The Sporting Religion

“I could read the sports section if my hair was on fire” – Jerry Seinfeld

The Day of The Ashes

by williamschack

It has been a strange build-up to this summer’s Ashes series. There has been excitement, but it has not been palpable like in the past. There are so many new faces involved and the personal rivalry between players is not prevalent in the same way it has been in the past. There is no Anderson v Johnson comparison in this series. Of the 22 players in the squads from the last Australian Ashes, only 7 remain. The country will be abuzz once the game begins on Thursday morning, but the build-up has not been quite the same as I remember it before other series. The Ben Stokes incident has been an unfortunate distraction and the series will be poorer for his absence. From an Australian perspective, all the media discussion has been about who would fill the spots of the opening partner of Warner, number 6, and the wicket-keeper.

Until about 1 month ago I did not realise there was an issue with Matt Renshaw, but now he is out of the team – who knows when he will return – and Cameron Bancroft hit form at the perfect time. It is the other two selections, however, that are the most controversial.
Shaun Marsh – 34-year-old boy wonder with loads of potential and a huge future – has been selected at number 6. It should no longer be controversial when Marsh is selected ahead of a worthier player because it has happened for his entire career. Despite Glenn Maxwell being hard-done-by, I don’t mind the selection as much as I usually would and his recent injury set-back may mean that Maxwell gets to play anyway. . He did play well in India earlier this year, and the number 6 position may take a bit of pressure off and allow him to play with more freedom. Although given Australia’s torrid 4-mid-order collapses in recent times he may be coming in at 4-50, or worse.
But it is the Tim Paine selection that is the strangest. All the weird stats have been thrown around about his record – the coach scoring a more recent First-Class century being the most amusing – but he has been selected solely for his keeping. Not since the days of the insufferable Ian Healy has a keeper been selected only for his glove-work. It was a selection that I am sure England would have welcomed. Their memories of the last Australian summer here must be littered the annoying smile of Brad Haddin – the most important player after Johnson in that series – digging in and grinding the English momentum to a halt before adding valuable runs every time England had the edge.

This current crop of Australian players lacks someone with that hard-nosed edge like Haddin. Beyond Smith and Warner, none will especially concern the English bowlers. And despite having a bowling attack that would strike fear into almost any batting line-up in history, they are unproven as a unit and don’t have the same uber-confidence that people like me grew up thinking was normal. Perhaps that will come with time and – hopefully – sustained success, but right now this line-up does not have a clear identity under Smith.
This is by far Smith’s biggest Australian summer. The Indian series earlier this year was one of the most entertaining series in my memory; Smith and his team took it right up to India and almost climbed the most difficult summit in Australian cricket. Due to it being on Foxtel only a quarter of the country had the chance to watch it. So, Smith’s achievement in rallying his team in that series is perhaps lost on most of the general public and his identity as captain – beyond just making heaps and heaps of runs – is yet to be determined.
Smith is less combative and aggressive than almost all his predecessors in the last 50 years. His immediate predecessor has questioned this in the media recently. Every time Clarke or his buddy Shane Warne comment on Smith and his captaincy, it is hard to not read the sub-text. Warne is one of the most aggressive cricketers in history, and while it worked incredibly well for him, he finds it difficult to accept that others don’t play with some style. It is clear that Steve Smith is not the kind guy who Graeme Smith would say calls you a cunt all day, but Warne and Clarke would prefer it if he was. They may not always mean it, but it seems like they are trying to undermine almost everything he does – particularly when it comes to David Warner.
There has been a clear difference in the way Warner has spoken since Smith became captain. Warner once spoke of England’s scared eyes when facing Johnson, but so reserved has he become that his teammates now call him “The Reverend”. When he did speak up in the lead up to this series of the need to ensure there is a hatred of the opposition, he just as soon came out and apologised for taking it too far.
Despite Warner’s conciliatory tone, Nathan Lyon – the most conciliatory of all Australian players – spoke this week of wanting to end the careers of Englishmen this summer. It was as though you could see the new keeping coach behind him pulling the strings. Or perhaps this is what Lyon is really like, and he has just never felt confident enough to say things like that in public. Maybe Smith has given him a license to do what comes naturally to him. Regardless, mixed messages are coming out of the Australian camp – but this series is the series in which Smith can cement his position in Australian cricket and truly deliver a team in his image. And that may be that players are free to act as they like, and not pretend that they have the confidence of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.
Despite the lacklustre build up – the day is upon us, and hopefully, a classic series awaits. On day two of the Brisbane Test in the last Ashes series, a series of Mitchell Johnson bouncers whipped up the winds of change that soon swept around the Australian continent. England, who had beaten Australia comprehensively only months earlier, stood no chance in those conditions. This contest looks to be much more even – or perhaps that is just because there are so many newcomers and it is unclear how they will match up. Let’s hope this new team can show the world their identity and usher in a new era of Australian Test cricket.

