Friday, September 23, 2011

This is Saints Footy

Back in Warrandyte we would periodically get sucked into nights of lying on the couch in front of the tele. It‘s such an easy diversion. Finish a day of work. Kids in bed. Lie on the couch. Watch tele until bedtime. Going for the second or third lap of all 5,000 Foxtel channels at the end of the evening to find that nothing decent has come on since the last flick through and you’re back once more at the end of the road. Or as it’s more commonly known, on the country music channel. For nights on end this would go on. It seems in this manner that life just passes you by. You may know plenty about what’s going on in Afghanistan, or who is the latest master chef, or who did what to whom and with what, but after 6pm, real life mostly doesn’t happen any more for you. One of the high points of van living on the road has been the diminishing role of television in all of our lives. We have a TV in the van but it generally just sits there folded up against the wall completely out of action. Superseded by the Uno cards or the Rumicub tiles. That is of course until the footy is on. There are some addictions I just can’t break no matter how hard I try. And Aussie rules football is pretty close to the top of the list. I’m addicted to footy. Or more specifically, I’m addicted to the St.Kilda football club. So somehow through the duration of this season while travelling thousands of kilometres across Australia in a van, we have always managed to find somewhere to watch St.Kilda’s games. The only game we missed for the season was the one against Melbourne, when we went out to swim with the whale sharks on Ningaloo Reef instead. And what an up and down season it was for the Saints. Off field drama. On field lows and highs and lows again. Supporting the Saints has seemed like this forever. Just sometimes with even more lows than highs.

My father is to blame. After coming over from America as a 14 year old, he grew up in Elwood and was told at school there were those who barracked for St.Kila and those who would fail English. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of going to the footy with my father, my uncle, my cousins and various others. Somehow about 10 of us would squeeze in to 6 reserved seats up in the Member’s stand at Moorabbin. In those days nobody ever asked for tickets. I would often bring a friend or two along and we’d all just squash up a bit more to accommodate the extra people. We had the same people sitting around us every week for years so nobody was ever really bothered. Perhaps except for the redheaded lady in front of us who we all united against in derision of the fact that she seemed to have it in for Allan Davis. At half time the thermos would come out full of either tomato soup or hot chocolate. And the Chocolate Royal biscuits would be passed up the aisle. And while St.Kilda have never achieved the ultimate success of a premiership win in my more than 40 years of following the club, I have still experienced so much joy in watching them play. So many champions. So many great moments. A breakthrough win against a team we hadn’t beaten for years. The grace of Trevor Barker as he rose above all around to pluck the ball from the heavens while perched high on somebody’s shoulders. The invincibility of Tony Lockett as he overwhelmed his opponents with skill and brute force to regularly kick big bags of goals, even when we would get smashed over the rest of the ground. The air of fear that Carl Ditterich visibly instilled in opposing players as they looked over their shoulders wondering if Big Carl was going to knock them out today. The excitement of Nicky Winmar as he raced through the centre of the ground looking to spear the ball forward to a target. Or the day at Victoria Park where he lifted his jumper and pointed to his black skin after receiving continued racial taunts from the feral Collingwood fans. A rare victory for us at that ground.  Then of course there are the clowns. Those that provide so much frustration that it borders on the humourous. Jason Daniels, a footballer who seemed less adept at kicking a football than an average ten year old. Spider Everitt who would just stand lazily in the middle of the ground and watch his opponent drift forward to kick a goal. Raph Clarke, who just when he seems to have turned the corner with some great courage and desperation gives the ball over to the opposition in the most elementary and comical fashion. Rod Owen who was blessed with so much ability but who mostly just preferred to drink in the bar and try to shag any girl who came in. And of course the bigger clowns off the field. The ones that have been responsible for the running of the club over various periods. One wonders if some of them could have run a children’s birthday party, which I guess at times the club has resembled. There has always been so much controversy off the field. Having your best player in a bar room punch-up with the club president is not particularly ideal.
Supporters of other clubs seem at a loss to understand how St.Kilda fans can be so passionate and so loyal. Only one premiership in 114 seasons is as dismal a return of any club. And finishing on the bottom of the ladder more than any other team in the competition by quite some way. Yet St.Kilda fans are defiantly loyal. Fanatical to the extreme. It’s as if a challenge was passed down. How much torment can you take and still remain loyal? Fortius quo fidelius is the clubs motto. Strength through loyalty. And that loyalty is continually tested. It’s easy to support a team that has regular success. It takes more character to stay committed to a team that never sees any. It also creates for a very strong camaraderie between the fans and with that, a great deal of humour. After two seasons of coming so close to the elusive premiership, only to fail in the end due to the random bounce of the oval ball in the dying stages of each Grand Final, this season was always going to be difficult. Especially with the embarrassing scandal of naked photographs of the captain in a strangely compromising pose with another player appearing on the net prior to the season and an even more incriminating photo of a less endowed star, who seemed to be taking matters into his own hands. Along with the rape trial of a celebrated recruit and an “under age” girl who claimed she had had sex with half the footy team. And the media love to go along for the ride. The myth is continually pushed and perpetuated by the media. They love for St.Kilda to be the club of dubious culture. The girl portrayed as the “St.Kilda school girl” who actually went out with Dane Beams of Collingwood for as long as she was with any “saint”. Andrew Lovett who was regularly referred to as a St.Kilda player during his rape case, even though he never actually played a game for St.Kilda. The scandals of players drinking and doing drugs pre-season being symptomatic of St.Kilda’s culture, yet player drinking and drug taking at other clubs is seen more as an aberration, even though it occurs with the same frequency. It’s all just part of the pantomime of AFL footy. Each club has its stereotypical identity, however close or far from the truth it may currently be. And so another season has now come to end for the Saints. After a dismal start, they miraculously made the finals against all odds. And then were bundled out in the first final without really giving a whimper. More disappointment of another season unfulfilled. Yet, it will end similarly for the fans of fifteen of the other clubs also. Despite claims of “improvement” and “we did well given the circumstances of our injuries”, every season inevitably ends in disappointment for all fans except for those of the premiership team. But it doesn’t stop everybody from rocking up again the following year for another hopeful season. And with the Saints there is always hope. Even when it appears without foundation. Even with the bombshell now of the coach unexpectedly quitting the club and seeking riches in another state. Even with the exodus of other key off field staff. Even with the club seemingly in turmoil with no coach and an aging list. Even with rumours of star players having signed on to the new Sydney team for season 2013. Even with a stadium deal that somehow results in us having to pay money for using the ground rather than making money from attendances. We, the supporters of the club, will still be there to spur on our team, to argue with each other about who should be cut from the list and who should be given a run, to shake our heads when the courageous but flawed captain misses another crucial shot at goal, to marvel when one of our guns does something miraculous, and to celebrate when we triumph against the odds and the expectations of the rest of the football public. This truly is Saints footy. 


No comments: