Round 4 – St Kilda v Carlton: The Plane, The Party, The People, The Parade/Commemoration, The Pummelling, The Pooped and Peaceful Night after, The Paddy and The Punt, and the Place.

AFL Round 4: St.Kilda vs Carlton

Westpac Stadium, New Zealand

Saturday April 25th 2015


Yvette Wroby


The Plane:

While waiting for the flight to New Zealand, I hung with the great women I’d met at the Gold Coast, and then some. Introductions led to introductions. I got to talk to Wendy as we stretched our legs pre-flight.

Wendy, whose aunty married a Saint player, Kevin Roberts, found her childhood filled with Carl Ditterich playing chase-y with her, with Bob Murray being the godfather to her niece. At 2 years old, before all this, she’d barracked for Richmond, because that’s who Gerry G, the great puppet of our collective childhood, barracked for. But all these great Saints people turned this little one from a Tiger to a Saint, and she’s been a member ever since. Not only is she a member, but she’s been a volunteer for 18 years, is a player sponsor for Arryn Siposs, and a part of the Sinners Support Group. What are the “Sinners”, I asked in ignorance. The “Sinners”, Wendy informed me, were the ones who did the hard manual labour in support of the club, like helping with membership, merchandising, helping at functions at the Victory Room or wherever the Club need them. Extra hands and bodies.

Wendy told me she “bleeds red, white and black” and is forever grateful for the friendships she has made through her love of the Club. “They’ve (the Club) been in my life for so long, I don’t know what I’d do without them”, she said. To Wendy, “loyalty” and being a “positive supporter” are ingrained. I was to see Wendy over and over again all weekend.

On the plane, seated next to me, was George, and he grinned when he saw my Saints scarf draped over the back of my chair. George told me his family had owned a service station on Centre Road, South Oakleigh. Stewie Lowe, who worked at the “Paper House” around the corner, used to come in and chat with him. George remembers Stewie as having big hands and being a big man. They got to know him, and service his car. Stewie gave George a jumper and some socks and is the reason why George is still following St Kilda to this day, 27 years on.

His parents, and many other Greek immigrants of that time, had followed Richmond because their Greek football team, AEK Athens, was black and yellow. When George was 16, he began going to Waverly and as an adult became an AFL Saints member and often goes with his two children. He gets being the underdog, doesn’t mind it, as it reminds him of where he and his family have come from.

It felt like a good omen, meeting more Saints people, getting their stories, understanding shared histories. The flight was rocky and turbulent, and we relaxed into our in-flight entertainment and comedy and then we arrived.

At baggage collection, I started chatting to Wendy and Gerald. Wendy is a North Melbourne supporter, happy to go travelling with her Sainter husband. Gerald’s Nanna used to take him to the footy, and he grew up in St Kilda. (The next day we met in the centre strip across from the wharf, and chatted together like old friends in the middle of the road, Saints scarves flowing in the wind.)

The taxi driver Godsluv offered me a choice of routes to the hotel, tunnel or waterfront. Waterfront it was. Godsluv, from Thailand, loved all sorts of ball sports but especially cricket and rugby. He’d left Thailand many moons ago to work in IT in Saudi Arabia and then to New Zealand, but gave that away because you can earn more as a cabbie. He has lived in Wellington since 1998. He told me that the houses had bearings in them to make them quake proof, and as we drove along I admired the lovely homes, the buildings, the museums and the harbour. There was no footy conversation with Godsluv, but John made up for it.

I walked out of the taxi at the Novotel to be greeted by “Go Saints” from John, a driver of a minivan for tourists, either having just dropped off people or waiting for the next round. He pointed out the ramp up to hotel reception rather than the stairs, and we stood there talking while he told me his story. When John was 8, his mother and family moved to Melbourne from New Zealand to get away from a difficult situation. He went to St Kilda Primary School, and like many others before and after, became a Saints fan. He was so enamoured that he was often at the Club at Junction Oval or at St Kilda Park. He was there so frequently in that year he got paying jobs at the Club for being the orange boy, and the siren boy. He loved it. On top of that, he picked up odd jobs at Luna Park, would help the Garbos and the milkmen with their horse and carts. He would stand outside the bars and strip joints and sell the three editions of the papers. He told me, proudly, that he earned more money than his mum that year in Australia. The rest of his childhood, and his adulthood, was back in New Zealand. But he’s always kept an eye on the Saints.

