Round 9 – St Kilda v Essendon: Happy anniversary

Etihad Stadium, 4.40pm, Sunday, 22nd May 2016

To be a serious sports fan requires coordination of mind, body and spirit. So it made perfect sense to begin Sunday with a Tai Chi class.

Two hours of stretches, lunges, punches and bends later, I followed that with a 45-minute stroll down Glen Huntly Road in Elsternwick. NOW, I thought, I’m ready – for a day at Etihad Stadium to cheer on my Saints. Sort of a supporter’s version of the Nick Riewoldt pregame routine.

I’ve been doing a lot of that the past couple of years to nail my recovery from Guillain-Barre Syndrome. You might recall that as the illness that sidelined Hawthorn coach Alistair Clarkson for about half a season in 2014. He was lucky. GBS put me in hospital for a month, including 10 days in intensive care and a week on a respirator until I could breathe again on my own. Couldn’t move except forearms weakly and above the neck. The deal is that your antibodies get confused when you contract multiple viruses and attack the myelin sheaths that cover the nerves. So electrical impulses go awry and your muscles turn to jelly until you start to recover. And then you have to work like hell to get everything back.

That meant tons of therapy – 2 ½ weeks in acute rehab, 3 months outpatient and then the past year and a half (and still going) at the local YMCA, three times a week, 2 ½ hours a shot, plus three workout classes. And walking and whatever else on the non-workout days. You keep moving to build strong pathways for the rebuilding nerves and because if you don’t, your muscles contract and tighten because of the wonky electricals. Sort of how static makes it tough to listen on the radio. These days I’m just down to lingering tingling and stiffness and neuropathic pops and fizzes. But there’s a fear that if I let up, I’ll backslide.

Sunday was the two-year anniversary of my first GBS symptoms. A strange date to remember, except there’s no way to forget. And it just happened to be the date I’d see the Saints in person for the first time in seven years. I see them all the time at home in Indiana – usually live in the wee hours on a computer stream. Start to finish no matter what. Recently that’s a lot of late nights and a lot of disappointment. But here I am going to two games in a week! This jaunt – for me and wife Deborah — came about as payment for helping Yvette Wroby whip her book into shape for publishing. We’re still whipping but getting close.

So are the Saints. At least now most games are competitive – with the notable exception of last week against West Coast. (Probably because I totally missed it while flying across the Pacific.) Today hopes are high against the Bombers – although being favored usually increases the feeling of dread among true Sainters.

Today I got to meet a bunch of folks in the manuscript — Denise Samson, who attends games despite being legally blind; Michael Egan, ringleader of the Moorabbin Wingers; Georgie Day, the keeper of all things St Kilda as director of the team’s museum; then Gayle from Ballarat and Shaebee and Libby and Wendy S. and on and on. Yesterday we got to meet many of the players and coach Alan Richardson at an open training session in Moorabbin; lots of photos and quick but friendly conversations. My wife has been hooked; I think we’ll both have a lot of late nights at the computer once we return home.

Hooked enough, too, to join in the dread at half time. The Saints seem still shell-shocked from last week’s 103-point pasting by West Coast. Kicks and handballs go awry, targets are invisible, ball advances come to shocking halts after a disposal or two. And yet the Saints lead by 10 at half, kicking 5.9 to 4.5. The start of the third quarter is more of the same, and then suddenly the Saints take over: Paddy McCartin from beyond the arc; then Tim Membrey from 50. Then Paddy again just inside the arc. McCartin takes another mark but shoots a kick across to Josh Bruce for an easy goal. Membrey scores off a leaping pack mark. Then Bruce is pushed, winning a free kick, and boots home goal No. 7 of the quarter. Suddenly it is 82-43, and we all breathe more easily.

When all is done, Bruce has five goals, Membrey three, McCartin two. Seb Ross has been seemingly everywhere (37 disposals, 11 marks) and Jack Steven, too (40 disposals). Nick Riewoldt is scoreless, but 24 disposals and nine marks are contribution enough. Plenty of folks play key roles, which is how the best games have been going this season.

Part 2 of the doubleheader will come Saturday against Fremantle, whom I saw the Saints throttle in 2009. A lot has happened since then. And 0-9 notwithstanding, the Saints will have to be better next time out. But hey, I’m really just happy to be here. Because Saturday is the two-year anniversary of the night I almost died when the GBS went after my breathing. Another strange date to remember, but again, there’s no way to forget. Nor do I want to. You have to know where you came from to get where you want to go. That seems to be working more and more for the Saints, too.

ST KILDA            2.5      5.9         12.10         16.13         109
ESSENDON         1.4      4.5           7.8             9.9            63

St Kilda: Bruce 5, Membrey 3, McCartin 2, Armitage, Newnes, Steven, Weller, Ross, Hickey
Essence on: Brown 4, Daniher 3, Cooney, Langford, Baguley.

St Kilda: Ross, Steven, Bruce, McCartin, Riewoldt, Newnes, Armitage, Membrey.
Essendon: Brown, McDonald-Tipungwuti, Kelly, Zaharakis, Baguley.

UMPIRES: Mollison, Mitchell, O’Gorman.

CROWD: 29,026.

MALARKEY VOTES: Ross, StK, 3; Bruce, StK, 2; Brown, Ess, 1.

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About Glenn Brownstein

I'm a red, white and blue supporter of the red, white and black who became a footy fan through ESPN telecasts in the 1980s and a buddy who founded the American version of the game. Yup, I chose the Saints, but I'd like to think they chose me, too.


  1. Great to hear you’re on top of your (physical) game and here in Australia. Looking forward to catching you at the Blainey lunch tomorrow.

    Also, great to hear of the progress on Yvette’s book. It’s going to be a cracker. She has a great capacity for friendship and interaction.

    And the Saints are on the rise!

  2. George Lilley says

    Great Story Glenn, I hope all goes well for you and the Saints tomorrow.

  3. Cat from the Country says

    Enjoyed your story Glenn. Wishing you great success with your journey and as a Saints supporter.

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