Trick-or-Treating Malcolm Blight

Trick-or-Treating Malcolm Blight (1982)

 

When I was a kid there was a rumour doing the rounds in my street that Malcom Blight lived nearby.  It was said that Blight lived on Gaudion Road, a street which intersected with our court, which was called Larool Close.  His supposed house was visible from our back fence, about fifty metres up the road.  Was the rumour true?  I spent many weekday afternoons discreetly peering over the back fence to try and confirm it.

 

But I never saw him.  I protested to the rumour-mongers in our street that the rumour was false, but they were adamant.  They maintained that the reason I had never seen Blight at such hours was because he was training at Arden Street under the watchful eye of Barass.

 

I was unable to investigate Blighty on weekends because our schedules clashed: on Saturdays he was obviously strutting his stuff with the Roos; while on Sundays I was busy playing for Doncaster Heights.

 

So I started to keep an eye out for Blighty in summer.  Nothing.  Once again, I reported my findings to the kids in our street.  This time they scolded me for not realising he would be sweating it out in preseason training at that time of the year.  ‘Don’t you know anything about footy?’

 

With the advent of daylight savings and the procurement of my first bike, I started to ride past his rumoured residence at much later hours, hoping to catch a glimpse of him arriving home from preseason training in the early evening.  But alas, I never saw a thing.  After a few years, I abandoned the project.  The question of Blight’s existence in this suburb remained a mystery to me.

 

Strangely, the effect of all this investigative work was that I began to revere Blighty as a footballer – even though he wasn’t a Magpie.  I marvelled at his sublime skills: his majestic leap, the way he marked the ball, cupping it like a balloon, his foot skills on both sides of the body, and, of course, those booming torpedo punts.

 

Fast forward to the 1st Semi Final of 1982, and I was sitting in the Southern Stand with my friend Clint, a one-eyed Hawk, watching Blight’s last VFL game against Hawthorn.  Blighty had moved permanently to full-forward that year and was a smashing success.  He brought up his ton after the quarter-time siren.  Though I did not reveal it to Clint, I was elated to be there to watch this momentous event.  Because it was a final, fans were not permitted to jump the fence when Blighty slotted his 100th, so a thunderous standing ovation took place instead.  I felt goosebumps.  In the end, despite Blight’s heroics, the Hawks prevailed that day, thanks to a dominant display from Lethal…and an eighteen-year-old debutant called Dermie.  Blighty was heading back to South Australia.

 

About six weeks later on Halloween my big sister and I decided to don our best monster outfits and do a bit of trick-or-treating.  Ordinarily, we would only door-knock the houses in Larool Close, but on this particular occasion we were feeling adventurous.  We stepped out of Larool Close onto Gaudion Road.  In no time, we were walking up the driveway of the house that supposedly belonged to Malcolm Blight.  My sister wondered why I was so nervous.  She was not into footy.  We knocked.  Nothing.  I was preparing to leave when my sister knocked again.  We heard footsteps.   The opening of a lock.  And there before us was Malcolm Blight.  I was stunned.  And speechless.

 

‘Trick-or-treat,’ my sister said.

 

‘Oh, sorry guys, we’re just in the process of moving houses.  Don’t think we’ve got any lollies, but let me see what we’ve got.  Back in a sec.’

 

A few moments later Blighty returned with a bag of unshelled peanuts and emptied out the contents into each of our bags.

 

 

Dermie’s Debut (1982)

 

By sheer way of coincidence, Blight’s very last VFL game was Dermie’s first.  Dermie dazzled on the big stage and booted five majors as the Hawks ran out comfortable winners by 52 points.  Clint, a friend from primary school, had managed to get me a ticket to the game.  It was my first final.  After the game his old man, another one-eyed Hawk, decided to head straight to Glenferrie to participate in the celebrations.  It was the Hawks first finals win since the ’78 Grand Final and you could sense this mob was on the cusp of something special.  We squeezed into the Glenferrie Social Club with many of the Hawthorn faithful and waited for the players to arrive.  I was deep in enemy territory, but I was coming along for the ride, at least for one night anyway.