The Party:

Once checked in, I went for a walk, to find my “Travelling Saints” people. They were there, on the corner of Featherston and Johnston Street, at the Belgian Beer Café, Leuven. Here, gathered together, were the Moorabbin Wingers I’d met at the Gold Coast, and so many more. The party was outside, but the Club’s flags were all over the indoors as well. This is the unofficial St Kilda fan pub, the three corners of the intersection all owned by friends. The owner of this one had an unexpected death in the family, and his mates from the pub across were hosting in his absence. Very sweet and very droll men. Wendy from the airport and her mates were there, too.

I met Anne and we chatted about caring for elderly parents and the wonderful escape that the football has given us. Anne started going to the Junction Oval when she was 7-8, with her Grandpa who always had followed the Saints. She remembers them singing a version of “I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside”. Anne followed the Saints to Moorabbin in her teenage years, married a Sydney man, but they moved back to Moorabbin itself and were able to take her children and now her grandchild, who is 9. Her granddaughter complained that kids at school say, “Your team is a dumb team.” But Anne has made her a member, and now the family tradition, started by her grandfather, continues.

Next to Anne sits Louis and Linda. Linda, who suffers with Parkinson’s disease, looks at the art on my card, and tells me of the great art teacher helping them at Parkinson’s Australia. Louis tells me to keep her in the loop about my book, as she co-owns a bookshop. These lovely women are all members of the Moorabbin Wing back home. All regular mates.

Sitting on my left are Rupert, John and Jonathan from Queensland. Jonathan, a dad to these two boisterous, funny young men, lived in Melbourne until age 10, going to the footy at Moorabbin when he was 5. I think it is Josh who has flown from New York to LA to Sydney to meet his brother and Dad, and all come to New Zealand together. Jonathan tells me he loves the crest, the motto and the fans of St Kilda.

Every now and again, the mad Moorabbin Winger women Gayle, Wendy, Susan and Maria burst into song, sometimes it is the Saints’ songs, other times it’s “Know When to Hold Them” and others that come to mind. Shots are being slugged back. The crowd is happy and expectant, going wild when Michael E, ever the organiser of this mob, finally makes it to the pub with his wife. I wander back to my hotel, exhausted from the 4.15 am start of the day and content to finally collapse into the bed.

The People:

I am finishing my breakfast and as I rise to go, a fella from a group of fellas nearby says, “Hope your teams goes OK,” and that’s my signal to go over for a chat to Roger. And in the first time in my life, I get to chat with umpires. THE umpires. The blokes that make sure the party goes on. I get to ask everything I have wanted to ask. There are over 20 of the party here: 3 field umpires and 1 emergency, 4 boundary umpires and two goal umpires (plus one emergency).

Then there’s the field support, 3 interchange officials, a match manager (for the occasion, and they control everything). There are umpire coaches and observers of the umpires. One observer for the field umpires, one for the boundary and one for the goal. There is a score reviewer and two timekeepers. There are two “event” people and then the medical and physio support.

My new mate Roger, who now has my card, and access to this story, is one of the interchange umpires, he watches the officials and stewards from the clubs, and it is Roger who notifies the umpires, all of whom are miked up, if an interchange infringement has occurred.

Roger introduces me to Jenny, this weekend’s manager of the umpires. She is still eating her breakfast. Roger tells me he used to be a goal umpire and a sports trainer for 33 years.

I ask him who he barracks for. “I barrack for the umpires,” he says. They are his team. Like all the staff, they all grew up supporting one club or another. Now, he says, the game wouldn’t go on if not for his team. “Everyone needs someone to hate,” he says. (After the Saints get 19 frees to the 30 of the Blues the next night, he is certainly prophesying correctly for this weekend.)

