Round 20 – North Melbourne v St Kilda: A brilliant Tassie adventure

Blundstone Arena, Hobart

Saturday 15th August 2015 2.10pm


1. Sisters together, except for footy teams

A weekend away, a few days quiet, and Denise and I with a plan. To be in Tasmania for the weekend, and for her to return early Sunday to Melbourne in time for the AFL Women’s Match and her beloved Western Bulldogs game. I had one job to do. Write. Actually two jobs, as I’d been given my second writing gig, and I needed that in hand before the game was even played.

Picking up Denise on the way to the airport, we enjoyed our sister time together, catching up with each other’s day thus far, and checking in.

She got the security search this time at Tullamarine, and the footy conversation that went along with it once she said “Go Dogs.” She watched the replay of last week’s Doggies game, on the TV at Gate 8, while I took a walk to stretch the legs.

On that walk, I met Trevor and Kerry, who’d already said “Go Saints” when they first spotted me and were also heading to the game in Hobart. Now we stopped to talk footy. Trevor used to be a Collingwood supporter because he lived next door to the Toomeys, who gave him lots of cool Collingwood stuff. Then a bloke up the road, a Saints man who was working in Moorabbin and sponsored St Kilda players, took him to Saints games. Trevor had been to only two Collingwood games. He said he had a conversion to St Kilda in 1965, and the 1966 Grand Final cemented him in.

Kerry told me her family were all Carlton, as her father’s cousins were Doug and Maurie Beasy. She had one brother who barracked for the Pies just to stir up her father.

Kerry and her best friend in Footscray would go to footy together. Her friend’s husband was Peter Morrison, who played for South Melbourne and Sydney.

Kerry and Trevor met in 1975, and Kerry started going with Trevor and his father to the Saints games, 40 years now. She cried at the 2009 Grand Final loss to Geelong. They’d had the house beautifully decorated, to go along with Robert Harvey pictures and Stewie Lowe pictures from years past.

I asked Kerry and Trevor to say g’day to Denise on their way to our gate. When I got back from more walking, Denise laughed and said that she knew I’d sent them when they came up and said “Go Saints” to her.

Mid-flight, once the meal service was over and we were watching TV, the flight attendant Matthew pops his head over the front seat that had just been vacated. This excitable and enthusiastic young man was a Saints supporter, too, and just HAD to talk footy, as you do once free of normal constraints. Matthew grew up barracking for Adelaide, his local team. While watching the ’97 Grand Final with the Saints, he saw Peter Everitt play, and at 7 years old, just like that, changed teams. Against his parents and his family, he became a Saint. He said he was going to the practice, his first ever, he was so excited. He said that the ground was just across the road from his parents’ place, so he’d just walk. He’d be at the game, too.

We swapped phone details so I could tell him about the pre-game function (and post-game, too). I was barely out of the terminal when he texted.

2. Fountainside Hotel

Checking into the hotel, the receptionist, Christine, tells me her husband, Dale, is a mad St Kilda supporter. I have come to find there are no other kinds. Christine tells me that he has been a Saints member since childhood and goes to games when he can. I pass on my card and tell her about the pre-game function. Dale calls me that night and knows about the function and will seek me out there.

Come a relaxing dinner after a vigorous walk, our waitress, Emily, says, “I love your scarf.” She tells me that the Riewoldt seniors live next door to her in Hobart. “Tres” small world in Tasmania. The block parties are pretty good on that street. There’s also a mad Collingwood family on the block. Lots of chemistry at party times.

The next morning, getting supplies from the chemist, the assistant sees me and waves her hands around as a way to take in my whole red, white and black regalia and persona and says, “I’m loving this.”

3. Boat trips and MONA

Denise had the trip to MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in Berriedale organised, and we boarded the Mona Roma, with the front of the ship booked. This was Denise’s 10th time to MONA. We relaxed and ate the goodies and chatted with those around us for the 30-minute journey. The table nearby let me know they were Sainters as well. When I stood up to watch us dock, we talked about the game the next day. The male half of the group of six would all be there at Blundstone Arena. The female half laughed at our footy analysis.

