Round 11 – St Kilda v Melbourne: A fight for the Ages and a fight for the fourth win

Round 11: St Kilda v Melbourne

Etihad Stadium

Sunday 14th June 2015 4.40pm

 

1. A Fight for the Ages

At the launch of the 2014 Footy Almanac, towards the end of the evening, I walked to the area where my artwork had been displayed for the night (my version of the unsuccessful submission for the front page of the Almanac with Buddy and Spangher, plus a few other pieces of football related art). As I was collecting them, there was a lovely group of merry gentlemen who stopped me in my tracks. (It is a tradition for writers at the Almanac to wear their football gear at launches so my favourite team was on display for all to see).

Chris asked me, did I know who his friend was. I didn’t. He said he was Milan Faletic, an ex-Saints player from 1981-82. In front of them, I used my trusty phone to Google Milan (24 games, 33 goals), and Milan is the coach in their Legends matches. These lovely, slightly inebriated and funny men, invited me to watch them play football next year. Sure, I said, and we exchanged details.

Come the beginning of this year, and as part of my football journey of following anything football related, I recontacted Chris, and I was finally able to be in Melbourne and be available to come and watch some Masters Football.

According to the AFL website, Masters Football allows mature players (35 and over) an opportunity to participate in the great game of Aussie Rules, “to compete with similarly aged players in a safe and organised and enjoyable atmosphere”. There are five groups, Supers (35+), Masters (40+), Seniors (45+), Super Seniors (50+) and Legends (55+). Further, it said that Masters footy was originally founded in the Victorian Country town of Nhill by John Hammer and others, who felt that footy wasn’t just for the young. That those who loved playing footy wanted to continue to play footy. Apparently, there are 120 clubs Australia-wide and 30 in the Victorian Metro area alone.

Chris and Milan and his friends play for Melbourne Masters Football Club, and their home ground is the Ross Gregory Oval in St Kilda, just behind the Junction Oval and across the road from the Albert Park Lake.

After my morning routine of group Tai Chi, I packed ready for a day of football. My first stop was the Legends over 45’s game, which had just begun when I arrived. And Milan was already off the field as the playing coach with what the physiotherapist thought were dislocated fingers. He was being treated in the rooms when I popped my head in looking for Chris, and Milan said he was out on the field. It took Milan a moment to remember who I was, before the flicker of recognition arrived.

I stood on the boundary line and watched the game and these brave chaps giving it their all in the first of the four quarters (two 20 minutes and after half time, two 15 minutes). I could see the opposition, Beaconsfield, had a full bench of spare bodies, and there was no one there for the Melbourne team. With Milan being tended to, they were without a coach and captain on the field as well.

I could see another member arriving and getting dressed, and he ended up borrowing Milan’s socks. When Milan came out with the physio, he was told he needed to go to hospital but it could probably wait till after the game. It looked like there was no way they were going to get Milan away from his coaching duties, and the spare ran onto the ground when directed by his coach. Milan stood there, barefoot, still in his footy gear, with his whiteboard that I notice had the magnetized names of the players in their positions. This was serious stuff.

Standing at the fence, I chatted to a player who was out injured, and he said I’d come on Family Day, and there was champagne and food upstairs for the ladies. And that it was actually a very special day for their teammate Shep (Ian Shepard). Shep was 71 years old and the ruckman for Melbourne. He was being interviewed and filmed for the Channel 7 News that night. I was lucky indeed.

Upstairs, I found the wives and some daughters, and had a lovely hour watching Melbourne get their first win for the year (Chris had emailed they were having a rotten season of losses and injuries). The clubhouse had a magnificent room, full of food that the Committee had organised. It was a perfect sunny winter’s day, and the view from the balcony had the boys playing downstairs and the lake glistening like music in the background.

There was already another injury, a player now with ice on his knee and on crutches. Men were gathering for the next match and changing into their gear.