I am madly scribbling away, taking notes so as not to forget a thing. Chris, one of the game umpires, works very hard, Roger says. All field umpires have to be able to run 12-15 km per game, and they practice at Optus Oval/Icon Park on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They also have to watch their diets and fitness.

Many give it away once reaching late 30s, or shift to less strenuous umpiring duties, as he has done. He explained there are three levels of umpires, and training, and each umpire has had to go through the lower levels to play AFL. The first is basic suburban or country leagues, the second level is VFL and then the third, AFL. He said the difference between the last two is enormous, in terms of sheer running and speed of the game.

I got a diagram drawn for me of the movements of both the boundary and the field umpires, with the field always in a triangle movement, changing constantly to share the running load.

And finally, I found out who had the longest umpiring records: Hayden Kennedy (1988-2011) with 495, followed by Rowan Sawers (1977-1997) with 406 matches. The youngest umpire was Brett Rosebury at 18 (in 2000) and currently, Jack Edwards, who is 23.

Roger told me that umpires are made up of teachers, police, academics, solicitors and salespeople.

After all this, they set off, and over the next day, I saw them several times, once that night where we exchanged what we’d done that day (the umpires had done their practice at the ground between the Carlton boys and the St Kilda boys), and then, before the game where they packed up. The umpires and the Carlton team were both flying out straight after the game. (I found myself watching them more on the day, especially one of the blokes that I’d talked to going up to sit in the umpire box that sat between the two coaches’ boxes just behind us.)

I kept bumping into people I have already met this trip. Wendy and Gerald first up, then Anne along the shoreline, then George. All out and about. I checked out where Shed 6 lay in the scheme of the foreshore (where the postgame function was to be), looked at the large naval vessels docked; one seemed to have a huge red, white and black flag flying out back. On this lovely sunny morning, I walked heaps before walking to the Westpac Centre (or the Cake Tin as it is lovingly called) for the boys’ practice at 1 pm. I kept going the wrong way, and backtracking, and diverting to find a sandwich, before trying again, going across the concourse above the Wellington Rail Station, and met Mike and Mel, from Townsville, who helped with the last long hike in the sun on what turned out to be a warm 19-degree day in Wellington. They diverted me with their story. Mike moved to Townsville with the Army. He’d lived in St Kilda in the ’60s, with his father and grandfather long-term Saints supporters. Now there are Mike’s kids, making it four generations. He and Mel are part of the Queensland Saints group, though they didn’t make the Gold Coast function.

At the ground, we chat with the AFL New Zealand staff, locals and young people from Auckland who set up outside the stadium pre-game and at practice runs to teach skills to the kids. A happy bunch of young people enjoying their time together.

Once inside, we separate looking for shaded seating, the heat, unexpectedly, bearing down. I meet Carole and Judy, two sisters and more Queensland Saints travelling in a group. Originally from Brighton, and attendees at Moorabbin from an extended Saints family, they now live up north and fly down to Melbourne for three games a year, as well as games in Brisbane, Gold Coast and those up north like the preseason game in Burpengary against the Brisbane Lions.

Up high, continually moving seats to keep out of the sun, we watch the umpires finish off their training, the Blues boys and fans leave, school groups come and go, and the Saints boys come out to run around. The children seated behind are offered four tickets each for their families. They are asked if they want them. Most say yes, but it is unlikely that will translate into actually bodies on seats for the game. Saturday afternoons are likely to be busy with their own sports and lives.

I now know where I will be sitting, and the morning’s walking has worn me out. I go briskly back to the station and grab a taxi to the Te Papa Museum. Once inside, I am directed to the loo and to the cloakroom. As I pass the cloakroom, I am called by another siren, as Basil, from inside, sings “Go Saints”. An enthusiastic local, he has to work and can’t get to the game, and says that “They should put up signs outside the museum saying ‘No Blues allowed’.”

