Sport strips away personality, letting the white bone of character shine through.
~ Rita Mae Brown
“I just wanted to sing the song one more time.”
My fellow Sydney Swans’ member and friend, Marc, is guilty of one of sport’s seven deadly sins (see p82 of my self-published ‘Almanac for all Sporting Fans’), in that he barracks for two AFL clubs. Guyanan-born, English-raised, Marc first lived in Melbourne when he moved here, and the Tottenham Hotspur man had fallen in love with the Australian football code … and a club named Hawthorn.
He stood there, singing their club song on our home ground. All game I resisted the urge to give him a good pinch as he cheered them. As he cheered when Shaun Burgoyne cleared the ball from the centre and the Swans lost, 102-95.
He stood, looking at me, waiting for me to grab my bag and go. Fuck him. I stayed seated, chin resting on arms folded atop the railing in front of my seat in the O’Reilly Stand.
“I just wanted to sing the song one more time.”
Round 22 of the 2012 AFL home and away season. Our last game at the Sydney Cricket Ground. All week I read the various permutations of where we would finish going into the finals. The Swans, forever ‘flying under the radar’ as they stood aloft the ladder, could drop to third, or fourth … or was it even fifth? I headed for the consolation of the lost, and sank bottomless schooners of Old at The Cricketer’s Arms.
Round 23: away to Geelong. The Melbourne pundits, salivating over the prospect of a Cats-Hawks Grand Final, didn’t rate our chances. Having been to Kardinia Park when it was Skilled Stadium (but before it became Simonds), I was nervous … and this is watching the game on television, kitted out as usual in full match-day gear, including lucky underwear (NB: there is more than one set). We lost, the commentators all but crowned the Cats as Premiers, and we would have to travel to Adelaide for the first week of the finals.
Father’s Day: “How are you?” Mum said as she picked me up from the train station. “Really well,” I replied, and for once, meaning it. ”Except for the Swannies, though?” Mum replied.
I don’t know what was written on my face. I have so much other shit, real life total bullshit facing my family, & was a bloody game of football all that I was showing emotion about?
Mum: “What does that mean for the finals … do you still get a final?”
Me: “Not next week. They (not we) have to travel to Adelaide.”
Mum: “Are you going?”
Me: “Nah, can’t afford it.”
Mum: “I’ll lend you the money.”
AAMI Stadium, Week One: the bizarro choir greeting the squad at Adelaide Airport; the allergy of Crows’ fans to queuing to get a beer; the, ‘oh, jesus … this was supposed to be the AWAY supporters bay, right on the arc of the back pocket’; the constant booing at every Swan taking a set shot or refereeing decision which went against the home side; the everything. It all disappeared in the beauty of the Swans’ 29-point win. We replaced them. I couldn’t see the tears of the man I call Mighty Mouse, Ben McGlynn, as he was subbed out of the game with a hamstring injury that would probably end his season. The unexpected text message. The missed telephone message from my Dad, a proud rugby league man converted to this game. There was only one person to call. From the glamour of the queue for the ladies’ bathroom, I phoned the number.
“Mummy, Mummy … WE DID IT! Thank you so much, Mummy! I love you for making this possible. It’s mad here but … Mummy, Mummy … we did it.”
NB: I wasn’t speaking to Shane Mumford. I call my Mother, ‘Mummy’ when I am drunk (tick), child-like with joy (tick), or very ill (not at the time).
I had to get back to the airport. Again, the Adelaide allergy to queuing came to the fore. As I had done on the way to AAMI Stadium, I asked the Swans’ supporters around me if they could fit one more into their cab. Sure thing.
Walking toward the terminal, a man asked who had won the game.
“We did! Are you a Port supporter?” It seemed like a fair ask. He wasn’t wearing any team colours.
“No,” the man replied. “How was it?”
Me: “We were magnificent. We stood up to everything. We stopped them … and we ran and we carried and we kicked straight and we were magnificent.”
Man: “Any one stand out?”
