Round 23 – West Coast Eagles v St Kilda: The Eagles fly off with the Saints in their talons

Domain Stadium, Saturday 5th September 2015, 5.40pm

1. Way out West (Dingoes)


Way out west where the rain don’t fall

Got a job with the company drilling for oil

Just to make some change

Living and a’working on the land

I quit my job and I left my wife

I headed out west for a brand new life

Just to get away living and a’working on the land


What a change it’s been

From working that nine to five

How strange it’s been

At last I get the feeling that I’m really alive


This song brings back memories. The Australian band’s country rock song was one of my staples in an earlier incarnation of a busking traveller and vague hippie. I’d always be moving with my guitar and songbook, and had all the confidence to sing out into the world with little musical education or great skill. I never made it as far as Perth, though Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne and Darwin were places in the late 1970’s where I would find other like-minded souls and enjoy life.

I’ve changed the instrument, from the note to the word. But I’m still living with my gypsy urges and creativity. This time it is focused not on entertaining but on being entertained. Of becoming an active passive observer and teller of tales. My own and others.

Come the trip to Perth for the last leg of my football odyssey, I look out the window on the final kilometres to Perth and watch the small clouds cast shadows on the dry, flat landscape, wonder again at the immense expanse of land below me and the skill of the pilots and staff who make the trip so easy on us civilians. It is all quiet on the flight, with everyone cocooned within their own private entertainment. We are fed and entertained. We are ready to disembark. It is at this moment Claire sees my Saints scarf and points to her husband Neil across the other aisle, and says, “Neil is a Saints supporter, too.” When I asked him why, he said, “My mother would have abandoned me had I not.” He asked me if I’d ever seen the WEG cartoon of a middle-aged lady threatening people with an umbrella. “That was exactly like my mother,” he said. They were heading up to Broome for a holiday, while I was heading to Domain Stadium for a thrashing.

In the taxi, I am surprised to see local road names within moments of our travel: St Kilda Road, Kooyong Road, Brighton Road, Orrong Road, all within streets of each other. These are all my local streets. Was Belmont a fake Melbourne? Then we cross under a bridge with signage, “Town of Victoria Park”. There’s a train to Armadale. When I have stopped amusing myself with local, familiar names, the driver points out the new Perth Stadium being built on the Swan River at Burswood which will replace the WACA and Domain Stadium for both football and cricket. There is building going on everywhere. The Swan River is crossed, and we go under tunnels.

We head to Domain Stadium, better known as Subiaco Oval or Subi Oval. I want to get my bearings for tomorrow and know where to go, and it is a short and pleasant detour before heading to my hotel.

With my room not yet ready, I drop all my gear and head out to walk. I am one street up from the Swan River, and am in East Perth, just five blocks from the centre of town, the shops, restaurants, train station and supermarket. By the time the hotel has texted me, I have food supplies and am ready to go create my temporary home.

  1. Perth St Kilda Open Training Day

This was a huge event, with many people coming 3-4pm on Friday afternoon to see the St Kilda boys do their light workout and get autographs and photos. We are all gathered quietly and patiently outside. I am looking for the local organiser Travis, and start by going to bearded gentlemen in my surrounds to see if they are Travis. They know him, but he’s inside organising. So I get their stories instead.

There is Alby, who used to happily support Hawthorn. He had the full Hawthorn regalia before “my old man bribed me” in 1967. Alby has been a loyal St Kilda man since then. He tells me his granddaughter was a member of the Saints before she was born. His own father migrated from Holland in ’56 and supported the Saints in ’66. Alby and family all came from Malvern East, and he would make his way to Moorabbin every week to see multiple wooden spoons. He would stand behind the coaches’ box at Moorabbin, he said, and tell Jeansy how to coach.

Cameron told me that at 7 he had to pick a team. Saints were playing Adelaide in the 1997 Grand Final, and he liked the Saints colours better. His favourite moment was seeing Robert Harvey win the Brownlow. Cameron’s 6-month-old baby, not present today, is usually completely decked out in Saints colours.