After two hours, I have finished the top few floors. I am looking at a book outside the art section with a staff member, Mandy, when the building begins to shake. I look up and ask her what’s the shaking and she says, as cool as a cucumber, “It’s an earthquake,” and she takes me to stand in the archway, apparently the best place to wait out the shaking. Mandy assures me that we are in the safest building in Wellington for the 6.4 quake, as the building has base isolators which make the building sway rather than collapse. She points out the obvious, that people shouldn’t be standing under or near the aeroplane held up by chains just below us. There is one crashing noise, and not a serious one. It seems to last only a few moments. A fellow attendant goes to the computer and looks up the earthquake, it is centred in Kaikoura on the South Island and is considered “strong”.

I sit in the café and drink tea, talking to Mum in Melbourne, Denise in New York and briefly text Andre in Boston. An international moment, and I head back to the hotel shortly after.

I decide to have dinner at the hotel, and meet Sainter supporters Charlene and Bruce, from Victor Harbour in South Australia. We talk of Bruce’s sporting life and experience, he has played footy and umpired in the winter, tennis and cricket in the summer, and at night volleyball and table tennis. Charlene is a Crows’ supporter, while Bruce grew up listening to the Saints on the radio because he “like the colours”. They have ordered a taxi to go to the dawn service in the morning, and generously agree to let me tag along. I ask them to join me down at the Saints’ fans headquarters at the Belgian. They tag along, and we have a drink and enjoy the company of Jenny and Kelly and Russell and Wendy and the usual mob before heading back for an early night. I had never been to a dawn service before.

The Parade/Commemoration Service:

There were 40,000 people at the Dawn Service in Wellington at the new Pukeahu National War Memorial Park for the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. It was incredibly moving, a quiet, thoughtful, graceful few moments. We quietly stood and listened and thought of all the people who have fallen from these two countries, and the people from far-off places, places the ANZACs and others since were sent to in the service of their countries. Of all people, everywhere, lost through war of all kinds. Many separate areas of the armed service marched in front of the memorial, and stood at ease as speeches were made, as the governor-generals of both countries laid wreaths before both heading for Canberra for the Australian Commemoration Services. We were all asked to stay in place until the official party were ferried away, and it gave us a chance to be silent and still a few more moments, before the massive spread of people quietly made their way back to their respective places of being.

The Pummelling:

Let me count all the ways this day was blessed BEFORE the second half of the St Kilda vs Carlton game. I fell asleep once breakfasted after the Dawn Service, and Bruce and Charlene were gracious even though I Google-mapped the harder way to get back to our hotel. I cabbed to the ground with them both, and this time the taxi was on me. I walked back to the concourse to wait for the mad people, the Moorabbin Wingers, the Queensland Saints, the Travelling Saints, and anyone else that joined this mob over the several days.

I was the first one there, until Tracy arrived separately. Tracy told me a story of a job application where she outlined, under “interests”, her dedication to the football club and the character needed enduring the trials and tribulations of following St Kilda Football Club. “I think it got me the job,” she says, “I’m a public servant with the Police Complaints section.” She’s right. She needs lots of character to be both a Sainter and a person dealing with complaints. Her parents, we discovered, lived just behind the Charnwood Grove St Kilda Synagogue, the very same my grandparents, mother, and our family attended, just off St Kilda Road. Tracy remembers they used to watch the weddings through their flat window. Her father worked at The Argus and then The Herald, and the family eventually moved to East Bentleigh. At age 8, Tracy was at the Grand Final. She remembers her mother praying in the last 30 seconds.

We chatted until the rabble arrived, Wendy, Susan, Gayle and Maria, their various children, Michael E, Wendy S, and all the others I have met over the last few weeks. We waited until the designated time, 11.45am, and then began walking to the ground. David Downer was there and we said g’day. I felt at home, enough to jump in another photo that was taken by the photographer from the AFL. We all have huge grins, and made lots of noise singing the song as we marched. Others were waiting at a different part, and so the group got bigger. The ground was not open until 12pm, so people milled, and there seemed an awful lot of Carlton supporters who had not been hovering around Wellington wearing their colours over the last few days.

Once in, as advised by Travelling Saints, I bought the food and drinks, as here you could not take in a thermos or sandwiches. I slipped from the group, got two footy Records, one for Yoshi, got myself organised and found my seat, a father and his two daughters on my left, and a rag bag full on my right, Rick the Kangaroo, Heather (Pies), Bradly (Port), Andrea (Melbourne) and Shirley (Geelong). They had come with Garry, a Saints supporter, family all meeting up from Hobart and Albury. The big mob I’d come to know, who had bought their tickets together via Michael E, were several rows in front. The coaches’ boxes were just behind, and the umpires’ box was placed delicately between them.

