Round 18 – Port Adelaide v St Kilda: Journeys, long and short

AFL Round 18: Port Adelaide v St Kilda
Adelaide Oval
Sunday 2nd August, 2015 12.40pm


A Sea-Change.

My eldest Rachel’s dreams of living in Japan have finally had a result, with her leaving at 5pm on Saturday for the first leg of the rest of her life’s journey. She is off to study Japanese in Tokyo at the Temple University, and fully intends to make it a one-way journey, except for yearly visits home. So her besty Juz and I were with her for the final moments on Melbourne soil, and after tearful farewells, she was off. Juz was left to travel home on his own, while I went to check in for my flight to Adelaide. It had been a huge few days, weeks and months, of emotion and preparation, chicken soup and feasting, goodbyes and packing. Stress and joy.

Preparing to check in with Jetstar, I am finally in a quiet space to contemplate all the changes life can bring. I am left contemplating that changes happen after upheavals. Changes that bring upheavals.

Hopefully, all the “Standing with Adam 37,” the support for Adam Goodes shown, allows him to continue or finish his career, and his life after football, with the dignity he deserves. And it isn’t just for Adam, but every Indigenous player, and all Indigenous citizens of our country, are watching the treatment and discussion and vitriol and are feeling it deeply and personally. I defy you to find an Indigenous or other person of colour who doesn’t take it personally or think it “has become” about race. For some, I concede, it has never been so, but this debate has passed from benign into malignant, and it is time for a moment of reflection and respect. That’s what the Sydney Swans had on their banner, respect.

Most Australians have come here seeking a sea-change, either in chains, as refugees or as migrants. We have forgotten that we are all only here on earth for such a short, valuable time.

To see off Rachel, I have had to put my own luggage in the storage area underneath the bowels of Tullamarine. Until I needed this service, I didn’t know it existed, but travelling on Jetstar meant no early luggage deposits. So now on my own, I travelled down the escalator to collect, and was standing behind Will, a happy Tiger with his Richmond cap still firmly in place. We are both so happy that Richmond beat Hawthorn, and he’s even happier as he is seeing off his Hawk family back to WA. Footy talk engages us, and yet another footy moment sprinkles my day.

By the time I am checked in and eating upstairs, Rachel has arrived in Sydney and does her first of many contacts by phone and text. She may be heading off, but I know we’ll be in almost daily contact, especially until she begins university.

I feel like I have been at the airport forever today, arriving at 2 pm and it was now heading towards 7.30 pm. I contemplate that it the first time I have been driven to the airport by friends rather than taxi in. I see on my tweets there has been a fantastic front page of the “Age” newspaper, and go buy several copies to paste into my journals. I walk around the airport until I reach my steps for the day, hearing a friendly “go Saints” greeting as I walk, before getting ready for my flight and boarding. While lining up, I chat to Russell and his 12-year-old Ethan, who were happy Melbourne supporters ready to head back to their hometown Adelaide. Russell says he didn’t want to support either local SA team and chose Melbourne. They get to games periodically. I apologised for St Kilda beating them last week and congratulated them on their terrific win today. Their grins said it all.

Seat 1A

Never before have I sat at the very front of a plane, in the seats reserved for those strong and fit enough to open the doors in case of emergencies. Luckily, I had two young Indian men sitting by my side, and I got to chat with Sukhchain and Amrinder. I got educated a little about the Sikh traditions, and because Sukhchain lives in Point Cook, he follows his local Cats. Before the flight took off, I knew he was currently a taxi driver and used to write Punjabi poems for school magazines and edited as well. I asked for advice on writing. “When you write,” he said, “You need circumstances, you need to go with the flow, write whatever comes to mind, and write anytime.” Tick. Seemed to be doing all of that, as I madly scribbled down his advice.

As the flight was taking off, the two cabin crew sat opposite us, and they had overheard the footy conversation. Plus, as usual, I was adorned with my scarf. David, the chief attendant, tells us that he was a Saint supporter because his auntie’s (ex-) husband was Rod Butterss (ex-Saints reserves player and later President). His parents were North Melbourne and South Melbourne supporters, but David loved the figure of the “Stickman” for the Saints. He loved Waverley because he lived in Ferntree Gully and it was so easy to get there. Other Saints people and players would visit Rod Butterss’ house when he’s been there, a highlight for a young boy. The other attendant, Jen, said her Dad was an avid Saints fan and used to go to all the Waverley games with her. I loved the fact that as we took off, as the noise drowned out background noise, the talk was all football and particularly St Kilda.

