Round 1 – St Kilda v GWS: Dear Mr Finnis…

AFL Round 1: St.Kilda VS Greater Western Sydney

Ethiad Stadium

Sunday 5th April 1.10pm

Yvette Wroby

 

The first Saints game of the season had me so excited it was hard to do anything else than prepare for the game at 1.10pm. It wasn’t just the game. It was the fact that my fake Grandson Luke was coming to his first game of footy ever, and it was the first time that I was going with his Mum, Danielle and her father, Martin. The make-up of my football family is ever changing. Everything was different, from who I was going with, to the mode of transport in. Danielle picked me up and we drove in to the Docklands and parked underneath. Being just after 12pm, and a lowly game, the car park was empty and we found a spot near the exit for a fast getaway.

Lovely staff directed us to pay first, (a blanket $30, very steep indeed) and we headed through the turnstiles. Interestingly enough, there were no bag searches this way by the two men manning the turnstiles, but maybe they could see there was only a Nanna and a Pop, a Mum and a kid. We were greeted by the new Saints Experience crew, all decked out with positivity and red t-shirts, handing out plenty of plastic sticks/clangers for us to blow up and slap together to make noise. Cool. It was too early for seating, so instead we went out of Gate 5 (no pass-outs anymore, you have to scan and re-scan on re-entry.) We headed straight to the section for kids, and once Luke’s shyness wore off, he was handballing blue balls through the circle (mind you, he was standing twelve inches away). He got right into it, and we barracked hard, us tragic family members who were equally enthusiastic.

While Danielle and Martin searched for coffee, Luke and I watched the trains and took a selfie. Nanna has a grin the size of St.Kilda’s Luna Park happening. Hot chips from outside the stadium had Luke grinning as well. And then, chips, coffee, clangers and all, we made our way to the seats.

It is marvellous seeing a game through the eyes of a young one. He sat initially on my lap, then his mothers, then, as there was no-one besides us, on a seat on his own, next to Pa, a big boy, his very own membership tag around his neck (a gift from Nanna Yvette during 25 by 25 membership drive), watching all the actions straight ahead of him. The crowd was small, and there were no adults in the seats in front, and so he had perfect vision of these big men playing football.

The pre-game entertainment with the new mascot to join Trevor the Saint, Angelica the drumming girl, leading us in hitting the two plastic tubes, or clangers, to make maximum noise. Being a total Nanna, it took me awhile to work out how to inflate them. Read the instructions on the plastic wrappers, Yvette. All the stadium led lights were flashing Saints words, “How I want to be”, taken from our anthem, now the symbol of the attitude and mindset of supporters and players alike. The atmosphere built, as the players warmed up, and returned after the brother and sister music band (whose grandfather had played for the Saints, and who both supported St.Kilda), Bell Roscoe, sung their version of a funky “Oh When the Saints Come Marching In”. Every home game, we learned, would have another local artists version of the songs, all organised by Saints TV, and then the teams entered, the regular anthem rung out and we got to sing the song at least to begin with.

We were pumped. We were ready.

Martin was excited. Another mad Sainter forever. His son Travis was upstairs with girlfriend Kim. Martin played a few times with the Saints seconds. He said nobody talked to this young kid from Brighton. Scouts had come to his school and spotted his talent, but he didn’t like playing with St.Kilda. He told me he was scouted again three years later, but the same thing happened. Originally a Pies supporting boy, someone had taken him to a Saints game at Junction Oval and he had followed them, noisily I was forewarned, ever since. He watched the magnificent Neil Roberts and Darrel Baldock play, and was amazed at how Baldock would move the ball. Here was a player who kicked magnificently with both feet, and Martin remembers Baldock’s perfect left foot kicks in 1965. When his right knee gave him trouble, he kicked with the left, kicking goals to help his team.

At Danielle and Ross’s wedding in February 2015, he said, “I have had great moments in my life, 1966 [St.Kilda Premiership year], my marriage to Margie, but this [the wedding and walking Danielle down the aisle, walking behind Luke and Luke’s friend Lucy] topped the lot.”

Danielle had played footy with all the kids in the street, and I should never have doubted her observations of mistakes of the young Sainters. Not having a football playing bone in my body, I don’t criticise skills. Even when they play badly, they do better than I have ever managed.

Danielle knew from experience, probably encouraged and coached by her father and friends on the finer points. She knew her punts from her drop kicks. I felt like a drop kick, and felt my age and ignorance about girls growing up kicking footballs. There are thousands of them. It’s the fastest growing part of Aussie rules. And every AFL game needs a women’s associated club to play an opener, like the old reserves. Then they’d get some of the recognition and experience and perhaps pay. If we had a St.Kilda women’s team, I and others would learn their numbers and names and it would change the way we all thought. Now that’s the kind of pre-game entertainment that interests me.

The first quarter had some shining moments, our new kid from the Sydney Swans, Membrey, kicking a goal to start the scoring, but it was quickly matched before the game was even at quarter time. After a shocker of a second quarter, we were two goals behind.

