As I cut the grass in our backyard a few weeks back with our op-shopped, $10 push mower, the smell of cut grass, combined with the gradual pinch of warmth in the air made me think of one thing. Finals.
Though finals games at AFL level are more likely to be under lights than the sun these days, it’s still the notion of the sun coming out in spring, playing finals on grounds where the centre wicket has crusted over to become something akin to concrete, the smell of the afore mentioned freshly cut grass and many other wonders which excites this football writer.
And as such things do, it got me thinking about the different aromas I associate with football, the good, the bad and the downright stinky.
So I compiled a bit of a list and then asked my twitter followers for theirs. There were some popular ones such as the already mentioned (twice) ‘freshly cut grass’ to the more conceptual smells of ‘anticipation and excitement’ (@Shaebee22) and ‘the indefinable smells of hope, desperation and disappointment.’ (@Bulldog_Tragician)
First on my list was cigarette smoke. Now I’m not a smoker but the smell of a freshly lit cigarette, be it in the street, at the park, wherever, generally takes me straight to the football. Local footy still has it, and if you congregate near the exits at an AFL venue a cloud sits nicely over those ducking out for a Billy Rag during the breaks. But I do miss the smell at the MCG, so much a part of my formative footy experiences.
My twit follower @justin1flynn added that he ‘Will never forget the smell of men smoking pipes in the outer when I was a kid in the 70’s’ and @Footy_Maths made mention of some ‘whacky tobaccy’ being consumed down the old scoreboard end at the Carlton ground.
Next I had the stench of stale beer on a punters breath. Yep it’s all class, cigarettes, stale beer and drunks! In the ‘real world’ this would repulse me, but get me into the unnatural surrounds of a footy ground and it’s somewhat of a comfort. Mixing this with the smell of wet duffel coats (@Bulldog_tragician) and damp cardboard, (@bob_ely) we have a footy feast for the nose.
There are the smells that individual footy grounds possess due to their location; the old soap factory smell at Port Melbourne, the poo farm out Werribee way and that fresh seaside smell at Williamstown. There’s the doughnut van smell outside the MCG and hot chips in the outer, which @BrotherAmos so elegantly describes as ‘the smell of fried oil permeating the air.’ There’s the ‘food from home’ smells as remembered by @bob_ely of international roast coffee in the thermos and footy franks, skins blistered and smothered in sauce. And of course there’s the magnificent smell of snags sizzling away at the local footy.
Anyone who’s played a game or two of football would know that smell in the middle of the ground where the cricket pitch lays dormant, the Merri creek mud whiff. It’s a thing of beauty, yet still worth washing off yourself should you be lucky enough to roll around it in the name of winning the pigskin. Or as @dugaldjellie puts it, the smell of ‘damp earth.’ And at three quarter time, as you’re sitting on that earth, the traditional smell of oranges (nominated by @watotiger) mixed with mud activates both smell and taste as you suck a few down, a tradition which many primary schools still maintain!
To the footy changerooms and there’s that wonderful smell of linament! As @MiltMonster remembers ‘I loved that smell of liniment you’d get as you walked to your seat past the Richmond rooms in the old Northern Stand.’ We still get to see our heroes each week at the ground, but the notion of actually smelling the stars has most definitely gone by the wayside, until someone can develop smellevision into something workable.
Still in the changerooms and @AndrewJohnEgan nominated the smell of Goanna oil, @BrotherAmos and @watotiger deep heat, and @dgunsberg and @dugaldjellie both drew upon the inspiration that is ‘stale sweat,’ a smell which much like beer, is sweet with victory, and bitter with a loss. And speaking of stale sweat, @coynejp mentioned the forgotten footy bag, that’s right, the smell of unwashed jumpers and boots from last weeks match. That stench can put hair on your shoulders.
And I loved this nomination from @ASpeedingCar, and I’ve experienced this, it’s the smell of ‘ciggies in the shower from blokes having a quick nerve settler before the team runs out.’ That in itself is an institution.
Moving from the changerooms we now come to the horror of the old suburban ground toilets. Stale piss, inexcusable body oder and drunks once filled these dank, unventilated pits. It’s a little better at today’s modern facilities, but it’s still a reminder to days gone by.
@Bulldog_tragician remembers the enormously whiffy loos at the Western Oval, and in particular when there was a dead rat in the ladies as being particularly memorable. And the less said about the Vic Park loos the better, so I’m told!
Turning to country footy and @Suburbia3121 loves the smell of ‘Woodsmoke from a fire in a 44 gallon drum…particularly at Romsey.’ I haven’t watched a game in such conditions and consider myself the poorer for not having done so. It’s on my list, a magnificent way to keep warm at the footy mid-winter no doubt and a far cry from the sterile Docklands television studio.
Finally, I’m glad that @BrotherAmos brought this up because it was one of the most important ‘footy smells’ to me whilst growing up, yet I’d foolishly overlooked it. It’s the smell of leather Sherrins, or any footy for that matter. I can still close my eyes and smell the magic that was my first leather football (Rossy Faulkner!) Sweet, almost edible, and just so darn new! As the footy aged, and mine aged rapidly due to excessive use, the smell changed. It became less intense, but no less comforting.
And the @Coodabeens take on all of this? That it sounds like a season of scratch and sniff from ‘Outside Football’ (their mock Inside Football magazine)! Make of that what you will, but it’s certainly profound!
In closing, there are some footy smells I’d like to know about. What does the MCC area smell like during a game? When your nose is rubbed into the turf at Docklands does it smell ‘earthy?’ Does Sam Mitchell’s shit actually stink, as I’m sure he thinks it doesn’t? And finally what is that elusive smell of success?
Please let me know what footy means to your nose. What are your footy smells?
Loved this piece John.
Even more rank than the dunnies at Vic Park was the MCG changerooms c1984 when I played in the Little League for the Tigers. Someone said it was chewing tobacco but I dunno. I think it was a combo of 50 years of piss and poo and sweat.
Another lovely piece of inquiry and writing that takes the game we all cherish in unexpected (but readily recognizable) directions. This is football writing that matters, drawing on shared memories, on a collective of experience. Stop and smell the roses? I will sniff a football game, next time I am there.
Surely the smell of meat pies and tomato sauce? As part of being a responsible auntie I have shown at least 2 nephews how to eat a pie at the footy without spilling it.
I remember the ghastly smell of the loos at Victoria Park (ewwww) – were they ever cleaned?
‘…we now come to the horror of the old suburban ground toilets’. Truer words have never been spoken. As a regular patron of the conveniences under the Whitten stand, i can vouch that there were many males with serious toilet training issues. Urrgh, the stench…