The Turbulent Tales of a Footy Record Seller

 

The umpire holds the ball aloft. He balances the clean leather of the Sherrin in his palm, as if beckoning it towards the heavens. The moment of silence is interrupted by the siren; then the passionate roar of 90,000 people. They focus on that Sherrin in utter unison.

 

The start of an AFL game is the culmination of a week full of speculation and discussion over situations that vary from injuries to contracts to tactics to betting plunges. But, for me, the magnitude of that siren can only be respected by observing the build up.

 

This very experience was realised in early 2015, as I embarked on the journey from Jolimont Train Station to the concourse of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. After living off the Mum and Dad Bank Trust for a solid decade, it was time to start earning my own keep. And, because I love sport, it could only be natural that I would apply to work as a Footy Records seller.

 

With nerves flowing through my body, I walked down to Gate One to be introduced to my first job. The hour long information session gifted me some information for the coming season, as I left ready to work the following week in round one. By the next Tuesday I had applied for work by texting the supervisor which games I was available for, as I ensured that I did it before Wednesday. By the Wednesday night, I had been allotted to work the Easter Monday blockbuster between Geelong and Hawthorn. It was time to start my first day of work.

 

Unfortunately, it didn’t get off to an enjoyable start. I was totally overwhelmed, by the hordes of people, by the intimidating atmosphere, by the moment. While first attempting to secure the umbrella on my stand, a flood of Geelong supporters inundated my stall in a hurry to buy fresh Records. With three customers in a row pulling out the dreaded $50 note, I was too timid to explain that I didn’t have enough float to easily interchange all three notes. This led to me losing my concentration, as I didn’t always complete the vaunted rip test (the secure and preferred test to decide whether a note is counterfeit or not). The rip test involves attempting to lightly rip or tear the note, because if it rips under pressure then it is a counterfeit note. Therefore, a counterfeit $50 note lay nestled in my bum bag; ready to be discovered when it came to ‘cashing in’. By the time I had to ‘cash in’, I had resolved myself to having an ‘it was fun while it lasted’ mindset. I thought I was gone for sure. Luckily enough, when I handed my supervisor the note, he reassured me.

 

Supervisor: “Oh jeez, it’s a fake. Do you remember who gave it to you? Any details?”
Me: “Not really, as it was in the middle of a flood of customers.”
Supervisor: “Ok, well we’ll contact the police to try and find him. Now you’ve learnt how important the rip test is.”

 

To this day, a $50 note can’t go near my bum bag without first undergoing a Fort Knox style rip test.

 

Despite having reservations, I was blown away by the consistent weeks of working and a joy that came from working at a sporting event. Unlike the majority of my friends who slaved away at the local McDonalds, on a measly wage, I was gaining free access to big matches and loving the work that came with it, as I really enjoyed selling to hordes of people.

 

These people include supporters who file in three hours before the game commences, whether it be rain, hail or shine. Although I may see them bustling out with a hood over their head halfway through the third quarter, their dedication is what makes my job entertaining.

 

The process of selling Footy Records begins roughly three to four hours before the match begins, as a train ride to Jolimont Station evolves into a five minute walk down to the warehouse. Located right near the player’s entrance and near the road behind the outdoor cricket nets, I can stock up the sufficient amount of books and wheel them up to my allocated gate in a faded yellow stall.

 

Beginning work three to four hours before the first bounce is tough, but it means that I can view a beautiful aspect of our national sport. By wheeling up the stalls full of records before the gates open, I am granted the privilege of seeing and conversing with the game’s most passionate supporters. They are so entertaining, as their love for the game invites witty remarks about opposition teams, such as:

 

Seller (Me): “Hi, were you looking to buy a Footy Record today?”
Buyer: “Yes thank you. Are they still $5?”
Seller: “They certainly are, would you like just the one?”
Buyer: “Yes thanks. Just so I can see my boys in the book.”
Seller: “Thank you. Enjoy the game!”
Buyer: “I certainly will if we win! If we can’t beat poor old Richmond then I’ll come back for a refund!”

