Stories

Published on April 16th, 2007 | by Hans Fruck

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Hans’ Night at the Football

Ah, it’s mid-April in Melbourne, arseholes, and the nights are still balmy. It’s Round Three of the AFL season; it’s Friday night; and Collingwood take on Richmond at the ’G. Who’d wanna be anywhere else?

Preamble. Living in the inner city like I do these days, I don’t leave till about an hour before the match is scheduled to start at 7.40pm. I jump on the train at Windsor Station; it’s packed with Collingwood and Richmond supporters. The mood is amiable and optimistic. It’s still early in the season, anything can happen, and every team’s still cherishing hopes of September action. Richmond’s optimism is almost certainly misplaced – because they’re really, really shit. I don’t take much satisfaction from this, however, because I suspect that Collingwood is also shit. We shall see.

Jump off at Richmond Station. Fight my way through the crowds, cleave through enormous tide of people circling the ’G, and climb up to the top deck of the Ponsford Stand. Some people call the top deck the ‘nosebleeds’, and it’s true that the oxygen is a bit thin up there. But I like some altitude when I watch the footy. If you get too close to the ground, you lose all sense of space on the footy field. At least from the nosebleeds, you get a bird’s eye view. Sure, you can’t hear the smack of players hammering into the contest, the sound of the footy on the boot, or the profanities that spew from the players’ mouths like you can on the boundary line, but you can see play unfolding one or even two moves down the field before it happens.

A stack of Collingwood’s best players (Buckley, Didak, Clement, Johnson, Holland) aren’t playing and we’ve selected three first-gamers, but I’m unjustifiably upbeat. It’s a nice night, a new footy season, and the dawning of a new era at Collingwood. You can sense it. And what’s that? Mmmmm… (The smell of meat pies wafts through the stand.)

Sitting to my left is a Collingwood dude. He’s about 40, has funky facial hair, the permatan of a solarium junkie, and the died jet-black hair of a Goth. I don’t exchange any words with The Dude, but his despairing bellows of ‘Too easy, Collingwood! Too eeeeeasssy!’ as Richmond run rings around Collingwood in the first half punctuate the evening for me.

Sitting to my right is a quiet middle-aged chap. He looks like a dermatologist or an accountant. He politely applauds good play. A couple of times when Collingwood’s play devolves into a clusterfuck of Baghdad proportions, he expresses his disappointment in a calm, reflective manner. At one point in the second quarter, he even claps a good piece of Richmond play. (Meanwhile, I thump my knee so hard with a rolled-up Footy Record I dislodge my cap on the backswing.)

But I’m getting ahead of myself…

First quarter. Things start off well. Collingwood score the first goal, and everything is right in the world. Then grimly, remorselessly, and in apparent defiance of their own shitness, Richmond seize control of the match. Through some strange alchemy (called hard running) Richmond players seem to outnumber Collingwood players in every single fucking part of the fucking field. I know that Collingwood must have extra players somewhere, but I’m fucked if I can see them, and wherever they are they’re doing jackshit. Fuckers.

Second quarter. More of the fucking same, FFS! Collingwood getting outrun and outscored. Matthew Richardson is tearing Collingwood a new one. It’s just that, in true Richo style, he can’t kick the fucking thing between the big sticks. As one Pie supporter behind me sagely observes, ‘Richo’s a giant spastic’. Indeed. And it’s the only thing keeping us in the game.

In fact, one of the great joys of footy over the last decade has been watching Richo. I’ve never seen a player of Richo’s calibre who’s so prone to going from stupendous to stupid in the one passage of play. Watching Richo play footy can be a surreal experience. It’s like Richo constantly devises new ways to fuck up, new ways to torture his own supporters. No wonder Wretchmond supporters are such mental cases – that’s what years of raised expectations and brutally dashed hopes do to a person.

