Saturday, 12 April 2014

Suburban Days - Reflections On Football

While we wrote that the last 'Suburban Days' series post was the final, of course there needed to be one more... A report on the day itself.

As tweeted before the event itself,
On the first tweet, yes more than myself and John were there, with @AndrewGigacz also present (as promised, making it a known success - under sell, over deliver!).

But more importantly, we were joined also by @DugaldJellie, @SianDart, @KennyConsider, @Carlo_Monty_AFL and @movingforward_0, to round out a small but very social group.
Other twitter folk were also present, but owing to other commitments didn't join us - maybe next time.

What was even better about the above folks coming is that there were some that we're not Footscray or Richmond fans... But were there because the event that was the return of the Western Oval too regular use.
Or because it was a trip down memory lane, to once again experience football as they remembered it.
Different to the cookie cutter M.C.G. and Docklands experience.

On the second tweet, we didn't experience much of the catering and facilities of the day, so we were glad to have met with's Kenny, who had covered that angle beautifully in this blog post - Footscray returns to the Western Oval.
Seems like the cafe was struggling, but the food vans and stalls were taking up the slack wonderfully.

Also, as a mostly desk-bound blogger who runs tips and rankings (and occasionally critiques football and media), it was very much a learning experience to meet Dugald, Kenny and John and see how bloggers who 'get out to the field' really work.

All of them had some form of recording device: camera or smartphone, or even the humble notepad and pen. They also ensured they scouted the arena, stands and other facilities, ensuring that if they write up a blog post they have a wealth of material.

Lesson learnt for next time.

For more reading on the day, what it meant to people, and what local community footy is about, read also:
 - the wonderful words of the Bulldog Tragician, in the post "Places in my past", and
 - Dugald Jellie's latest contribution (in 7 stanza's!) to the Tiger Tiger Burning Bright site, with the specific post "R3 v Western Bulldogs: A lament, for us Tigers".
 - and as before, the community and food focused Consider The Sauce post by Kenny.

With the weather as lovely as it was, the ground in perfect nick, it was an excellent day for footy, and the crowds did turn out... possibly 3,000 - 4,000 people on the terraces and back up in the Whitten Stand.
And when Footscray began to dominate, echoes of days past were recalled as the chants went up in the Whitten Stand.
via @FootscrayVFL

In the end, the game was a fizzer as Footscray stormed away to a convincing win,
26.9 165 to Richmond 7.6 48.

And as Andrew noted, Richmond, to some degree spoiled the occasion by wearing a clash jumper. It would have been much better to have run out in the regular Tiger colours, not seen here since 1996.
via @FootscrayVFL

But with the game headed to a blow-out, it of course meant us that gathered could turn our gaze away from the foregone conclusion of the game, and instead share a few more stories. With most of us blogging to some degree, share tips and info about blogging, writing and just how tough it is to monetize what we do.

So, at the end of the game, the above was the blog post I had mentally prepared for before attending.
But football is more than the game and result. It is very much so personal... so below are a few of my thoughts, on 'beyond football'.

Going to the football, actually going, is a social aspect of Melbourne (and other places) that draws people in to a world that they otherwise would never be part of.
It gives a sense of belonging, broadens social circles, generates shared experiences, builds a sense of community, and creates stories to tell others.

By limiting the Melbourne football-going experience to just two venues, the AFL has, to its detriment, significantly reduced most of that. Footy fans still feel a sense of belonging to the club, but with the match day experience similar at both venues, the less tangible social, community and urban adventure aspects are lost.

Talk to most football fans over 30, and you will invariably get one story, scrounged up from a dark recess of their mind, of the time they went to Windy Hill ("...and the centre square was a bog..."), or Princes Park ("...and we could hear the swearing coming from the Press Box that stood where the Elliot Stand is now..."), or...
well, there are plenty of grounds and plenty of stories.

Side note: Have a read of the posts listed under 'Home & Away' over at The Holy Boots Football Emporium to give you a feel of the nuances and differences of suburban grounds.

And the stories you would get would also not just be about the ground, stands, fans or match. Also forming part of the rich tapestry of the football-going experience was the journey there and back. The pre-game drinks at the pubs around the grounds, or the meeting places where you and your mates would congregate. Or the public transport or parking tricks specific to each venue.

Those fans may not have liked those venues, but the differences and nuances in each ground and its surrounds made football that little bit more of an adventure, an anecdote, an experience to pass on to others.

