Round 19 – St Kilda v Fremantle: Devotion comes in many forms

Etihad Stadium

Sunday 9th August 2015 4.40pm

 

And Tai Chi to you

My one claim to health activity (other than walking most days) is my Sunday morning Tai Chi class, and most weekends for the last six years, I have taken myself down to McKinnon Hall in McKinnon on a Sunday morning at 9am for a two-hour class. We are led masterfully by Lily Sun, a top level master of Tai Chi. Six years ago this world-class Tai Chi enthusiast came to live in Australia, and through connections, we, a bunch of older, creakier bodies, made the biggest coup of all. We had an Olympic judge of Tai Chi, newly arrived and happy to begin her Australian teaching to a group of friends. This group has changed and grown, as has Lily’s school, Yulong Wushu-Tai Chi.

Footy conversations are always first off the bat, especially since everyone there knows how crazy I am and what I am doing this year. It means I am missing a few lessons along the way, but the great thing about these classes is that we are always starting something new, so after a few weeks we are all beginners again. And there is always room for new participants who love to move their bodies and have a laugh.

This is Marianne’s second class and she eagerly tells me she’s a Sainter, too. After moving down from Sydney, she found it was compulsory to Melbourne living that one choose a team. Marianne tells me that a person at work barracked for Collingwood, and it may be a reflection of this person or Marianne’s opinion of this person that she chose the team it played against in a Grand Final. “I knew that much,” she said. She has been to Moorabbin to look around, and is a member now thanks to her son’s generosity. I may have found another footy buddy, as she would love to come and join me sometime.

My Melbourne Masters

In my journey this year, I have another new team, about my age, maybe a little younger, it seems. The Melbourne Seniors President Chris emailed me to let me know that there was one final home game on this Sunday, and another ladies’ day, and another luncheon. How could I refuse such an invitation? Older men running around, keeping fit, doing something they love. Their families watching. Footy and food. Great combinations in my book.

After Tai Chi, and preparing for the big game later in the day, I make my way to the Ross Gregory Oval in St Kilda in time for the last quarter of the Legends game. Standing behind the coaches on the boundary fence, I smell the liniment oil and hear the team be gently heckled from injured teammates up on the balcony. Melbourne are leading by three goals, and though the visitors kick a few late in the game, it is a happy Legends Melbourne side who leave the ground. They chair off retiring Neville Cox, 60, who has played 130 games for the club. As there are only eight games a season, that’s a lot of years, 16 to be exact, of Masters/Super rules footy. He was there at the start, and he joins the boys as they sing the song, with gusto, in the rooms. The 35 Reserves come onto the ground as the Legends are shaking hands with the opposition.

When Chris comes back from the changing room, I learn that “Shep,” their 71-year-old champion ruckman, is MIA and has escaped north for the coldest part of the season. I am introduced to the coach of the 35 Reserves, Neil Herman, a happy Saints man himself. He grew up in Wangaratta, idolising his cousins, who were St Kilda supporters. In prep class in 1966, the Saints won. He has been waiting for more success since then. At age 48 he started playing for the Melbourne Masters in the Legends (over 45s).

Morgan stops for a chat; he plays in the supers and he grew up in the part of the country where many great Saints were bred. He shifted from the country to St Kilda at 17, for his first musician job.

Lisa, one of the wives, asks directions for something to do with the luncheon and Shaun, a Tigers man (who only gets to a few AFL games a year), another of the coaches for the Reserves, says to wait: “There’ll be stuff hanging out everywhere if you go into the change room now.”

Lisa also is organising two of the young girls to be drinks runners for this game. Greta’s dad is injured and is upstairs, and Felicity’s father is No. 12 out on the field. Lisa promises to save a cupcake for them both from the table upstairs, as they really get into running out at the right times to give the bottles to players.

There is Robbo who is in socks because his wife is running late with his shoes. Some of the players now on the ground also played in the last game.

I head upstairs and partake in the feast, and chat to Diana and to Lizzie. Lizzie’s husband Justin is the Vice President, and she is there all afternoon with her young one. Chris and I discover we have a mutual mate in Bob Ubter (we had dinner earlier this year before the Adelaide game and catch up every now and again), and I again ponder at the smallness of the world. We chat about Adam Goodes and being a president. And then I have to head off, the barman recommending the light rail on Fitzroy Street as the quickest way to Etihad. I head off on another adventure. I feel like walking around St Kilda is like visiting the Holy City. Walking through the parks, I suddenly realise I have left my St Kilda mug behind and text Chris to hold on to it.

I loved the light rail. It was a magnificent ride through parkland mostly, and I feel like I was in a different land as we head to Spencer Street and the stadium. How easy and pleasant was that?

People of my people

I got early to the ground to chat to Jenny Lorin, manager of the Cheer Squad of the mighty Saints. When Jenny was 12 and living in the country, an old family friend liked to have a bet. One day he said, “Pick between Essendon and St Kilda, and if they win, I’ll give you 10 shillings.” Jenny said that the Saints were selected and won the final. The same thing happened the following week.