 

At about half-past seven the players started to emerge.  Clint and I were right on cue with pen and paper to procure their autographs the moment they stepped into the premises.  The loudest roar was reserved for Lethal.  He was immediately swamped by hundreds of well-wishers.  Clint was first to score his autograph.  I was second.  Poor Lethal.  Having just won Hawthorn a final (37 possessions, 4 goals) he was now required to sign a ton of autographs before he could even sit down and relax with a beer.

 

Clint and I spent the night scouting the Glenferrie Social Club far and wide securing every possible autograph.  We found John Kennedy Junior and Peter Schwab sitting with their partners in a quiet corner, and obtained their signatures.  No player was going to escape our detection.  Kennedy produced an extra special version of his autograph for me with elongated letters.

 

And then Dermie arrived.  The new hero.  The future of the Hawthorn Football Club.  He entered through a side door where it was a lot less crowded.  By chance, Clint and I were close by and were thus able to pounce.  He was more than happy to chat with us for a few minutes, before the hordes arrived.  He was accompanied by a slightly older woman with short blonde hair and perfect diction.  As we scored his precious signature, she looked at him wistfully and said ‘Oh, you’re a star now.’

 

 

Tea with Tommy Hafey (1986)

 

On the Queen’s Birthday of 1986 I caught a ride to the Essendon v Sydney clash at Windy Hill.  My friend Kenny was going to the game with his Aunty and had convinced her to pick me up on the way through.  Kenny was a mad Essendon supporter bathing in the glory of back-to-back premierships.  But the mood had changed a little in the last few weeks.  The Dons had lost some key players to serious injuries: Timmy Watson had done a knee; Paul Vander Haar had broken his leg; and a few others had gone down.  Throw in the fact that Merv Neagle had transferred to Sydney at the end of ’85 season, and it was clear that the Dons were in a spot of bother.

 

We stood in the outer in the wind and rain.  At half time, with the Bombers leading by a couple of kicks, Kenny and I snuck away from his Aunty, and headed to the Channel 7 commentary box.  Our timing was perfect.  Just as we arrived, Lou Richards and Peter Landy had popped out for a breather.  They were both courteous and took the time to converse with us in the interval.  When I mentioned to Lou I that I was a Collingwood supporter, his eyes lit up.

 

A few minutes later we were standing next to Paul Vander Haar in the Social Club.  He was sinking pot after pot.  As the game recommenced we accompanied Vander Haar, who was still on crutches, to the top of the Alan T. Hird Stand via the staircase at the back of the grandstand.  I was amazed at how well he handled the crutches while ascending the stairs.  It did not seem to bother him that two little tackers followed him all the way to the top tier.

 

By the time we returned to our spot in the outer, we had missed much of the third term.  The Swans under new coach Tommy Hafey and star recruits Williams, Healy and Neagle turned the game on its head.   The game would later be remembered for some unsavoury eye-gouging incidents, with Bryan Wood retiring in the aftermath.  When the final siren sounded, we jumped the fence and ran out to get as close to the players as possible.  I can still see the look of elation on the Diesel’s face.  It was a tough gig to beat the Premiers on their own turf, but the Swans had done it.  They were going places.

 

Our intention was to sneak into the Dons rooms so Kenny could get close to his heroes.  But, unsurprisingly, no admittance was allowed for fans.  So instead we headed to the Swans change rooms and, inexplicably, were able to walk in undetected.  No one seemed to mind that Kenny was decked out in an Essendon jumper and a duffle coat with the number 32 stitched on it.  We walked right up to Tommy Hafey who was conducting a radio interview with a cup of tea in hand.  The steam emitted from the cup was respite from the bitter cold.  I wanted to get closer.  After he finished his interview, Tommy winked at us and made some small talk.  He then saw that Kenny was decked out in Essendon attire, but did not blink an eye, ‘Don’t worry son, they’ll bounce back.’