Stuart’s Mum was a Geelong supporter, but he was brainwashed by his Dad to be a Saint. At that time his parents lived in Melbourne. They used to travel from their home in Footscray to Moorabbin Bay 13. His Dad grew up a Saint and would walk to the Junction Oval to see games played there. Stuart’s parents and older brother all saw St Kilda win the 1966 Grand Final. He has seen the replay, and was at the 2009 and both 2010 games. He remembers having a stubbie for every goal kicked for the Saints in ’97. There weren’t enough for victory; the stubbies helped drown out the misery of that loss.

We then got into a general St Kilda chat, how well the team was developing; the mood around the club being good, they were happy with the media the Club was sending out.

Then the crowd were distracted in a happy way when the busload of St Kilda players and trainers and coaches arrived. They were efficiently ushered into their particular entrance while we waited for ours to open. There was a great turnout and people happily piled into to the arena. Cameron continued to be helpful, especially when I didn’t remember the name of Beau Maister, who had come to see his old mates at training. It was lovely to see Joey and Rooey and Sam Gilbert and coaches come over and see their friend; the surprised happy faces said it all. And Adam Schneider, dressed up in coaching gear, warmed our hearts, too. There was lots of hugging with Beau, who stayed most of the training before having to leave early.

Inside, I chatted to a father/daughter combination, Peter and Rachel. During the ’66 Grand Final period, Peter’s family lived in Victoria. He followed the Saints because of his Dad Jim, whose uncles played for St Kilda. John Coffey (1948-52, 1957-59; 89 games) and Allan Callow (1953-56, 32 games) led this family to the red, white and black.

Rachel supported her Dad’s team because of his “undying passion” for the Saints. He was not a sheep following local teams, and stuck to his beloved Saints all the way over in the west. Peter had been to the ’66 Grand Final and the loss of ’71.

I met Lois, a mad Sainter who watched ’66 and hoped they’d win and they did. She said she was a brave Saints fan in the middle of a completely Collingwood family. She thinks the Saints had a bright future.

Then I met Paul, who turned out to be one of the world’s true characters. Paul started supporting the Saints in ’63 as a country boy from Albury, NSW. He would make the journey on the Spirit of Progress train from Albury to Spencer Street, and then Spencer Street to Moorabbin, and walk to the ground. And then go home after the game. He was here in Perth with his son Nathan (a Rooey’s Recruit) and had travelled from Bali for this game.

I asked if he’d named his son Nathan after Nathan Burke, but he didn’t. He does, however, have two dogs called Harves and Haze (Hayes)

Paul went on to tell me as a kid, a whole group of friends went to Moorabbin, he to see his favourite, Carl Ditterich.

Later, after moving to the city, Paul joined a group of tragic Saints fans on the outer. They called themselves “MOBS”, Moorabbin Outer BBQ Squad.

They had an old half-metal drum in which they’d BBQ. It became so popular at times that the reserves or injured players would join in and watch the main game from there. For many years at Moorabbin, they enjoyed the BBQ and ran raffles, but this special time was lost with the move to Waverly and the end of the BBQ freedom and stories. Russell Holmesby, the Club historian, was a frequent BBQ visitor.

Their group on the outer would elect their man of the match with a trophy purchased from the raffle money.

At the end of the season, the Club would set aside a special evening whereby MOBS were provided access to all players and allowed to present their awards direct to the winner following — you guessed it — a BBQ. A great evening was had by supporters and players alike.

Now he tells me he has a different life altogether, living in Bali the past 25 years. His 13-year-old son Nathan has only a rare opportunity to play AFL, with his time split between Gaelic football and soccer at school. He lines up with the local Bali Geckoes AFL team at every given chance.

Nathan’s hero is Nick Riewoldt, and one day he too would love to play for the Saints.

Peter “Spida” Everitt once had villas in Bali and was one of many former AFL players to take charge of the Bali Geckoes’ training over the years.

Paul maintains a special connection to the Club, and as a Bali member, the Club makes sure he has free ticket access to games he can get to in either Western Australia or Queensland. He sometimes makes it to Melbourne, but more rarely. When he gets to Club functions, or the players’ holiday in Bali, they often catch up. Players may attend the Geckoes’ GF function as special guests, for example.

Paul mentions Bali has the largest AFL-endorsed championship, the AFL Masters tournament with 16-18 teams from Australia, Dubai, Vietnam, Singapore and Thailand who come over for a three-day derby. There are lots of former AFL players participating as ring-ins, enjoying the game together.

