THE DAY FOOTBALL TAUGHT ME NEVER TO GIVE IN:
The thing about sport that makes it important and not just entertainment is that it can deliver important lessons for life. Lessons not just for the players involved but also for their supporters: The diehard fans that live and breathe their achievements. Over the years I have learnt many things through my support of Carlton, things that have mattered to me in all walks of life.
Diesel taught me never to accept that I did not have 'what it takes', not if in my heart I believed I was capable. Kenny Hunter taught me about courage, about how someone smaller and lighter can time and again expose the bigger bodies by having the courage to not care about the difference. Teddy Hopkins taught me to grasp my opportunities, to make the most of whatever time I might get.
So many players teach us so much about ourselves but the lesson I remember most is not about a player but a group, a team: A team, a coach and a determination not to give in. To rise above the despair that they must have felt at halftime when for all the world they were gone and come out to produce the most famous Last Day In September victory.
Already you know what game I mean. So large does it loom in the landscape of the AFL and in our own proud navy blue history. The game to end all games, the day that forever stamped Carlton as the victor over Collingwood, stamped us so proudly that Collingwood will forever hate us Bluebaggers the way a dog hates the feet that walk past the fence reminding it of lost freedom. They can play until the gates of Heaven are closed and the dead rise again in their boots for a final kick at goal and never redeem that loss. That is the magnitude of that day.
And for me, a twelve year old nearing that moment in his life when he would turn thirteen and leave behind the long summer boyhood of bike rides and water fights. Leave forever the winter walks home as rain fell to chill the boy but the fire at home waited with mum and a thick, warm towel. The approaching time when the lessons of the primary school playground would need to be forgotten and the new rules of high school learned. For me that victory is a mountain in the landscape of my life.
I remember being up a cherry tree picking cherries the day John Lennon was shot. I remember sitting in a classroom watching a fuzzy T.V. picture the day man walked on the moon. I remember that day in September all those years ago when Carlton dragged itself out, battered and bruised, and put on such a display it took our breath away.
The day began in sadness. I had seen the ’68 flag in the standing room of the M.C.G and I had sat and endured that which was ’69, but my father told me that morning I would not be able to come along to the 70 final. When Carlton and Collingwood play in a final tickets are as rare as hen’s teeth. I watched my father and brothers leave for the game and felt an emptiness inside, an emptiness that drove me outside where I began to kick the ball.
Later that day I found myself listening to the game at my friend’s house, he too barracked for the Blues and so we shared our camaraderie as we sat and listened to that first half debacle. At half time I returned home and stayed in the backyard kicking that ball over and over as I tried to redeem the efforts of my Blue heroes with a synchronicity between my game in the backyard and the real game at the MCG. Over and over I played out heroic efforts as Crosswell marked and Big Nick crashed packs to clear a path for Gags and Wallsey goaled.
Then the backdoor flew open and mum yelled out that we were back in the game. It was three quarter time and Carlton was within 10 points. This information froze me. Made me stare at the football I held as if it was a magic wand. Had my efforts redoubled theirs? I was in a quandary. If I left the yard and went inside to listen would the players stumble again? Should I continue with my efforts in my backyard to ensure their efforts at the home of football continued on? Was their a connection?
Mum asked if I wished to come inside and listen but I shook my head and stayed outside. I owed it to the Bluebaggers. In truth I was terrified of breaking that thread, a thread between my game in a small, suburban backyard and the majestic game being played out at the MCG. I stayed outside and kicked that ball around as if playing for my life. We won that game in my yard and soon the backdoor flew open again and mum ran out laughing to tell me we had won the Grand Final.
Then I raced around to my friend’s house and we crossed the road and bought a paper with Weg’s poster inside and the two of us stood on the street corner showing that poster to every car that passed us by as dusk settled down upon that marvellous day in Melbourne, the day Carlton came back from the dead to win their tenth flag.
That day Carlton taught me never to give in, never to think you haven’t a chance. You have, always, if you dig deep enough and believe in yourself and want it enough, you can turn the tide and create a victory which only a short moment before seemed a certain defeat.
Whenever I think of that day I feel that thread the little boy felt as he played a game in his backyard in sympathy with a final at the MCG. Sometimes I even let myself believe it was my efforts that day that helped my heroes find the path to victory. After all, isn’t that what all supporters believe, deep down in the secret oval of their souls? Don’t we all think our beliefs or rituals or actions somehow affect theirs? We all carry our own red hankie to matches the way Steve Waugh carried his to every test. We all think we are vital to the results of our team. It is why we barrack with such passion, why we go week after week; we believe are a part of the team’s success, a crucial part. We are the Carlton Football Club.