I met Suzanne, Chris’s wife. Chris was out on the field, number 8, and his nickname was “Prez”. In the course of his illustrious footballing life, he’d had a broken arm, 3 broken ribs, a split lip and eyebrow and lots of pain and “sooking” according to Suzanne. She said it all with a big smile. The Club was a place of camaraderie and friendship. Many of the families had known each other for years. Chris and Suzanne came all the way from Emerald to participate. Football and being with each other was good for the men’s mental health, a good outlet, a chance to hang with the boys and be part of a like-minded bunch of people. (Later, when another player rocked up with the same number 8 on his back, Chris put masking tape making himself 18. I loved the creativity involved.)

I got to chat to Diana, whose husband Danny was out injured. He had a bad hip. Danny only started playing football at age 47; they lived in St Kilda and he was looking for an outlet from his stressful work life. He learnt how to play with this group. When Danny wasn’t playing, he helped organise the many functions, like the 10th Anniversary Gala (in celebration of their one and only Grand Final win). Sounds like my kind of club.

There are awards dinners, Ladies’ days, Family Days like today, raffles, parties and committee work.

While chatting, we were watching Melbourne kick goal after goal. The scoreboard was being attended to by Grace, whose father played (when not out injured, which he was today). I was seeing a pattern here. Grace had a clipboard on which she wrote down every score, and would go and manually turn over the numbers on the board which could be seen from the ground. She also had her mobile phone as the timer, and showed me how she would turn the siren with a knife when the buzzer went. The siren would blare out, giving the enthusiastic but exhausted men their timeout.

We watched as the game was held up after a goal when the ball bounced along Aughtie Drive. One of the field umpires waited patiently for the flow of traffic to be gone before picking up the ball from the curb and getting it back into play.

I chatted to Robin, whose husband, Kevin, had been playing with the group for 14 years. When Kevin fell down clutching his knees, Robin said, “What now, it was his hammy a month ago.” It was said with the good humour of a patient wife — and a patient sister, as her brother Ken was also out on the field. No one seemed too fussed about the men falling about the place with injury. It seemed it happened regularly, and I wondered to myself how they managed to get on with the normal weeks at work. All bruised and battered but happy to have been out there, playing a game they loved enough to suffer the consequence.

It seemed there was only one set of crutches to be had. Kevin just had to hobble around. When the final siren sounded (Melbourne 9.4 to Beaconsfield 5.5), they all shook hands and Shep continued his interview.

I was invited inside to eat the lovely chicken and salad and sausage. In from the sun, I found myself being a Nanna to Liz’s little one, to stop her wanting more of the gloriously decorated cupcakes beautifully presented, by using my magic fingers to distract her and make her Mum laugh.

I said farewell to the ladies and went downstairs, having a short chat to Shep who was now changed and watching the Masters (over 35’s reserves) and I asked him how he stayed fit at 71.

He said, “It’s the genes. I certainly don’t train that hard. And I like running. Always have.”

I finally could chat a moment with Chris before I left; he was so happy that I’d come and said I’d have to come again. He apologised for being so busy being the organiser, but I got it. That’s how these things run. Someone, everyone, has to do their bit and his work would go on all afternoon. Milan had left after the Legends game, probably to the hospital with his partner to get his fingers treated. Milan didn’t do much extra exercise either; he had good genes as well, according to Chris. I said farewell and walked away, smiling, thinking how football really binds people together in so many ways.

2. A Fight for the Fourth

It was only a few minutes, and a walk across Aughtie Drive, and I was looking through the wire fence to the Junction Oval, taking a few snaps as I imagined the crowd roaring for the Saints back in the day. The beautiful old stands, the cricket practice nets, the scoreboard, all waiting for the cricket season to begin again. I looked at this piece of St Kilda history and it confirmed in my mind that this was NOT the place for the St Kilda Football Club to return to in any meaningful way. It is part of our history, not our future.