As we disembarked, we bumped into Shae (another travelling Saint) and her mum Libby, who were lining up to leave the museum. They were done early, we observed. Not their thing, they observed.

MONA is not everyone’s cup of tea. It is full of modern art from David Walsh’s personal collection. Some of it, like the many pieces of work by Sidney Nolan on a huge wall, I loved. I liked the tomb-like entrance to see the mummy and the computerised images of what the mummy looks like under the cloths. The rest of it was interesting but very weird.

I did get to meet Carl, Denise’s librarian friend from MONA, and chatted with him while going through a particular exhibit. His English father named his second son Carl. I said, “After Carl Ditterich,” and he looked a bit surprised and asked me how I knew. I said it was his age. He laughed, as he was born in 1964 when the gorgeous hunk Carl Ditterich started playing for St Kilda. Over time, his father became friends with Peter Hudson, one of the players flattened by Carl over his career. In 1969, when the family lived in Abbotsford and he went to primary school, the Grade 2 teacher Mrs Richardson was a keen Richmond supporter. She was also the primary school footy coach. “I wanted to play footy,” said Carl, enthusiastically remembering. Mrs Richardson threw each player a pair of rolled-up footy socks, and Carl caught the navy blue ones. He asked Mrs Richardson, “What team is this”, and she looked him straight in the eyes and said, “Carlton.” Jezza was playing in the 1979 VFL Grand Final. “It all came together. My angst was sung into existence.”

His father loved the Coventry football team and his mother Oxford, and they came from England postwar in the “Big Brother Scheme.” When they settled in Tasmania, Carl played in the Claremont little league in Doggie colours. His footy highlights included seeing Peter Hudson kick 18 goals and Brendon Fevola kick 18.5 (5 goals, 5 points and then 13 goals straight). The last quarter went for 47 minutes; Carl actually went back to his car, drove to the pub and had two drinks before the end of the game.

I was glad to get to the bar for lunch, although they had nothing that wasn’t bread-based for lunch.

There a chap said hello and it took me a moment to recognise him as Ian, Jack Sinclair’s dad, and his partner, Sue, who I’d met at the training in Sydney. They sat at the table next to Denise and I, and we talked footy and life. I gave them my ferry ticket back and my entrance ticket and he insisted on giving me money. “Let’s donate it to Maddie,” I said, which was fine by him as well.

4. Blundstone Arena for Saints training and Saints stories

Denise, Ian and Sue headed back into MONA while I grabbed a cab to Blundstone Arena. Kevin, my cabbie, was another Sainter stemming from 1964. He said all the great Saints players over the years has kept him following. He remembers 1966 vividly: He was too nervous to sit and listen with his dad to the game and was outside, kicking a footy around nervously. His dad would yell out updates as his 10-year-old soul couldn’t take the pressure of listening directly.

Dropped at the stadium, I sat with all the other Saints fans waiting for the boys to come out. Seeing Shae and Libby again, Lou from Tassie and Ree, part of the Launceston Supporter group. I saw Matthew, the flight attendant, in a black t-shirt and jeans, with a great tattoo on his arm that was well covered when at work.

It was the best attended training I’d been to so far on this journey. There were so many families and children on this late Friday afternoon, all decked in their St Kilda gear, ready for their boys to come out for a light training run. I commented on this to Ree, and she said that the Tassie membership now equals Western Australia and is the biggest Saints supporter group (outside of Victoria) from all the states. Ree and her committee were busy organising and being interviewed by the news services; there were TV cameras and special members being introduced to the players after their run around. When the players came out, they hovered until Nick Riewoldt called them all together, and they started their run. He really is the heart and soul of the place.

The chill afternoon had set in. It was so cold that even the players were rugged up. There seemed to be a lot of staff, coaching, physios and the membership staff organising the local supporters.

Blundstone Arena is in a lovely setting, with the blue soft hills behind, the speckled seating of blues, greens, oranges and yellows throughout the old and new parts of the stadium, an autumn parade of colours that match well in this setting. The staff and coaches were kicking the ball to each other, probably doing the sensible thing to keep warm. There seemed to be the real Tasmanians lightly dressed, and me, dressed for Siberia.