Me: “Oh, our defensive structure was outstanding and the midfield we killed them in the mids, and Mitch Morton kicked two – MITCH MORTON?!? I’ll tell you something: no one rates us a chance. No one thought we would win. I believe in these fellas. Goodesy’s coming on, and Teddy Richards, what a star. Bloody hell, my, ‘oh jesus ker-ist on crutches’ player, LRT, was strong … but you know the bloke who’s come into a rich vein of form in the last few weeks? Jarrad McVeigh. Goodesy gets all the attention, and I love him, he’s a bloody star, but McVeigh … he’s building each week.”
Man, stops, props: “Yeh, he was all right.”
Me: “So are you a Swans man? Or a Collingwood spy?”
Man: “I’m Jarrad McVeigh’s Dad.”
Me, stopped: “Really?”
Me: (babble, ZOMG I thought it was amazing when I met Nic Fosdike’s aunt today, wow, can I shake hands, congratulations on fathering the freshly-retired Essendon player, Mark McVeigh; then the genuine but irritating tears of a drunken stranger sucked in hard as I try to put into words how we all shared his family’s happiness at the safe delivery of Jarrad & Clementine’s daughter Lolita, and mourned the loss of Luella).
The whole time our hands are clasped.
Made the flight. Made it? Slayed it. The flight was delayed. Then I saw Brett Kirk, dressed impeccably, accompanied by some Channel 7 commentator whose name still escapes me. It had to be done.
Me: “Brett? Look I’m really sorry to bother you but I just had to say hello and thank you for everything you’ve done for the Swans,” … more babble as from the corner of my eye I can see the prick from Channel 7 drop back, thinking, ‘poor Kirky’.
Kirky: (DISTINCTLY UNIMPRESSED) “Yeh, they were good today. Thanks.”
Me: (dying on the inside) “OK, thanks for everything you’ve done for the club. Sorry for bothering you.”
Me: (unsaid) “WHAT THE FUCK WAS WITH THE, ‘KIRKY’S BANNED FROM THE SWANS’ ROOMS’ BULLSHIT 7 PUT OUT THERE?”
I had a little money left, so into the Cooper’s Alehouse for a bevvy it was. About 25 Swans fans watching the first quarter of the elimination final between Freo and Geelong. Or, to be more accurate, slack-jawed by what we were seeing and pretty bloody happy that the AFL media pack would be shitting themselves without more Geelong / Hawthorn yarns to write.
And then, a stream of men in red and white. Bags and beers abandoned, the still-standing stragglers bolted from the bar and cheered each player by name. We cheered the support staff, and we sang the song through an empty Adelaide airport. I looked at Ben McGlynn and the crutches and my heart sank. The players smiled and waved, Mitch Morton lapping up the love and enjoying the limelight at last after a year in the Ressies.
A week off. Home to Newcastle again for my friends’ joint 40th at a Newcastle pub … no AFL. Nervously checking the scores on my phone. West Coast couldn’t do it. We’d play Collingwood at ANZ in the preliminary final. Here we go …
The clichés tumble easily on the various football shows. Hoodoo. Ah, Collingwood. They were well beaten by the Hawks, but they’ll knock Sydney off the same way they did the Eagles. The unbeaten streak. Collingwood. Bloody hell. The Markgrook panel (except for Shelley and Leila) and the Footy Show panel: Crawf, Push Ups King, Milney, Garry Lyon … all backing the Pies; James Brayshaw, ‘The Swans have been chronically underrated since Round One’ … YA THINK?’, I tweeted. I re-watch the 2005 semi-finals. My favourite game – the night Nick Davis came to save us. The commentary as useful now: “That Davis goal, that was the freak of the night … you just can’t see it happening a lot more.” So tiresome. Still a team of grinders and grafters who had played uglier than everyone else to win a flag in 2005. I watch the world road racing championships. I refuse to see one of my oldest mates, a Pies fan, before the match because I knew I would be driven to boxing his ears. He’d never known what it was like to lose against us at ANZ.
I met up with fellow Swans and we board an Olympic Park train packed with red and white. There’s a big travelling Collingwood contingent, of course. As it became real, that this time we would catch that treno back to town victorious, I turned as feral as I’d ever been to the Pies fans leaving the stadium early:
“GO ON, YOU WEAK BASTARDS! LEAVE YOUR BOYS OUT THERE, ALONE … WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE DO THAT?”
