Round 1 – Tour Diary: Auckland Geelong Supporters Club

The Auckland Geelong Supporters Club members do much of their best work on their annual pilgrimage to Melbourne to soak up the sport1. Joining the three of us this year for a five-game and many-pot Easter long weekend were a Canterbury-supporting Hawks fan, a Waikato-supporting Port fan who chose his AFL team out of a cereal packet2, and a stray Crows supporter from Manurewa.

 

Can you guess which game in Round 1 most of us were most looking forward to? (Hint: our erstwhile ‘host’ for these weekends is also a Hawks fan.)

 

Gathering at our digs in Collins St, first order of business was obviously motivation for the five-game task ahead (mostly by lubricating the planning meeting with liberal amounts of team duty-free), discussion of the New Cats’ chances against the Old Hawks on Easter Monday, and to begin educating our newby-Port supporter in some of the finer points of the game and the very basics of his team (the words “Charlie Dixon” and those to the team song being suggested as the most helpful ones to start remembering). Planning quickly went the way of most things, and our fearlessly pre-loaded troupe headed out for our first real adventure: The Opening of the Footy Season at The Cathedral of Sport!

 

Sure, it was only Richmond v Carlton, and it took most of the afternoon to navigate past security into the Members Stand (where our Hawks-supporting ‘host’ regularly puts his membership at risk by inviting us in as his guests) but unexpectedly a football game broke out while we were sitting around the tables at the Stump Bar, prompting a race for our seats to take it all in.

 

The last time we’d seen Carlton play was in Wellington in 2014, where they had contrived to play only marginally less poorly than St Kilda. This was a different Carlton altogether however against the traditionally over-promising under-delivering Tigers, and the contest and finish was all we could have hoped for to kick off our first night. One game down, and the game was a deadset winner.

 

A discreet veil should be drawn over the tour party’s celebrations on Good Friday (all good things like this staying on tour) but as you’d expect, our Saturday started late, and slowly. Plan was to head to the Saturday afternoon Demons/GWS game at the G, where our Manurewa Raiders premiership team members from twenty years ago would meet up with a Demons-supporting team-mate/player-coach from that great Grand-Final win, and to rib him mercilessly about his failure to count properly one year later (19 on the field not being the best way to win a Preliminary Final, as I spent the afternoon reminding him). That last part at least was my part of the plan. So, with several pairs of eyes looking like pissholes in some unseasonal early snow we headed off to the G to begin the work, expecting little but hoping for much, especially from Stevie J.

 

Once again, and to everyone’s surprise (including virtually every Dees supporter around us) a decent game of football broke out. It happened slowly at first, with muffed kicks and some confusing positional play — and a few fatalistic fans were all-but ready to head off at three-quarter time (including our friend’s children, it must be said) — but for once the Dees made a game of it, and made a quarter-stadium full of their fans very happy.

 

Apart from the (relatively) gentle ribbing of our erstwhile mis-counter, most of my interest was in seeing how Stevie J would play. Still not happy seeing him in orange, which didn’t appear to be very slimming, what we saw too often to my eyes was Stevie J running into spaces with which his more orthodox team-mates were mostly unfamiliar, so consequently making little use of the many opportunities he’d created off the ball. That wasn’t the way the press saw it subsequently, of course, but what the hell do those vampires know.3

 

So goodbyes and a quick dinner, and barely time for a decent drink on the way to Terror Dome for the evening game of Crows v Kangaroos – and already we were losing tour members. Only two of us made it to this one, the others peeling off to a rugby game at the Rectangular Stadium.

 

I spent most of the game listing why I don’t like most of the North Melbourne players as individuals, and even less taken together as a team,4 —and my Crow-supporting tour-mate spent most of it with his head in his hands, his retirement plan to support the Suns rapidly gaining traction. I did my best not to mention a hole the size of Patrick Dangerfield in the midfield, but I fear I mostly failed. My bad.

 

Still, the game was a good one to watch as a neutral, and you sense that Adelaide have a long season ahead of them, and North Melbourne maybe a disappointing one. At least, that’s how this neutral observer saw it.

 

The joy of three high-scoring games under our belts was only enhanced by hearing that Collingwood had a low-scoring one under theirs, undercut only slightly by hearing that their vanquisher by a large margin was Sydney. Thoughts of who might be challenging for this year’s Granny already began to emerge, in my head at least.