Paul tells me proudly the Club proved how much they care about their members, even the younger ones one year. It was Nathan’s birthday and they had arranged to travel to Perth, and one of the main goals was to obtain Nick’s autograph. As it turned out, Nick didn’t end up making the trip to Perth because of a knee injury.

Nadine, who used to work for the Club, organised a complete personalised outfit signed by Nick and a note saying he was sorry he couldn’t make it to Perth. Nathan has been a Rooey’s Recruit for 8 years. This just showed the Rooey’s Recruit how much his hero cared.

Paul could have chatted forever, he had so many special stories. He was there at Collingwood the day that Nicky Winmar raised his jumper. He’s taken Nathan to all the holy sites — Moorabbin, Junction Oval, Waverly and Seaford, and I assume the MCG. Nathan was even going to participate again in banner holding for the upcoming game.

He describes the heaven of living close to the beach with his family in Bali. He even invited me to come visit.

Meanwhile, his son Nathan, wearing his father’s 35-year-old Guernsey (with absolutely no advertising on it and the number 8) lined up with others to get photographs and autographs. The players were now coming around, and I watched as both adults and kids lined up for both.

I watch as the crowd and players share their moments. I talk to two women standing on the seats taking photos of their sons. I ask their story. One is Rebecca, and her husband, Cameron, is the mad Sainter, who named their son Nick after Nicky Winmar. Cameron’s dad was at the ’66 Grand Final. Rebecca said she’s St Kilda now, too: “You have to, really.” Her friend, Carmen, was there with her son, Finn, who “was infected” by his friend Nick.

While we talked, Finn and Nick were getting a guernsey autographed and a hat autographed, and Rebecca said, “who’s that player,” and I found myself a Nanna again, giving the names of all the players as they came along. I then took over calling out their name and asking them to look up for photos. They’d look at me and then see the two young women on the seats taking photos. It was quite funny, standing there, talking to my boys momentarily by saying their names, getting a grin or two while doing it. Fifteen players went by this way. I noticed how tired Nick Riewoldt looked. It’s been such a long year.

Josh Bruce came along without his customary cap and his hair down. Apparently he had signed the hat and given it to a young boy along the fence line. My love for these blokes just keeps growing.

Alan Richardson was hovering, but before he went down the race, stepped back towards the group and said, “how about encouraging him (Josh) to get a haircut. He won’t listen to me.” We all laughed as Josh muttered something like, “that’s not going to happen” while still signing and grinning for photos. It felt like a real father/son moment and a real Club/fan moment.

Lorraine was a Saints because of her Tassie connections, as was Kerrie, another fan I chatted to as the training session ended.

I followed Kerrie towards the station, and there met others who had been at open training, Jonathon, Matt and father Boyd, and Kyzer. Jonathon sweetly helped me buy a ticket, another Nanna moment. He told me the family were all Eagles and Dockers, so he followed the Saints to “tease” them. Matt loved the colours, players and the emblem and used to be in the Cheer Squad. For Kyzer, the Saints colours were his junior footy club colours from Esperance. All the family are Sainters, he, Nan, and all the extended family. Then it was onto the train and off to our separate lives.

Until tomorrow.

  1. Western Saints triumphant

The Western Saints had a terrific turnout to their pre-game event, and the reason it’s the best turnout that I have been to all year (numbers-wise at least) is that it was in the President’s Room bar, attached to the Stadium itself. It meant everyone who was there only had a short walk to the stadium entrance. People could relax. On entry, and on paying, I received a ticket for food and a raffle ticket for a door prize. I put my gear down near Dave, who was taking photos as one of the organisers of the Western Saints group.

He told me proudly that his son Bradley was running out with the team this afternoon. When I asked Bradley why he was a Saint, his Dave quipped, “Because I’d give him the flogging of his life if he didn’t.” Lorelle, the wife/mother, laughed heartily. Dave has been a member for 40 years, and his son Bradley since birth. Bradley was stoked to be the mascot for the day, and was clearly itching to get going.

The food provided was magnificent. There were two choices, pork pie or hamburger, and of course, chips. Though tricky to eat, the pie tasted great, and hit the spot. It was quick, easy feeding of the masses.