Advertisements

Tigers of Old

by williamschack

My ex-girlfriend showed me this photo in 2010. The subject is Robert McGhie and the photo was taken by Rennie Ellis. For a person who loves sport and struggles – despite good intentions – to appreciate art, my acknowledgement of the quality of this photo was a good chance to make myself look sophisticated in her eyes. That was back when Collingwood looked like it was on the verge of a new era of dominance. Our relationship, much Collingwood’s era of success, was short lived. During our time together, I exaggerated my interest in cultural things to try and impress her. She broke up with me over the phone so I am quite sure it did not work. My love of Ellis’ photography, however, was not feigned. You could argue it was his subjects that drew me in rather than his skill behind the lens, perhaps it is both. It is inarguable that his photos draw in the viewer in a way that other pieces of art don’t. There is no exclusion here. The photos are of everyone for everyone.
Ellis’ work has recently been housed in the State Library of Victoria. There was a recent article in The Age which prompted me to revisit his work. Of all the photos, it is the two of McGhie that I find the most captivating. Football back then seemed much simpler and looking at photos like this make me long for that time. A time when all 6 games were played at the same time on a Saturday afternoon so to see your team play you had to attend. When Grand Final tickets could easily be purchased no matter the capacity. They would just sell-and-sell them and cram people in accordingly.

Elliot Cartledge’s Footy’s Glory Days depicts this era perfectly. It is a brilliant book that everyone should read – but I am sure its moments are viewed through rose-tinted glasses. Tim Lane says we could not understand what the atmosphere was like. For the most part, he is probably correct as most games are these days played in half-filled stadiums. But I am confident that a full MCG in which the people feel comfortable and tickets are allocated according to the team affiliations provides a better atmosphere. If it does not, I’ll take the comfort of a seat and knowing I won’t be crushed in a crowd over a slightly better atmosphere.

I was at the MCG last Saturday and the crowd noise was something to behold. The hairs on my arms and neck stood up as the crowd cheered after the national anthem. It’s not the same when it is not your team playing, but it was still a privilege to be there. Although, a large portion of the 1600 Giants fans who were in attendance were in our section and the section next to us.
It is somewhat refreshing that both teams in the game this week will have no one with Grand Final experience. In an era of supposed equalisation, the competition has been dominated by 3 teams since the end of the Brisbane era. With the dogs winning last year and neither Geelong, Sydney or Hawthorn in this year, perhaps we are moving into a new era.

It is also somewhat upsetting that the opposition to Richmond this week has a romantic bent to it too. Last year, despite most people’s like for Sydney, it was easy to dismiss them and unashamedly cheer for the Dogs due to Sydney’s recent success. This year, however, an Adelaide victory would also be a feel-good story.
I never thought I would say that. Adelaide is the club that was thrown together in a rush and a court action to stop Port Adelaide joining the league. There was no romance about them. They were the club who beat the Dogs’ in the 97 Preliminary Final and prevented the opportunity for at least one of the Saints and Dogs to win their second premiership. The next week the 1-premiership-in-124-years Saints were forced to watch the 7-year-old Crows celebrate their first of 2 premierships.

But this Adelaide team has some very likeable players. Eddie Betts is my second favourite non-Pies player, and who could not love Tex Walker and Rory Sloane.
Then there is the still shocking fact that their coach was killed during the 2015 season. I was in America on holiday with my father at the time and I will always remember when he said, “Phil Walsh is dead”. It was so sad to learn that it was due to a domestic fight with his troubled son. For the club to hold itself together as well as it did and to be playing in a Grand Final less than 2 years later is remarkable and no non-Tigers fan could begrudge them if they win.

But it would be such an enjoyable afternoon and evening to watch the Tiger army celebrate a premiership. For Richmond fans, the photo above probably represents the time when it was the league’s superpower. When it would play finals every season and non-premiership was viewed as a dismal failure. When I first saw this photo in 2010, it felt as though Collingwood was perhaps at the beginning of a new era of dominance. It did not turn out that way – and it might not for Richmond – but as the Tigers currently rampage through September, and the streets of Melbourne tremble at the thought of a yellow and black premiership, the Tigers are playing like the Tigers of old. Whatever happens beyond this season does not matter right now. Its membership and crowd attendance figures are already astonishingly high given their lack of success. They are the most rabid and loyal fans in Victoria whose cheer drowns out their opposition. If they hold the premiership cup this Saturday, they will leave the rest of the nation in their wake.

The Tide of History – Part II

by williamschack

It was one of the most emotional days in football history. Not since the late, great, Teddy Whitten did his final lap of honour in 1995 has there been such a communal outpouring of emotion and goodwill. Back then, it was for one Bulldogs’ individual. This time, it was for the entire Bulldogs’ community. We have not seen a day like it. There are so many elements which make this premiership one of the greatest football stories ever – perhaps the greatest. Below are four moments of that premiership story.

