The wet sheep: a football eulogy

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Defeated Saints at the 2009 AFL Grand Final, Flickr image by davidbrewsterIt is just before 7am on Monday 21 September and I am starting the running week, as usual, amid the customary outraged squawking of circling galahs and under the beady, territorial gaze of magpies on fence posts and high sentinel boughs.

My route — a rural backtrack — is tough and vertiginous, ideal for engendering thought, speculation and ideas. For some people this happens under the morning shower. For me, it takes place out on the 'road', rain, hail or shine: finances, schemes, problems, what to write in the next column — all at some time or another join the passing parade in my imagination.

But on this morning, 21 September, my visionary gaze is uncompromising and focused. Before my mind's eye unfolds the broad green expanse of the MCG surrounded by thousands and thousands of tiered spectators. Round the outer wing speeds the compact figure of Leigh Montagna and racing out to meet the low bullet-like pass he is about to deliver is the brilliant, tireless Nick Riewoldt.

It will be another goal for the Saints and their Grand Final win is assured ...

On Tuesday, about the same time, a paralysing eight-goal first quarter pretty well wraps it up for the Saints and they cruise home despite a late Geelong revival.

On Wednesday morning — trouble. Four goals behind at three-quarter time, the Saints turn on a slogging last ditch effort to squeeze in by three points.

On Thursday morning I probably would have played through the presentation of the cup and the award to Norm Smith Medallist, the Saints' Nick Dal Santo, but I had to be up packing and preparing for our drive to Melbourne. I had one ticket — standing room — won in the club ballot. My wife, joined by our two Melbourne-based sons, would watch it on the big screen.

It rained all the way to Bordertown where we stayed the night and where all the motel staff either barracked for St Kilda or, their own fancy having been eliminated, were preferring the Saints. And it rained all the way from Bordertown to Melbourne. Just before the Ercildoune-Learmonth turn off I noticed a lamb crouched beside a paddock fence, soaked, bedraggled and bewildered. Since there was not a single sheep to be seen between that fence and the distant, storm-swept horizon I sadly realised that this little one was doomed.

In Carlton, at our customary accommodation, the foyer was decorated with St Kilda and Geelong colours, and the vibrant anticipation of the young woman at the reception desk jarred on my now pathological state of morbid anxiety.

Further afield, the city hummed with excitement and drummed with bursts of rain that did not at all spoil the parade nor sour anyone's enthusiasm. Newspapers, billboards, shop fronts and trams flowered with red-white-and-black and blue-and-white displays. Pubs rang with shouted statistics, arguments, exhortations; waiters in restaurants served their dishes subtitled with various kinds of footy bias and in Lygon Street the chefs twirled their pizzas in the air with impossible panache and shouted 'Go Saints' and 'Go Cats' with a devil-may-care exuberance possible only for the genuinely uncommitted.

Nervous about my standing room ticket, I abandoned the family breakfast and walked to the 'G by 9.30. Under cover and with an excellent view of the whole ground from behind the seats on the outer wing, I struck up immediate friendships with Tony and Peter and Roger and Keith — all stalwarts of the red, white and black — and joined wholeheartedly in a whinge about the weather, the ticketing process which saw members like us pay amounts beyond the dreams of avarice to stand all day, and the television set serving our section which, of course wouldn't you know, wasn't working.

And so we stood there together in Section M14 as the crowd grew and the pressure of bodies intensified and the rain curtained in grey swathes across the ground and the Saints fell just short. Then I walked back from the 'G and next day we drove off.

It rained all the way home and on the Monday morning — 28 September — with everything back to the usual routine, I ran dolefully down the track. In my mind's eye there was no flag, there were no running leaping swooping figures. There was no sunlit green expanse of the oval with its precise goal squares and the curve of the 50m lines and the centre circle and the white boundaries and a huge crowd like a vast pointillist painting.

Try as I might, I could not summon up those exciting scenes as I had so effortlessly done a week earlier. All I saw, over and over, was the corner of a distant paddock, with the rain streaming down on one small, abandoned and thoroughly defeated lamb.

Brian MatthewsBrian Matthews is the award winning author of A Fine and Private Place, The Temple Down the Road and Manning Clark — A Life. 

Topic tags: 2009 AFL Grand Final, St Kilda Saints, Geelong Cats, nick dal santo, leigh montagna, gary ablett



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My grand final award goes to ...BRIAN MATTHEWS! How lovely to wake in beautiful Tuscany (NO this is NOT a fantasy) and at 7.00pm Melbourne time, read another of Brian's beautifully crafted pieces. Doesn't make me want to come home, but makes me feel, quite the opposite to his wet sheep, warm and comfortable. Thanks, Brian.
Joe Castley | 07 October 2009


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