Everybody was on one side of the stadium. There were a number scattered on the other side, but the camera would show our fuller area. The service, funnily enough, was at the camera side, far away from all of us spectators, an odd choice.

And then the game was on. The Saints had a brilliant, fast and furious first quarter. Steven and Sinclair, a second-gamer, kicked the first two, before Henderson scored for the Blues. Dunstan and Bruce brought it up to five. There’s that little bit of expectation forming, but Carlton were firing, too (Jones, Henderson, 2) before our Billings pulled one back, Sinclair kicked truly and Shenton plugged on. Carlton caught up via Everitt and two from Bryce Gibbs. An eight-goal quarter that saw the Saints ahead by 13 at the main break.

Bryce and Bruce each smacked one through, but the Blues, whether they were fighting for pride or Mick, came out charging, Ellard and Lonie scored the next two, and then the Saints just started handing the ball over. Literally handballing to the wrong team. Eight of Carlton’s goals in the second half came directly from turnovers. Tom Bell kicked two, Everett his second, then Cripps joined in the circus. It was getting ugly and now the Blues were ahead by 13 points.

In the final quarter, the Saints could only manage two (Armitage and Lonie) while Carlton smacked us with goals from Bell (3), Henderson, Armfield and Touhy. It was tough to sit through it all and not be flatted. And I felt for the boys, whose bodies were on the line.

As much as you try and not have expectations at this point of the Saints’ development, all the great fan experiences of the last few days, all the loyalty and love, led us to believe that maybe this time, the Saints could pull off a win in windy Wellington. To keep their spirits up and the Kiwi spirits up and the AFL housing of the Saints here for a home game looking like a positive move. The $500,000 we get for the game is always positive. But a win ‘twas not to be. The Carlton mob were happy and noisy, all their worries temporarily vanquished beating the easy beats. The talk of coaching and redevelopment out the window for five minutes, thanks to the Saints.

We literally handed this game over on a silver platter, and we can only hope that this raw experience, will add another notch to desperation and learning and practice, to our young team. People talked of missing Riewoldt and Montagna, and maybe the results would have been different. Who knows, but the story was not to be and we left, deflated.

The Pooped and Peaceful Night after:

I walked briskly back to the railway station and taxied back to the hotel, changing and resting awhile before wondering down to the post match event, missing the coach’s words, hearing Armitage, but feeling the early morning and the loss taking its toll.

I regret not heading back to the Belgian Beer Café after this and joining in with all the other mad people who partied on regardless. There’s some great photos on Facebook. I came back to begin writing instead, my version of debriefing and healing, and by the next morning felt settled again. I slept nine hours, unheard of.

Paddy and the Punt:

After going to the Saints’ hotel, and seeing the ANZAC memorabilia Georgie Day had bought over from the museum, and had on display, and bumping into more of my people while doing so, I grabbed a tea and headed to the Basin for the Family Day with the Saints, seeing all the faces I have met over these weeks of travelling with my Club. I chatted to coaches and got an autograph from Saady, especially for Yoshi doing it tough over in Kyoto, so busy now working that he can’t watch or hear the Saints play.

Yoshi lived and worked in Wellington many moons ago, and started following the Saints over in Japan when he heard they were now playing in Wellington. I met Yoshi last December, on the first day of a four-week trip around Japan with my daughter Rachel (who is going to live there). We are in Sapporo, a town in Hokkaido. We are looking out a window to the production line, and Yoshi approached us:

Yoshi: Hello, where are you from?

Us: Australia

Yoshi: In which state?

Us: Victoria

Yoshi [excitedly]: Who’s your football team? Mine is St Kilda!