****

All day both teams had been wrestling the lead away from each other, trying to make the most of the momentum when they had it. In hindsight, the Dogs had control most of the day, except for about 10 minutes in the 2nd quarter when the Swans kicked four unanswered goals and Josh Kennedy looked unstoppable. A closer marking of him in the 2nd half by Tom Liberatore would prove to be crucial in the Dogs’ eventual victory.
Despite the Dogs’ control, the margin was never more than a few kicks, and with 8 minutes remaining in the game the margin was 1 point.
Tom Papley marked the ball on the back flank and looked up forward for his options. He hesitated for a bit before electing to kick it down the line. It was smothered by Shane Biggs who gathered the ball, tried to move it forward, but was tackled and the ball fell free to Jake Lloyd. He looked to handpass to a free Swans player but the ball was smothered again by Biggs, who was thrown over the boundary line only seconds earlier. A series of handballs, from the most handball happy team since Geelong, moved the ball deeper inside 50 for the Dogs.
The Swans resisted gallantly. First Cordy shot for goal, but he was bumped off the ball as he kicked it. The ball tumbled towards Boyd who kicked for goal, but the ball ricocheted off the back of Jake Stringer to the pocket. Biggs collected the ball again but was immediately tackled. The ball spilled free to Mills who handpassed errantly to Dunkley, who immediately passed it to Macrae.
It was as intense as football gets. No player had more than split second to gather the ball and decide what to do. The Dogs were surging forward in waves, but the Swans were holding on.
Macrae kicked the ball to McLean so quickly it seemed like he did not hold the ball. McLean tried to mark but it was spoiled. It fell over the top. Liam Picken – player of the series, whose father lost 4 Grand Finals – gathered the ball. For once a player had some space. Picken steadied himself and shot for goal. As it went up in the air the Bulldogs fans behind the goals rose. They watched it go through the middle and they felt as though the game might be turning. They felt that Sydney’s resistance might be about to crack.

****

The football world was robbed of a great moment when Norm Smith winner, Jason Johannisen’s, goal was overturned. There was once a time when such a moment would turn the game against the Bulldogs. In 1997 a potential goal was called a point, and the Dogs had no opportunity for it to be reviewed. But the Bulldogs in 2016 were different to all those that had gone before them.
Between the flank and wing Josh Kennedy passed the ball to Lance Franklin, who was quiet for most of the day but played a brilliant last quarter. Franklin looked forward and threatened to run through the middle of the MCG like he has done so many times before. But coming behind him was Dale Morris – a Bulldogs veteran who had played with two broken vertebrae since round 23 – and he tackled Franklin, brought him to the ground, and dispossessed him of the ball. It fell free to a lonesome Tom Boyd, who was born on the same day as Ted Whitten’s state funeral and joined the club at the nadir of Peter Gordon’s second presidential stint. He gathered the ball, turned towards goal and kicked from inside the centre square. It bounced in the forward square and went up in the air. There were fans of another 1 premiership team watching who knew how important such a bounce could be. The ball went up and then it went forward and over the line. It was a goal. To quote Dennis Cometti, the western suburbs erupted.

****

And anything from there was gravy. There would be dogs fans who would never dare celebrate until the siren, such is their tortured history, but the game was won. I’ve always been a fan of Grand Finals where one team kicks away in the last 10 minutes or so. It gives the fans and players the chance to really enjoy the moment. With only two and a half minutes to go Jake Stringer, had the chance to give the Dogs one last goal before the siren. He ran forward along the boundary line, diagonally across the field from where he ran in the last minute the week before. Similarly to the preliminary final, you could not begrudge Stringer if he had the shot, so enticing would the glory have been had it gone through. But just like the week before, Stringer centred the ball, this time to Picken. Picken’s mark was spoiled but he stood firm. The ball fell down in front of him. He ran into an open goal and booted the longest premiership drought in football into oblivion.

****

Earlier in the year I wrote a post titled ‘Footy Is Not Fair’. In that article I expressed my sadness that if a player was holding a cup on the premiership dais in the tri-colours in 2016 it would not be Bob Murphy. But I had underestimated the selflessness of Luke Beveridge. After he had delivered a somewhat restrained and understated speech he asked for the injured captain to come up onto the dais to accept his Jock McHale medal, because ‘no one deserved it more’. Craig Willis then called on John Schulz to present the premiership cup to Luke Beveridge, Easton Wood, and Bob Murphy. Beveridge let Murphy and Wood hold the cup in the air and every Bulldogs fan in the world roared with joy. 62 years of pain and misery was washed away. And Luke Beveridge stood in the background with a smile on his face, gently clapping. The tide of history had finally turned in the Bulldogs’ favour.

 

The Tide of History

by williamschack

**Editor’s Note: This post was originally to be called ‘Beat Hawthorn’, but university and work got in the way of me finishing it in time. Apologies for the focus on Collingwood at the start. The focus was originally to be on Hawthorn not winning the premiership but has changed to hoping more than anything else that the Dogs win. It’s been the best non-Collingwood finals series of my life and an emotional 5 weeks starting from round 23. One more game to go. Also, if you haven’t yet read Martin Flanagan’s article from last weekend then make sure it is the next thing you do.**

I watched a lot of football on the final round of the AFL season. On Saturday afternoon I watched Footscray v. Collingwood at Whitten Oval in a VFL game. That game was over by about 14:30 and Collingwood lost. Dad was driving to my sisters’ apartment across the road from Victoria Park so I got a lift with him and watched a few games of pub footy with some friends. Then I met up with the Roos Gal and went to Etihad to watch what was possibly – at that time – the final game in Melbourne for Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie, Michael Firrito and Nick Dal Santo playing for North Melbourne, and this turned out to be true. Then, on Sunday, I went to the MCG to watch Collingwood play Hawthorn in an attempt to prevent them from making the top four.