We laughed at the sight of a miserable Joffa flashing up on the big screen, & jumped, wildly into the night as Jude Bolton kicked truly in his 300th game. Yes, Jude … 301 was going to be closer.
WE FUCKING DID IT! WE’RE IN THE GRAND FINAL!
I met up with Andrew, who’s become a great friend, a true Collingwood person but always first to acknowledge a better team and analyse the game, not dispassionately, but with care and honour. The kind of person who should be a pundit.
“No, congratulations Kimbo, well done, you’re going to come down for the Granny aren’t you? Your boys were too good, they deserve it, it’s not our year.”
At a pub in the city, three renditions (possibly more) of the Swans’ club song, a bastardised version of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish song, he’d reached peak tolerance. I’d reached peak adrenaline-induced exhaustion. Time for home. Time to sort things out. After Adelaide, I’d booked flights and accommodation in Melbourne for Grand Final weekend, not because of some magic tingling in my toes (OK, maybe a little … it is called the big dance, after all) but because I thought, ‘well, I have a guaranteed ticket, I might as well, I can always cancel if we don’t make it … but we will’.
Everything is ready to go. I’m nervous and distracted on Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday. People at work are driving to Melbourne on Friday night. I think of Richard Hinds’ dismissive tweet, “You’re a Swans fan. There’s a difference.” I smile. “Yes, I am. And we’re going to prove you wrong. Although we shouldn’t have to prove anything.” By Thursday, I feel calm. There’s nothing I can do, with all my lucky charms and blood-red pedicure. I can’t kick the bloody goals for them, or make the decision to handball. I can’t stop almost everyone saying we cannot win the flag, or that it wasn’t fair that Hawthorn had one less day to recover, or that Lewis Jetta hadn’t bounced the bloody ball often enough in a 90 metre dash to the goal. I can’t sleep so I do my tax and watch the footy shows and pack eight outfits for a two-day trip, and smile at the Facebook messages from a friend in Ulan Bator asking if I could get help get his boss a ticket, the good luck tweets and the texts.
Friday, 28 September: arrive in Melbourne. Freezing cold, pissing down with rain and I’m essentially broke. Drop bag at hotel, head out to watch the Grand Final parade. Run into Erin, who cried real tears at last week’s win. Trying to get good photos is impossible as the players are (sensibly) riding inside the vehicles. Weave my way up to Treasury Place, listen to the speeches, back to the hotel. I want to write this blog post, but the words won’t come. I’m still calm; beyond excited at being here, but not worried about the match. Meet up with some tweeps I’d been dying to discover in real life at The Corner Hotel, Richmond. Comes in handy that I learn to catch a tram as I’m due back there at 11.30am tomorrow. After a night of being shouted pints on an empty stomach, the better angels tell me to leave. I arrive back at the hotel just after midnight. It’s Grand Final day.
Saturday, 29 September: I really should have eaten something. I haven’t eaten since Qantas gave me a muffin and passionfruit yoghurt yesterday morning. I shake off the dust. It’s 9am. It’s Grand Final Day. The iPod goes on & I start bouncing off the walls like the 27 year-old disco-biscuit machine I once was. I’ve made up essential mixes, everything from Jamelia’s ‘Superstar’ for Lewis Jetta to Mr Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster (Jammin’)”, my Adam Goodes anthem. General jumping around and answering tweets. Then, oh gaaaah what am I going to wear goddamn it, Melbourne. Fuck it. Shower, dress & lucky t-shirt underneath. Lucky underwear, natch. I manage not to ladder my tights. Remember that I have short hair, & can spend a few more minutes dorking around to The Jacksons. Shoes. Hair. Stop dorking around. Ticket, ticket, ticket. Pack all of my lucky charms. My 2012 membership card. Redback Club pin. Got my scarf, time for the final secret weapon in my list of superstitions: my favourite perfume, handcrafted in the south of France & still safe in its beautiful bottle & original stopper. I bought it in Avignon in 2005. It’s called, ‘L’ensorceleuse’. I’m not nervous. My heart is singing.
It’s not raining as I head down to catch the number 70. There’s an older man in Swans colours standing next to me at the tram stop.
Me: “Up the Swannies! Are you down from Sydney?”
Man: “No, I came up from Tasmania.”