Thus we had the beginning of a lovely friendship and correspondence, especially after encouraging him to write his story for the Footy Almanac. He enthusiastically wrote many articles in a short time before starting this job, and one of those posts was a poem to Ahmed Saad on Saad’s return to the Club this year. Ahmed commented on the post, and we wondered at the Almanac whether it was the real deal. When I saw Ahmed at the “Dare” announcement, he confirmed it was him. Now he appropriately wrote on my Wellington map a note to Yoshi, saying hello and thanking him for the poem. Yoshi is thrilled.

At the Gold Coast game, I acknowledged to myself that I had to learn how to kick a football. Who better to ask than our No. 1 draft pick, Paddy McCartin, who happened to be by himself for one moment? He is the sweetest young man. He immediately picked up a ball, showed me how to hold it, where to put my fingers, and I kicked the damn thing beautifully. He said it was great for my first kick. I did it again, and now I can go kick a ball with Luke and Danielle and anyone else in the future. I know how to drop punt! I was taught by the best of the best, so graciously and proudly. I told him I will be at all future games, and he thought that was great. I intend to keep practicing: Who knows, I could be a 59-year-old Nanna prodigy.

The Place:

The team bussed away to the airport and the fans dispersed. It was healing for all of us to just hang together. Then off to be a tourist again. I walked to the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park, just up the road, and saw around the base, especially the red blocks of stone symbolising the centre of Australia, looked at the wreaths, and chatted to the Queensland mob who had come to do the same. Jan was thrilled at what I had written after that game, and I got more stories, to be shared at another time. Fading fast, we all headed off to find food, and share tales, and meet more people, before heading out to yet again try and look around.

This time, up the cable car to Wellington Botanic Gardens, to stroll down the 40-minute steep walk. The wind was picking up, but what stopped me was meeting Max and Kellie when they said, you guessed it, “Go Saints”. A father-and-daughter team, who sat with their family several rows behind my family at the Dome. He said, “I thought I recognised your face.” Max told me both his wife and his family followed the Saints, and that his wife Christine used to babysit all the babies and children of the Saints and opposition players during the game. I had never heard this story before, so we walked back up the steep incline, chatting about our team, before I headed back. I haven’t seen too much but I have loved what I have seen, and I will be back, with more hope for next time. Like the Premiership dreams, we have to win it one day.


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,

    Our Auckland Geelong Supporters Club group (our little joke, there’s just 3 of us) kept walking past the Belgian bar and I wondered if a fellow Knacker was in there. Probably should have gone in to find out, and say hello, but it sounds like you’d already talked to most footy people in Wellington.

    Anyway, loved the story. Yvette, and glad you enjoyed yourself despite the pummelling. And the earthquake.

  2. Thanks for the great story Yvette. We are all “Saints family”

  3. Hi Yvette, fabulous story, really enjoyed the read. USB one thing it was my sister not my auntie who married the StKilda Footballer, but thanks for the compliment, :)

  4. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Phew Yvette, big weekend.

    Do you think the NZ experiment has got legs? Did it capture the interest of the locals? How would 3 games a season over there be received?

  5. Yvette Wroby says

    Hi Swish,

    every single person who I talk to about why they follow a football TEAM has a story of how they get involved, often it’s meeting a footballer in real life or at school, or a family member, so unless the NZKick stuff takes off, you won’t have the kids pushing the parents to take them and it will be a generation before these kids can take their kids. It will take time to develop. Welllington likes it because it’s good for tourism but the numbers are decreasing so who knows. People travel all over the country either before or after coming from Australia, so its good for that.

    Some New Zealanders seemed genuinely interested but they were working so couldn’t go. And it doesn’t help that the Saints haven’t won a game nor that the games are pretty average. There is also no TV coverage and we couldn’t get radio coverage, the other two ways people fall in love with the game. Apparently, the AFL had broadcasting with a mob who went under, so that never helps either.

    Remember Yoshi first got involved because at his local bar they had it on TV and he became interested because it was different, so if the AFL could get it played over there, all the best games repeated, that might also help.

    Hi Peter C,

    if there’s a party, you are always welcome, no matter what colours. Saints people bought their friends often dressed in support of other teams. Next time, pop in.

    Sorry Wendy S, will change details for the book version! Talk soon

    Go Saints


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