We all stretched our legs, and Luke was the recipient of potato chips to keep him happy after half time, along with puzzle books and coloured pencils. Danielle is a brilliant mum, as she was a brilliant nanny. That’s how we met. Danielle came to help me when I was pregnant with my youngest Mimi, while I was still training to be a psychotherapist and working a little, and for the two years she stayed with us, we were all in love with her. We went to her 21st before she headed off to the UK to nanny, and we wrote a lot to each other, long newsy letters all that time she was away. We became fast friends over the distance of the earth and time, and have stayed close since. She lived with us here in 2002 between flats, and we all loved it so much she stayed a year. And then, she became Mimi’s godmother, better late than never, and we were there for all the ups and downs in each other’s lives.

When she met the love of her life, Ross, and became pregnant several years later, I was there every Friday when she stopped work, watching mushie movies, keeping her company while she got ready for Luke’s arrival. And the Fridays continued, these last four years, and now we have Friday afternoons and dinners here. And I was made a third wheel Nanna when Luke was born, and we haven’t looked back. For four and a half years, we’ve watched this wonderful soul grow up, and we are so blessed.

Here at the Dome in April, we shared another major moment. Luke’s first AFL game. He made some great and astute observations too. At four and a half, he wondered where all the girls were [on the field], he wondered if the players wanted a drink of water, and when was Carlton, his father’s team, playing [today]. Danielle had bought him ear muffs, which came in very handy the second half of this game, when everyone was getting crankier and louder, around us. The Saints fans, especially in the last quarter, were wondering where our gifted free kicks were. Even though play improved, and there was a great battle, the Saints were never able to make up the two goal difference, but the effort was there and the battle was on. And did we enjoy the great, screaming mark of Josh Bruce? My word we did.

Danielle noted how fast the GWS boys legs seemed to be moving, superfast compared to the speed of the Saints. She said it looked like the Saints just stopped, stopped trying or just had no oomph left. Luke was also running out of oomph, and Martin was disappointed at the end result. It’s a long time since he’d been to a game, and a win would have been great for the 9,000 members of the 18,794 who turned up to support the club. The GWS cheer squad seemed to be the only orange around the ground but they had a ball. When you win, it’s like there are a thousand of you.

Nick Riewoldt continues to be a brilliant footballer and leader, and Montagna, struggling with knee problems, did his best too. Jack Stevens continues to inspire. We had so many new young men, Lonie weaved and avoided, and showed speed and dexterity with the ball and movement. Sinclair was handy for the short time he played. I will be watching as these young men improve, and we just have to be patient and wait. Saad was steady in his tagging role, as was Weller. We are used to seeing these guys in different roles. Now they have a new coach with new demands on their style of play.

On the other side of me, sat my regular footy family, Uncle Bob and Gary, still waiting for the glory days to return, forever disappointed at missed opportunities. Forever happy to keep coming regardless. The heart and soul of the club. The faithful.

Then the game was over and the crowd seemed to disperse. I would be in Queensland at the next game, Gold Coast Suns. The oval emptied slowly, as the Giants high fived their supporters before leaving, and then suddenly the gates around the ground opened and a miracle happened.

Danielle and Luke and I, with a little, soft football bought from my local post office this last week, went on to the ground to kick the footy around. And so did thousands of others. Before long, while we were busy passing by hand and trying to kick, and duck balls flying every which way, it got more and more crowded and a little too busy for the likes of us. We waved at Pa and he waved back. I took photos for us all to remember this special day, with people who I love so deeply, sharing my footy journey this year. Being part of my story. We made it half way home before my lovely Luke conked out beside me, the full day felt in full. Game one. Game on.

 

PS Some feedback sent to Matt Finnis via Twitter: (well, he asked!)

Loved the local artists that will give their version of “Oh When the Saints” each home game. They are local and often have relationship to St.Kilda so it has some meaning. Was pre-taped and on screen, so we could hear and see. Good music. Original and supporting Australian artists.

Loved the sticks, I came with 4 1/2 year old, plus I am 4/ 1/2 year old when it comes to making noise.

Hated the moving signage, especially during the game. Distracting and annoying, and must be so for players. CUT IT OUT. No movement of the boards please during play.

LOVED the kick to kick on the ground afterwards, there were over a 1,000 people from a game that only had about 18,000 there. This was extremely popular and good initiative. Initiative ie going back to something that was special in our youth and is good for family to get out and kick together, good message to kids to be patient and wait for a kick on the ground. Absolutely loved it.

 

About Yvette Wroby

Yvette Wroby writes, cartoons, paints through life and gets most pleasure when it's about football, and more specifically the Saints. Believes in following dreams and having a go.

Comments

  1. E.regnans says

    Another spirit-lifting story Yvette.
    Generous stuff.
    Well done to Luke and his observations, too.
    Particularly “where are all the girls.”

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