Round 18 – St Kilda v Richmond: A footy odyssey in four parts

A footy odyssey in 4 parts


Part 1 Caulfield Bears Junior Girls Football Team


Yoshi Imagawa was heading to Melbourne from Japan on Thursday, and I would be meeting with him at the Caulfield Bears Men’s training at East Caulfield Reserve at 6pm.


Before that, however, I was heading to see the Caulfield Bears Junior Football Club Girls Under 12’s in their practice run at Koornang Park in Carnegie. The group were meeting earlier as one of the mum’s works at the Hawthorn Football Club and had managed to get Liam Shiels to come for skills training with the Bears.


What a fabulous, enthusiastic bunch of future footballers I watched. I am told over and over how they listen to everything being taught to them, how they absorb, want to learn and get better. They are motivated and passionate, according to team manager and mum Amy Conrad. She said the boys take footy for granted.  It’s expected that they’d play, but the girls, it’s an adventure, an opportunity.


Amy asked me to talk to the girls about writing about their footy experience.  She told me one young girl would write about wanting to show her strength and she shirt-fronted a player to show she was in the game, and managed to break two ribs in the process.  She was out there practicing. The girls gathered around me to listen as I talked about writing their experiences, and it was like footy, the more you wrote, the better you get at writing.  A photo was taken of me with an umbrella and the girls gathered around.


Yvette and Caulfield Bears


Then the real action started, and Liam came to help them train.  He said they’d do all the drills that the Hawthorn and other AFL players use at practice. There were handball passes, around the body ball movements then passes, kicks, circle and multiple circle works of kicking and handpassing, and lots of running and joviality and energy.


Liam Shiels answering lots of questions


To end the session, the girls were all seated and could ask Liam lots of questions. One by one Liam answered. The funniest question was whether he had a girlfriend, and the follow up question about what her name was and where she lived.  The coach joked that it was a bit stalker-ish and that the questions needed to be about footy. He talked about footy, but also about friendship, and being at a club and his love of footy.  The girls (and a few ring-in boys with Hawks gear on) were captivated.


And then it was over.  Liam left a happy footy team who have won all their games this season. I headed to meet Yoshi at his training.


Part 2 Caulfield Bears – Rain, lightning and an old-fashioned coach rev-up


I arrived at the oval to find Yoshi had not yet arrived.  Men were coming in and changing into their footy gear, the clicking of their footy boots on the hall’s floor and the concrete path accompanied their journey from their regular day to their footy practice.


It was so cold I hid under the roofed area, trying to keep out of the stiff, chilly wind whipping up the trees and the surrounds in ever increasing strength. Some men ran around the ground, others kicked for goal, and they slowly gathered together to begin their Thursday night training. No sign of Yoshi yet, no one seemed to know anything, so I stood patiently and watched all the activity.


When Yoshi did arrive, after a quick hello to me, he chatted to the men inside, changed into his Osaka Dingo gear, and walked onto the ground with one of the players. And there he tried to do all the things that these blokes had done since they were kids. Long kicks. Passing work. Exercises in skills and movement. He followed a particularly tall fellow, shadowing and trying his best to understand the routine. He ran and played and practiced. They all did.




And then the rains came. It poured down from the heavens and just kept coming. Sheltering under the roof, I listened to the drenching and watched as the wetness of the players turned them into sopping, cold and water laden men. And they practiced on. Thunder roared in the distance after flashes of lightning.


Five minutes later, lightning crashed from above, and that sodden group of men tore at speed off the field and into the room behind. There they sat on the benches and the floor, listening to their coach. He reminded me of a small, skinny, tough version of one of the Scott brothers. Passionate rage.


Standing behind, I took photos as I had since Yoshi arrived. I watched this Japanese newbie to footy playing, sit with strangers in a room, and be part of the most remarkable roasting I have ever heard from a coach.



The ‘F’ words flew every sentence as he implored them to get to know each other. Footy wasn’t just a game they played on the field, even if they were winning so many games. It was about the team. Knowing the men you played with. They had to effing get to know each other, go out for coffee, know who each was, what they did for a living, who was in their family, who were their people. If they don’t know the people, they aren’t playing as a team. He went on to relate a family incident of a problem at his family home, and how his family had to manage that because he was with his players at a game. That was his job. He took it seriously. Even when there were things that needed dealing with at home. He was happy to do it, but he needed to know they were all in it too. They were effing there, giving their all, off the field and on. And coming to practice. How many of them weren’t turning up to the morning ones, starting at 6.00am. How many were just cruising along with the Thursday one and not doing the extra work, extra training, extra commitment.