The last time Collingwood attempted to stop a team from winning four Grand Finals in a row was in 1958. It is undoubtedly Collingwood’s finest hour. Yes, The Machine of 1929 is unsurpassed in its unbeaten home and away season. But they lost in the finals and Essendon won more games in 2000 before losing to the Dogs in round 21. 1990 is so important for 32 different reasons. But the 4 premierships in a row is the one thing my club can point to that no other club in the VFL/AFL has achieved. And on a wet September day in 1958 the Collingwood spirit prevailed against the tide of history on the wide bounds of the MCG.
Melbourne was playing in its fifth successive Grand Final and attempting to equal Collingwood’s record of 4 premierships in a row. Collingwood was still looking glowingly on its golden era of the 20s and 30s and although they had only won 1 premiership in the last 20 years, it saw no reason why it could not maintain its position at the top of the premiership table. Melbourne was smack bang in the middle of its golden era, and the folk on the board saw no reason why it would ever end – no matter who was coach.
The 50s and 60s was the time when the torch was passed from Collingwood to Hawthorn and Melbourne to Carlton as the dominant duopoly of the competition. Hawthorn made their first final in 1957 and beat Collingwood at Victoria Park for the first time in that year too. Hawthorn would win 9 premierships in 31 years from 61-91. Collingwood would lose 8 before winning another.
Carlton began its renaissance when it wooed favoured Melbourne son Ron Barassi to the club as Captain-Coach in 1965. It was one of the reasons the faceless men of Melbourne used as an excuse to sack the greatest coach of all time via telegram. Thus began The Curse of the Red Fox, and Melbourne has never recovered. Carlton would win 8 premierships in 28 years from 68-95.  Melbourne would never win again.

Collingwood’s tactics in the game are famous in Collingwood lore. Acting Captain Murray Weideman understood Collingwood was the inferior team. In the words of Craig Willis, the narrator of the excellent documentary 100 Years of Football, “Collingwood baited Melbourne to play the man and not the ball”. In Weideman’s words he told his players to not worry what he and Hooker Harrison did and for the others to keep their minds on the job. “So, we went around and hit a few blokes”. Collingwood only beat Melbourne once on the MCG when Norm Smith was coach. And it was on the day of the 1958 Grand Final.

As I made my way to the MCG on that sunny August Sunday a few weeks ago, I thought of 1958 and what a momentous occasion it was. What must it have felt like to walk to the MCG with Collingwood’s legacy on the line and feeling like we had no chance? And then what must it have felt like in the final quarter when it dawned on the fans that the impossible had been achieved?
We had a chance in round 23 to not wholly protect the legacy of 4 premierships in a row, but we did have a chance to make it as hard as possible for them. If we won, Hawthorn would have slipped to 6th and had to play the doggies in an elimination final. But it wasn’t to be.

It was one of the games of the season. One which I regrettably feel proud of. When Hawthorn kicked away about half way through the last quarter, I felt like we had done our best. When Shaun Burgoyne evaded about 5 people and kicked  a goal in the last quarter I felt so angry at Port Adelaide for letting him go at the end of 2009. Imagine if they had him in the 2014 preliminary final instead of Hawthorn. But I also felt like the game was over and I am proud of the way we fought back. When Adam Treloar kicked his brilliant goal to put us back in front late in the last quarter I thought there was only 20 seconds to go and I thought we had won it. It turns out there was 2 minutes left and even if there was only 20 seconds we would not have won because the Hawks kicked the equalising goal within about 10 seconds. Jack Fitzpatrick – a man who I had no idea played for Hawthorn and who when I last saw him play he picked the ball up and threw it between his legs like a Center in American football – ran out of the centre with ball and booted a goal from outside 50. When it went through looked around like he had no idea what was going on. It was a typically Hawthorn thing to do in 2016. A team who at that point looked like it was impossible for them to lose a close game. And so they made the top four and gave themselves the best chance of equalling Collingwood’s record.  It was another painful dagger into my black and white heart.

***

From then on I shifted into ‘Operation: Beat Hawthorn’ mode. Geelong are my second most hated team – they enjoyed a brief stint as number 1 circa 2011 – and have caused me more pain than any other club. But when they matched up against the Hawks in the qualifying final I was cheering for them like never before. I was yelling ‘Go Selwood’. My friend who has heard me say unspeakable things about Selwood in the past could not believe what he was hearing. It was without doubt one of the best games I have ever attended. There was so much venom in the game and it reignited the Geelong v Hawthorn rivalry which had reduced in hostility over the last couple of years as Geelong had not been as competitive.
After the Collingwood loss I texted a friend and said ‘what the hell do you have to do to beat this club in a close game?’. We found out in the Qualifying Final that you have to rely on them to miss the game winning shot. It was so frustrating watching them move the ball with complete ease from the last line of defence to the forward line in the last play of the game. Even when Luke Breust made a mistake and kicked it into the man on the mark it still worked out for them and the ball ended in the hands of Isaac Smith with a shot for goal after the siren. After he missed I found myself running into a crowd of strangers in blue and white and hugging them. Little did they know how much I disliked their club.

