The St Kilda crowd on the Sandringham train was subdued on the way home from the Preliminary final win over Footscray last Saturday. Going by his age, the bloke opposite me was almost certainly at the ’66 grand final win. He didn’t smile once. If you’re not sure why, then please read my 2009 post 1966 is a long time for this Saints supporter.
He alighted at Hampton station. Saints fans are an overwhelming majority on our line. Hardly a red, white and blue Bulldog scarf clashed with our red, white and black last week. In the days of the Victorian Football League, footy supporters were essentially suburb-based tribes. Collingwood were the most infamous and dangerous. If they won at their Victoria Park home ground, their exuberant youths would attack anyone wearing the opposing club colours. If they lost they’d fight one another as well. We used to put any livery in our bags on the journey home. The Saturday evening Sporting Globe newspaper was either a sell-out or a no-sale that night in the woodlands.
Times have certainly changed. Apparently their coach, Mick Malthouse, lives in Hampton.
There were many difficult times in the Collingwood outer. In 1972 I was late for the round 14 match but many of my family watched as magpie John Greening (and Brownlow medal favourite) was felled behind the play by saint Jim O’Dea. Greening suffered a cerebral concussion that virtually finished his VFL career. It was a dark day all round.
In 1993 I missed the iconic moment when Nicky Winmar lifted his jumper and pointed to his aboriginal skin. It followed racist abuse from the crowd during the game. In earlier years the racism was usually anti-semitism targeted at St Kilda’s large Jewish supporter base. It was and still is part of the local suburb’s demographic. One of the few Jewish players, Ian Syman, played in the ’66 premiership team after receiving a dispensation from synagogue attendance for Yom Kippur.
As inner suburbs both St Kilda and Collingwood have become gentrified. Their homogeneous team loyalty has been diluted as a consequence.
During the bleak days of the early ‘80s, I stood alone watching the dying minutes of a disastrous loss. Most other Saints followers had left. One of our young players came on, marked on the wing, took two bounces, evaded three Collingwood players, bounced again and kicked a sixty-metre goal from the boundary. None of the triumphant magpie supporters joined in my applause. They’ll be just as tough and unforgiving next Saturday. (This memory could well be apocryphal.)
Last Saturday was one of those rare moments when the Prime Minister Julia Gillard and I were on opposite sides. Julia is just one of sports tragic PMs. As a Labor pollie, Footscray fits her role, her western suburbs work class electorate and her bulldog birth in Wales.
Usually politicians, journalists and commentators squeeze every clichéd metaphor out of sport. Especially football, whatever the code: line ball, offside, scrums, free kick, own goal. Pollies often appeals to the umpire. Political parties have loyal supporters, their true believers, just like footy clubs. New members of parliament are rookies.
There were no rookies in ’66. We hadn’t imported the term yet. Veteran sports-caller Bruce McEvaney has a generic vocab. It’s very bland commentary, enabling an all-seasons dumbed-down approach for both Bruce and his viewers. I’m still looking for left field at the MCG, whether it’s cricket or AFL. His pinch hitters rarely carry bats. If it’s a draw (or should it be a tie) this week, we’re bound to have a hung game.
Collingwood has 14 Premiership Cups. St.Kilda has just its one-point victory against them in 1966. Something we have let them forget. Let’s halve that ratio this year! It’ll be better than winning an election.
I’ll be sitting on the flank opposite my 1966 seat. As I penned last year: “Saints fans have had to be stoic. We’ve snatched the proverbial cliché from the jaws of victory too often. It’s been along time carrying the flag.” But you wouldn’t miss it for quids!