for a baby cino at Zaatar on Sydney Road, she points at the hulking old stand that reminds me of Stephen Easton’s shoulders, and calls out Footy daddy, footy. We love footy, as the bowls club members squint at us from over the fence. We do Bub. We do, I respond.


Two Sundays ago, I took Eloise to Arden St for the Family Day. We parked a few blocks away, held hands as we crossed the road at the pool end and joined the faithful on the smooth, hallowed turf.


Of course, the old stand is long gone, replaced by the shiny community and admin centre and the Kanga Kasino and terraces have made way for grassy hills and trees. Thankfully, the famous players’ tunnel was spared.


We had a kick, bought an oversized jumper for Eloise (it cost the equivalent of a day at childcare) and spent most of the morning in the Kids’ section, with Eloise pushing forward in the queue for the jumping castle, obstacle course and other blown up bouncy things manned by patient and shy younger players. While hundreds lined up for autographs and photos with the stars, Eloise and I tried the hoola- hoop.


Eloise was starting to sag by lunchtime, so we made for the car. Heading north on citylink, I asked if she had had a good time. Yes Daddy. We love footy, she replied before succumbing to heavy eyelids.


And with Springsteen’s The Rising grumbling quietly away on the cd player, I asked for these things. When I take Eloise to her first North Melbourne match this season, she enjoys herself and wants to come again. And in time, she sees something in this maddening, incomparable indigenous game I have spent my life addicted to, with perhaps Mason Wood or Ben Brown serving as her Blighty. And one day, a long way down the track, she loads her old man up and takes him to the footy. But most of all, when her time comes, she passes on the baton.




  1. PartTimeZombie says

    That’s a lovely piece Andrew. May we all have something to pass on to our children, and may they all see the magic enough to pass it on in turn.
    Brought a lump to my throat.

  2. Very nice Andrew, hopefully you pick a great first game for her to see. Perhaps Waite will become her favourite player?

  3. Andrew Starkie says

    Damien, I doubt it.

  4. I love these kinds of stories. Always has me thinking how the next generation of writers will recall similar experiences:

    “I remember being taken to Docklands for my first game. Pete Lazer’s welcoming voice and the club extolling their merchandise on the big screen. I said goodbye to cousin as the went to their premium A seating, while we headed for the skies and our GA seats”

    I’m not saying anything’s ‘wrong’ with modern footy, I’m just saying that our memoir experience will be so different to the next generation’s…

  5. Grand Andrew. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Eloise has a life of belonging, heartbreak and unexpected joys in front of her.
    As it should be.

  6. Peter Fuller says

    Central to the great and frustrating challenges of the parenting adventure is initiating the offspring into the joys of this grand game. You offer a beautiful insight, Andrew into your own experience and your hopes for Eloise. She seems like she is on the right track.
    We do need to acknowledge Steve B’s observations, they could be dismissed as cynical if they weren’t so true.
    Good luck Andrew. I hope the Kangas don’t break Eloise’s heart.

  7. Don De Lene says

    I started taking my now 13 year old grandson to North Melbourne Family Days and, later, to matches from when he was 5 years old.
    Alas, despite my well-intentioned, positive mind-training, he decided to follow the Bombers because his best mate at Junior school was an Essendon fan.
    A small consolation is that he didn’t succumb to his father’s brain-washing, otherwise he would have ended up a fanatical Tiger supporter.

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