***

Then it was time to jump on the Bulldogs bandwagon. The dogs are a team that barring a few omissions in my life I have had great affection for. They are almost everyone’s second team and in the semi-final there was only one non-Hawthorn person (whose name shall remain undisclosed for his own credibility) who was not cheering for the Dogs. Once again I went to the game with some friends and as our standing room spot from the week before was full, we moved around towards the flank. As the first bounce drew closer we noticed an inordinate amount of Hawthorn supporters around us. I was chatting to one beside me and he eventually asked me if I knew that I was standing in the unofficial cheer squad of Hawthorn. Once the first siren sounded there was about 100 loud Hawks supporters chanting around us 6 temporary Dogs fans. As the Hawks began to establish a lead in the 2nd quarter, I made the decision to move.
“They are going to lose if we stay here”, I said, so I walked over to near where we were the week before and straight away the momentum of the game changed. I’m not saying I am solely responsible for their comeback, but I am saying I played a pretty large role.
And in the 3rd quarter the Dogs took over and you could feel change in the winds that were sweeping over the MCG. The Dogs were changing the course of history.
Stringers’ goal made the crowd realise victory was possible. Bontempelli’s proved that the players knew this thing could be done. And Picken’s goal in the fourth made everyone realise that the thing was done. The Dogs were into their 8th preliminary final since 1961.

***

The preliminary final was one of the best games in memory. Exactly the type of football I love to watch. A few Bulldogs friends of mine made the journey north and they were not disappointed. I’ve watched the final quarter 3 times now and it is still hard to believe that the Dogs came back.
Johannnisen’s run off the half back line was a sight to behold. Every other player on the field looked completely exhausted and he looked like the sub-rule had been brought back and he had just entered the field of play. Bontempelli streamed forward in expectation. Johannnisen kicked it perfectly in front of him to run on to. Bontempelli tapped it to himself, collected the ball, straightened up, and put the Dogs in front. It was football at its best.

The Bulldogs streamed forward in the final minute. The ball ended in the hands of the unfairly criticised Jake Stringer. He ran inside 50. He was within range and could have had a shot. If he kicked it he would have been the hero. Instead he passed to Tory Dickson who was free about 30 metres out. He marked. And with 30 seconds left on the clock the Dogs were into their first Grand Final since 1961.

***

And so now the question is whether this is a team of destiny? In a year when the Cleveland Cavailiers won their first ever NBA Championship and won the city its first title since 1964. In a year where Leicester won the Premier League title against odds of 5000-1 and the might of behemoths whose wage bill was six times as large. Is this the year when the longest premiership drought in the league is finally broken?
I might remind you that 16 is the opposite of 61, but standing in their way is the Sydney Swans. They lost to the Dogs at the SCG earlier this year, but their form over the past 2 weeks has them as hot favourites. The Swans have been a high scoring team all year, but the Dogs do not let teams score and they do not let teams blow them out. It will be a fantastic game to watch and one that will be more keenly anticipated than any other in my lifetime.
Sydney is also team who not too long ago they were the darlings (and also ‘Ugly Ducklings’ at the same time) of the AFL who most fans loved. But their sustained success and their high-profile signings now means they are now considered a glamour club who no longer deserves our sympathy. Which is something the Dogs have been wishing for years. They don’t want to be everyone’s second club as all that means is that they have not caused anyone any pain.
But just like the Swans had every non-Eagles fan cheering for them in 2005, an entire nation of non-Swans fans will be cheering for the Dogs this Saturday. The city of Melbourne has been swept up in the emotion of this momentous occasion. Every person you talk to is on the Dogs bandwagon and is craving some more social media footage from Franco Cozzo. There are so many Dogs supporters who have been through so much pain who deserve victory this week. For so long the tide of history has gone against them, but that can all change this Saturday.

Shit People Around Me at the Footy Said in 2016

by williamschack

2016 has been a bad year for Collingwood. Outside of the Tigers last gasp win, the Cats boil over, the very strange Giants upset, and the West Cast victory, it is has largely been a year of great disappointment. In May, under the influence of alcohol and brooding from a Carlton loss, five years of frustration burst out of me and I called for Buckley’s head. Two weeks later I was calling for his extension after we beat Geelong. (I was only joking, I still want him gone). It has been one of those years. It has also been a busy year for me as second year law and semi-regular employment has begun to take its toll on my free time. As such, I haven’t written much on this blog. But I have still been going to games of football and people around me have still been saying shit.

“We’ve got 1 dickhead! I fucken dickhead saying if you don’t pay me $900,000 I am going. Well, fuck off!!”
– Collingwood fan in the toilets after the loss to St Kilda. Cloke has been somewhat of whipping boy for Collingwood fans and he is a premiership player who has been treated like dirt by Nathan Buckley. I don’t blame him for wanting to leave and I hope he helps bring the Bulldogs their second premiership.

