Remembering my first game


I can’t remember the first game of VFL I saw; I can only remember bits of it.

I remember Mum telling me that my Uncle John had tickets and I could go. Of all our mob only my younger brother, sister and myself were Pies supporters, thanks to our neighbour Mr McKenzie. All the rest; Uncles, Aunts, cousins, were all heathens following Richmond, South, Hawthorn or Geelong, or, worse even than that, no team at all.

I remember getting up early in the dark, even earlier than when we went to early Mass, or when I stayed at Uncle Pat’s farm and I helped with the milking. I remember waiting and waiting and waiting, then seeing the headlights and the big white Fairlane pulling up under the big tree, with Uncle John, Young Johnny and three of Uncle John’s mates. They were big burly blokes who smoked Turf Cork Filters and Craven A. One said “Pull my finger” farted, then laughed until he turned red and started wheezing and coughing which made the others laugh until they turned red and started wheezing and coughin saying “Oh Jesus.”

I remember the dead magpie on the highway just past the Panmure Pub, near the Fram turn off and the road to Grandad’s farm and someone saying “That’s a good sign, eh Frankie?” and all of them laughing and wheezing and coughing again.

And I remember, like you remember your first time there, my first time at the MCG. Through the turnstiles, walking up the grey concrete steps, seeing that huge mighty space appear out of the dark, full of light and a green that was greener than a paddock full of sprouting lucerne. The old green grandstand on the other side, the scoreboard, the people, the noise and the smell of the chips, pies and beer. The crowd was bigger than I had ever seen before, bigger than the Warrnambool show, bigger than the May races.

I remember we got there early as we were standing. Uncle john saying again and again “Don’t get lost, see this pillar, Bay 15, that’s where we are.” Young Johnny and I collecting Fosters cans so we could stand on them and see over the men’s shoulders, through the smoke clouds and the smell of Brylcream.

I remember the noise and a big black and white banner and then seeing Tuddy and Thommo and the captain Terry Waters (I had his number, No 1), and Peter McKenna (they called him Susie, but I knew he was tough), and Twiggy and Jerker and John Greening, the young star. (His cruel fate awaited, another story of young man who flew too close to the sun and was punished by the football gods).

And then the others, Big Nick (so huge that even from this distance he looked like a giant) and Serg, and Ragsie and Jezza and Syd, all the names from World of Sport after Sunday mass.

And then the game. Yes, I remember bits of the game.

Noise, shouting, roaring, a bad kick then a goal and then Peter McKenna kicks another,call him Susie now, why don’t ya? By quarter time they’d only kicked 3 points. Three points! It’s on again as McKenna gets another and another, we’re flogging them but then he gets hit by Tuddy. He looks crook, but he’s tough and he’s a Maggie, so he’ll be OK.

I remember a mark. I remember it so clearly. I’ve seen and heard it a thousand times since, but I remember it from the other side, not the side the cameras were on. A long kick on the other wing beneath that old green grandstand and Jerker being in the right spot, then a blue figure rising, soaring over him and everyone, everyone screaming.

At half time we’re so far in front people are singing about cake walks, laughing and drinking while others are quiet and frowning. I get lost but then find the pillar that says Bay 15 and I see one of Uncle John’s mates and young Johnny.

I remember a dark body in a blue jumper and a drop kick for a goal from 50, 60 yards that was so beautiful that I still think about Syd Jackson on the run to the Punt Road. They are running all over the place, handballing and playing on and a blonde haired kid from nowhere dances in the forward line beneath the goals kicks 4 and the world is changed forever.

And then it’s over. People are crying and swearing, others are laughing and singing , and I’m sad walking down a big ramp with the crowd so thick I couldn’t believe there were so many people in the world.

There was traffic going home, the trams packed on Wellington Parade and someone saying “That’s Lou Richard’s pub, it’ll be  a quiet night in there tonight” but I couldn’t see because there were too many people. And I remember getting home, the Magpie flag on Mr McKenzie’s gate at half-mast. Uncle John’s mates laugh at this and say “Bad luck Frankie, next year, eh champ?”

I can’t remember the 1970 Grand Final, I can only remember bits.

About Frank Gleeson

Collingwood - enough said


  1. Tom Martin says

    Loved this Frank, precious fragments are all we get of days like these, thanks for remembering.

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