I felt like yelling AMEN when he’d finished. The men then started changing so I darted out and waited for Yoshi outside. And recovered from the roast. When I turned later to see if Yoshi was ready, a fully naked young man caught my eye before I really walked away from the rooms to wait. Whew, this was footy practice all right.


Dinner at Georgio’s followed and I drove Yoshi back to his friends in Camberwell.


Part 3 St Kilda v Richmond Maddies Match and a sea of purple


We met early to go to the Social Club pre-game. There we sat with Yoshi’s friend and host Rob and in front of them were huge plates of chicken parmigiana, chips and salads. And of course, their beers.  I ate my salad I’d bought earlier and soon we were joined by Almanac and St Kilda mate Jenn. Together, we caught up.



Jenn went to talk to friends at the next table and found that their young daughter was learning Japanese at school, and when I went to say hi later, I found out that they lived near me and the school was Caulfield South Primary where Japanese was half the curriculum. With a large Japanese population at the school, the school was now bilingual. Yoshi came over too, and even though the young girl was too shy to speak, the parents enjoyed practicing their Japanese on Yoshi and Jenn will pass on each other’s details when the family eventually travel to visit the country.


Jenn also spotted Jimmy Webster and Logan Austin and off we all went, introducing Yoshi to the boys and me taking photos.  Yoshi was having a ball, in his sacred holy place.  A footy and life paradise for our Kyoto based man. Here for only 6 days, he was making use of every moment. The players were ushered onto stage, where they were interviewed and then it was time for us to go to our seats and be part of the Maddie Riewoldt Vision experience.


Jenn, Jimmy Webster, Yoshi and Logan Austin


My family were running late, having eaten dinner at Caulfield Racecourse Glasshouse again. They missed what happened next.  People were asked to turn on their phone lights, and as Maddie’s favourite song, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ was sung by Paul Dempsey. Yoshi and I, and those around us, waved our phone lights as the dimmed stadium was swathed in purple light. It was a moving moment for us all to share before Richmond ran through their banner and the Saints through ours.


And that, my friends, was the highlight of the night.  Sitting with Yoshi at his first St Kilda game, hearing him belt out the Saints theme song and secretly record him, and then being joined by my family, were what was great about the night. On top of that, the Federal Government added $1 million dollars to the $450,000 that was raised on the night, making it a successful fundraising effort.  The purple scarf and beanie Yoshi and I and so many others wore, brightened up an otherwise depleting night at the footy.



Aunty Betty thought we looked really cute wrapped up in purple in a happy pregame shot.


Richmond were never going to let us jump them like last year. They came out, crushed us like a bug, and then showed why they were likely to have another crack at the Premiership this year. I had no choice but to admire Dustin Martin and Jack Riewoldt and Trent Cotchin. How could you not? And all their players stood up. Dion Prestia, 3 goals. Jack Riewoldt, 4. Josh Caddy got two. Dusty, Shaun Grigg, Cotchin, Shane Edwards, Daniel Rioli, Kane Lambert and Jack Higgins had a party at our expense.


What I loved about St Kilda this night was Jack Stevens unbelievable goal of the year, the kicking the ball without even holding it and belting it through on the run. Jade Gresham kicked two, David Armitage showed class and Tim Membrey tried all night and ended with 2. Rowan Marshall and Mav Weller kicked the rest of our measly 8 goals, while Richmond doubled the score.


I introduced Yoshi to Jalen from in front, the young boy who gets our area revved up for goals. Yoshi is a noisy supporter, with his deep voice, he was a bonus for Jalen. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of cheering through the game for Saints supporters, and it was disheartening. Other than the money raised. And the fact that 36,269 people turned up was ok for support of The Maddie Riewoldt Vision night and for St Kilda coffers.


Yoshi headed home with Rob and Gary and I got our train home. Another Saints game.