 

Now, I have learnt that when it comes to Record selling, where you are positioned is extremely vital. There is a hierarchy in positioning that is dependent on your experience. The first and second year sellers, who are all under the age of eighteen, cluster on the gates, as gates two and three are usually the best gates to work on. But, when I pass that two year barrier (sometimes it can be earlier, depending on the game), I am designated to work in an ‘outer’ spot. These spots are based around train stations, as the older workers are allocated these busy spots. As an ‘outer’, you are afforded the privilege of starting work later and finishing sooner, with a higher pay to boot. The pecking order can create some competition for spots, as the jostling for better vantage spots becomes more frantic if it is a blockbuster match.

 

But, sometimes it is best to stay on the gates. Unlike the busy positions of Richmond Station, which sits at the top of the Footy Records pyramid, ‘Punt’ is the position which every Record seller dreads. It sits as the Ninth Circle of Hell, as I have been subject to the excessive walking and consistent denials that it includes. The usual ‘Punt’ conversations involve greeting an unsuspecting person when they hop out of their car, as I wheel out the constant line of, “Were you looking to buy a Footy Record today?” time after time. This heavily contrasts the Arc De Triomphe that Richmond Station represents, as the mid-twenties who sell there always seem to be laden with books and money. Therefore, the unsuspecting buyers never understand the complicated hierarchy that underlies Footy Record selling.

 

All positions are normally enveloped by initial waves of customers who collect their Records when the gates are opened. The initial burst then slowly draws out to an hour or two of limited people. After I manage to fight through the boredom by flicking through the Footy Record, the regular allotment of trains provides a build up of people. With an hour left until the first bounce, the selling becomes regular and flows, as multiple sales and people mocking my cries of, “Get your Footy Records!” creates a challenging yet rewarding experience. This consistent stream of people doesn’t conclude when the game starts, with it taking another five to ten minutes for the late supporters to hurry past me to ensure that they don’t miss too much of the action. Unfortunately for them, I believe that they have missed the climax of the atmosphere, as only a close finish can salvage the unified passion that overflows when the Sherrin first slams into the turf.

 

When the viewers finally flock inside and the concourse returns back to its usual quiet self, it is time for me to head inside and walk the aisles. Despite the grumbles from viewers about me walking up and down the aisle briefly blocking their view, I still find the experience to be incredible. From the opening quarter of the 2015 ANZAC Day clash to Cyril’s dominating blitz in the Grand Final, walking the aisles has provided me the most enjoyable experiences. Such experiences include when I was mobbed in the Adelaide cheer squad after Dangerfield slotted that miracle banana against Hawthorn last year to marking an errant Collingwood point at this year’s match between the Pies and St Kilda.

 

Another important consideration for a Footy Record seller is the two teams playing in the desired match. I find that this results in yet another hierarchy, in terms of teams. A common perception that I have been told is that Hawthorn is the worst team to sell to. Passed on from experienced ‘outers’ to amateur first year sellers, an internal red cross has been placed next to any game that Hawthorn is playing in. No-one has ever really explained it to me, but I suspect that their recent success is part of it. For some reason they are renowned tight-arses as well. Either way, a Footy Record seller is obliged to dislike the Hawthorn Football Club, as my supervisor can attest to. And he barracks for Hawthorn. On the contrary, Melbourne, Richmond and Collingwood are the best to sell to, as their supporters purchase them in droves. The gate outside their cheer squad is an ideal selling spot, as the cheer squads of the respected teams definitely buy in bulk.

 

The last part of my job is to extract a few tips. I can do it by returning measly amounts of change in coin, or by being particularly pleasant and patient. However, after only a year and a half in the job, I have observed that Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs are the teams most likely to tip. On the other hand, I have learnt that despite his relaxed lifestyle and flashy cars, Sam Newman is not one to give a tip. These tips can create a dilemma, as it is my choice whether I stash my own tips, or put them in with the rest of the money. A common resolution is that I keep the tips if I don’t know who I am working with, but I put it in if it I am working with someone I know and trust.

 

For a dedicated Collingwood supporter, I find that walking the aisles and selling the Footy Records is a tough task when my beloved Pies are playing. In most cases I tend to dawdle down aisles just to catch the play, before viewing the crowd’s reaction on the walk back up to understand the tide of the game. But, one experience has left me embarrassed yet wealthier, all because of my support for the mighty Magpies.

