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Fanatic's football fairytale

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St Kilda's Farren Ray handballs under pressure from Collingwood's Dale ThomasOne of the problems a writer of fiction can sometimes face is the sheer interconnection of things.

In 'real life' events, situations, reactions and decisions occur willy-nilly. We exercise as much control as possible, and most of the time, our control is sufficient. But sometimes things get out of hand and momentarily fate and circumstance seem to be sweeping us along.

The fiction writer has to arrange imagined events so that they achieve the required fictional outcome — which, of course, is often dramatic, exciting, tragic, comic, triumphant and so on — without stretching credulity too far or breaching one's sense of what life is 'really' like.

Yet 'real life' routinely throws up sequences so bizarre, or so incredible that a fiction writer wouldn't dare to own them. Try this one.

There's this bloke who lives in South Australia but has been a supporter of AFL football club the St Kilda Saints for what seems like millennia.

Just when he is preparing to go in the ballot for a Grand Final ticket — last year he got one, standing room: good view, wrong result — his bank notifies him that there has been a 'fraudulent attack' on his credit card. Like the Mills of God, the bank investigates slow but it investigates sure. He loses no money but he has no credit card and he can only take part in the ballot by using Visa online. So that window closes.

Thinking laterally, he borrows his mate's Visa and his membership barcode then, with the mobile phone on speaker, the landline serially dialling and Ticketek on screen, he sets about the business of getting a standing room ticket from the limited general allocation for St Kilda members on the Monday before the Grand Final.

He admits defeat after three hours when, with the mobile phone battery flat, his ears ringing with the engaged signal from the landline, and his eyes bemused by the unwavering message on the screen about heavy demand and the need for patience, he finally gets through to a human voice which tells him with intolerable jauntiness that 'all tickets are gone, mate'.

He watches the game on TV and dies a thousand deaths — it's a draw. Like the players and coaches he doesn't know what to say, where to look, how to react.

Daunted by his recent experiences, and still without a credit card, our bloke decides the whole ticketing business is just too hard and he'll watch the replay on TV. But two of his sons intervene. One of them, let's call him David, brushes aside the bloke's objection that a single ticket is now, after the draw, far too expensive.

'I'll pay for the ticket,' he says. 'It's a gift'.

And the other, we'll call him Sam, using his own credit card and the barcode of yet another St Kilda member — this star-crossed chap, not anticipating a draw strangely enough, has tickets to take the grandchildren to West Side Story on 2 October! — volunteers to do the vigil online from 1pm on the Monday following the drawn game.

What is it about the youth of today? The cyber world is their beat, their haunt, their domain. Sam, in less than an hour of flashing notices, canned music and other contemporary hazards, doesn't just jag a ticket, he gets a seat, and in a very good spot.

David, who lives in Manchester, then sends him the money by electronic transfer and, while our bloke couldn't guarantee that the snail was on the thorn or the lark on the wing, it seemed to him reasonable to conclude that — for the moment, until the game started anyway — God was in his heaven and some things at least were right with the world.

So our bloke, the hero, or — since he has been alternately unsuccessful and passive — the anti-hero of our little story, is about to set off for Melbourne from his distant central western eyrie. He'll drive for a day, have breakfast with Sam, collect his ticket and go unhurried to the MCG around 1pm.

As a fiction this account obviously has flaws. The bloke is, to start with, too unlucky: through no fault of his own, no credit card, and then no ticket. And the result of the game is simply too much tailored to his needs: he misses out on being there, so they come back next week. Spare me.

Then two of his sons bob up, fairytale-like, full of competence, good will, riches and determination and lo! he has a ticket. This is on a par with glass slippers, sumptuous carriages and midnight pumpkin deadlines.

All this outrageously extravagant tale needed was to end with the Saints winning the replay. But not every fairytale can have a happy ending.

Brian MatthewsBrian Matthews is the award winning author of A Fine and Private Place and The Temple Down the Road. He was awarded the 2010 National Biography Award for Manning Clark — A Life.

Topic tags: brian matthews, afl grand final, draw, replay, st kilda saints, collingwood magpies



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Existing comments

Thanks, Brian. A lovely tale to start the day. I cannot remember how many times I have said to myself about some sequence of events I had just heard about or been involved in "If someone put that in a novel, the readers would go 'Yeah, right, as if that's ever going to happen'" And yet it did.

Life's amazing!

Erik H | 06 October 2010  

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