Friday night I rocked into the city, collected Donna, and then walked to the MCG. Every year we do this, we go to the big game between her team, Carlton, and mine, Essendon. As sporting clubs they are the most bitter of foes, with little affection between the teams, or the supporters following. They also happen to be the equal most successful clubs in the history of the VFL/AFL, and so each is always looking to get one up on the other.
Donna and I are friends, but on this occasion we become rivals. She hates Essendon like no other team. Somewhat ironically she thinks we are arrogant, and views us as her teams nemesis. Though we are friends I gather her strong feelings against Essendon have become more violent since she met me. She’s on record as saying that she doesn’t care who Carlton lose to as long it isn’t Essendon; and she lives, I think, to see both the team, and supporters like me, humbled.
I don’t do humility well at the best of times, and I’m sure as hell not going to give her the pleasure of seeing my dismay on those occasions when Carlton tops us. She wears her heart on her sleeve with almost anything, whereas I’m much more insouciant. Whilst a large bit of that is natural to me, I’m not immune to feeling bitter and twisted when the club I hate most beats us. Do I let her see that? Never. I maybe be seething inside, might feel sick to the gut, but not once will I give her or any of her brood the satisfaction of seeing it. Maybe that’s why she thinks we’re arrogant.
Anyway, this Friday was the latest instalment in a long rivalry. It was a cold, but clear night. As always on the eve of a big game the MCG buzzed with people lining up at windows and gates, and circling the ground. The lights light up the night sky, and the news teams were out to report live from the scene (apparently I was prominent in the background to a cross to the channel 9 news team).
I’m an MCC member. Part of Donna’s delight in attending these matches with me is the pleasure to sit in the members reserve – she’s that type. I like it too, though mainly for the convenience of guaranteed entry to the best sporting arena in the world. Usually I flash my members ticket, buy a guest ticket for Donna, then march tight in. Not this time.
For some inexplicable reason the MCC weren’t selling guest tickets, claiming they had sold out. I was deeply dubious given my past experience, and unprepared to accept defeat so easily. I went into the ground, saved a couple of seats for us on the HFF, then returned to the hubbub outside. We waited for about 45 minutes as the crowd grew around us, and eventually the announcement was made that guest tickets would be going on sale after all. This created a rush to get them, and we spent the next 25 minutes in a queue, but finally got the treasured ticket.
By the time we made it to our seats the game was only 10 minutes off. It felt odd. Normally we’d have sat there sedately watching the pre-game preparations and reading through the footy record. There was no time for that this time, and instead sitting down it felt as if we’d already gone through a bit of energy just getting there. Then the game began, and the 82,000 odd sitting in the stands roared.
The first half of footy was pretty forgettable, especially if you were an Essendon supporter. As a spectacle it was pretty ordinary, and the standard no better than average. Still, if you were a Blues fan you’d take it. At half time Carlton led by 19 points and Jarrad Waite had kicked 5 goals.
Sitting in the stands I felt frustrated. Behind me the fat guy was singing the praises of Carlton in the typically one-eyed fashion of all devout footy supporters. Next to me Donna was feeling relaxed, though always wary – she’s not happy until a stake has been thrust through the heart, and until then is fearful of Essendon coming back. That’s happened a few times over the years, but in Donna’s eyes I think is further proof of the sneakiness of the Bombers. A few rows down there was one Carlton supporter I was itching to snot. Every time his team would kick a goal he’d turn around and hold his blue Carlton guernsey out as if to say, take that Essendon scum.
The fact is we’d played awfully, were lucky to be as close as we were, and a win looked very unlikely.
Then the second half began. I thought we looked better, but still Carlton went ahead, up by 31 points 10 minutes in. About now though things started to click for my guys. They began to play more expansively, attacking through the middle and taking more risk. Gradually it began to pay off. We kicked the last 3 goals of the quarter and might have had another if the umpire had whistled when he should. Still, 14 points down going into the last quarter, and I felt buoyed.
My experience of the game, and sport in general, is that there are optimistic supporters and pessimistic. It’s just something in the blood. Me, I see 14 points down and think we can win this. I’m always confident, the worst I get is pragmatic. I was pretty confident. Donna, 14 points up and in the box seat, had the fear of god in her. She was not optimistic, not just because that’s how she is (and has a long-held belief that half of her team are soft-cocks), but because the fear of losing to the team she most feared losing to suddenly became big in her, as if, again, she was destined to have her hopes dashed in the most wicked, dastardly manner.
Carlton actually got the first goal of the last quarter, and perhaps that should have been it. I didn’t feel it though. We were up and about. We seemed to have more run, were playing the better footy, and the game was opening up for us. Sure enough within 10 minutes we were up. A minute later we were down again, and for the next 10 minutes the difference was one or two points.
Then, just over 90 seconds to go an average kick and a poor effort saw Winderlich intercept, and then pass the ball to Melksham just inside the 50 metre arc. One point down he goes back and slots it. I never doubted it. Perhaps that’s something both Donna and agreed upon – there was predestination at work.
The final minute of the game was all action – check out the video to see it. Carlton could have won maybe, but in their final thrust were denied by a great mark to a player who will one day be regarded as one of the greats – Jake Carlisle. Siren goes, we win.
I said little, though I admit to cheering pretty good. Donna swallowed hard. I glanced at the fat guy behind me, but he looked away. The wanker in the Carlton jumper had gone awfully quiet.
Donna and I parted and I walked through the streets thronging with happy and sad supporters. I caught the train listening to the game review. At home by about 11.40 I then spent the next few hours watching a replay of the match I’d just attended. How many times have I done that? Plenty, and it’s fun.
Another great game. Great contest actually – mostly these games are, with lots riding on them. And, ultimately for my team, a great and gutsy win. That’s the spirit you want, and the spirit you need if you want to go all the way. Whether we can this year I’m not sure, but looking good. Very confident for next year though.