As I crossed Fitzroy Street to the tram stop, a chap walking near me asked me how I thought St Kilda would go today, and who we were playing. He said he was a Sainter himself. I smiled as I once again enjoyed a shared moment of passion.

The tram rides into the city and Bourke Street, and then down Bourke Street to Kings Street. It gave me a moment to change my mental energy from local footy to the game of the day, St Kilda v Melbourne. I stopped off for an hour at the house of the Almanac, the Royal Melbourne Hotel on Bourke Street, got a drink and watched Collingwood demolishing Greater Western Sydney on the huge screen on the wall. All around me, others were also dressed in their Melbourne or St Kilda football game day gear. Enjoying a drink or something to eat before heading to the Dome.

An hour later, I was heading up the stairs at Southern Cross after grabbing some Japanese for dinner, and finding my way to Gate 5 to wait for my guests for this game. So many fun activities were on offer. Hoops to spin around your waist, an inflatable Twister game, the normal children’s footy skills enclosed area, and face painting. The St Kilda photographer and camera people were out in force, capturing all the fun and frivolity. I waited around the entrance for my guests to arrive.

Today, I was being joined by my cousin Deborah and her Melbourne supporting husband, Alfred. I will quote a better author than me to tell Alfred’s story. Last year, on the way to the footy, Martin Flanagan of “The Age” spotted Alfred, dressed in his Demons colours, on his way to a game. Martin described Alfred thus in an article on 3rd April 2014:

“Born in Hong Kong, Alfred came to Australia in 1987. A workmate insisted on taking him to a few Melbourne matches. He liked the game because there seemed to be no rules and it was fast. It required awareness and a high degree of teamwork. He also witnessed what he calls “the aphrodisiac of the fans” – the high mark.”

Martin went on to write, “I love how fluent Alfred is in the game, how confident he is in his vision of it. We got on so well I took him to the Aboriginal scarred tree, the old grey redgum that stands on the rise midway between Punt Road and the MCG. Alfred got its significance immediately, its great age, the hidden history of the place. He told me he has tracked his family history back to the year 1314. He is of Mongolian descent, and at that time the Mongolians ruled China.”

Alfred texted me the link to the article when I told him he’d be in my story this week. Deborah is the youngest daughter of my eldest uncle and has never understood why her father, uncles and cousins are so crazy about the game. Several weeks ago, she put on Facebook that she thought she “barracked” for the first time during the Eurovision Contest. A friend remarked back that now she was ready for the football, and I followed by saying now I can take her to the football.

It came to pass that the only further encouragement Deborah needed was to have the game explained to her. I invited her over to watch the replay of the Brisbane Lions game with me several weeks ago. I had to start her on a victorious game. I fed her first, and then sat down with the trusty page of that week’s Footy Record, the page where the positions are set out. I went on to give her a visual explanation of everything: positions, umpiring, goals and behinds, centre square, goal squares, boundaries, free kicks, dropping the ball, tackling and the whole offensive/defensive nature of the current game.

Then we watched the game. She said I’d been a great teacher. She understood what she was watching and we talked about how we are both better when taught something visually rather than through words.

So when Alfred and Deborah arrived, I wrapped my spare Saints scarf on her neck to claim her as the family heir, and we all went through security and joined my cousin Gary who was already seated. Aunty Betty and Uncle Bob were there as well, and it was a great family reunion all day. With Betty and Bob in front, and Deborah sitting between Gary and me, all her footy questions could be answered with ease.

Alfred, who loves his footy, was happy on my right, and happy that the Dees were putting on a good show and almost stole the game.

And then the game was on. Melbourne started the attack with a goal from their young star Jesse Hogan within a minute, and it was answered by Jack Lonie, one of my favourites, our young star. Every time he is near the ball, he does something effective or has at least 4-5 goes at getting it back. Hogan was proving a handful with another goal before Membrey smacked one through. Was this going to be a goal fest? Riewoldt got our next before Brayshaw; the Saints were ahead by one point at quarter time.