**During the round 3 match and St Kilda sliced apart the Collingwood defence, the Richmond scores came up on big screen to reveal that Adelaide was thrashing Richmond**
Collingwood fan to Joffa: “Trout won’t be happy” (Trout from Woodend)
Joffa: “Fuck Trout! He thinks he is a radio superstar!”
– Controversy amongst celebrity cheer squad members.

“He’s taken us from fucken champions to a fucken laughing stock!”
– Every Collingwood fan this season when discussing Buckley’s term as coach.

“We must all be concentrating”
– Guy at the urinal during the North v Dogs game. No one laughed except for himself and he laughed very loud.

“Trip over and break your back”
– Collingwood fan to a Cats player as he ran in for his shot at goal after a 50 metre penalty. Perhaps an unfair reaction to a decision which the player had no choice in.

“Chewy on your boot. I hope you break your back”
– Same fan to Dangerfield as he walked into goal. Once again, probably an unfair reaction to the situation.

“If we win I will scream the hardest I have ever screamed in my life. Even harder than I did at One Direction”
– Cats fan during the Cats’ comeback. It feels good being able to make fun of a Geelong fan.

“Ok (insert pause for effect) I will have one of everything”
– Pies fan as she approached the bar in The Outer Bar (unofficial Collingwood social club bar). She laughed a lot at her statement.

“Gee I reckon I am about to unload 3 litres into here”
-Collingwood fan in the bathrooms at the newly renovated Westpac Centre. There is no urinal and many fans expressed their discontent with this throughout the night. He was referring to the sink and I assume he was boasting about the amount of urine his bladder could hold.

“That sink is looking alright, isn’t it?”
– I overheard another Collingwood fan saying this later in the night as I was in the cubicle.

“The little SOS is playing! The Frankfurt! We hate you Frankfurt! …Let’s snap the little Coxtail Frankfurt [sic] in half!!”
– Collingwood fan in front of me in the first quarter against Carlton in round 15. It was Jack Silvagni’s first game and this fan made it his mission to make Jack feel uncomfortable. In what was one of the least satisfying Carlton victories in living memory this guy brought me much enjoyment. He was sweating within 10 seconds of the first bounce and I think there may have been some external factors that contributed to this. He is a Legends member, but usually sits many rows back from us. He bumped into the guy in front of us one too many times and the guy’s mother eventually called security to have him removed from the seats.

“Stick your hand up your arse!”
– Collingwood fan behind me unhappy with an umpiring decision. Quite an extreme request to make of an umpire at any time let alone during a game.

Guy behind me: “Chicken with crumbling! You can’t stuff that up!”
Me: **I have no idea what that means**
Guy in front of me turns around: “I can’t even cook soup mate!”
– Strange exchange during that same Carlton game.

“Cooooooxxxxxxxxyyyyyyyyyyy Ssssnnnnnnoooooottttttt”
– Same guy in front of me during Carlton game. Not sure what he meant here.

“You’re the ugliest player in the league Sicily!”
– My friend to James Sicily during the Hawks game. The amount of hatred that I feel for James Sicily is disturbing given that I had not seen him play against Collingwood until last week.

“You are a wanker!”
– About 200 Collingwood fans chanted this to a Hawthorn fan in the final round before he was eventually kicked out. He came down to the second row and starting chanting Four-Thorn and holding up four fingers. The cheer squad and those around them didn’t react kindly to this.

And that was the season that was.

Footy Is Not Fair

by williamschack

Football isn’t fair. Last weekend I watched St Kilda slice apart Collingwood’s defence – if you could call it that – and felt the mood of the Ponsford Stand change from optimistic to depressed as the shadows lengthened on the MCG. We played well for the first ten minutes. Jeremy Howe’s first act in Collingwood jumper was a tackle inside 50 which resulted in a Tom Langdon goal. After a while, however, St Kilda began to control the game and they eventually dominated. Collingwood supposedly recruited well in the off-season and some people even tipped we would make the top four. The first three weeks have indicated that we will be lucky to make the top eight and if we do then we won’t advance. As I sat in the Imperial with my sister after the game drowning my sorrows, nothing that had happened seemed fair.