The first game she ever went to was with another family friend in Melbourne who took her to all the Richmond v St Kilda matches, and St Kilda always lost. In the ‘70s, she didn’t come regularly but through the urging of a woman in the squad, whom she started talking to on the train, she joined the cheer squad in 2001. They became firm friends.

As manager, Jenny’s roles is to liaise with the Club about what to put on the banner, organise supplies, work out what to put on the Club side of the banner and the cheer squad side, keep abreast of all the milestone games, keep connected to all the volunteers and organise the banner people. Jenny and her committee of seven coordinate banner-making night and the people who place the banner on the pole, as well as put out the Cheer Squad newsletter. Then on match day, there are tasks such as to get all the floggers and flags to the ground early and make sure they are distributed. There are raffle tickets to organise and queries and questions to be fielded.

After the players run through, the banner has to be removed off the poles. The Cheer Squad organisers are often at the ground three hours before and at least an hour after the game. (Which makes it impossible to join in pre- or postgame functions, especially interstate.) The floggers were made professionally these days, with plastic rather than crepe paper as was in my day. And there are about 150 people on the books as members.

As I listened to all this, I again was amazed at the amount of voluntary work and effort that goes into these traditions, shared by all football Cheer Squads.

I see Lisa again, who sat to my right at the Port Adelaide game and tried to get the few of us there up and about in a dismal game. Her parents, Anna and Jo, dragged Lisa to the footy from a young age. Anna tells me that when she met Jo, she didn’t have a team, though admits quietly she was a Pies girl at school. Once she was with Jo, it was all Saints ahead, and the three grandchildren are following this course as well. Their big Saints family were photographed in the Age on Sept. 9, 2010. Along with a fabulous photo of the family all dressed in their colours, the headline screams, “Thousands spent makes sense if a premiership’s at the end.” It talks about the shrine in the front window, Nick Riewoldt posters, the family home decorated in “a riot of red, white and black: flags, scarves, socks, golliwogs and giant inflatable fingers. The St Kilda baby beanies are packed away; now their youngest son Nathan, named after former captain Nathan Burke, is playing in the under 10’s.”

Jo is quoted as saying, “I wouldn’t call it a religion but it’s close,” he says. “We go to church, but each weekend the first thing we look at is the fixture and we work around that.”

The article outlines the costs of this family attending the footy, their memberships, their seats, and their paraphernalia. It talks of their preparation and dreaming at the 2010 Grand Final, and how Jo hopes there’ll be a return on their investment.

“Being a member for 45 years, going to the footy in the rain and in the hail, and now they’re up there – we have just go to give it to them,” he says. Anna chips in: “And we want one thing in return – a Premiership.”

We talk of how great it would be if all supporters knew all the chants and could cry out together. The problem is that the Moorabbin Wingers and the Cheer Squad are so far from each other. We talked of how great a Saints songbook would be, and it would include what the Moorabbin Wingers created and the Cheer Squad standards like:

“Go Saints, Go, Go Saints.”

“Knock knock

Who’s there?

Owen

Owen Who?

Oh When the Saints……”

Another is:

S   T   K I L D A (St Kilda)

And it goes on.

Game Time

Before settling down with this week’s guest (Andrew whom I met post GWS game in Sydney), I met up with Jonathon and his daughter and friend as they entered the ground. The whole family were down from Brisbane for a long weekend of catching up with people and footy. After a warm welcome, they went up to sit with the Moorabbin Wingers, and I headed down to say hello to Uncle Bob and Garry. And Andrew. Andrew had met up with his friends as well, and together we watched Fremantle jump out early, jump out strong, and put an end to any of our lingering fantasies that we could cause an upset. They were lightning-fast the first two quarters, and I felt like we couldn’t even catch them to tackle them. Again, there were moments but until the end of the second quarter, we couldn’t slow Fremantle down.

At half time, warm peppermint tea helped with the chill, my snow jacket at least helping with the bitterly cold afternoon. How much do we hate 4.40pm Sunday matches? THAAAAAAAAAAAAAT much. There were just over 16,000 at the game. That much.

Third quarter saw the Saints stop the Dockers, with at least a better tackle effort. They actually caught them now, which showed either we stepped up or they slowed down, or both.

The last saw the Saints get five goals, and Saints’ fans humour rebound. We knew from the first 15 minutes in the first quarter that the game was over. The last quarter just gave us something to enjoy in the face of a hard day at the office. Josh Bruce and Paddy McCartin were able to get a little confidence. We were able to get a little enjoyment. Hugh Goddard was very solid all day in defence. At least the team stepped up and played a better second half.