 

At this point, I was distracted by the sight of the biggest human being I had ever seen in my life – John Ironmonger walked past in nothing but a pair of footy shorts.  He was a behemoth.

 

 

Ironmonger’s Spear Tackle (1990)

 

John Ironmonger is responsible for the scariest thing I have seen on a footy field.  It occurred in Round 8, 1990 at Princes Park.  I was sitting near the fence on the outer wing about twenty metres away.  Graham Wright with ball in hand ran straight into the monstrous frame of Ironmonger (now playing for the Roys) who picked him up WWF style and then unceremoniously dumped him head first into the turf.  Spear tackle seems too weak a term to describe this act of savagery.  And here’s the thing that’s even more astonishing: the officiating umpire paid holding the ball against Wright.  There seemed to be a mocking tone to umpires back in those days – do you remember when Tommy Alvin had his hair yanked by Tony Morwood?  Same result, the umpire paid holding the ball.  In those days you could electrocute a guy who had the ball, and the umpire would pay holding the ball with glee.  ‘Bad luck, you were caught.’  Well, thankfully “Gubby” Allan highlighted the incident to the AFL and Ironmonger was later suspended for two weeks via trial by video.  By the grace of God, Graham Wright emerged unscathed from the incident and continued his superb form – he was runner-up in the 1990 Brownlow – but I still shudder when I watch that footage.

 

 

Merv Neagle Jumps the Fence (1989)

 

And to switch from the subject of the scariest thing I’ve ever seen on a footy field, to the strangest, I give you the story of Merv Neagle at Victoria Park in 1989.  Neagle was a tough as nails wingman/centreman, who was every bit as skilful as he was tough.  He was runner-up in the 1980 Brownlow.  I used to love the way he cradled the ball in his right arm, had a bounce and then drilled a long drop punt from fifty.  He was instrumental in the Bombers’ resurgence under Sheedy and the glory years of ’84-85 (although he was a late withdrawal in ’85 due to injury).  He transferred to Sydney in ’86, switching to the backline in his later years.

 

In this particular game, the Pies kicked a behind at the Yarra Falls end where my dad and I were standing behind the goals.  A chubby kid standing just in front of us grabbed the Sherrin and placed it in his bag.  Merv Neagle, who was taking the kick-in, demanded the ball back from the crowd.  But the kid wouldn’t budge. After asking a few times, a determined Neagle jumped the fence, snatched the kid’s bag, pulled out the Sherrin, tossed the bag away, then jumped back onto the field to take the kick-in. The crowd was speechless. You would have thought it was a scene from Dimboola Under-16s.

 

 

Robbie (1988)

 

I needed new footy boots for the start of the 1988 season.  We headed to the sports store at Forest Hill Chase and were served by none other than the legendary Robbie Flower.  His customer service was a bit like his playing style: graceful, elegant, respectful.  We settled on a pair of Pumas.  Just as were about to complete the transaction, dad noticed a pile of Flower’s recently released autobiography Robbie stacked at the counter.  Dad grabbed a copy and threw it on the shoebox.  A nonchalant Robbie Flower added twenty bucks to the purchase price.

 

Those boots served me well that season, but the book also came in handy.  We were studying the Isaac Asimov book I, Robot in English.  One of the main stories in this collection just happened to be called Robbie.  When asked by the teacher Mrs. Evans to read a passage from the story, I pulled out a copy of Robbie and started reading the bit where Athas Hrysoulakis threatened to karate kick Robbie Flower in the head.

 

  

Gary Ablett at the Assembly of God (1990)

 

I briefly met God at the Assembly of God – otherwise known as Richmond Temple way back in 1990.  Ironically, it was the same day that Collingwood had beaten Geelong at VFL Park, coming from behind to win by 11 points.  Some family friends who attended an AOG church had offered to pick me up on the way to Richmond Temple.  The Pies were on a roll having won five in a row, so I was in somewhat of a triumphant mood and hence elected to wear a Collingwood scarf to the occasion.  The place was packed to the rafters.  It seemed like every Pentecostal in Melbourne was there.  At the conclusion of Ablett’s testimony we all lined up to speak to the great man.  It was a long wait.  I felt like I was back in the VFL Park carpark.  But I was patient, and after about 45 minutes or so, I came face to face with God.

