It’s Sunday a little after midday in Melbourne and I feel an undercurrent of excitement. It’s a big day today. My team take on Carlton in the elimination final at the MCG. There’s a lot on this game. Obviously it’s important -you win and you advance, lose and the season is over. Adding so much more to that though is the history between these two clubs. This is no ordinary final, this is a play-off between two teams who have a history of storied, dramatic games played out, and supporters who hate each other.
It’s an interesting thing this rivalry. There’s a good stastitical basis for it – these are the two most successful clubs in the game – but it has become much more than that in recent years. I think Carlton are my most hated opponent, but it wasn’t always the case. I admired their premiership winning teams of 1981/82. In 1986 I barracked for them against Hawthorn in the decider without too much angst. By the time we played off against for the 1993 flag it was different though. We won that day, I was there and thrilled, but the thrill was greater because we had beaten a club I had come to despise.
It may surprise, but I wish it wasn’t the case. Healthy rivalry is fine, but when it becomes personal it’s ridiculous. As it happens I have a few friends who are Carlton supporters, had girlfriends who swore by the blues, and a nephew who has inherited his dad’s devotion to them. When I look back I can think of many Carlton players I’ve admired, and some I count as a kind of favourite. I love SOS as footballer and person. Ken Hunter is one of my favourite ever non-Essendon footballers. And I think Craig Bradley was a ripper player and person. End of the day it’s just a different coloured guernsey.
I date my dislike of Carlton to the ascension of John Elliott. Many Carlton supporters remain devoted to him, despite what he did to their club. To me he is a coarse and corrupt blow-hard, much more a figure of disrepute than respect. Many Carlton supporters celebrate the arrogance he brought to the club, but to my mind it is the wrong sort of arrogance. John Elliott was always quick to disrespect other clubs, to belittle though less successful, or less well of. He epitomised the blue-blood, patrician sense of entitlement that Carlton came to be associated with. He had no humility, no real perspective of the game as a whole. To play on his own words, I think he’s a pigs-arsehole. I think he’s a pretty ordinary individual.
Essendon gets called arrogant too, and that’s right – it goes with the territory of being successful. I’m an arrogant Essendon supporter, and been called that dozens of times. Arrogance is different to hubris though. I’m not impartial, but I like to think my club has always been respectful even as it has been arrogant. John Elliott was never that, and consequently has tainted my perception of Carlton and created this bitter rift between the clubs.
John Elliott is gone now and today another day, and another chapter in the rivalry.
Carlton go in as warm favourites. That’s fair enough. They’ve had the better season, and in general terms are more advanced in their journey towards the top echelon. The pressure is all on them. I’ll disappointed if we lose, but not devastated. Devastation may await Carlton though if they succumb. Besides the deep disappointment of being eliminated early three years running there is the strong possibility of off-field fall-out. We go in with little to lose; Carlton plenty.
On our day we’re as good as anyone in the comp. Our best has been better than theirs, but they have been much more consistent over the season. The weather may play a part, and will likely favour them – it’s grey outside, it’s been raining and may rain more. Still, you start even. I have a buzz about this – I sort of don’t expect to win, but we’re in with a chance. I haven’t felt this tingly for quite a while. I won’t be there. I’ll be here at home watching, glued to the screen and riding every bump. I’ve made a bit of day of it. I’ve made some pot stickers earlier I’ll chew on as the game gets going, and stocked up on a few treats to enjoy along the way. This is grim competition, but it’s also great theatre. I can’t wait.
Regardless of the result today I think a great future awaits my club – better, and brighter, than for Carlton. This is one year, but they come one after the other.