It was brilliant and fast and attacking, both sides, once in possession of the ball, were skilled in their passing and heading for goals.

The second quarter the goals flowed even faster. Riewoldt got his second, Minchington and then Riewoldt again and Ross gave us four quick and exciting goals. Saints fans were cheering loudly and expecting a good day out after all. But then we seemed to stop, or Melbourne stepped up, with Jesse Hogan being our main worry, with another goal, followed by Viney. Bruce stopped the flow, and Lonie showed his silky skills once again. It was wonderful to watch the way the boys were working so well together, in both attack and defence. The Demons weren’t going away though, and they attacked through Hogan and Garlett and Toumpas. Three goals to bring the quarter to a close, with the Demons having reduced the lead to only one goal at half time. Talk about making statements. Both teams were determined and giving their fans something to love.

What struck us was the wonderful passing either by handball or kicking, there were less skill errors and more flows of play; once either team got the ball, the whole structure changed and I was very impressed by both sides. I found it funny that Melbourne’s youngest star Hogan was their best goal kicker, while our amazing 32-year-old champion Riewoldt was ours. And Nick Riewoldt, after an enormous week of announcing the Maddie Riewoldt Vision Foundation, and all the work he and cousin Jack put in, the incredible round of media interviews and articles, was still about to come out and star for his Club who needed his strength and accuracy and leadership as much as ever.

Both Deborah and Alfred were having a ball. Great seats, great company. A hot pie for Alfred, cheaper, and hot chips for Deborah, and a game that had it all. A huge leap of a mark in defence by Dempster. Some tricky, sneaky goals, and great kicks through the big sticks. Action right in front of us, and much over the other side requiring the viewing from a distance or on the big screen. All the stars playing well. And a close game and not a drubbing, so we were all on the edge of our seats for the whole game. You couldn’t have planned a better first game for Deborah if you’d have tried. (She thinks someone may have taken her sometime in the past, but the memory is vague, and so we are taking this as a first game for the newly barracking Deborah.)

The third quarter became much more defensive for both teams, and goals slowed down. Melbourne started the attack through McDonald, Hogan and Toumpas, meaning they’d had the last six goals of the game. Alfred was pretty happy, and though not a noisy supporter, aggravated some Saints around by being happy in their midst. The Saints managed to stop the flow with a goal by Jack Steven, running straight through the middle after ball up and kicking it so far ahead it just bounced through. Riewoldt got the next and the ship was steadied, and the scores were 75 points apiece at three-quarter time. A perfect setup for a tough last quarter. It was so exciting, so noisy. So totally engaging.

The last quarter was a total arm wrestle. Both teams would steal the ball and, under great pressure, kick points. Saints four points and Melbourne two. The ball was mostly in the Saints’ forward line but we just couldn’t get it through the big sticks. Over and over again, the ball ping-ponged, Melbourne would get it out of defence, but it would fly back in momentarily and it would all start again.

Alfred said, 15 minutes in, that whoever got the next goal would win the game. It seemed so, because come 20 minutes, there were no goals scored. Jesse Hogan missed one, adding just a point, and there was two points the difference with only 1.35 minutes to go. Howe marked from a fine passage of play for the Demons when the Saints tried to kick it out and kicked truly. Melbourne fans went nuts. It looked like they had taken the game after all, as Alfred predicted. The only goal in the quarter seemed to seal the fate of the game.

But 41 seconds remained on the clock, and the Saints had planned for such occasions, unbeknownst to the fans and to Melbourne, who didn’t go defensive. Out of the centre bounce, my hero Jack Lonie passed it to our Eveready bunny Jack Steven, who came tearing out from the centre, kicking it forward to a contest. The ball still in contention, it was knocked towards the centre, inside the forward 50 for the Saints. Steven again kicked it, centering it again; it was contested, and still running through the middle was Joey Montagna, who grabbed the ball and kicked it through the goals. You could hear Melbourne supporters’ hearts breaking all around the ground. I had the radio in my ear. Unlike the players and those around me, I knew there were only 19 seconds to go.

