The Beatification of Saint Sandra: The Father/Son mule.

We left Lismore in the early hours of Friday morning on the 5th of October. Ordinarily the football-loving nation would be at peace with itself, with one team holding a cup and nursing a hangover, and fifteen others licking wounds, reflecting and recharging for another tilt.

Any other year, the readers of the tabloids and broadsheets would be turning those few extra pages from Sport to the formguide on this Friday morning. But I wasn’t. Well, for starters I was only 14 years-old. Secondly, I was in the back of Mum’s Corolla listening to Young MC as we wound our way through the tablelands en route to the New England Highway.

We were headed home to Melbourne after spending the school holidays with Mum’s parents (Grandma and Grandpa).  To be more specific, on that day, we were heading to Dubbo. No one in their right mind would attempt the 16 hour drive from Lismore to Melbourne in one day. Especially with two sullen, Walkman-wearing, teenagers in tow.

No, far from formguides or reflections, the only thing going through my mind that morning, save the tss tsss tsss from my headphones that Mum had told me to turn down ‘a thousand times’, was the fact that the football team I followed was playing in a Grand Final the following day.

I guess I’m fairly typical in that I was told by my Dad at a young age who I barracked for. In fact, I’m fairly sure I knew who I barracked for before I even knew what they played, what a Magpie was, where Collingwood was and why I probably wouldn’t want to go there on my own after dark.

Speaking of Dad, he was in already Melbourne thanks to his part-time work/hobby as a bookie at the ‘red-hots’. As an MCG member, he was primed and ready to roll the next day. My membership was yet to come through. Ironically, it came the following year. Although it was a Junior Restricted Membership which gives you the same viewing rights as one of the security guards who has to face the crowd.

10 hours and a change of AAs later, we arrived in Dubbo. I can’t remember the name of the hotel, but I remember it has, or at least had a neon Kangaroo in its signage out the front. You’d describe the accommodations as functionally adequate, in that there was absolutely nothing in the room you wouldn’t be using during your stay. After dinner, we called home. Luckily, Dad answered. By hook or by crook, knowing him it was probably a hazy mixture of the two, he’d managed to secure a Ladies Ticket for me. All I had to do was meet him at the #2 light tower outside the Members Reserve at 2pm. He’d be there, wait for five minutes and if I made it, we’d go in and watch the game together. I owe most of my pre-pubescent live football and cricket watching to the Ladies Ticket. To me it’s one of those wonderful inventions that somehow, inexplicably found obsolescence like ‘quality programming’ and ‘knowledgeable commentary’.

I was so excited when I got off the phone I completely forgot two things. 1) I was in Dubbo and 2) Mum had already driven for 10 hours that day and to get me to the MCG by 2pm we’d have to get up by 3am and do it all over again.

I can’t remember throwing a tantrum. I can’t remember whining, praying or pleading, But mum must have overheard the conversation. Because when she saw my face as I hung up the phone, she simply nodded. It was practically saintly. She was no longer simply my Mother. She was Mother Theresa, or Mother Sandra to be more precise.

In this day and age, we take so much for granted. Technology has made us lazy and disorganised. We can be late, we’ll just call them on their mobile. We can change plans and meeting points at the last minute now, but in 1990, we had no such luxury. I’d been given a specific time and a specific place where a short, round, bearded man expected me to be. And if wasn’t there within a certain timeframe, it was my loss.

As advertised, we were up, showered, dressed and on the road by 3am.

With no Ring Road, Bolte Bridge or Citylink to speed up the last 40 kms into Melbourne, a bedraggled Mum dropped me off on Wellington Parade at precisely 1:55pm.

I ran as fast as my little legs (that admittedly hadn’t been asked to do a heck of a lot for the two days previous) could convey me and I made it through the heaving throng on the dot of 2pm. I perched atop the concrete rim at the bottom of light tower #2 and scanned the horizon. This was my crow’s nest and while Dad would take objection to me calling him my white whale, metaphorically, it fits. There was no sign of him. I did a lap of the tower. Nothing. I checked my watch. 2:02. At least, that was the time by watch. Was I fast? Or even worse, slow? Have I missed daylight saving? Am I at the right light tower? Did he say #1 or



While I didn’t know why he called me that, I knew it was him. He grabbed me by the arm and we made our way in through the clunking turnstiles. It was a sea of people. There was no point trying to find a seat, so we walked around to that open driveway between the Ponsford Stand and the Pavillion, up the stairs and to the back of the seats where we could stand with only a partially obstructed view. We settled just in time for the national anthem.

My strongest memories of the three hours that followed are Daicos’ goal from the boundary line for our first major, the fight at quarter time, Greg Anderson’s hair, Gavin Crosisca raising his arms in celebrate a goal down our end, Doug Barwick doing the same in the last quarter, and Scott Russell being robbed by Tony Shaw for the Norm Smith.

But the enduring memory was Dad not wanting to believe the game was done and dusted until that snap from Barwick sailed through over post height. I remember the hug. I remember the words. Both were aggressively comforting. But they were both the mark of the man.

Unfortunately, neither the stand we watched it from nor the bloke I watched it with are around today. As a father/son moment though, the combination of circumstances that transpired to get us there, starting with Peter Sumich’s miss from the boundary line two weeks’ earlier, to the drought-breaking premiership win, it was as close to perfection I ever got.


  1. Great start to Monday and great story, Rastus! Brings a chill to the spine to re-live the 1990 experience. I too was indoctrinated into the Collingwood family through the father/son rule and rang him at 3am on Sunday October 7th after I arrived home from the Vic Park Social Club to thank him!!! Go Pies.

Leave a Comment