Sukhchain explained that Punjabi sounded the same but was written differently by Indians (with Gurmuhki script) and Pakistani (Shamukhi script) and so I asked him to write out our Saints song in Punjabi.

I already had it in Swedish from my friends in 2011.

Oh när heligonen (Oh When the Saints)

Marscherar in (Come marching in)

Oh när heligonen (Oh When the Saints)

Marscherar in (Go Marching in)

Oh hur jag vill vara i St Kilda (Oh how I want to be in St Kilda)

När heliga kommer marching in (When the Saints go marching in)

Now, my two friends put their heads together and produced the Punjabi version of the song (I knew I wouldn’t be likely to hear the Saints version postgame anytime soon):

Aaha jadon saint jande khedan nu

Aaha jadon saint jande khedan nu

Main St Kilds varga he ho javan

Jadon saint jande khedan nu

(Before the weekend was out, Yoshi sent me the Japanese version as well. This was now my new thing. Collecting the Saints song in as many languages as I can.)

Ou seintsu ga koushin suru toki

Ou seintsu ga koushin suru toki

Oud ore dake watashi ga Sento Kiruda to issho ni itai deshou

Ou seintsu ga koushin suru toki.

It is but a short journey, but so many lovely things had happened already. Even my taxi driver Sunny Lasara in Adelaide started a footy conversation with me. He said he was conflicted about who to follow. He was also from the Punjabi province and I told him about my airplane excitement, and then we got down to the work of establishing a team for him to support. I wrote down all 18 teams randomly, and asked him to pick out three numbers. The first number, 5, was Adelaide (it was a sign), the second, Western Bulldogs and the third, Brisbane Lions.

I asked him why he was conflicted. Now he had Adelaide to support. What he said confirmed that the randomness had been accurate. Sunny played hockey, and he loves his sport but hates when his (or any other SA team) plays Port Adelaide hockey team, they seem to always have a problem. “If they win, they’re happy, if they lose, they start fighting.” I told him what I had learned in my travels to SA football. By the end of the short taxi ride, he was likely a confirmed Adelaide supporter.

Finally, after all this, I come into the lobby to check in, and look up a moment later to see Nicky Winmar and friends checking in to my left. In that moment, I grinned and he grinned back. He’d seen my scarf, I’d seen his lovely face and my trip was just rocking. I recognised his companion (it took me a day to recollect properly) as one of the organisers of the Saints Unplugged event a few weeks ago. The world is getting smaller every moment.

At the convenience store, the banter started up between the two attendants and myself. One was an extremely happy Richmond supporter, the other a very confident Port Adelaide man. (I did go back to congratulate him on Sunday, but he wasn’t working.) It was an immense day. The departure of Rachel, meeting so many great and funny people, and sharing a smile with a Saint, and the game’s, legend. I was very late to bed, but a happy chappy.


Pre-game function

Eighteen games in to the season, I have become an expert at Saints travel. Finely tuned packing, knowing the destination of the events. It is an exciting and privileged journey this year. I know the two organisers better, and find Tom and John busy “organising.” Tom points me to Adelaide Saints so I can collect more stories.

I meet Hedley sitting alone, eating his lunch. I disturb him enough to get his story, and I’m glad I did. When Hedley was a little boy in the country, the two local football clubs amalgamated and became the “Superoos,” in red, white and black. Hedley and his family lived close to the Victorian border, and saw more VFL on TV than South Australian footy because of the TV reception out that way. Everyone at school had a side, and Hedley picked the Saints in the ’70s when he was about 14. At 53 now, he tries to get to at least one game a year, coming down from Adelaide Hills for the game day. He said he had an Indigenous background, and that Nicky Winmar was his hero, as was Robert Harvey. I told him Nicky was going to be at the game today, which pleased him no end.

I asked him what he thought about the booing of Adam Goodes, and he showed me his Reconciliation (R) Shirt, underneath his jumper. Hedley said, “Booing is harassment. Adam is considered an elder. He was putting out views of the Indigenous community and saying what’s going on. Because he’s outspoken, people feel its crap. I am the only indigenous worker at my place, and others have asked my opinion. Football is his workplace. He is being bullied and harassed.”

