3 clubs, 23 rounds, A slab of passion….

I’ll stand by you….

As we approach the final game for the season, let’s visit some of my great moments in standing at the footy:

Slade alive by Doug Wade 1974

My first experience in finals standing room came in the 1974 Preliminary final in conditions that would even see battery hens quit laying on principle. I’d pre ordered my tickets months earlier via a Sun News Pictorial mail in coupon in the hope the Hawks could add to the 1971 prize.

Throw in a free for all on BYO packed deep into foam eskies and by quarter time the whole bay is collectively ready to sing Russian folk songs. Beer came in steel cans so be prepared for a dislocated ankle should you try flattening them.

The sound they made rolling down the terrace permeated the radio broadcast, shone through the TV replay, and became a cacophony live at the ground – especially as the game progressed. Standing room was a fortress, you could forget about struggling out for chips or more beer. In ’74, the bloke next to me silently acknowledges this by electing to toilet into his breeding collection of spent cans so as to not lose his spot. By half time he’s attracting the attention of the water authority who believe he ought to be charged rates.

dougwade2In the final stanza, burly Doug Wade’s flat punt splits the posts to confirm the Roo’s first grannies appearance for years getting over our heroes by 4 points.

It’s a knife to my heart and the crowd surge in the moment upsetting our can standing friend who momentarily loses toe contact with the refilled cans, then floats horizontally across the air before crashing to earth amid his own cangrenades in a personal celluloid free replay of the Dambusters.

The Hawks / Roos / SKinheads 1970’s rivalry

As a young teenager I’d take the Victorian Railways train from Leongatha to the big smokeKen James then tram it up to Princess Park,  the then Hawks home ground to watch the season blockbuster Hawthorn v North Melbourne. These two teams played off in either preliminary or Grand Finals in 74,75,76,77 and 78. Its the rivalry for the Hawks, Bombers notwithstanding.

I recall Skippy star Ken James in the outer standing in bell bottom jean flares and suede waist coast jacket coiffured with a 2 G force wave cut copping some stick from some terrifying skinheads. 20 kangaroos on the field and not one Skippy to the rescue.

NM's John Burns in front of the now defunct members stand on Arden Street.

Such was the post war commitment to investment in the railways that my father remarked in 1980 when he took a train to the city that it was the same train he took to war in 1944. Men would load slabs of cans in the carriage compartment, speed drink, then don Victorian Railway uniforms to collect tickets.

BUNG HIP 2012 Grand Final Despair

It was the last defiant act on a diseased hip that seemed intent on crossing off its it’s own bucket list by standing for the 2012 AFL Grand Final, 4 days before my right hip replacement.

Grand Final day was freezing. We get into position early and we’ve got the view to die for, lack of seat notwithstanding.

We can see the whole ground like we’re peeking out from behind one of those old fashioned windowed envelopes that were popular with business until email destroyed the time honoured concept of “later”.

One of the biggest geezers I’ve seen bred outside of captivity plonks himself right in front of me just before the bounce. And he’s wearing a Swans Guernsey. Him and his mate are from outback in NSW and here for a bit of fun. He moves aside and the good natured ribbing between us begins.

We can’t see the flight of the ball, we can’t tell if it’s a goal at either end. We watch the kick and then gauge the reaction of those stationed behind the goals to determine if it’s a goal before the noise from the rest of the ground confirms it. It’s a painful finish. During this week I see a replay of highlights and realise I’ve buried the result subliminally and for the first time feel the agony keenly of this loss due mostly to shanks at the pointy end.

Swans are filleted 2014

The ground is empty when we arrive to stake our claim on the standing room fence. The air is fresh, untainted by the approaching nasal wave of stale beer, rancid fry fat and decomposing meat pie dander.  Our allocated position appears to be just a fence. No neat bays with wide concrete steps of progressive height where the uppermost level diminishes your view of the ground to the visage of the prize fighter with the split eyebrow.  Forward from our view roll out the coiffured seats in the AFL members stand terrace. We’re on about the 70 metre mark from the City end goal. Behind us is a pop up bar and Gate 3 through which people pour, then have one poured for them,  and presumably to kill nervous time pre match squeezing their pores in our area before seeking their ticketed place. The floor, in contrast to the tradition standing area, slopes away behind us, presumably to give spilt beer an easy traverse to the drains or “slops” in the old black n white vernacular. The upside is that the building tsunami of slops deters the civilised from congregating in our bay, which I am beginning to think as the game wears on, is not really an official standing area but an opportunity to squeeze a few more clams out of the big game.

Already a large family has taken the prime pole positions on the fence so we settle in behind. I get a sense there’s more of ‘em coming the way they protect their space.  The view however is magnificent and unblemished. A teenager among them proudly wears a brand new Hawk 1988/1989 commemorative back to back guernsey in an optimistic prophesy of the witch hunt to come.

A young man join us attracted no doubt by my brown valour jacket, brown shirt and official hawks tie. He’s half schickered on the nine bucks a pop bourbon and “coke” that subsidises some of the cost of corporate dining way up stairs. He’s  still got  a raging thirst, and a huge cardboard premiership cup upon which he’s scrawled in cursive script “Hawthorn” under the engraved “Won by”. He’s got an increasing habit of hugging me close and deep upon each of the Hawk’s late second quarter goals like you would an old uncle returning unannounced from Gallipoli. My guru following sister in law gives hugs like that, so long and tight that when done you know you’ve just had a cat scan of your soul. Now when Luke Hodge marks and goals at the 12 minute mark of the 2nd quarter he’s up early with the cup waving and ranting, the result in his mind a foregone conclusion. Wiser heads around him implore him to get it down, that he’s – in the almost Aesopian tradition – “gone too early”. He meekly withdraws knowingly checking his enthusiasm against the wisdom of the group.

However, just 3 minutes later as Luke Hodge intercepts a wobbly Swan post Hawk point kick out, then has a straightening stroll before punishing the mistake with a major, our man again raises his cardboard cup skyward feverishly accompanied by loud unintelligible Hawk devotions, profanities and sheer bloody minded nirvana. This time no one condemns him, instead he’s urged on in a dream like the inebriated peasant who publicly whips his donkey to death in Dostoyevsky‘s Crime and Punishment. Nervous yet excited ghostly mirages of Carlton’s 1970 44 point deficit zombie return aside, we know the cup is ours already. The theme song erupts, the noise thickens with excited stridency as we regroup at half time. We’re almost oblivious to the unconscious possibility that  we’re behaving like those German fascists who caught the train to the wrong town for their rally.

The conga lines begin deep into time on in the third when Hawk Will Langford super glued to the forward pocket boundary dribbles a hopeful bouncing tap toward goal that fortuitously bounces at and well over the feet of the goal guarding Swan for a goal. This time the hug is one of celebration and release with not a soul around.

As Luke Breust salutes a minute into the last quarter, among us in the standing room it’s become an audition call for the father son reconciliation scene from the “The Water Diviner“.

The next instalment in the standing sage comes this Saturday.

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Hit me on the chest with your centimetre perfect pass