To keep my mind from freezing over, I talked to Renee sitting in front. She was the only Saints supporter amongst her party of six. Her youngest, seated next to her, was a Bulldog fan who loved Bob Murphy, the next child an Essendon fan, the next a Geelong supporter (who just liked the team), next a Hawthorn supporter who loved the colours. I can’t remember who her husband barracked for. Renee said she tried to brainwash her kids, to no avail. They travelled down from near Burnie on the NW coast to come to the game. Renee’s mum barracks for St Kilda and currently lives in Mornington in Victoria. She still goes to occasional games. Renee’s husband Mark and I talked about his Blunnies; I needed information for the article I was writing. He told me that during the World Cup soccer games here, all the “Blundstone” signage had to come down; all labels not World Cup-related came off any location that was filmed.

Bev was another of the organisers from the Launceston supporter group. She calls herself “tragic.” She didn’t follow AFL until 1975, just the North/West Tassie teams, and liked the red and black colours of the local team Ulverstone, but liked those colours with white added a bit more. So St Kilda became her team because of the colours. She is now a Gold Member. She is so tragic, she told me, that when her son rung to say her grandson was being born, she left the Launceston game post-game function room (with Luke Ball and Justin Koschitzke in attendance). When Bev re-entered the room and told them all of her news, they formed a halo with their hands and said, “Another Saint.”

Her son had asked her to get into the hospital really quickly as his wife wanted to name their son “Hugh” and he didn’t like the name. Bev, like the trouper she was, went in to the hospital, and within a short time, her grandson was named Aaron Robert Nicholas Griffiths. (For those not completely nuts about Saints, for Aaron Hamill, Robert Harvey and Nick Riewoldt; there also was a player named Daryl Griffiths.)

Bev loved telling me Saints stories, like the one when she drove St Kilda President Peter Summers in her car to the airport with the 1966 Premiership Cup laying in the back seat (after the induction of Verdun Howell into the Tasmanian Sporting Hall of Fame). “Who can say that,” she beamed, “the President AND the Cup in my car.”

I met Lou, whom I hadn’t seen for a few years. I’d been introduced to her at a Sandringham game with David Downer, my original contact to the travelling Saints and my Almanac mate. Lou’s mum was a Saints supporter because it was Graham Kennedy’s team. Lou is old enough to remember Graham Kennedy as well, and drove an hour down from her home and work to be part of the action today.

I chatted to father and son, Les and Greg. Les said he barracked for the Saints “because all the other good teams were taken.” He followed New Norfolk, and the Saints were the same colours. He remembered all the great Tassie footballers like Barry Lawrence and Darrel Baldock and Ian Stewart. Neither his wife nor his four boys followed his love of St Kilda. Les is a taxi driver and told me he drove Aaron Hamill once and he was a nice person to speak to. There was a young St Kilda footballer in the car, too, and when Les said he knew who Aaron was, the young player said, “Do you know who I am?”

(He didn’t, and this young player didn’t last that long either.)

Les said he’d gone to Moorabbin for a game once as a young man. He made his way from the city by bus and had no clue where he was going but made it anyway. He was that keen.

By this time most supporters were lining the fence getting autographs and I chatted to Ree’s partner Jason. They’d jumped in the car and driven down from the northwest part of Tasmania, too. Jason has barracked for the Saints from age 6 because his best friend at school did.

Since our first email contact at the beginning of my journey, Ree has been thinking of what she wanted to tell me about her Saints story. She was born in Tassie and moved to Melbourne in 1980. She was asked the typical Melbourne question, “who do you barrack for,” and she chose the team of her friend at school; she can’t remember which now.

At 8 years old, she had the opportunity to go with friends to an Essendon v St Kilda match and was barracking for Essendon. Her father’s friend Barry had two daughters, and they made Ree wave a St Kilda flag each time the Saints got a goal. They bought her a hat, scarf and flag, and she was sold on the Saints.