He went on to say, “Adam made a deal with other indigenous players in Indigenous round, that whoever kicked the first goal would do a celebration. Now indigenous people are standing up for a brother boy.”

I met Geoff or “Joffa” (not the Collingwood one) and his daughters Millie and Rosie next. When Geoff moved to Melbourne at the age of 14, he lived in Frankston. Moorabbin wasn’t too far away. On top of that, Darryl Cowie (St Kilda 1982-85, 56 games, 8 goals) was a friend of his older sister, and Geoff attended the footy as a junior member. His daughters were “born into it,” and “had no choice.” They have only lived in SA for the last four years, and are all paid-up members. True supporters. And if that wasn’t enough, Geoff happily tells me he has a “legend of a dog” named Lenny.

His young daughters remember him saying to them that if they don’t barrack for St Kilda, they can move out. Positive parenting. Geoff went to the ’97 loss (they lived in country Victoria at the time) and flew back from a family holiday in 2009 when the Saints beat the Doggies in the preliminary final. The more he talked, the more he remembered. Trekking to Waverley becoming a three-day event with his mates, Trevor Barker releasing pigeons, and the day the lights went out at Waverley.

Geoff believed that being a Saint keeps you honest and real. We’re not about high performance and exterior. We are about culture, and he is proud that the St Kilda Football Club is pushing for a Gay Pride round, that St Kilda are standing up and being forward and vocal on issues that matter.

I chatted to Hayden from the Club, who was at the pub, too. His family were Collingwood, but he grew up always liking the Saints. His favourite player was Stephen Milne, whom he found a great bloke — he was always up for a chat with the staff. Always had time for everyone. Hayden first came to St Kilda as a work-experience kid at 15, and kept volunteering at 17. Eventually, there was a vacancy on staff and he applied, and is a Saint in work and in faith.

I saw lots of familiar faces: Club President Peter Summers, my Travelling Saints mob Gayle and Wendy Rode, Georgie Day and her mate Gayle S from Ballarat, Jo from the Cheer Squad, the guys I’d met in Sydney again, Bruce, Andy and Russ.

I still got to chat another local, George, a Saints supporter since 1972, originally from Hobart, and like other Tassie people, a great admirer of Darrel Baldock. He said, “In Tassie, you have to be a Roo, Hawk or Saint.” George is pretty happy with the development of the team and the direction of the Club.

Jan, another local, said she was with friends at a party and met some Saints players years back. Aaron Hamill was amongst them. He was cute, they were all cute. She decided to follow the Saints.

During all this, a raffle was drawn, and I was one of the winners, and I chose a football signed by Ahmed Saad, another gift to cheer Yoshi up over there in Kyoto.

Gayle, Wendy, their friend and Hedley and I caught a tram up to the station and walked across the bridge to the ground, Hedley leading me all the way round the other side, to the hill area, to where he was sitting just behind me.


The shortest-ever match report

In this game, I was sitting between the goal posts. Liesl, from Melbourne, who has been a Cheer Squad member for 5-6 years, said she had “no choice” but to be a Saint, “that’s what we do.” Lisa was equally brief; her Dad was a Saints member. Her response was, “Love ‘em.” Sherredan, not of the Cheer Squad but sitting next to me, said her Dad was a Saint, and she had no choice either. Her mum, she said, tried to make her a Cat supporter but was unsuccessful. To my left was Cheryl, a regular cheer squad attendee. Her family came from England on the £10 scheme, and they settled in St Kilda. Her grandniece to her left was born in ’07 and was a full-on supporter. Her other niece, born in ‘97, had no choice either. She is in her 12th year of Saints membership.

And then we almost missed it, Gavin Wanganeen and Nicky Winmar shaking hands with players from both teams out in the middle of the ground, trying to reaffirm the message of the past few weeks.

And then the game, with Port Adelaide coming out of the blocks and beating us, over and over to the ball, to the goals and to victory. It was a challenging game, with four changes of weather, injuries to players, and a game of missed opportunities that our players will rue. I got to watch it all through the middle of the goal posts. In prime cheer squad position, with real squadders to my left and right. Such a small group who have travelled over, all at their own expense. Georgie, Gayle R and Jo were all up the end. It was a completely different experience watching it all from this position, and each time Port needed to be distracted from a set shot, Cheryl and Ivan and the kids would wave their flags. Liesl and her mob tried to rev us up on a regular basis. For the few times the Saints kicked straight, the plastic floggers were put to work in celebration. We missed the experience of Riewoldt. Bruce was double tagged most of the game. Longer was concussed and didn’t come back in after half time. There were moments of accuracy and good play by the Saints, but they were outclassed by a tougher, more single-minded unit.