Part 3 Meeting up with Almanackers at the North Fitzroy Arms


Come Saturday night, it was off to Fitzroy North and the pub of champions. John Harms was able to come say g’day, before getting ready to do some work at home, and watch the Geelong v Melbourne game (and what a game that was). The rest of us stayed for dinner. It was a small gathering and we ate and enjoyed the stories and were happy when Kasey was able to finish work to be able to join us and meet Yoshi.




Yoshi and Kasey Symons


The food is always great at North Fitzroy Arms, and it was lovely to sit, chat, and get to know Yoshi and his friends a little more. Jo was able to give him a lift back to Camberwell later in the night, and I bowed out as they were all heading to the front bar to watch the two games on the two TV’s.


Part 4 Southern Saints v Melbourne Uni Skybus Stadium


Yoshi was dropped to my house for lunch before we headed to Frankston to watch the Southern Saints play. It was a lovely, warmish Sunday, and we stood behind the coaches on the fence. Yoshi got his first taste of local footy, and women’s footy, and unfortunately, another thrashing seemed to be in the making.


While Yoshi cheered and directed the players on, I chatted to Sharon to my right. She was the mother of Jemma Owen, number 33 for the Southern Saints and a gun footballer. Jemma played footy with the boys at school before joining TAC Cup girls and developing until the present day. When she was in Year 7, her father passed away, and footy was something they really shared and enjoyed together. Sharon, Jemma and her dad were Bulldogs supporters, and mother and daughter were able to enjoy the amazing 2016 Western Bulldogs Premiership. Jemma is in the middle of Year 12, and is pondering whether to put herself up for draft later in the year. There is a lot happening. Sharon drove her to practice and to games, at almost 18 Jemma was just learning to drive on top of everything else. Sharon would be going for a walk while Jemma and all her team mates went into the Frankston beach water for recovery post game. It was a long day for parents and friends of players. Getting there early, staying late. It is a family affair at this age.




It’s funny how when you chat to people, you keep talking and eventually you can find that link, that 6 degrees of separation, that person that you have in common. We found we had Joanne Whiffin as a connection, the daughter of the late Kenny Whiffin, stalwart trainer for 50 years at the St Kilda Football Club.


Melbourne Uni played better football, assisted by the wind and some good play. Southern Saints were scoreless in the first quarter, with Melbourne Uni scoring 2.1. After an even second quarter, Muggars pulled away with another two goals in the third.  Saints had only managed two goals in the second and third quarters.


The last quarter, life and footy heated up. Jemma goaled, as did two of her team mates, to almost steal the game from a much tighter outfit.  The result was a 3-point loss to the Southern Saints.


Yoshi and I walked across the ground to find the crew from Women’s Australian Rules Football Radio and we chatted to Peter Holden and Lucy Watkin after they finished broadcasting.


The sun was setting as we headed back, and for a change, I took the beach side route home, showing flashes of a Melbourne sunset to Yoshi as we made our way back to my place. His membership of the Almanac rewarded him one book, so he chose The Women’s Footy Almanac 2017. From there, it was the last drop off back to his friends. Rob had told me Friday night that they’d met Yoshi at the Osaka Aussie Bar Coolabah and then later had travelled to Kyoto. He and his girlfriend had walk past several restaurants looking for one to enter for dinner, and in Japan, there are plentiful restaurants and small, hidden eating places. When they finally chose one, on entering they saw Yoshi cooking. What is the likelihood of that, he asked me. Serendipity, I responded.  It was meant to be.


Yoshi flew back to Kyoto yesterday, more victories could be had footy-wise, but he has had 6 days of experience to last him until his next sojourn down under. He has seen his beloved Saints play, both men and women, and got to meet the President of the Club (in Skybus Stadium in Frankston) and some players and supporters and Almanac people. That’s a worthy six days right there.





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.


  1. Hi Yvette,

    Thanks for your great writing piece describing my footy experience.

    Even the heatwave hits here, I still practise footy in the morning here in Kyoyo. The Caulfield Bears coach would be impressed with what I do with footy?

    Once again thanks for everything while I was in Melbourne. It was great to talk to footy people you know.

    Have a good weekend.


  2. John Butler says

    Onya, Yoshi. And good on you Yvette.

    That’s packing a lot into six days.

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