But I know it felt fair to the St Kilda faithful who turned up to cheer on their young team and commemorate the 50th anniversary of their 1966 premiership. Before the game, the surviving premierships players entered the field before the current day players. I clapped them quietly. I could see only one other Collingwood fan in my vicinity doing the same. During the week before the game there was talk in the media about St Kilda’s lack of success and that fabled last Saturday in the September of 1966. One of the discussions I enjoyed was surrounding the commentary from the game. I’ve always been angry at how biased the commentary was in that game, but as I have entered quarter-middle age (I bought a pair of Crocs the other week) I have mellowed out in regard to the grudges I hold. Firstly, football coverage was in its infancy and objectivity, or at least the façade of objectivity, was clearly not yet established. Secondly, when one club playing is as hated as Collingwood who already had thirteen premierships and the other is St Kilda who were flagless, I can understand why Ted Whitten yelled, “hit the boundary line!”.
The St Kilda Football Club was established in 1873. They have been in existence for 143 years and have won 27 Wooden Spoons, more than double the team who has won the second most. They have played in 7 Grand Finals, 8 if you include the 2010 Grand Final replay. And they have won one premiership by one point. Now, that is unfair.
Why should one club have to endure so much heartbreak and disappointment, whilst others can enjoy so much success? Why should a person who chooses St Kilda as their team as a child, either through parental coercion or no wrongdoing of their own, have to suffer through such adversity?
Of all the Collingwood Grand Final losses during the 32 year premiership drought, it is the St Kilda loss than I can accept the most. If they were still in existence now without a single premiership, and if they had to go through their subsequent 4 losses without the knowledge that they had won at least one, the weight of the St Kilda cross surely would be too much to bear.
The heartbreak they have endured in the past 20 years must be particularly painful. I have asked a few St Kilda friends if they would like to write about it, but so far all of them have politely refused. Perhaps the pain is still too raw. They have been in 3 preliminary finals and 3 Grand Finals and lost them all. Each Grand Final has a particular story with varying degrees of pain.
At risk of offending St Kilda fans with an opinion on their pain, the 2010 Grand Final would be the easiest of the three to take – and by easiest I mean the most bearable of one of the most difficult pains imaginable. The 2009 Grand Final they should have won. They were the best team all year and were easily the best team on that day. It was one of the best Grand Finals of all time but their poor kicking let them down. But, in my non-partisan opinion, the 1997 Grand Final must have hurt the most. They were easily the best team that year, but they lost to a team that won only 13 games in the home-and-away season, lost their first final, and also were down by five goals in the preliminary final. And it is the fact that Adelaide was even playing that makes the 1997 Grand Final so tragic, for had they not been, it would have been the dream match-up of St Kilda v Footscray. The two tragic teams of the VFL/AFL who only had one flag – at least one of them would have come away with two. But as fate would have it, a kick that looked like it was a goal was called a point. And Darren Jarman was playing for Adelaide. And the Crows won their first Grand Final in only their sixth year in the competition. And they won their second the the following year while St Kilda is still waiting for their second in their 143rd year. Football isn’t fair.

And that brings us to the Bulldogs, who last week played the triple-reigning premiers, Hawthorn, in a classic contender versus champion match-up. The Hawks and Bulldogs both entered the VFL in the 1925 and both struggled early. The Bulldogs managed to win their first flag in 1954. The Hawks didn’t even make the finals until 1957. In 1961 both teams faced off in the Grand Final and the Hawks won their first premiership. Nobody could begrudge Hawthorn at the time given their lack of success. In the 54 years since, the Hawks have progressed their premiership tally to 13, and Footscray hasn’t made another Grand Final. They’ve played in 7 preliminary finals and lost them all. Now, that is unfair.
The Bulldogs most recent successful period was from 2008-2010 where they made the preliminary final three years in a row, losing to St Kilda twice. Since then they have been largely uncompetitive until Luke Beveridge was named coach and they made the finals in his first year. This year, they have been the talk of the competition as they play an exciting type of football and have a team filled with idiosyncratic and lovable players. None more loved than Bob Murphy.
He started playing for the Dogs as a scrawny kid in 2000 and has since become the embodiment of the modern Bulldogs in much the same way as Hawkins did before him, and Whitten and Sutton before him. He has lived through some successful periods, but as the Dogs slipped down the ladder following their three consecutive preliminary final appearances, it seemed like his career would end without success. Then all of sudden the Dogs rose and the spirit of the Western suburbs was carried not just by Bob, but also by Luke and everyone else determined to Be More Bulldog.
The game against Hawthorn was one of the highest quality. The Bulldogs proved that they are a genuine contender as they took it up to the champions and were able to obtain a 20 point lead by three-quarter time. The Hawks came back, as we all knew they would, but the Dogs were still in front with 90 seconds in the game to go. The Hawks pushed the ball into their forward line and Bob was running back with the flight to prevent a Hawthorn player marking the ball. His knee buckled as he turned and he fell to the ground. James Sicily marked the ball, kicked the goal, and Hawthorn won by 3 points. The Dogs lost by much more, however, as the next day it was confirmed what Bob’s face had told us as he sat on the ground holding his knee: his ACL was torn and he would require a knee reconstruction.
In a season where the Bulldogs might finally win their second premiership, Bob won’t be playing. If a premiership cup is held on the dais by a person wearing the tri-colours at the end of 2016, sadly it won’t be Bob Murphy. He has given so much to his club, and I can’t think of any current captains who deserve a premiership more than him. His Indian Summer has ended cruelly, and now he will spend the Melbourne winter trying to get his body right for 2017. I hope he can make it back and enjoy success. It shouldn’t end like this. Life is unfair.