In Grade 3, St Kilda were low down on the ladder but it didn’t bother her. By age 14, she was passionately a Saint. She had to leave home and her family to be safe, became a ward of the State and stayed in a hostel. During this traumatic time, the Saints were the one constant in her life. Not her family or friends but her beloved footy team.

When she and her husband Jason moved to Launceston, they became part of the Launceston Saints group and eventually went to meetings, Ree taking over the Secretary position from Bev.

The final Sainter I talked to at the ground, another organiser for the Launceston Saints support group, was Michael. His first footy memories were of his Carlton-supporting uncle and aunt. He tagged along to Carlton matches when visiting. He planned to be in Melbourne in 1966 for an operation, and he lined up for tickets to the Grand Final to get MCC tickets for him and his uncle, and checked himself out of the hospital to go to the game. The rest is history, and he wants another one before he is too old to care.

The Launceston supporter group are incredibly active and recently had a function to raise money for the MRV Foundation. The way they organised the training, and later the pre-match and post-match functions, showed how awesome this small group of organisers are, as well as how passionate so many Tassie Saints supporters are around them. For the Maddie Riewoldt Vision round against Richmond, both Tigers and Saints supporter groups combined to watch the game and raise funds in Launceston.

5. Fountainside Mark II

Come dinner time, and faced with the second night of magnificent lamb shanks, we have North Melbourne supporters start a conversation. Caroline and Marcus are in Hobart for a Jehovah’s Witnesses conference. No North v Saints game for them. Everyone is up for a footy chat. No one is confident of the game tomorrow.

Dale, the husband of last night’s receptionist, has rung and will come say g’day at the supporters function.

6. Pre-game magnificence at the Shoreline Hotel in Howrah

With Denise meeting me at the game, I share a taxi with fellow Travelling Saints Shae and Libby to the Shoreline Hotel. It is across the Tasman Bridge, which 40 years ago was hit by the ship Lake Illawarra, breaking two of the pylons and killing 12 people. I remember the day, the news and the shock. Today the bridge gives us terrific views of the bays, the snow atop Mt Wellington, and boats and ships in the harbour. We reach the Shoreline and we are delighted to find a big room decorated with red, white and black balloons and we know we have joined a party.

Ree and her committee are busy organising, and I am already moving around chatting. I talk to Patricia whose grandfather, Malcolm Jack McBean, used to play for the Saints (1946-49, 55 games; also 4 for Footscray in 1944-45).

I meet Greg who has barracked for the Saints from the age of 8. He used to follow North Launceston player Jim Ross (St Kilda 1946-54, 139 games, 171 goals) when he played for the Saints. Then there were all the other great Tassie players like Baldock, Templeton, Webster and Riewoldt.

Pauline just supports Greg, and confesses she is a Bomber at heart (but doesn’t tell anyone here). Lynn, another friend of Greg, follows the Saints because of Greg and has always been a Saint. She remembers playing footy with her father as a kid.

Lynn is originally from Hobart but lived for a while in Launceston. Greg has always been in Hobart. He is impressed with the improvement of the 2015 Saints and feels we have the right coach. He loves all facets of his Club right now, the President, CEO, the team. And feels we have to be patient because we are on the right path. Greg said he would love it if the Saints played again in Tassie.

Luke, another at the table with us, said that when he was 4 or 5 his older brother threated to “bash the bejesus out of me unless I changed to St Kilda. I’m glad now.”

Alisha said that she could have been North Melbourne or St Kilda because of her Mum. She has no idea how it all begun, how she ended up with the Saints, but has been told that at her first game she wanted to take the jumper off and leave.

Fred, a North supporter at a St Kilda function, said his grandfather played in the North reserves and so the whole family used to go and watch.

Jean tells me she was a Saint before ’66. Her Dad barracked for Alex Jesaulenko, and when he came across from Carlton to coach the Saints, he followed Jezza across.

Kylie, another ring-in North supporter, said her grandfather, father and rest of the family are longtime Kangaroos. “Smash ‘em” was her prediction for the day.