I had a quick chat to one of the invited guests, past Saint player Garry Sidebottom (1978-80, 54 games) but the announcements stopped me from getting his story directly. Instead, his partner Suzanne said he started in 1973 with 114 games for the Swans District before coming to the St Kilda and captaining the Saints. He went to Geelong and Fitzroy afterwards, and Garry gets invites to events such as this to have a chat up front.

I also said hello to Peter Summers, his partner Karen, and Ameet Bains, who greeted me like an old friend. Peter has now seen me at every interstate or out-of-country event. Peter and Ameet were both interviewed up front during the afternoon.

While eating my food, I sat next to Greg and Sandy. Greg, an ex-Victorian, started barracking for the Saints at age 8. His reason? Carl Ditterich. This man alone is responsible for a generation of Saints supporters coming on board. He tells me proudly that he’s been to every Grand Final including ’66. His Dad was a Collingwood man who was avenged in 2010 with a win over the Saints. Greg often travels, and they made the first trek to New Zealand several years ago, making new friends in the bargain. Like many other grandparents, the moment their grandson was born, memberships were organised, and they have managed to steal said grandson from his West Coast Eagles father.

I met the Western Saints Treasurer Ian’s fiancé. Ian was at the door being one of those responsible for the smooth running of the function. Sigrid used to live in Fremantle and so, like most others from out that way, were natural Dockers. But since meeting Ian, she has shifted towards the Saints. She admires Ian’s persistence and patience when it comes to the Saints, and loves supporting him in what he is passionate about. And that is the Saints. And obviously Sigrid.

Matt, supervising Selby and Felix, eat their dinners nearby. Matt comes from Ivanhoe in Victoria, and tells me that he used to cycle from Ivanhoe to Moorabbin, and slowly, over time, more and more friends joined the cycle down south via Burke Road. He started being a Saint after seeing them win a game. Felix liked the Tigers but tells me Dad said he had to be a Sainter. Matt’s old physical education teacher was Ricky Nixon.

Then Garry Sidebottom was being interviewed, and one of the interesting things he said was how Allan Jeans taught him to play the Victorian way. Playing in Victoria required the young Sidebottom to play much better players. Not sure if the Victorian way was the reason he had 14 tribunal appearances. I think he meant that in Victoria, handball was a great way to move forward and get the ball out of packs. He talked about being hit by a stubby once when playing at Hawthorn, and it was thrown by a Saints supporter who was unhappy with him for giving away a free kick. The police wanted to charge the man, but Garry said he couldn’t press charges against a Saints fan.

Garry observed that St Kilda were recruiting to keep a group of players together for 5-7 years, the time it took a team to develop into a side to win premierships. He said the players at Geelong were together 10 years and they got three. Dockers have 13 players together for 9 years. He said it was up to the administration to keep the workforce (players) together for the best result.

These days, Garry said, he’s involved in watching his five kids play sport, especially basketball. He himself is a towering and big individual. I smiled when he said, “I used to play for this great club.”

Then came the auction, a Robert Harvey print, a Stewie Loewe print, a signed jumper which got great bids, and four tickets for the Channel 9 Grand Final Footy Show.

Danny Sexton had come up from the rooms downstairs, and spoke as the Director of Coaching and Strategy. He said the Club were aiming at a result like the one with Geelong, that we have plenty to play for and they won’t leave anything behind. He spoke about how 6½ wins were just not enough. The season was an improvement, the last game notwithstanding. The job now was to build through good trading and drafting. The Club, he said, wanted to do well for supporters here and everywhere.

Raffles were drawn, prizes given out, and disappointment rippled through the room as the last guest, Nicky Winmar, had not made the function because of traffic. The Committee had worked tirelessly, as all the committees have all year, to make a vibrant and people-filled event. They were working so hard I didn’t get to speak to any of them, but they sweetly passed my details around and I got some stories over the week.

  1. And the Eagles soar

Perhaps the most fun thing about this game was the fact that a real, live and huge eagle flies around the oval in pre-game celebrations. This was the 100th time this eagle has flown its magnificent wings around the edges of the roof-line, and there are “oohs” and “ahs” as a Magpie seems to fly at the Eagle and have a crack. There are pom-pom girls and umpires wearing pale blue.