Around me, Richmond supporters are getting cocky. It’s true they’ve wasted opportunities to bury us, but they’re confident that it’s only a matter of time. In front of me, four elderly, genteel Richmond supporters (I know, it blows my mind too!) are quietly happy, and that’s despite the earbashing they’re getting from The Dude’s ‘Too Easy, Collingwood! Too eeeassssy!’ and my increasingly unhinged screams of ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ and ‘Run for him!’ and ‘That’s rubbish!’ and one blood-vessel-bursting roar of BULLSHIT!! when those cheating, scummy fucking umpires crucified us on a holding-the-ball decision.

Half-time. I’m sitting there fuming. Just fucking fuming. To think of all the things I could be doing instead of sitting here watching this shit blizzard. I’ve got my little radio with me, so I half-heartedly flip between the four radio stations covering the match. The commentators’ consensus is that Collingwood are lazy, useless and, on the whole, better-suited to less strenuous sports like, oh, I dunno, lawn bowls – or something like that. Meanwhile, I’d reached my own consensus, namely that football is a stupid fucking game, and I don’t know why I bother.

I grit my teeth and sit gloomily through the interminable half-time break. Around me Richmond supporters are bright and chirpy. Collingwood supporters less so. I pass the time by going through all the Collingwood players I’d delist at the end of the year. I am harsh, but fair.

Third quarter. What’s this? A revival? A comeback? The world restored to its rightful fucking order? It appears as if MM (the coach) has read the riot act to the players. Perhaps it’s the spectre of hara kiri at the end of the match if they don’t lift their arses off the ground that has pepped up Josh Fraser and Anthony Rocca. I dunno. But the Pies are out of the blocks fast, and dominating. And it’s fucking glorious! Yeeeessssss! In your face Richmond! Get fucked!

Now it’s the Pies who look full of running, who are getting numbers to the contest, and it’s Richmond who are making mistakes and looking harried. You can sense the comeback. After the first couple of goals shortly after half-time, it’s building like a wave. For a while, the sides trade goals. The crowd – 70,000-strong – is making a deafening racket now. Collingwood’s frenetic attack on the ball is paying dividends; spurred on by this, the players go in harder, push themselves further, throwing themselves extravagantly into the game – until the whole thing becomes self-perpetuating.

Yes, that most glorious of football things has happened: Collingwood has the MOMENTUM. Seven goals to three in the third quarter, and we go into three-quarter time dead level at 11.10 apiece.

Fourth quarter. Anthony Rocca, all 106kg and 195cm of him, is dominating the game. Plucking marks against smaller opponents, charging around the forward line like a toey rhinoceros and, unlike Richo, converting chances into goals. We’re winning in the ruck, slicing and dicing them through the midfield, and finishing in the forward line. I am delirious with joy. With every Collingwood goal (there are six in the final quarter), I jump outta my seat, raise my arms aloft, and just roar, not even bothering to form words any more. Which is just as well, because no one would understand me anyway, as I pretty much lost my voice in third quarter.

SIREN! Collingwood by more than four goals. C’arn the Pies! Suffer Richmond! Get fucked! (Losers.) Big crowd, young side, and a heartbreaking loss for Wretchmond – does it get any better than this?

My voice is ripped to shreds, and I think all that shouting must have deprived my brain of oxygen, cos I’m feeling a bit lightheaded. I’m flipping through the radio stations now, basking in all the praise the commentators have for Collingwood as they frantically reverse everything they said at half-time. I clap in time to Good Old Collingwood Forever and applaud the players as they push the first-gamers (Dick, Toovey, Cox) down the player race first.

I’m feeling pretty jaunty as I make my way out of the ’G. I note the expressions of the Richmond supporters. Some of them are stoic; some of them mottled with fury; some of them long-suffering and depressed. Ah, I know the feeling. But not tonight. Tonight it was Richmond on the receiving end, so they can cop it right sweet. Heh. They had their chance. They came; they saw; they conked out.

Losers.

–Hans Sebastian Fruck


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