I met Adrian, Bev’s son, father of Aaron Robert Nicholas Griffiths. “No choice,” he says. Having met his Mum and talked yesterday, I can see he is totally correct. Adrian told me even his wife Tatiana was at the Saints game when she went into labour. His mother-in-law was the only one insisting her daughter go to the hospital when contractions got a little steadier. A very relaxed family as far as childbearing is concerned. Not so with their passion about St Kilda. Tatiana confessed that she liked Carlton before marrying Adrian, but her father-in-law said she wouldn’t be accepted into the family unless she was a Saint. What a fabulous member of this family she has become.

I was so happy to be meeting so many local Saints supporters. The turn-up was terrific. The room was filled to the brim.

I talked to a Travelling Saint Vanessa, another supporter who due to family had no choice but to support the Saints.

Gavin had to think: “Good question,” he said. He was at Waverly in ’71 at the age of 10. His family were Richmond, but the Saints had so many Tassie boys. Gavin reminded me that the recruiting guy for the Saints, the fabulous Ian Drake, had close association with one of the Launceston clubs. At that time, if you were a Tasmanian you followed the Saints. His family, his sisters, all Saints. His father-in-law turned his two young sons to Blues, so he’s lost them.

Gavin joined the Saints in early 2000 as a member when the Saints first played in Tassie, thinking that he may as well be loyal and be a member and he would love more consistent Tassie games. But, he says, if the Government didn’t put in the big dollars in Hobart, North Melbourne wouldn’t be staying. He thought that a team may need to be relocated to Tassie, but the difficulties would be that everyone already had their allegiances. His team would always be the Saints regardless of any possible future state team.

Robyn tells me she has been a supporter for 58 years, since she was 16. Her reason was simple. Her local team was New Norfolk, whose colours were red, white and black. A modest transition.

Susan, Robyn’s daughter, is a Sainter but has lost control of the rest of her family, though her daughter Sarah works with the Saints at Seaford.

James has been a supporter from age 7 or 8. He remembers loving footy at Primary school in the early ‘60s. The Saints were just starting to build with their Tasmanian stars. He had to follow St Kilda and grew up watching them. He remembers ’66 and listening to the game with his parents on an old radio. He has “tried like hell to brainwash my kids and grandkids,” but they barrack for other teams.

Trudy says her story “is not really interesting.” And then goes on to interest me. She had no idea how it all begun, but her grandmother, mother, aunty all barracked for the Saints. All the rest of the extended family supported the Bombers. “I must have liked my grandmother better than my grandfather or father,” she quipped. “They were grumpy old men.” When she visited one aunty in Melbourne, she was asked, “Do you want to go to Moorabbin to the footy? If you do, you need to drive.” Thirty-four years later, she is still driven. “My aunty lived in St Kilda then,” Trudy said. “I thought that was awesome.”

And then the main act started. Matt Finnis, Jamie Cox and Peter Summers all stood up at the front of the room full of red, white and black-clad fans and supporters. Matt’s connection to Tassie was his dog named Sorell, because the breed came from a breeder in Sorell, Tassie. Jamie Cox came from Wynyard and is a beloved Tassie cricketer. He and Dean Hills used to open the batting.

Peter Summers tells us this was less stressful than the time he came down here (linking here to Bev’s story), when he bought the 1966 Premiership Cup to the Verdun Howell event in Launceston. He told us that he had to check it in to Qantas baggage, and they, over his constant journeying, had lost his luggage several times. It was with great stress that he handed it over to them and luckily, it came through the journey unscathed.

He also said that the Club were rebuilding their list, but they hadn’t had to rebuild the great Club passion shown by fans, as evidenced by today’s event. He thanked those supporters for their commitment to travel and that he recognised many familiar faces now. The support in Tasmania was very strong, the membership base here huge, and the history and future of Tasmania and St Kilda was very strong. He loved the passion and support from Tassie.

Matt talked about the Saints’ march back to Moorabbin, that they’ve secured Kingston support and state and AFL funding. Construction can begin next year, and in 2017 there will be a stand-alone VFL red, white and black team.

Matt also talked about how our players and the Club loved playing in Tasmania and would love to play both Hawthorn and North Melbourne here as away games in future so the Tassie supporters have more games to attend. He also talked about next year’s fixture, and how the Saints are barely recovered from their six Sunday afternoon games for the season. The Club are requesting some more fan- and player-friendly time slots.