Me: “That’s fantastic! So much for the Hawks Tasmanian supporter base! Are you a South Melbourne man?”
Man: “Well, yes. I’m Roy Cazaly’s nephew.”
Me: “Can I shake your hand?” (not said, but tweeted) BEST OMEN EVER: I JUST MET ROY CAZALY’S NEPHEW
Tram approaches. “Up the Swannies,” we say in unison. Unlike every sign on Swan Street, Richmond, which some admittedly clever buggers have changed to ‘Hawks Street’, the tram reads Swan Street when I jump on, advertising the Basil Sellers Art Prize. The Swans’ Sydney office is in the Basil Sellers Centre at the SCG. Another omen.
Arrive at The Corner. A sea of brown and gold. A few people in Swans colours. My fellas are running late, so I have a pint. Should have eaten. One by one they arrive and ply me with more pints, with the generous-to-a-fault Andrew making sure that I eat something. The boys start talking about the game and I start to get nervous. Please, don’t talk about Hawthorn getting a three goal start and it being all over. There is only so much I can take. I’m buzzing, I don’t want to think about the game. My brain will explode. The special one makes his way up. Everything’s Turning to White: I’m reminded I want to see Paul Kelly. There’s no awkwardness. Thank god for that. We head to the ‘G, all in different areas, saying let’s meet here at half-time. I pass Molly Meldrum on my way to Gate 5. “Love you, Molly,” I shout (wearing Hawks’ colours … seriously?). Make my way up to N12 and run into Rhys Muldoon – I’d tweeted him on Thursday that if the moon and stars aligned we’d see each other. The omens were buzzing around in my head. Realised that for $390, I was sitting in an area with no public bars, only corporate entertainment rooms. Gave Michael O’Loughlin a big wave as he stood safely inside the glassed wall between the lucky ones and the so-called ‘platinum’ ticketed seats WITH NO BLOODY PUBLIC BARS. Rhys & I sang along to Paul Kelly and then it was too late to get downstairs for a drink. “Let’s meet here at quarter time and go and get a drink,” Rhys said … never to be spotted again.
It’s time to take it all in. I make my way to my seat. A lady behind me proffers a Swans cardboard clapper. “Oh, I didn’t think they had them here, thank you so much,” I reply. “They don’t. I brought them from home.” If I thought my head was going to explode, that was the moment my heart gives in to the emotion. I grip her hand. “Thank you. Thank you so much.” The countdown to the first bounce begins, and then the siren.
The game is surreal. A few shaky moments from both teams early on, but no absolute shockers. The Hawks kick four and all I can think of is the boys’ dire prediction. We go into the first break trailing by 19 and more than a little lucky.
Second quarter goes BOOM! I think I spent more time leaping out of my seat than in it. The jitters have gone. The structures are right. The kicking is accurate and the effort is outstanding. I know the heart attack kings too well to think this will go on, but it is sweetness itself to watch six straight majors sail through, and your opponent at a one-point standstill. We’ve not only staunched the bleeding, we’ve hit the front.
Half-time: Downstairs for drinks. The rest is redacted.
Third quarter … goes even more BOOM? Hawthorn start spreading the ball with disturbing ease. It’s a nightmare. Not because I thought they’d ever lie down, but because this part was also written in the stars. We kick 3.1 … Hawthorn kick 5.4. They’re inaccurate. I go back to my three keys to winning: effort, intensity and accuracy. We’re winning. We have a one point lead thanks to a Captain’s goal from the man who had run into a rich vein of form. I smile & think of his Dad.
Three-quarter time: I’m in my own head. I look towards the threatening skies. I close my eyes. Shake down the thunder, I pray, silently as the siren sounds …
Fourth quarter: you probably remember it more clearly. I haven’t seen the replay. I remember my badly injured co-captain kicking, just enough, a ball that sent the red and white sections of the crowd into a, ‘please, please, blow the bloody siren’ frenzy. I had dreamt it would be the final goal of the match. I’m glad to say it wasn’t.
I’m hugging people and practically mugging former club champions, and 300-gamer Paul Williams, softly says to me, ‘we’re a great club’.
We are a great club. It is our L’ensorceleuse (The Shining Hour). I sing the song, one more time.