When the St Kilda boys come onto the field, there are cheers amongst us, but we are totally outnumbered by West Coast Eagles supporters. Scatterings of Sainters made some noise. My Melbourne-travelling Saint Donna was on the field, having her first cheer squad banner experience. When she made it to the seat next to me, Donna said it all went so quickly. Donna’s a Saint because of her husband. He’s currently in Wodonga, and Donna laughs when she says she’s now more passionate than he is. “It was in our marriage vows,” she said. To our right and left, Weagles fans. There were Saints like Clare and Mum Helen to my left. Helen married a Victorian who liked St Kilda. He was actually named “Doc,” so his family must have liked the Saints, too. Helen tells me they came to a West Australian game in 1987 and was overdue with Claire. St Kilda got thrashed, and Claire was induced the next day. They travel four hours to get to any Saints games, and Claire was vocal in getting the Sainters around to cheer for our measly four goals of the match.

The first quarter, after West Coast ran away with four goals, the Saints fought back with two. We thought we had a chance. We thought we stopped them. We thought wrong. Come second quarter, another three goals to our one; third term, 6 goals to 1; and finally, 5 goals to nil. It was a 95-point drubbing.

It was the last game for the Saints, and it felt that the last two games hit us like anvils on the head of cartoon characters. It was hard to sit through, and I guarantee hard for the boys on the field to keep going until the siren blew. The boys went straight from the ground to the airport and took the late-night plane home. At least they could recover in their own beds. Rest well young men. See you next year.

  1. Even more great football

I find the Footy Almanac community unbelievably generous. I had contacted Sean Gorman, author of “Brotherboys” (2009) and “Legends: The AFL Indigenous team of the Century” (2011), who I only knew as another good person from the Almanac, having passed each other at previous functions. I asked him if he knew of any indigenous games I could see while in Perth, and come Sunday, I am at the Under 15s Fremantle City girls v Kwinana girls. Meeting Sean, his friend David, and his kids Luka and Fairlie, and standing together on the boundary line watching the game start was a real treat. Two teams with modified rules, modified size of the ground, and a great attitude fought it out for the modified finals. Sean had asked around, and Freo City had a good team of talent. This wasn’t an indigenous team, just a team with many girls from all backgrounds, including indigenous.

They only started the Freo team this year, and had only six girls, one of them the daughter of first-year coach Chris Mitchell. Slowly, through word of mouth, through gathering one girl, and then her friends, and then hers again, a team of 16 were mostly present today. As with the indigenous girls, once one joined, her friends joined. Some of the team had kicked a ball before, many hadn’t. They are there to develop skills, but more importantly to have fun and enjoyment. Handball is the easiest to teach and learn, as it is a natural movement, and so their handball is one of their strengths rather than kicking. Many coaches at all levels like the use of handball to break open play, to get the ball out from the crowded pack. Chris tells me this team has bought friendship groups and a great spirit together, and the team has jelled over the short season.

There are four teams in this league, and each are playing each other today for the “finals.” It was a semi; the winner of this game plays the winner of the other.

At halftime, I chat to Emma’s grandparents and step-mum. Emma is an avid basketballer, her first love. Emma loves her footy, too, and used to play with the boys. The problem there was that at nearly 14 she towered above them, and they wouldn’t kick to her. Now she has teammates who do. The girls out the middle had played great footy, and she was the ruckman. Her confidence was evident. Caroline and Richard, Emma’s grandparents, kept telling me stories. Caroline herself played footy in the past, and remembers her women’s team rocking up for games with their hair in rollers with a net over the top. “We had brilliant hair,” she quipped, “but sometimes no teeth.” She was a rough player, by her own admission, and says she got the “Best and Fairest Award” and everybody laughed. Their whole family are participators in one sporting group or another: “We all contribute.”

I am told that Emma has played 6 of the 11 rounds of this season.

With no prompting and probably because of my Saints scarf, Richard goes on to tell me he was a Saints supporter, not because he followed the VFL or AFL, but because he liked the colours and the players, especially Carl Ditterich. He had Carl’s number on the back of his footy guernsey. He later became an Eagle supporter.

He remembered that when he played footy for Scotch College, the school footy team went to St Kilda to meet all the players. All the team gave the boys a jumper, and Carl gave him his number 10 because he was a big boy and Carl had the biggest jumper. This, he reminisced, was in 1963, Carl Ditterich’s first year with the Saints.