 

Imagine his disgust at seeing a pimply, mullet-haired teenager with a Collingwood scarf – particularly after having lost to the Pies earlier on that day.  For some reason, I started rattling on about Tony Shaw’s excellent form.  Ablett just shook his head, robotically signed my piece of paper, and looked up for the next person in line.  I think he was seeking more of a religious discourse.

 

 

A Question for Richie Benaud (1989)

 

During the 1988/89 summer a couple of mates and I journeyed to the foyer of the Hilton, just prior to an Australia vs. West Indies ODI Final.  Fans clustered around Mark Waugh, Viv Richards, Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose and co, but I was more interested in talking to the man in the beige suit, whom I noticed was standing nearby on his own.  As a parochial and naïve Victorian, I asked Richie whether he preferred the MCG to the SCG (in retrospect that’s a silly thing to ask a New South Welshman).  But his answer surprised me.

 

‘Actually, the one I always liked was Adelaide.’  He then proceeded to describe the ground in great detail.

 

 

Celebrating with Jamie Siddons (1991)

 

I attended Swinburne University for a few short months in ’91.  I did not want to be there and what made matters worse was an excruciatingly tortuous tutorial for a subject called Management that was conducted by a fiery old Scotsman.  All that tripe about the difference between a leader and manager bored me to tears.  I hated all that corporate rhetoric.  After a few weeks the fiery Scotsman sensed my cynicism.

 

In late March, the Vics were a chance to win their first Shield in over ten years, so I wagged his Tuesday afternoon tutorial and caught the train to the ‘G to watch Siddons propel the Vics to an 8-wicket victory.  When he hit the winning runs I jumped the fence and sprinted out to the pitch to celebrate.  I was one of the first to make it to the middle.  I reckon I got out there before Flemo, Pistol, SOD and Dodders, let alone any of the print media photographers.

 

The next week the Scotsman questioned me in front of the whole class about my absence from the previous week.  I gave some flimsy excuse about having a sore throat.  He then produced a copy of The Age from the previous Wednesday, where a picture of me standing behind a triumphant Jamie Siddons graced the back page.

 

 

Masquerading with Murali (1995)

 

On New Year’s Eve 1995 a good mate of mine, Paddy Jayawardena, invited me to a special Sri Lankan New Year’s Eve party that was to be held at the Prahran Town Hall.  Not being Sri Lankan, I felt I would be an imposter on such occasion, but Paddy insisted that on account of my Southern European skin I could easily pose as a Burgher i.e. a Sri Lankan of Eurasian descent.  He then gave me a quick tutorial about the difference between Sinhalese, Tamils and Burghers.  Somehow he managed to convince me and I decided to give it a shot.  I had nothing else planned.  Just before we arrived at the Town Hall, Paddy handed me a masquerade that he happened to have in the glovebox of his Saab.  For reasons that to this day I still do not understand, I wore the masquerade for most of the night.

 

There was a whisper going round that several members of the Sri Lankan cricket team were going to be in attendance.  Turned out the rumour was right on the money.  One of those players just happened to be the great Muttiah Muralitharan, who had infamously been called for chucking just a few days prior in the Boxing Day test.  It was obvious to anyone who laid eyes on Murali that evening that he was still distraught; and who could blame him?

 

My performance at the party was shambolic.  Thanks to my gregarious mate Paddy, I certainly got the opportunity to meet plenty of Sri Lankan girls, but they saw right through my Burgher shtick.  I had no substance to back it up.  I don’t think the masquerade did me any favours either.  It goes without saying that when the clock struck midnight, I was going to be on my lonesome.  I was well aware of this, so at 11:59pm I elbowed my way through the dancefloor to be within close proximity of Murali.  We were without doubt the two most miserable people in that room.  When the clock struck midnight, a man in a masquerade reached for Murali’s hand and wished him a happy new year.