All of that is all but lost, or at least effectively merged in to a reduced story, with familiar scripts, on the same locations, with the same stages.

As I walked to the ground that day, I was remembering those days past of travelling to the footy. The 'away days' and their interesting quirks.
It was both a 'nostalgia high' as well as a moment tinged with sadness. Because for AFL fans (as in the peak competition 'AFL'), those quirks, those opportunities for stories, ad shared moments in unfamiliar places, they have gone.

In a day that was about meeting fellow tweeters and bloggers, and watching footy, somehow converted into part nostalgia and part melancholy. A ritual I had done dozens of times around Melbourne's suburbs was re-enacted, and filled the day with those other emotions.

And once the day was done, and the return journey home began, the mental writing of the above few paragraphs began.
But arriving home meant another whole new chapter could be explored. Because I was able to rediscover that football was more than the game, and more than the interesting features of going home or away, and the events that unfold in that journey.

Its also about going home, once the day is done.

That welcome from your family when you return.
The warmth of the family home and its familiar embrace.
The inevitable question you would always get asked...
    "Did you win?"

As a youngster, it would have been Mum asking all the questions, as Dad came along too. Then when into teenage years of going to the footy by yourself or with mates, both Mum and Dad were asking, probing, hanging on every word.

And you would tell them all about it, too. All the highlights, great individual performances, how terrible the umpires were (because they ALWAYS were... win lose or draw), what your favourite player did, and so on.

These were the days before live broadcasting of games, and maybe, if you were lucky, only a quarter of footy on the Saturday night replay on Seven, or 'The Winners' an the ABC.
Your story was the footy for them that day... at least it was to you, even if they had heard it all on the radio.

As the suburban grounds started closing, I had moved out into a place of my own. Only now can I look back and realise that the changes in the way the game was presented each week, mirrored my own experiences.
The restricted numbers of venues reduced the variance of stories and events that would happen in going to the football...
All mirrored in the reduced social interaction that coming home to an empty house brought.

All this became clear on returning home on Saturday.
To my own home and family.
To have those familiar questions asked, once again
To be able to talk about the journey and events leading up to, and after the game, with others.
To re-experience a football journey to somewhere other than the M.C.G. and the Docklands.
“We go through the present blindfolded... Only later, when the blindfold is removed and we examine the past, do we realise what we've been through and understand what it means.”
― Milan Kundera


I was lucky enough to have lived through the football experience that was the many suburban grounds and the eccentricities of them.
I was also blindfolded, possibly by club loyalty, to the reality of the transition the AFL embarked on through the 80's and 90's.

The restriction of venues has certainly made football a more family friendly environment. The playing surfaces have all been cleaned up, and the effect of weather has almost been taken out of the equation.
But have these changes made football a bit plastic? Given it a sense of same-ness?
Have we already turned the act of going to the football into a 'McDonalds experience'?
“That's just the reality, otherwise we turn the AFL clubs into a group of McDonald's franchises, that all look the same but are located slightly down the road..”
Gary Pert*


The counter point to that, is the argument that 'people look back on the past with 'rose-coloured glasses'. That the football was terrible because of the bog, mud and waterlogged grounds.
Fans had to suffer the biting winds and ceaseless.
You would need to park a postcode away to get to the ground.
Patron facilities at local grounds were substandard, with queues as long as Lillee's run-up.
“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”
― Marcel Proust

Possibly true.
So this year I think its a good idea to return to local footy. Partly because I find the televised product un-watchable, both from the perspective of;
 - the actual game itself (much like KB... I think its a different game these days), and
 - the presentation by the 'broadcast partner' (its bloke-y, overly self referential, and just poorly packaged, as mentioned before).
A conscious effort to visit local grounds, stand up for 2+ hours, get rained on... you know the drill. A series of blog posts will follow, though purely dependent on our ability to get to games, and also be able to write them up.

This is the future of football for us in 2014.
And it started by returning to the past, on Saturday April 5.

And it continues on Sunday April 13, when 1924 VFA Grand Finalists meet again for the first time since that day 90 years ago.
 - Williamstown vs Footscray -

* What Gary Pert fails to realise is that the 'franchise-ation' of footy has already happened. And that his club is at the forefront of that push. The removal of Collingwood from Collingwood is a simple representation of that.


  1. What a magnificently rambling, moving and evocative post! Thank you!

    1. Thanks Kenny. Rambling is what I do best.