When the game started, I was back with Sean, David, Luka and Fairlie, and we were close enough to coach Chris to hear his encouragement. We stood near the huddle at three-quarter time. he scores were almost even. I loved hearing Chris say that this last 15 it was all up to them, they could make the difference, they could win the game. All they had to do was to concentrate and do their best for 15 minutes and they could take the game.

For the first few minutes you wondered what they took out of their coach’s words. There seemed to be a lacklustre effort, and then suddenly, something switched on. Lightbulb moment. Freo were all over the opposition, kicking three goals straight.

Fremantle City 7.9 51

Kwinana 5.4 34

As the girls were all taken to get their ice creams, I talked to the President of the Fremantle City Club Leon. The AFL Fremantle Dockers has partnered with this club, which has been a boon. The girls from Freo City all had Fremantle Dockers jumpers. The City club, and other partner clubs, have two curtain raisers before Dockers games in the regular season. Freo also supplies the jumpers, but everything else is bought by the Freo City Club. The fate of Freo City is also attached to AFL Fremantle in another way. When Fremantle is doing well, Fremantle City membership goes up; in 2013 finals, it went from 300 to 450.

In Fremantle City district and club, there are more girls now coming up through the Under 12s and Under 15s competition. The youngest girls still play mixed in with boys, and often play both games (mixed and girls), which will continue until the girls’ league is strong enough to be maintained on its own. Then all players get to play one match a weekend.

Leon doesn’t differentiate between Indigenous and other players; once part of the Club they are all just players. There is sensitivity to the differing needs and circumstances of every player, no matter what their background.

At this stage, my lovely host Sean had to get back to his family on Father’s Day, and graciously dropped me at the local station, where I made my way back to Perth.

While waiting for the train, I began to chat with Tom, who has lived in Perth for 20 years. He vaguely supports the West Coast Eagles, but is actually a greater fan of basketball. He and his six friends are regular attendees at the Wildcats games when they play in Perth. We chatted so well that we exchanged details and caught up for dinner a few days later.

  1. More stories

I am walking miles and miles around Perth. In between walks, I catch up with scores from footy still being played all over the country.

Sandringham Zebras 11.11.77

Williamstown 13.6.84

It means the Zebras will go into an elimination final against the Magpies next week.

I see the last bits of season 2015 on TV, with the tight match between Essendon and Collingwood. After leading for most of the day, Essendon take the last-minute lead by three and have a win to tide them over until next season (and through the tough months with WADA before that).

The President of the Western Saints, Helen Creed, contacted me, and we finally get to chat. She was too ill with the end of a cold to get to the pre-game function or the game, and generously shares some information with me on the phone on Monday.

Her personal story as a Saint is this: Her father was a horse-racing journalist, with an office in their backyard, back in Carnegie, Melbourne. His secretary was a dyed-in-the-wool Saint, taking Helen to the footy at Moorabbin as a kid. Helen tells me she still has her membership tickets and the ’65 and ’66 Grand Final tickets. She was there for the winning one in ’66. As a teenager, she continued going with her aunty and friends, and remembers her aunty, an employee of Brockhoff Biscuits, always having two 2 thermoses of chocky milk for halftime, and hot green ginger wine for three-quarter time. Helen and her Aunty May drove in her aunt’s old VW to Moorabbin and other grounds.

Later still, when leaving a government job in Western Australia, everyone at the office gathered together and sung, “Oh when the Saints.” Helen was touched, impressed that they knew the words, and felt the gesture showed the level of esteem her colleagues felt for her. In a crazy footy town like Perth, it was easy to be a passionate supporter.

The Western Saints run a tight and dedicated ship in the west. The supporter group sponsors a Western Australia player for the Saints, this year, Blake Acres is their man (in the past, Clint Jones, Beau Maister and Tom Lee), as well as supports charitable groups (as requested by the St Kilda Footy Club) such as Alive and Kicking Goals, an Aboriginal Youth suicide prevention program, who are affiliated with the Broome Saints and the Youth Suicide Prevention Programme. Each year the group works out which charities it will support individually or in partnership with the club.

They use the experience of a mascot to fundraise, too; people have to bid for it. Another donation. The selection of the President’s Room, attached to Domain Stadium, has proven to be great in terms of location, and a challenge because doors are open to opposition supporters and general public one hour before the game.