Jamie added that the Sunday afternoon fixtures interfered with our training, too, as it meant only one good run a week was possible and it was hampering our performances, as well as being mentally challenging to the players for not giving them some relaxation time on the weekends.

To finish off, Peter talked about the necessity to get back to basics at the Club, and to especially connect to supporters. (This was supported over and over again during questions, with people saying how great they found the current connection.) He confirmed how well the supporters were buying into the message. The fans were embracing the Club and vice versa. There was a lot of love in the room. St Kilda Football Club was also embracing its roots and its cultural diversity, saying the City of St Kilda has always been a place where rock stars rub shoulders with the homeless. The Club supports its community in many ways, fundraising for the MRV, supporting people of all races, religions, sexuality and place in the world. The Saints give people a sense of belonging, and it is a part of the Club future to share that sense of belonging as far as it can.

Jamie added that St Kilda players, all of them, have hearts that tick for the Saints, for the St Kilda values. It is team first, to be both aggressive out on the field and do the right thing in life. Effort. In everything. He talked of the great comebacks in games, as the team wants to make our people proud, its fans, staff, and partners, anyone associated. This kind of thinking has had a great impact on the playing group; every season the young men get more spiritual and add more feeling to their playing. Seventy percent of the players had been at the club four years now, six players have played more than 200 games, and if you add that together, it’s a lot of football. The senior leaders were good footballers but also great people. The Club want to have a good look at the list before heading to the draft. “We’ve beaten the teams below us,” he said, “Now we have to try and take some scalps.” He was very keen to see how the group is after another preseason.

When asked about Hugh Goddard, he said he “was the most determined” of the 2014 draftees. He terrorises his coaches with questions, desperately wants to make it in the Club. Matt piped in that as CEO he definitely wants to watch him continue to play.

When the chiefs of our tribe went off to the official function at the ground, I ordered some food and chatted to Dale (the Fountainside receptionist’s husband). He told me he was a Tassie boy. As a kid in ’63 he watched a semi between Geelong and Essendon. He got interested in football and thought he’d support either Geelong or St Kilda. Because of the Saints’ great players, he became a Saint. There were heaps of Tassie players in the ’66 Grand Final side, and Dale has been to all the Grand Finals since, and even to New Zealand. He tries to get to a couple of games a year. His mate Roger has also been a supporter for ages, again because of the Saints’ Tassie players.

Finally, I introduced Dale and Roger to Leigh, the Hobart organiser for the Saints fans, as they wanted to become more involved. Matchmaking seems my second/third/fourth profession. Leigh’s father and grandfather were both Saints. He was 12 in ’66. He found that era so exciting. He hid out in the hothouse with the tomatoes on their property while his father yelled out the scores as he was too excited to listen himself. He has followed the Saints ever since from Hobart. Leigh kindly gave me and young Jo (also travelling to all the games) a lift to the game after he’d put all the decorations and balloons in the car. Jo got the luxury of sitting in the back with all the balloons.

Many other Saints from the function were waiting for the buses which took them directly to the ground. I walked around with Jo, catching up once again, before splitting once he knew I was heading in the right direction. I found Denise upstairs waiting, and settled in for the game.

7. Game time at Blundstone Arena

Listening to so many stories, keeping copious notes and meeting so many people, has been a blessing and an exhausting experience. I felt that I had done a day’s work already before even sitting down to watch the game.

We had great seats, a good view from the wing and a pleasant day to watch the game. Denise had had a relaxing morning and got here by bus.

I looked around the oval, at all the Blundstone signage, at the magnificent views of the surrounding areas, of the mostly North Melbourne crowd and the wonderful Saints who were scattered everywhere.

The game started so fast, with North Melbourne getting two quick goals before the Saints came marching in to get three before quarter time. We again missed some chances, which proved to be a harbinger for the game ahead. We led by 8 points at quarter time and 20 at half. We’d begun to think we had a chance. There were three great goals in the second quarter but eight missed opportunities. Our kicking was killing us. All that attacking was going to waste, and after half time, when the Kangaroos finally switched on, we were belted. Or kicked in the guts with a steel-tipped pair of Blundstones. There were 14,346 people at the ground who watched North get nine goals to our two in the third, and another five goals to our three in the last. Petrie kicked 5; Thomas, Garner, Harvey all kicked two each. Our main goal kickers were Hickey with some lovely play in the day (but he missed two), Riewoldt with two (and two misses) and Bruce with two (also two misses).

Exhausted from the day, we decided to taxi back to the Duke of Wellington Hotel in Hobart. Our taxi driver was happy that we OK’d the picking up of his fare (pre-game), and the four of us plus Robin (our driver) chatted on our journey. Rich and Lisa’s daughter had bought them tickets for the trip to Tassie as a gift, Rich being a Collingwood man who felt sorry for the Saints because of the stolen 2010 Cup and Lisa a Saint through her maternal line.

Again, we walked into the back room of the hotel and found the balloons from the pre-game and happy Travelling Saints and locals. The room over the next hour was transformed into another Saints function, with drinking and eating and catching up. There was no more writing or collecting stories, just eating and chatting until we finally got home and collapsed.

Denise headed home early the next morning to get to the Melbourne v Western Bulldogs game and the women’s game just before.

8. Being an observer

After a good long walk in the morning, I spent the rest of the day in recovery and writing. When the women’s game was broadcast for the first time ever, I was happily watching the women play hard and full-on footy. It was great seeing faces I have seen in past games when I was at this game in person with Denise two years back. Now I saw some of the St Kilda Shark faces. Every woman on the ground wanted the cup at the end of this match. There were injuries and some argy-bargy in goal squares. Real footy with real passion for winning. The Western Bulldogs almost pulled off the comeback of all time and only missed out by 2 points. They haven’t won this game yet.

Then the main game started, and I watched as the Doggies totally annihilated the Demons. Goal after magnificent goal, this team not only steamrolled its opposition but maintained its top-four spot.

All afternoon Denise and I texted each other. I shared in the glory and celebration. If I was stuffed, she was even worse off, having just dropped her bags off home to head directly into the ground. She ended the game with her Doggie in-laws, all celebrating and close to tears. They were on some kind of journey this year, and the whole footy community seems to be watching.

9. One more story

Come Tuesday and at home, I get a message from Donna from Tassie. Ree said I’d like to hear her story. Donna is from Burnie, and she tells me her father was a one-eyed Saint, so she grew up a Saint. In 1997, when the Saints lost to Adelaide in the Grand Final, her son Jamie listened to the game with bated breath. “He was so one-eyed,” Donna remembers, “He lived and breathed for the Saints.”

Then six days after that Grand Final, Jamie died in a car accident. Donna and her family were shattered. His graveside was, and continues to be, decorated in plastic flowers, red, white and black.

Several months ago, Donna met Ree at the Penguin game where Lenny Hayes and Stephen Milne played, and they became friends on Facebook. Donna had taken her grandson Blake (whose middle name is Jamie) to that game. She also took her Lenny Hayes book for Lenny to sign.

Blake was the mascot for this North Melbourne game. When he was told of his selection, he cried, he was so touched.

Donna remembers that Jamie never got to see a live game, and here his nephew ran onto the ground with his favourite players. For Ree to organise this for Blake touched Donna deeply. Out on the ground, while Ree organised, Donna and her niece, Jaime Lee (who was Angeline for the Hobart game) helped with the banner. Donna was wearing Jamie’s footy jumper and socks. It was her way of taking Jamie into the experience with her. He’s always in her heart anyway. Uncle Jamie is always part of family footy conversations.

Blake said, “I’m going to be running out for me and Uncle Jamie.” Of his on-ground experience, Blake said, “It was awesome. They were jogging and I was sprinting. They were so nice, Nan, and I like Nick (Riewoldt).”

Donna says he was given a jumper by the Club. He said, “I will pay for it Nan, I don’t mind paying.”

Ree, in choosing Blake for the experience, couldn’t have given the joy to a more worthy recipient.

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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