 

Thoughts like these were in abundance at the end of the game next afternoon that was so surprising that even most of the winning fans didn’t really believe what they had just seen. We’d started the day ourselves on several cycle paths along the Yarra and then in barefeet on the grass courts at Kooyong soaking up all the history. I’d started the afternoon game by suggesting to my Port-supporting newbie mate that he follow around Fremantle’s Fyfe to see all the brilliance he got up to. Bad call. Turns out that what he got up to, or was allowed to get up to, was very bloody little, whereas what the Dogs were doing this afternoon amounted to a hell of a lot, and rapidly. Nine goals up in the last quarter against a Fremantle team made congenitally incapable by their coach of scoring fast, or at all5, every Footscray fan around me had been so disappointed by so long that they were almost too fearful even to breathe too deeply, lest the spell woven over their team this afternoon might wear off.

 

It didn’t.

 

Instead Pavlich was reported and booed (mostly in that order) and Fyfe continued to mostly do nothing very much at all, whereas JJ, Stringer, Daniels, Easton Wood (Easton Wood, what a bloody mark that was!), Uncle Tom Cobley and all of them wearing red, white and blue were making magic all over the park, and the Footscray fans got to soak up a little bit of history themselves.

 

That was one hell of a performance to watch live, from the Dogs’ seven-goal opening salvo through to the final last-quarter burst, this was something to be seen. Who can’t enjoy seeing a Ross Lyon-coached team being beaten with this sort of swagger? And if you can enjoy that, then seeing them torn apart and so thoroughly dismembered is even better.

 

The whole thing was made complete by being played in bright sunlight with the stadium’s lid off, and the grand decision to open up the green swathe for kick-to-kick immediately thereafter. We headed down in our bare feet to enjoy the feel of this sacred grass between our toes, and attempt to surreptitiously half-inch some youngster’s ill-kicked footy. We succeeded only in getting a minor Falcon, and in embarrassing the teenaged daughter of our host for this game. Distressed that someone might recognise us as New Zealanders by our bare feet and inept gait, she fought to maintain a discreet distance.

 

So four games down and just one live and one TV game to go, and the footy for us was just getting better and better. If this is how the new season is going to be played – if Adam Simpson is right that attack is footy’s new frontier – then I’m all for saddling up and enjoying it. Maybe the demolition of Rossball that afternoon was a symbol of the new way things will be played. I can’t help but hope so.

 

So now came my Port-supporting friend’s big challenge for the weekend. Decked out now in all his fresh-out-of-the-wrapper Port paraphernalia, his challenge was to sustain a game’s worth of banter very visibly supporting a non-Melbourne team about which he knew nothing but the words “Charlie Dixon,” “Chad,” “Hinks” and “We’re the Power from Port.” Turns out that was all he needed.

 

We set up front and centre in Young and Jackson’s, and were swiftly reminded that after a sufficient number of pints most punters prefer to talk rather than listen. All of our neighbouring punters had had that sufficient number, and more. My friend was held to be so knowledgeable by one especially voluble chap that his interlocutor couldn’t help but supply us with a whole stream of specially-selected pints of brown liquid to reward him for his obvious acumen. Turns out that three names, one line from a song and the repeated observation that Port couldn’t even buy a clearance without their banned ruckman was all that was needed to pass the test and set up a free tab.

 

So a Port win over a promising but tiring St Kilda kept the beer and good games flowing, and the Port performance at the clearances was enough to whet our Crow supporter’s appetite for the Derby in Round 2. And it’s Easter Sunday night in Melbourne, and a jazz bar now beckoned. Very rewardingly as it turned out.

 

Now, what can be said about Easter Monday’s Cats-Hawks game that hasn’t already!

 

We Auckland Geelong Supporters Club members had been looking forward for months with hope in our eyes to seeing how our team would perform now that its most obvious holes had been plugged. Our two Hawks supporters had been looking forward with trepidation in theirs for parallel but opposite reasons. And we’d all been looking forward to what was already shaping up to be the Game of the Round in a Round that had already boasted a truckload of cracking games. Sorry: Games.

 

We started the morning again out on the cycle paths, heading to our now-regular coffee stop opposite Herring Island6, where we got tempted to take a punt across the river to enjoy what the sign said was an Arts Festival. It wasn’t, but we at least discovered you can wear jandals safely in a place that has a “Beware: Snakes” sign featuring prominently at its entrance.7

 

Before the Big Game, back at the rooms we’d barely visited, we tallied up what duty free was left, and how much of the overly-optimistic three slabs we’d purchased on Day One still needed to be consumed before our planes home the next day. Somehow, the maths just didn’t seem to work, whatever mathematical or physical transformation we might attempt in the time available.