 

 

This story by Damian was first published earlier this year.

 

More from Damian Balassone HERE

 

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About Damian Balassone

Damian Balassone is a delusional Collingwood supporter who writes poetry and fiction. He is the author of 'Strange Game in a Strange Land'.

Comments

  1. Mark Duffett says

    What ripping yarns! You certainly have a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

    Funnily enough the one time I spoke to Richie Benaud was at the Adelaide Oval. We ran into him in the car park. Looking back I realise this means I must have dragged my Grandpa there ridiculously early, for an ODI between England and NZ in one of the early post-WSC triangular series. I couldn’t muster the wit or courage to say any more than something about the promise of the weather for a good game. He responded perfectly amiably and agreeably. Grandpa probably got even more of a kick out of the encounter than I did, as he and the great man went on to exchange further pleasantries.

    The forecast jointly agreed between Richie and myself turned out to be spot on. It was a cracking day for a cracking game. Both teams scored around 280, huge totals for that time, NZ with Lance Cairns in his pomp just pipping the Poms in a successful chase..

  2. Frank Taylor says

    Love your stuff Damian
    Go Pies

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Wowsa DB, better than Forrest Gump.

    Mark D, your encounter with Richie was on 29 Jan 1983

    https://www.espncricinfo.com/series/8531/scorecard/65348/england-vs-new-zealand-11th-match-benson-&-hedges-world-series-cup-1982-83

    On that same evening, I was attending a wedding reception at the Ansett Gateway Hotel. Some of the New Zealand players got in the lift with us, still wearing their full beige and brown kit.

  4. Awesome,Damian I will try and make sure,Blighty and Dermie see the article

  5. Mark Duffett says

    Thanks Swish, good to know my recall wasn’t entirely off beam, but if anything I underestimated the fireworks. 297! C Tavare 16 off 54 balls *facepalm*. Cost ‘em the game.

    Hopefully meeting the Kiwis in the lift wasn’t an early peak for your evening.

    And thanks again, Damian.

  6. Round of applause DB, sparkling stuff! Every story a winner with a beautiful story to finish.

    Ah, one observation, don’t let go of your circle of friends. They’re paying it forward for you big time!

    Cheers

  7. DB- superb set of stories. I’ve often been worried about getting caught like you in your Jamie Siddons moment. Some mates regularly see Blighty on the Glenelg golf course and tell me he’s reasonable but a better exponent of the booming torp.

  8. Great stuff Damian

    Your tales took me back for multiple reasons.

    As a mad Swans supporter I well remember being at Windy Hill, standing in the outer for that momentous win over Essendon. If I remember correctly, in the minutes after the game I must have been smiling, because one of the locals warned me that I’d “better watch myself in Puckle Street tonight”. If I was smiling before he said that, I must have been veritably beaming after.

    I also recall being at Victoria Park to see Merv Neagle have to jump the fence to retrieve the ball. Having been there also in 1977 to see the Swans beat Colingwood at Collingwood for the first time in 32 years (and having played them there every year), wins there were like hens’ teeth. If I recall correctly, it was also the day that Barry Mitchell kicked a late goal to put us in front and snatch victory from Collingwood. Another joyous thing.

    Then there was your Jamie Siddons story. I know he had a fabled cricket career, but I can’t help but remember him as a Swans player. I think he played two official senior games, but my main recollection of him was playing quite well in a Night series game on a Tuesday night at Waverley. A stylish left footer wearing number 50. Check him out here.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbVJdi2_BOU

    But mostly my connection with your storeis, Damian was around the fact that I lived just around the corner from you in Bareena Grove. I, too, was aware of the rumours that Malcolm Blight lived on Gaudion Road. I remember the house distinctly. I would gaze at it as i rode past on my bike mid-paper round. There was a day we had some family friends over at our place and somebody mentioned the rumour about the house on Gaudion Road. Well, our friends were mad North supporters and demanded I take them to the house so they could get their autograph books signed. Similar to your story, we knocked on the door and Malcolm himself opened the door. Our young family friend (aged about 7) boldly declared “Hello Malcolm Blight”. We got autographs and headed home gleefully. Malcolm was nothing but polite as I recall.

