VFL Round 16 (1968) – Hawthorn v Collngwood

HAWTHORN v COLLINGWOOD Rd 16 1968 3rd August

My parents are whispering. I can only hear muffled parts of the conversation. We are at a cubs footy carnival. We’ve played two games and I am so proud of my 1.1.7 in the first game. The behind is as good as the goal to me. I didn’t score in the second game. I think we had a game left in the round robin but the ground is mud, the rain is coming and we probably won’t make the next round and by the tones of my parents it’s looking like we’re not staying. I hear the words “take him to the football”. Do they mean the real footy? My first VFL game?

So the decision was made. We are going to the football, the real football – just my Dad and me. This is big, this is huge, two great things on the one day. My much asked for, but still unexpected Ron Barassi football boots birthday present won’t get another outing today. Dad told me that the boots wouldn’t make me a better player but I didn’t believe him.
My father didn’t talk that much to me as a child. I always said that it was because I was born in the era when men went to work and earned money and women stayed at home and ran the household. I wonder if he thought that he had met his obligation by providing for his family which he did well. So many of our conversations were simplistic and functional “pass the salt”, “can you pick me up from tennis?”, “you need a haircut”. Perhaps I was too generous to him because I know of similar aged friends to me who had great relationships with their dads. Maybe it was my fault but I can’t change any of that although I have made sure that I have a much deeper relationship with my son than I had with my dad.

Even when my mother was very sick for several years and then died my relationship with my father, then as a young adult, was little changed. He wasn’t a harsh man in any way although he did confide once when I tried to ask him about his parents that his mother was very strict. He seemed just a bit distant to me; there in bodily form but hard for both of us to emotionally attach or relate. As a father with teenage and adult children myself I would love to have the opportunity to talk to him now about his perspective of our family life. Too late as he died before my son was born.

I couldn’t fault him for providing for his family. I don’t think he liked his job in the Victorian Public Service much. From as early as I remember he talked about only 14 years and 7 months to retirement; only 12 years and 11 months to go. (At least I have only started my countdown with less than six years to go). He never gave in though, and continued to go despite his own health not being 100% and mum’s illness overshadowing the whole household

There are many special memories of our life together – pleasant enough middle class family life out in the eastern suburbs, unremarkable in lots of ways. God there when we needed him – a part of my life that would dramatically shape me much later. We watched a lot of sport together. Footy replays – although Dad was a pretty typical Collingwood supporter – no replays if they lost; World of Sport on Sunday followed by the VFA footy. Phil Gibbs, Col Paige Ford ads, Channel ‘Oh’. For some reason I started barracking for Dandenong – Frosty Miller, Pat Flaherty, Ray Orchard, Eddie Melai filled the screens. Occasionally the likes of these usurped Bill Barrot, Royce Hart or Kevin Bartlett in the neighbour’s spare block as I kicked the footy to myself. Not often mind you, just occasionally.

This was the same neighbour’s block that we walked through to get to the shops and the station.

At the top of the block, and that was what it was called, was the point where, as a four or five year old I would meet my dad after he got off the station from work, and carry his case home. He would hand it to me as we went down the little slope from the footpath and as usual most of the journey was in silence. We would walk through the trees which represented the goals in my football games with myself. I was always intrigued how his initials had been put underneath the handle but I never sought an answer. Inside the case were the newspapers with the sports sections which I would devour: Alf Brown’s Friday preview, the summary on Monday and all the results, the Reserves and Under 19s and VFA ladders and goal-kickers. Sometimes as well as the Age and the Herald, the Sun would be in there as well.

We watched the night games in the 1970s – I still remember Dad’s headphones to help him hear and the rest of us not go deaf – smashing into the floor when Kerry Good marked after the siren and goaled to deny Collingwood another flag, albeit a night one. We watched tennis, cricket, snooker, the English soccer. We didn’t comment much but it was enjoyable nonetheless.

Having discarded my collection of Football Records some time back I had to look up the past results of my first game. I reckon it must have been Round 16 1968 when we went to our first game together. I’ve based this on the other recollection that I went to consecutive games at the MCG when Collingwood first played Richmond and then Melbourne at the MCG and that was 1969 and I know that they were my second and third games. It seemed an unusual choice of game to me – Hawthorn v Collingwood at Glenferrie Oval on what Dad would have called a dirty day because it rained so much – all match in fact. I knew Collingwood was Dad’s team but I had already transferred my allegiance from mum’s and my sister’s Hawthorn, to my own Richmond. A friend at school told me the Tigers were the best and I think I liked the option of my own choice rather than an imposed family one. So watching my first game with no allegiance to either team was unusual, but I wasn’t complaining. I wanted to see live football and tell my friends that I had been. I was 7 or 8 years old and could barely see a thing because of the crowd in front of me. It seemed like we were sardined into the ground. Coincidentally I ended up living not far from this ground well after the Hawks left.
I don’t remember the result*. To me it was irrelevant. Just being there was enough. Some of the names on the teams list on the back of the Age on a Friday became real people. Every Friday I would ask my sister to test me on the names in six teams and I would get a mark out of 20 depending on how many I got right. I always got 20 for Richmond (sometimes I cheated by looking beforehand and sometimes she would give me clues) but dipped out on North Melbourne or Fitzroy when I considered 12 or 13 pretty good. I always beat her on her six teams – even if she got 20 for Hawthorn. I vaguely remember Des Meagher and Peter Hudson, Peter Crimmins but little else. There was shouting by many of the men in large coats some of whom blocked my view. Just occasionally on the far side of the ground, I could catch a glimpse of a full passage of play. A little further beyond, nearly masked by the rain I could see red rattlers rattle into ‘town’ as mum still called Melbourne city. (Mum and I went every school holidays to town, walked through the block to the station to catch one of those rattlers, make sure we avoid the smokers’ carriage, to see a movie and/or get pikelets with the huge jam and huger cream in Coles cafeteria when we always got a window seat and watched the trams trundle below in Bourke Street).

The jacket I wore to keep dry at Glenferrie Oval that day was moderately successful. I wondered why it had gone a deeper fawn colour until I realised that the entire coat was absolutely saturated and there was not one place on it that had remained dry. At the end of the game and true to the minimal communication I find myself in a Glenferrie Road Fish and Chip shop; I don’t recall being asked whether I would like some chips but there they are in my arm wrapped in the paper. We walk back to the car, best I remember it was still raining. I still recall the warmth of the chips drying a large patch on the front of my coat restoring it to the correct colour. I’m intrigued by this more than the chips. I sit in the back with the warmth of the chips matching the warmth of the experience and the dry patch on the coat expanding; the real footy having overtaken my 1.1.7 in the morning as the highlight of the day. Not much said as usual but a memorable day with my Dad.
* Hawthorn 15.11.101 d Collingwood 10.16.76
Crowd: 25,928 (I knew I felt sardined)
Votes: Dad 3, Mum 2, Me 1 (1.1.7)

About Noel McPhee

Noel's background is in statistics including 13 years at the ABS. More recent employment has been at Deakin University. He enjoys working on the Census and elections. His weekly article, 'The Stats Bench' appears in the EFL's football record - The Eastern Footballer. Noel's legacy as a sportsman is that he tried hard; two cricket fielding trophies, a tennis premiership and boundary umpiring about 80 EFL senior games and a couple of underage grand finals.

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