Saints fans went nuts. We were almost in tears. They had burst through and taken this game. There was hugging and cheering and the ball returned to the centre square. (Later, the picture of our coach, our cool, calm coach, Alan Richardson, celebrating that moment, will be etched in my mind forever).

Back in the centre, St Kilda and Melbourne desperately tried to defend. It got to Melbourne’s 50 line, but tackling and pure pressure saw Jack Steven again kick down to the wing to his waiting skipper who couldn’t mark but saw it over the line. And then the siren went and St Kilda, the players and the supporters and the coaches and the staff, celebrated like we’d won the Grand Final. You have to hand it to Sainters, we don’t get the big bickies but we sure treat days like this as if they are just as important.

What a game. The players came over to our section and came along the boundary line, high fiving all the supporters who scurried down. They were excited, for themselves and for us. The anthem was sung four times, and we waited, happy, until we saw up on the scoreboard the Saints boys sing the song amongst themselves.

It is a rare thing that we were all together, happy (except for Alfred) and available to eat together, with the late Sunday game meaning we were ready to eat. The Royal Melbourne was closed, but the dumpling place on Kings Way, that my sister Denise and her Doggie in-law family recommend, was open. There were other happy Saints supporters eating their way through their happiness. It is a cheap and tasty meal, and we were able to replenish our stomachs and prolong the happy evening together.

On the platform an hour or so later were a happy group of St Kilda women, still singing the song every time Saints people came past. They ended up jumping on the same train as the rest of us, and got one round of the song going inside. I joined in and then got their names. There was Maddy and her Mum Judy, Judy’s sister Robyn and daughter Grace. They were “bred” Saints, they told us, four generations thus far, and we talked footy all the way back to Caulfield where our mob disembarked, Gary continued on to his station and Deborah and Alfred changed lines. Bob and Betty dropped me home.

We were such a happy family, to be blessed by great, loving connections and a tight and tense game until the last. With a victory for the Saints topping off the night.

The next day I got an email from Chris from the AFL Masters Melbourne game. He said I bought good luck to their team that day, and he was happy to see that St Kilda topped off a happy footballing day for me all round. He also sent me a link to the Channel 7 News report of Shep, which is worth a squizz.

https://au.news.yahoo.com/video/watch/28461343/football-veteran-still-kicking-goals/

If this link has expired, you can always look on Youtube for the wonderful Ian “Shep” Shepard. A great story, a great day.

I am loving what I am seeing from my Saints this year. I am loving football all around. And next Friday, while my team and its supporters get some well-earned rest, I get to meet and see my local Women’s VWFL (Victorian Women’s Football League) team, St Kilda Sharks. Another adventure to be had. Bring it on.

 

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. Another top article from you Yvette. Keep up the good work. I’m certainly not, nor will I ever be, a Saints supporter but I was glad youse won on Sunday. Went out for dinner with mates, one of whom is a well known barrister, and Saints tragic. He left the game at 1/2 time to meet us at the restaurant, and during the final term he got the ‘tranny’ out of his bag to hear the exciting conclusion.

    The ‘tranny’ brought Flashbacks of listening to the footy in the 20th century !

    Yvette, I can recall Milan Faletic playing for your team. Receding blonde hair, half forward flanker, recruited from South Australia. Good to see he’s still involved in footy.

    Glen!

  2. Guru Gus - Singapore says

    That last 41 seconds on Sunday had all the emotional roller coaster of Australian Football in evidence – I went from complete devastation when Howe goaled, to absolute ecstacy 22 seconds later. And how good was Jack Steven – 3 crucial possessions in that final 41 seconds. As Richo said, you don’t have to have a big game to have a big impact.

    Magnificent stuff!

  3. Gillian Coote says

    Great article love reading your stories. Go Saints!!

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