    But……………. Damian ………………. did you know that there was another sporting superstar in our midst. Not 200 metres away in Inglewood Close lived none other than Max Walker.

    Good times. Great memories.

  9. Luke Reynolds says

    Magnificent stories told wonderfully well DB!

    Well remember the Ironmonger “tackle” on Wright, truly horrific, and very lucky not to end up worse off.

  10. Some ripping yarns there, Damo.
    Well played! Most enjoyable reading.

  11. Great stories. It was a different era back them.

  12. Shane Reid says

    This is fabulous DB, great stories beautifully told. I think my favourite story about Malcolm Blight is his habit of having a ciggie at 3/4 time

  13. Matt Zurbo says

    Just brilliant Damo!

  14. DBalassone says

    Thanks Mark D. I recall that game in Adelaide when NZ chased down 297. It seemed like a miracle at the time. Richie was a gentleman and one of a kind. I still miss him heading up the commentary box…and it’s been five years now since he passed. I thought he would be around forever. Life rolls on.

    Thanks Frank, Swish and Rulebook. Rulebook, I’d love for you to pass on the tales to Blighty and Derm. I’m sure they get that sort of thing a hundred times a day – but these moments are special to the little kid with big dreams.

    Cheers Rick – fair point. I was lucky to catch the odd ride to neutral games. If Collingwood weren’t playing, I was always on the lookout for a lift to another game.

    Thanks Mickey – the Siddons moment was the first nail in the coffin for my time at Swinburne. I was gone soon after.

    Thanks Mark G – wow, what a coincidence. Another East Donny boy. I remember Bareena Grove. We knocked on Max Walker’s door once too, but had no success. I did see him driving around the area once or twice. And thanks for confirming the Merv Neagle story – I’ve always wanted to get some backup on that story. The Barry Mitchell game was in ’86 another narrow win for the Swans. I didn’t realise that ’77 was the Swans first win for 32 years at Vic Park. Being more of an 80s man, I always remember the Swans upsetting the Pies there in thrillers i.e. 5 points in ’82, 3 points in ’84, 1 point in ’86, and 4 points in ’89. And thanks for the Jamie Siddons footage – I love that he pinned Mark McClure, and McClure’s subsequent reaction, giving away the 15-metre penalty is gold.

    Thanks Luke, thank goodness, Wrighty wasn’t hurt seriously. I reckon lessor incidents than that have caused serious spinal/neck injuries.

    Thanks Smokie, 6%, Matt (who met the great man) and Shane. Shane, I reckon a piece purely on eccentric Blight stories is another post waiting to happen….He’s one in a million. I couldn’t give a rat’s tossbag what Rod Butterss says.

  15. Shane John Backx says

    Mark G, I was at that South game at Vic Park in 77. Remember it vividly because I saw that day THE single greatest game I ever saw 1 individual play. G. Teasdale on his way to a Brownlow. Marked everything that came near him and kicked it 60 mtres every time and in the process destroyed both Len Thompson and Peter Moore, leaving both in his wake. Look up his stats for that game on the 1977 AFL Tables website

  16. Kevin Densley says

    A very enjoyable collection of stories, Damian! What stays in my mind the most is Malcolm’s Blight’s treat on Halloween night – classic stuff and so believable!

  17. DB; so you are delusional and write fiction hey? You almost had me with those stories, until you preferred to talk to the beige one over the master blaster! Still, very entertaining.

  18. Stephen Castieau says

    Rocco Fazzari, artist and long time illustrator for the sydney morning herald painted a mural of Malcolm Blight on the garage door of his parents house which was on the road towards Woodvill”s home ground(the team that Blight played for in SA).It became a local attraction.

    I too was standing in the outer at Windy Hill that day.As a Swans supporter i recall Mark “Fridge” Roberts playing a great game on Terry Daniher.

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