Some years ago, the Western Saints had access to the players to have a fundraising breakfast the morning of the game, but not this game as the players flew directly home. Consequently, they have really appreciated the opportunity to attend open training sessions, which was introduced by Scott Watters and continued by Alan Richardson. It is tough going at times to be so far away from the action, especially in years like 2015 when the Saints only play one Western Australian game.

The Committee structure of the Western Saints has taken over from having sole people responsible and carrying all the tasks. Now it is a tightly run ship of many members, all having tasks shared. They previously met at the Inglewood Hotel for telecasts of certain games, but changed this year to the Game Sports Bar in Northbridge, which has the big screen available and supports the Western Saints’ functions to raise money. This has enabled the group to build up a good following, as was witnessed for this past game’s function. Social network systems like Twitter and Facebook are used. There are proper AGM’s and Committee meetings and minutes. It is a big state supporter group with big ideas.

Helen said Saints President Peter Summers is often over here for his business and generously donates his time. Once he came to the AGM, drawing 55 people along with him. Several times he’s helped kick off the season functions or been part of Q&A’s. He enjoys talking to the local members, as I have seen him enjoy doing so at every interstate function I have attended.

Come Wednesday night, I caught up with Travis, the Vice-President and member liaison, who had a different story indeed. His family came to Melbourne, Australia in the ‘60s just in time for the Melbourne Cup and the public holiday attached. This completely floored his Dad, Robin: a public holiday for a horse race. Welcome to Australia. Robin and his parents and brothers lived in Malvern East, one of St Kilda’s heartlands, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Robin, the eldest, and a brother became Saints. The other two brothers, Carlton.

His Dad went to muddy Moorabbin when his shift work for the airlines allowed. Then Robin, his wife Geralyn and family moved to Perth, and Travis was born into an Eagles world. When he started following footy, it was all Eagles until the Dockers came to town in ‘95. His two sisters are WA team supporters, but not as involved. Travis jumped ship to the new, shiny team, Fremantle.

Travis tells me as an “act of rebellion” he went back to his Dad’s original team St Kilda after hearing his Dad tell stories of Moorabbin. Robin’s favourites were about Cowboy Neale and George Young. Travis’s love of St Kilda was solidified when he had a chance meeting, at the airport on transit to a family holiday, with Stewie Loewe. He was awestruck by the size of Stewie, and especially his hands. (Stewie’s size and hands are responsible for two fans in my stories alone).

Travis got more involved in the team when he went to the airport to try and get Robert Harvey’s autograph on the team’s arrival in Perth in 2004. Once at the airport, he could see St Kilda support staff struggling with the baggage; there was a heap of luggage and the transfer onto the transport meant leaving it unattended. Travis volunteered to help Saints Logistics manager Peter Madden by staying with the unloaded stuff, thereby making the transition so much easier for the staff. This led to Peter taking his details, and Ken Sheldon (then footy manager) saying he’d send him a t-shirt as thanks. (The t-shirt never came, but a deep understanding and grateful relationship developed instead.)

The next game, he was asked to help with the banner and support at the airport, and now he is in the 10th year of helping the Club with Western Australian games. He picks up the van the Club have hired; he or another volunteer, Marcus, meet Peter at the airport, and take the equipment and supplies to the hotel, the ground, to training and to the game. He then gets the change room ready for the boys, puts their warmup gear or game day gear out ready, and kicks the football back to the players during practices pre-game and at training. There is all manner of equipment that travels with the team, 150 pieces, not including the boys’ personal carry-on bag. There are jumpers, drink bottles, stretchers, footballs, scales, nutrition supplies, white boards and massage tables. On game day, he sits on the bench or in the rooms, depending on where he is needed. Come the end of the game, everything has to be packed and taken back to the airport. Once Peter and his assistant Michael are back in Melbourne, again the supplies are put into a truck parked at the airport and taken back and put away at Seaford. All this is done before Peter’s work is done for the game.

Travis quips, “I would almost pay the Club to do this job.” He gets to have an experience like no other, gets to feel like part of the Club. And it all started from a moment of helpfulness.

Travis never got Robert Harvey’s autograph that day but did get it twice in the years to come. He talked of players who he had particular connections to, their concentration pre-game, his own memories, and moments which remain privately treasured.