Post-match

At the end, everything went their way and I went to the post-match function to meet up with Jonathon again. After a full-on weekend, it was nice to be amongst the very few faithful and dedicated volunteers for the club (organising raffles and sales) and with Bruce Eva working the microphone, again interviewing our President and CEO. And with a few dozen other supporters still hanging about seeking refuge in the Victory Club.

I saw Scott, who I met in Sydney, and knew I was collecting stories. He introduced me to Dallas, whose Saints supporting began with his father and grandfather, two generations of the St Kilda City Brass Band, who played the Junction before games, as well at the Rotunda at St Kilda Beach. He became a member as a 16-year-old in 1979. His younger brother Phil, a journalist, was also catching up with friends.

I met Richie and his friend Linda.

Richie doesn’t sit in any particular position at the ground. Like his friend Simon, he would stand in the pockets of the Saints, and when Simon passed away recently, he found himself going to all the places where he and his friend used to stand, to let people know. He was touched when many of them later wore black armbands showing respect for well-loved Simon. He said there were two types of family, the biological one and the logical one. He may be a more recent member (15 years) but there’s been a Saints connection for 30 years. There was the “us against them mentality,” the “underdog” status. The feeling that Saints accept failure but overcome it together. This, he feels, is unique to our club.

Linda wanted me to tell her story, too. In 1991, she went into rehabilitation for drug addiction. Her first outing as she recovered was the elimination final with the Saints losing. She had gone to the footy in the past, with two of her brothers in 1976 onwards. But since her rehab, over 20 years clean now, the one “normal” activity was going to the footy. Her love for the Saints helped her with her journey. She shows me her scarf her aunty crocheted in 1966, which remains her favourite piece of clothing for the footy.

Finally, Scott introduced me to Denise Samson and Ron Eade, whom I know via Travelling Saints and Moorabbin Wing and the attached Facebook pages.

Ron told me his mother was a very strong St Kilda supporter. Living in Prahran, they could have been Richmond, St Kilda or Melbourne.

Denise was from Ballarat, and a lot of Saints players came from that zone to St Kilda. Players like Mick Malthouse, Geoff Cunningham, Tony “Plugger” Lockett, Danny “Spud” Frawley and Nicky Winmar were at one time or another Ballarat boys. Eight years ago, Denise lost 90% of her vision and now only has 10% sight in one eye. She has Bella, her second guide dog, dressed in a crocheted St Kilda jacket, sitting quietly by her side. Bella was a little freaked when she first heard the clapping of supporters at early games, and Denise would clap in Bella’s face to show it was a “good” sound, and Bella settled.

Denise sits with her friends and listens to the radio to “hear” the game, sees vague black-and-white shapes moving when the players are close, and takes her cues from the crowd. She tells me she “hears” my stories as her computer reads them to her, in a slightly American accent. And she prefers the ABC coverage that has calmer voices on the radio. Ron and Denise have been to all New Zealand Saints games and have driven across to Adelaide.

Finally, the evening ends with Paddy McCartin and Hugh Goddard coming to speak to the few faithful left. Hugh had a few stitches on his face from the game, but said “all good to go.” He’s just played his fourth senior game and was loving it, especially the tuition and guidance from Sam Fisher and Danny Frawley. His biggest surprise was the pace of the game, he said, which was so different from playing in the VFL. Hugh wants to make the most of his opportunity, like coach said in the post-match talk with the boys. He rates Sean Dempster so highly, especially his professional attitude and attention to detail.

Paddy talked about it being the first time the four draftees of 2014 played together in 2015. He felt that his best of his four goals was in today’s game, and he wants to play more to better his craft, grow his confidence and get better in all ways. He loved the “G” and Adelaide Oval. He has good relations with Aaron Hamill and likes playing alongside Rooey and Bruce. After six senior games, his shins are a bit sore from the six hours’ training, six days a week.

Paddy says he is loving the club, the friendships gained. It was “unreal,” “loving every minute of it,” and was so thankful to the club for the opportunities. He hopes to be there helping to bring future success, especially alongside his great mate Hugh.

Bruce Eva reminded him of an earlier No. 32, Robbie Muir. Big and tough.

We can only hope.

At the end of the night, collapsing at home, it seemed that so much had happened that I needed a week to recover. And it seems that is exactly what was needed. Come my trip to Hobart for the next game, I finally have the moments to finish my last match report and prepare for the next game on Saturday.

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. Chris Bracher says:

    Yvette, our flock at Melbourne AFL Masters are so proud to have “our own” scribe. That you find “music in the mundane” and delight in our earthiness is a joy for us. We might be a little down on form this year but we have found another true believer in your good self….albeit that I reckon we already have enough Sainters hanging around our place! :-) CB
    Milan might be able to link you up with some of his old St.Kilda teammates ( that may have been idols of yours) for another angle on the mighty Saints. There’s gold in some of his memories and I imagine his buddies from the mighty “Social Saints”of the 80’s would have some great yarns, that have grown bigger over the years.

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