Round 17 – Melbourne v St Kilda: Ground control to Saint Nick

Ground control to Saint Nick

Melbourne v St Kilda, Sunday 26 July 2015, MCG

by Patrick O’Brien


It was half-way through a vile third quarter and I couldn’t stop staring at Nick Riewoldt. What was that nagging feeling I had? A trip through time to some place I had never been, that was clear, but where? And then it hit me: Riewoldt is a dead ringer for David Bowie during his Station to Station tour in 1978.


Bowie was 31 during that tour, Riewoldt is 32. Bowie was leading his crazily patched together band (a group that shouldn’t have worked but – despite dressing like Dire Straits on a cruise ship holiday – really smoked it) through a dramatic period of change, from the wildly theatrical glam Ziggy Stardust era through to the only slightly less theatrical dark funk of the Berlin and Young Americans periods. Riewoldt also has that responsibility with the Saints, keeping his team together on the field as they push through against all expectations to a new period, from the not-very-theatrical-at-all Ross Lyon (peace be upon him) times to this almost free wheelin’ jazzed-up Richo era.


And that Saints five year premiership plan? Well, Bowie had his Five Years, of course.


Pushing through the market square

So many mothers crying

News had just come over

We had five years left to sigh in


You know, that Josh Bruce, he’s just like Robert Fripp, all loud insane riffs and artistic reinvention that just captures your imagination and sets it on fire.


I heard telephones, opera house, favourite melodies

I saw boys, toys, electric irons and TVs

My brain hurt like a warehouse

It had no room to spare

I had to cram so many things

To get everything in there


Footy today, eh? All those tactics and structures and interchanges and your brain hurting like a warehouse trying to cram it all in. Back in ’78, Bowie knew how the song was going to start and where it was going to end, in between those strict points in time the band was free to tear it up, the rest was up to them. I reckon the next great coaching guru of our time will just get his team around him a few minutes before the match and tell them to kick the ball between the big posts when you have it and tackle the other team when you don’t, the rest is up to you. I’m probably wrong, though.


And so many people

All the short-fat people

And all the nobody people

And all the somebody people

I never thought I’d need so many people


The tall-short forwards are a revelation. I never thought the Saints would need so many people like that, unconventional and running like maniacs, kicking goals with that freaky look in their eyes that suggests they’re operating on a plane that can never be revealed to us mere mortals sitting in the stands.


A soldier with a broken arm fixed his stare to the wheels of a Cadillac

A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest


Riewoldt was part broken man today, part priest. Sometimes stats tell you a lot and I’m sure he did this many somethings and that many whatevers and god bless whoever keeps track of those things without which it would be impossible to enjoy a game of footy. Sometimes, though, you just watch and get a feeling of what’s going on and how important a player is to a team. It was an ugly match, two teams still learning how to understand themselves running around a cold and sodden end-of-July field, but inspiration takes many forms. Riewoldt was inspiring.


And it was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor


Got that right. Jeez it was cold and it rained and that third quarter wasn’t pleasant for anyone, reminded me of a frozen waterfall in Iceland I once walked past. True, it was probably least pleasant for the Demons as the Saints out-tackled them and out-kicked them. You need a bit of grunt to win a flag, you simply need to want to be better than the other team, and these kids in red, black and white may just be developing an ominous reputation. Time will tell, of course, but I like this quiet ferociousness, the way it feels like one of those relentless evil forces in horror movies that kill you before you know what’s going on. I like that they’re not on any front page during summer and I don’t have to feel like an actor in order to support them.


We’ve got five years, stuck on my eyes

We’ve got five years, what a surprise

We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot

We’ve got five years, that’s all we’ve got


My brain was hurting a lot, a combination of a Draperesque burnt-out-neuron hangover and that wicked ice pick southerly injecting its frozen ozone directly into my head. My take home message mingling somewhere in amongst that throb, for what it’s worth, is that if the Saints can find their Niles Rogers soon they’ll only need four years to reach that big stadium-packing Modern Love era of unprecedented success.


Question is: will the Thin White Nick be on stage when it happens?

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