 

It was the 2015 ANZAC Day clash, and I was privileged enough to be selling in the Collingwood cheer squad area. With the game just a couple of minutes in, I descended into the heart of the cheer squad. A nightmare for most, for me it was like a Catholic visiting Vatican City. Luckily enough, Jamie Elliott decided to slot a miraculous goal just as I reached the front of the cheer squad. This resulted in a loss of emotions, as I gave a yell of admiration which I thought was lost in the midst of a Collingwood party. But, a few aware supporters spotted it and proceeded to yell out, “Hey! This seller goes for Collingwood!” Despite my expectations of humorous chiding, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as a passionate and ecstatic Collingwood cheer squad descended upon me to purchase most of my Records. After selling the remaining books that I had with me, I returned to my gate, with money overfilling my bum bag and a big grin spreading across my face. Unfortunately enough, 2016 hasn’t shared the same spoils so far for me, as I have learnt that a Collingwood supporter is less likely to splash the cash when the team can’t perform to their lofty expectations.

 

Overall, the unknown experience of a Footy Record seller is one that can surprise people, as its intricacies to positioning provides a perfect job for someone like me who cherishes sport and wants to make some pocket money. It doesn’t limit to just footy either. State of Origin, the Australian Open and the Spring Carnival all sit on my list of events that I have worked at. The best part of it is that it’s only my second season of doing it. I can only hope that the memories become better, as who knows what the rest of the 2016 season has in store for me. It will most likely include dreaded Hawthorn matches, hilarious supporters, and many more memorable interactions with the footy community.

 

But, my favourite moment shall always be when that first bounce occurs.

 

Also worth reading is this post by Bridget Schwerdt Confessions of an MCG Pie Girl 

Comments

  1. Peter_B says:

    Grand – well played Sean. I always knew Geelong supporters were fakes and Hawks tight arses.
    Always buy a Record when I go to the game and keep them for a season. Full of hieroglyphics of scores, player ratings and observations. Unintelligible to all but me. An ancient tradition handed down from my grandfather.
    In SA and WA its the Budget not the Record. Does anyone know the history of this. Swish – you have a room full of ancient SANFL papyrus Budgets?
    My only experience as a seller was for the Southern Yorke Peninsula finals when I was about 15. Everyone drove of course and parked around the boundary. Budgets with player names and numbers were only produced for the 4 finals. Strict hierarchy of the admission seller first, then I was allowed to approach. Large leather satchel around my neck like a bookies bag full of cash and copies.
    I can remember more money than I had ever seen, saved up to buy cricket books at Adelaide booksellers in the next holidays. Bliss.

  2. Earl O'Neill says:

    Great piece of writing, Sean. Glad to hear that young ‘uns still get the gig in Melbourne, Record sellers i Sydney are older these days. Shame that – the first person to call me “Sir” was a Record seller. I was 32.

  3. Great read, hope work exp has gone well and you continue writing.

    sean

  4. Very enjoyable read, Sean. I particularly liked ‘….the unified passion that overflows when the Sherrin first slams into the turf’. So true.

  5. Truck Elwick says:

    rate this from you Sean, can see why you’re tearing it up

  6. I always thought the best way to get close to the action was to become a sportswriter. And so I did. But I should have become a Record (or, in the States, a scorecard or scorebook) seller. But Sean, I’d say you’re doing both. Great read!

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Reallly enjoyed this Sean.

    Is this a job for life, or do you need to reapply? How does the rostering work? Can you work at the Docklands as well?

  8. Hi Sean,

    Great to have you at Almanac HQ this week. Crikey, you’re a worker. Congrats on your efforts all week – and especially on this first personal piece.

    Looking forward to the Collingwood Grand Final piece.

    And to a few Banyule Colts reports. Love that you featured in a Callum O’Connor piece at one stage – without knowing him!

  9. Fascinating piece Sean, informative and LOL funny at times. Keep it up.

  10. Sean Mortell says:

    Mark,
    The company I work at only covers MCG games, as a different company works at Docklands. I didn’t have to reapply this season to work again, as you stay on until you leave or get asked to move on. For rostering, the supervisor works out the amount of people needed on each gate/position depending on the crowd and then chooses the amount of people needed from the available workers. The sellers with more experience tend to get chosen first. Hope that has answered your queries!

  11. Sean Mortell says:

    Thanks John! I had an absolute blast, thank you for your help and guidance, I can’t wait to continue writing for the Almanac in the future!

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