He loves the fact that the day of the “bubble” Saints is over. Have been helping the Club through four coaches (Grant Thomas, Ross Lyon, Scott Watters and now Alan Richardson) so he has noticed the changes firsthand. He’s loving the way the players are developing, the engagement with fans, the warm and open attitude of the Club going forward.

Travis and I shared a lovely night eating good food and telling Saints stories. And loving it.

Later the next week, he texted me this lovely story:

“Last season I was called up into helping with the game day warmup. This day we were short by one person, so instead of my usual role of just feeding the ball to the kickers I was required to kick the ball back to the players. I was going OK with most of my kicks going somewhat near the players I was aiming for. Leigh Montagna yells out to me for the ball as he wants to take a long shot on goal: the problem is he is outside of 50m now. I can kick maybe 35m on my best kick so I’m thinking to myself, ‘Joey, you are dreaming, mate!!’ I decided to give it a crack so I take a run-up (to get a bit closer) and go for a massive torp. Problem is it hits the side of the boot and sprays off on a tight angle straight over the fence. Joey killed himself laughing. Dempster, who had come into the square to help kick back, laughed back, ‘Great kick, mate,’ and the fans behind me found it hilarious. I didn’t have much time to feel the embarrassment of it because I had a Jack Steven ball coming right at me to send right back. It’s intense, having 23 footys coming at you, bouncing every which way, and the hectic speed that the balls are required to go back. All this while trying not to get hit and trying to avoid getting your feet tangled in the safety net and tripping over in front of 45,000 people and possibly TV cameras. But I love it and wouldn’t give it up for quids.”

Finally, Ian (whose lovely fiancé talked to me at the pre-game function), let me know his Saints story, and I loved his words so much, his passion, that I have quoted him directly for most of his story.

Ian grew up in Tassie, and his dad and older brother were Saints supporters from the Baldock and Stewart era. His first game was the elimination final in 1973 against Essendon, when the Saints won by 11 goals. Having toyed previously with supporting the Tigers, this massive win sucked Ian right in as a lifetime Sainter, making his Dad happy in the process.

He goes on, “AFL coverage was very limited in Tassie in the 70s. We had “The Winners” for an hour on TV on a Sunday night, but apart from that on Saturday afternoons I would try to tune into 3LO for live broadcasts, or wait for the “round the grounds” reports on 7NT in Launceston. In those days Cowboy Neale was my hero. I only got to see the Saints play once back then – the team came down one year to play a combined NTFA/NWFU side in an exhibition match. Cowboy Neale played full forward for the first half and kicked a few goals. I chatted to Cowboy about it when he came over to WA for a match a few years ago – a great character.”

“I stuck with the Saints through the 70s and 80s, and then couldn’t get enough of Lockett and Winmar in the 80s and 90s. That was such an exciting time, with Harvey, Burke, Loewe, Frawley, etc. My favourite games during that era were our win over Carlton in round 2 in 1989 (first time in 10 years) and the 1991 Elimination Final (even though we lost).”

“I loved our resurgence in the early 2000s and was at Robert Harvey’s 350th at Subiaco … The Saints supporters that day nearly drowned out the Eagles supporters, we were that loud.”

“I got involved in the Western Saints in the late 2000s and was at all three grand finals in 2009 and 2010. I was so sure we would be in it in 2010 that I booked my flights from Perth in April. The result of the 2010 GF replay had me questioning my faith, but I have hung in there as a supporter and continued on as Treasurer of the Western Saints.”

Finally, Ian wrote, “I have started to get excited again this year, and have exposed my fiancé, Sigi, to my obsession. Hope springs eternal, and I can’t wait to see what will happen in the next two to three years”.

As the Saints season drew to an end, it seemed appropriate that I met such massive Saints supporters over in the West, who were generous with their time and stories. It’s taken days to write up, and as Perth prepares itself for the first two finals, I watch on with interest. With a dispassionate eye I will watch the West Coast Eagles take on Hawthorn at the pub that I have made my own this week, and will watch Fremantle and Sydney slog it out.

A lovely photo of the Saints boys on Sunday tweeted out warmed my heart. After the thumping over in WA, they spent a Sunday relaxing together back home, and their happy smiles bode well for a St Kilda future.

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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