Returning to the Footy

by williamschack

On Tuesday last week my father headed back to our family home in South West Victoria after a month in Melbourne. He had been staying at the Austin hospital and then at nearby accommodation following liver transplant surgery. Last August he was diagnosed with liver cancer after doctors noticed that his blood readings were unusual. He received treatment in December, and was put on the waiting list for a donor only a couple of weeks before undergoing the transplant surgery.
When he initially received his diagnosis, Collingwood’s season had fallen apart and was about to end as 8 other lucky teams were set to play finals. We’d recently suffered a humiliating loss to Richmond which made me question every decision the club had made since 2011. The awareness of my father’s mortality, which strangely was something I had never really considered before, enabled me to have some perspective on the relative insignificance of another failed Collingwood season. But it also made me aware of how important Collingwood is to (most of) my family, as some Collingwood success would have been a welcome distraction. Thankfully, all has gone well thus far, and his return home last week marked somewhat of an end to a difficult period for my father and his extended family and friends. Just in time for football season.

Over summer to fill the football void in my life I spent a lot of time watching old matches on Fox Footy, whose summer viewing was much better than previous off-seasons in which the home and away season was just repeated and repeated and repeated. I also read a great book that I received as a Christmas present, Time and Space by James Coventry, which I have written about previously. That book’s discussion of the 1970 Grand Final then lead me to Martin Flanagan’s treatise on the match. I searched for it online but found it was out of print, and I tweeted that it was my life’s mission to obtain a copy. I was surprised the next day when Martin sent me direct message letting me know he probably had a copy lying around. About a week later the book was in my hands.
It is a book that all football fans should read, for it is one of the most important games ever played. I find it strange that it is rarely mentioned when people talk of the greatest Grand Finals of all time. It is as though people are incapable of compiling a list that includes Grand Finals before 1989.
Both Time and Space and 1970 make it clear that the game was not the catalyst for a new era of football, but the culmination of years of innovations by different coaches, not just in the VFL, but across the land of Australia. Lesser football historians have suggested that Barassi had some sort of epiphany at half-time and advised his players to handball having never considered it before. Despite the fact that he had done it before and that Len Smith had suggested all coaches do so in his coaching manual years before. And despite the fact the SANFL had been in a battle of aggressive versus traditional down the line play for 2 decades. Regardless of this, the 1970 Grand Final is a clear demarcation of football moving into what was then known as the modern era. Football, of course, would continue to change, but this game was the affirmation in the general populous’ minds that aggressive and attacking football could succeed. Two years later Barassi was gone, but Carlton upset Richmond in the Grand Final with the highest ever Grand Final score in the highest scoring Grand Final.
Carlton’s poaching of Barassi, Melbourne’s favourite son, would mark the beginning of Carlton’s era of success and professionalism in which they would be rivalled only by Hawthorn by winning 8 Premierships in 27 years. This one, however, was the club’s and Barassi’s finest.
And it is the darkest day in Collingwood’s history. Flanagan interviewed almost everyone who played in the game and their pain is evident years later. Some players have bitterness toward the club, who felt that it was behind the times and reliant on methods no longer relevant to the game that was revolutionised by Hawthorn’s fitness and the professional focus of clubs like Carlton. Mostly though, there is sadness.

As I read the book whilst Dad was going through the process of being tested and analysed before being put onto the transplant waiting list, I thought of how intertwined Collingwood is with our relationship. He was outside the MCG in 1970 listening on the radio, and although I was born 17 years after the game was played, it has been something that I have always felt connected to and affected by. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know who Ted Hopkins was and how many goals he kicked in the second half, or what Barassi’s instruction was at half-time. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel a pain in my chest or a sadness wash over me whenever I see footage of the game, or hear it spoken about. It is in my DNA, and it was passed on to me from my father.

It is probably a disturbing reflection of my obsession with Collingwood that when I first heard of my father’s illness, one of the things that passed through my head was that at least he was able to see Collingwood win a Grand Final. It would be a cruel world if one had to live through 13 losses and 2 draws, rather than 11 losses, 2 draws and 2 wins. But it is also a reflection of how connected Collingwood is with our relationship. If he was to sadly pass away, and I realise now that this is something that is eventually going to happen, many of the memories I have of him would be Collingwood related.
There is my first memory of attending a football game, bawling my eyes out as he forced me to leave Waverley Park early. I was convinced we could come back and beat the Cats, but decades of disappointment had taught him we were going to lose. We lost by 8 points. There is the first time I saw Collingwood beat Carlton when Peter Daicos did a lap of honour after retiring the year before and Mick McGuane kicked his famous running goal. There is when we watched Collingwood beat the all-conquering Lions at the MCG in the 2003 Qualifying Final. There is when we watched the Lions dismantle us three weeks later in the Grand Final at the house of fellow Collingwood supporter, and dad’s late friend, Bernie Slattery. There is when we went to the 2010 Grand Final together, only to have the game be a draw and him miss out on the replay as he had a trip planned to America. There is when we watched the Collingwood lose yet another Grand Final the next year. And there is the week before when we beat the Hawks by 3 points in the preliminary and the first people I thought to contact were him and my sister. The list goes on.
Of course, there is more to our relationship that football – particularly music, another thing in which we have bonded over time – but football has been there since the start. And this Friday night I will head to the MCG with my sister and father to watch another Collingwood game. Last weekend’s performance indicates that this season may be another disappointing one, but almost every football season is and we all still come back. It feels good to have football in our lives again, and another opportunity to hope for success together.