I said goodbye to Hedley before deciding to walk up to “Cucina” in North Terrace where I’d met so many mad Port supporters last time. I walked with the flow of people, getting condolences and laughs along the way, enjoying the stretch and exercise. Elio wasn’t there. Peter and Elio’s sister Maria all knew who I was, because Tom and John had shown them my Almanac article after the Adelaide game a few months back. Later, Elio texted, “Sorry, I missed u. Had to go see my team show u guys how to play footy. U should have come earlier. I revved up your president Tom….” They’d had conflicting views on the Adam Goodes booing. As do so many.

I knew Gayle and Wendy were back at the hotel having drinks, so I headed back, and sat down with a drink amongst The Travelling Saints. Nicky Winmar and his friends came back to the hotel and Nicky, being a good hearted and loving soul, said g’day to the fun-loving bunch of mostly St Kilda women celebrating regardless of the loss. Photos were taken, smiles all around, as we could all bask in the camaraderie of the Saints connectedness. While this was happening, I said g’day to his friend, who I had met at the Saints Unplugged event and reminded him to contact and tell me his Saints story.

Once his party had left for the airport, we settled down to more story-telling. Gordon and Susanne Puckett caught my eye, as Gordon had the most magnificent red, white and black tartan jacket, one of 13 colourful jackets he had for his MC’ing roles. Gordon was a Saint because of his next-door neighbour in the late ’60s, who would drop his eldest (14) and Gordon (8) at Moorabbin or Carlton on game day. Gordon remembers making their way to the area between the visitor’s race and the coach’s box – a great possie where they could watch all the colour and action. They’d even be allowed in the change rooms post match, and then be picked up on Nepean Highway post game. Gordon and Suzanne have known each other since they were 6 years old, and seemed wonderful spouses and mates.

And there’s more…

In the Qantas Lounge, a rare treat, I began writing and checking emails. Two hostesses came around with food for guests to try, and they stopped at me and complemented me on my colouring. She said, “What a positive thing to do. More people should be so joyous in their support for their club.” I agree. Across from me, also catching up with his work was Gordon, a Glenelg Western Bulldogs supporter. He also lived not far from Mt Gambier and knew and followed the VFL/AFL. His father grew up in Seddon and his uncle and grandfather were both mayors of Footscray in the past. His uncle Keith Anderson was also on the board of Western Bulldogs. So of course he barracks for the Dogs.

On my taxi ride home, I meet Rajender, a Geelong supporter because he lives in the Western suburbs. He could have barracked for the Doggies, he says, but the Cats have been more successful. We had the most philosophical journey back home, interrupted only by a phone call from Geoff who I’d met at the pre-game gathering at “The Office” in Adelaide.

Geoff wanted to tell me that he met Nicky Winmar at the stadium. His two daughters were part of the lineup of St Kilda fans, and he and other parents were in the stands. Nicky and Gavin were waiting to go on the field too, and Nicky, ever the gentleman, signed Geoff’s St Kilda jumper alongside Lenny Hayes and Luke Dunstan autographs. Now all George needs is Robert Harvey and he has all the number 7’s from recent history. This will be another great St Kilda memory for him, and as he gave me his match report (Hugh Goddard was very good, we missed Farren Ray and Nick Riewoldt’s experience.) I marvelled at the power of footy to tell stories and connect people.

Rajender proved to be a mindful taxi driver. He is a trained accountant who uses the journeys to learn something, to learn about a game, business, what’s going on in the world, sports updates, people’s stories, human nature, psychology and philosophy. He goes to work every day thinking, “What will I learn today.” Not a bad way to go about life.

(As I write the final words to this week’s footy journey, I listen in shock as the Australians are all out before lunch on the first day. Thirty minutes ago, I picked up my phone to check the scores. It is now 60 for 10 wickets, with Stuart Broad with 8 wickets. Now for the heat of the sporting world to turn to Australian cricket.)

Nothing will take away the warm glow of a great weekend of story-telling and story collecting. And being a Travelling Saint.

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.

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