 

The same might be said for Hawthorn that evening. The Cats’ game against the reigning Three-Peat Bloody Premiers was just immense! Even for Cats fans, those holes in ruck and defence and centre and attack and all across the bloody park had been filled so much more effectively than we could ever have hoped for ever even in our wildest dreams or most fevered imaginations and all of a sudden we had a ruckman winning contests and a midfield winning clearances and small forwards kicking goals and fellow with 35 on his back running amok and a battery of Hawks fans around us all heading for the bloody toilets and … who wouldn’t want to be at a game like this wearing blue and white stripes and a Cats scarf and holding your right hand up to your chest yelling “Paddy!” at the top of your lungs every time your new number 35 got near the ball, which was a lot! Shit, this was fun! Even that frightening third quarter didn’t frighten us, even when all those Hawks fans came swarming back from the bars and the toilets and who knows where else in the third quarter when their team got their run on, only to go swarming back out and then off home early in the fourth as our own run turned them over again.

 

And then there was St Paddy. And there he was, appearing on Easter Monday floating above the goal square to put the seal upon this game,8  the miraculous appearance barely even tarnished by the failure of the saint to kick straight.

 

Who needs straight kicking at goal, you really wonder, when he’s out there distributing loaves and fishes all over the ground to all those others who can do it for him?

 

We barely even heard the siren, we three, we few, we very happy and by-now-very-happily celebrating few with several tens of thousand more around us. This was a milestone conquered by a team that on this night on this performance looked all-conquering, and even those of our tour party who were on other teams – even those of our crew wearing brown and muck-brown—were able to concede that this had been something special, and the special team who had produced it might very well be heading towards a major appointment in the most important and very last game of the season.

 

The only major disagreement at this point was about which other team might join them there. They of course plumped for the brown and muck-brown. I personally made the call (and still do) that it would be the Swans. We headed back to debate the point and to talk mathematics, after which very few of us were able to talk about very much at all.

 

Until next year then. Hic.

 

NOTES, IF YOU WANT THEM:

  1. It’s an annual thing, the name being our little local joke, footy being so unknown in Auckland it’s quite possible that we are the only three in Auckland who even know what a Geelong Cat is, let alone support a team of them.
  2. Truth be told, he’d picked them only because on his only previous trip we’d developed a chant about one of the Port players, and to get into the spirit of this tour (his second) he’d signed up to Port as a member, despite knowing even less about them than your average Adelaidean joker might know about canoeing down the Waikato River.
  3. Christ, the blood-sucking “eleven-or-under” bastards can’t even get the specifics right when they accuse players of drug taking, can they Mark Robinson.
  4. Email me, I can send you a spreadsheet. Or just use the one you own. Every decent person does.
  5. And I still maintain a Ross Lyon coached team will never win a flag.
  6. Called Kanteen, from memory, which to be fair is no longer the best. Unlike the establishment, which I can highly recommend to anyone either with bicycle or without.
  7. Something we only discovered afterwards. Snakes, being to most New Zealanders something akin to kryptonite, this was probably a good thing.
  8. All-right, all-right, it was on the shoulders of Ben Stratton, okay. But tell me it still wasn’t a minor miracle.

About Peter Cresswell

Saw the game for the first time in 1984, and laughed so hard I had to play it myself. Played in NZ and the UK. Never in Australia. Never stopped laughing.

Comments

  1. Cat from the Country says

    Delightful yarn Peter.
    Sounds like you had a great time topped off with the ultimate memory.
    Geelong played really well and even though the third quarter nemesis reared, it was quickly sent packing for a wonderful Geelong win.

  2. Thanks mate. Back down to earth this weekend however, in nearly every respect.

  3. Good on ya Pete. Coming to the footy you’re a few miles from Aotearoa.

    I was in South Auckland a few years back, as the brother in law and his whanau are there. I think it was South Auckland, as it certainly wasn’t North Auckland. I can say that confidently as my primary memory of the latter is the marvellous Puhoi Hotel. Nice rubbidy dub.

    Glen !

  4. Hi Glen, As it happens we were in the Puhoi pub Sunday night on the way home from the beach: still the same fine establishment you remember. (But still just as far from the footy.)

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