Happy Snap #23 Saturday Afternoon at the G

MCG Saturday AfternoonThe universal reflex reaction to victory, hands in the air followed by clapping.

This photo was from a gorgeous Saturday afternoon spent at the footy back in the mid-2000’s, and marked the last time I would sit in the old Olympic/Northern Stand at the MCG. The occasion was Footscray v St.Kilda, and I took my Dog supporting brother, Pete. We sat in the middle deck on wooden seats. Come to think of it, this is the last AFL match I watched with the risk a slpintered bum. It was also the last time that I could sit and watch league football in Melbourne and see trees, something I miss greatly.

Today we find the Dogs again on one of their exciting excursions to the MCG to play Richmond, a day that me and my Footscray supporting brother never relish. The last Richmond v Footscray match for points we went to together was the game at Docklands when Richmond snatched a draw from the jaws of victory, and Nathan Brown greeted the siren with arms raised. We are both rather fond of one another’s team, yet we are fiercely competitive…it’s just not a good mix. The Liberatore/Knights incident threatened to tear us apart!

Whatever the result, football will always be the winner when the MCG is graced on a Saturday afternoon. Long may it continue to do so.

Back to Suburban Footy

OPEN INVITATION 

 The producers of

boot

and

fmi
Invite you to join them at the first

#BackToSuburbanFooty Day

 5 April 2014  at the Whitten Oval

(10:30 first bounce)

for Footscray  -vs-  Richmond

in the VFL return of ‘Footscray’

to serious competition.

Current Whitten Oval Stand Configuration(Gent Stand on right, Whitten Stand on left)

Head on down to the Whitten Oval for a pleasant Saturday morning of football and and join @theholyboot and @Footy_Maths for the return of Footscray to the Western (Whitten) Oval. We will also be joined by @AndrewGigacz, editor of the AustralianFootball.com site (and keen Bulldog) as well.

Entry is free for Bulldogs members, and for non members it is (as described by the @Footscray_VFL account) a nominal fee.

@Footy_Maths There will be a nominal fee on the gate for non-WB members. Food and beverage outlets will be available.

— Footscray Bulldogs (@Footscray_VFL) February 26, 2014

WHY?

Well, @TheHolyBoot @AndrewGigacz and @Footy_Maths are football fans who have a deep feeling for the old suburban grounds of days past.

And with the Whitten Oval (joined in 2014 by Punt Road Oval) making a return to regular football service, we thought it would be good to turn up, watch footy and talk about it with people we had met on twitter (or read the blogs/sites), but are yet to see face to face

There is nothing else to the day, other than a game of footy and a face to face meet-up / tweet-up, and talk about each others footy experiences.

With the early start, it also makes it easy for all interested fans to get along and not miss any action of the round later in the day.

So, feel free to join us. We will be somewhere around the two players races in front of the Whitten Stand.

Hope to see you there!

1970’s Footy Enigmas

I’m always on the lookout for a different angle on Australian football, for that little gem below the mainstream surface. Dreamteam, standard AFL merchandising and the Footy Show leave me cold and empty. There must be something more!

Well there is. It has been with great interest that I’ve watched a most unique series of footy t-shirts develop. I’ve kept in close contact with t-shirt creator, Chris Rees, who has been inspired by his childhood love of footy cards. Whilst my own footy card obession was short and intense from the years 1988-1990, Rees offers an earlier view, drawing on his 1975-79 Scanlens collection.

HB TEES BEDFORD CALLERYOn display is one of the classic footy card poses, the camera balk. with ball tauntingly held in cameraman’s face.

Growing up on the North West Coast of Tasmania meant that Rees relied on three things for his VFL fix as a kid; the wireless, The Winners and of course, Scanlens footy cards.

“Often I have no memory of seeing someone play, but I have had their card as long as I can remember. That frozen moment at training is how I know those players” recalls Rees. With these images burned into his mind, he has gone about adapting these old images in a unique yet familiar style. They now sit perfectly on a new range of t-shirts he has brought out titled ‘1970’s Footy Enigmas.’

As the name suggests, this isn’t the ‘A-list’ of VFL stars; the Harts, the Jesaulenkos and the Keith Greigs. (I know, there was only one of each, but I just love this ‘footy-speak’) Rather, these t-shirts celebrat the cult heroes, with the odd champ thrown in for good measure. So dust off your old footy cards and compare notes as we take a look at the players chosen, one from each old VFL club, in club-by-club alphabetical order.

SCANLENS CATOGGIO

When talking ‘cult heroes’ it’s hard to go past one Vin Catoggio. His unique hairstyle and catchy name has helped him stay in the current footballing fan’s mind. I like how Rees has used his hair as his defining feature, without need for mouth, eyes or nose.HB TEES CATOGGIO

“I always loved his name and his afro, and they way he defied tackling. His story grabbed me anew when I read Brent Crosswell’s account of the 1973 Grand Final. It was Vin’s first game and he didn’t make an impact – something it took him a long time to get over” recalls Rees.

SCANLENS McKENNAI said that there was a champion or two in the mix, and Peter McKenna certainly fits the bill. With his mop-top of hair and a short lived career as a singer, McKenna’s finest work was still done out of the goal square dressed in black and white. However he fits the quirky nature of this range of t-shirts.

HB TEES MCKENNA

“I was tempted by Rene Kink, Billy Picken and Ron Wearmouth but the sealer was when someone gave me a book with frame-by-frame pics of his kicking style, with his Beatle mop flopping about.” (You can see the frame-by-frame images of McKenna in the first short video here) Add to that McKenna’s ‘Hey Hey it’s Saturday’ connection of being ingloriously replaced as co-host by Ozzie Ostrich, and he’s right at home here.

SCANLENS BLETHYNThe bespectacled full forward Geoff Blethyn is another whose unique appearance on the footy field has kept him in the public eye all these years later. Unfair really, given that he did kick 100 goals in a season. If McKenna were the Beatle-esque footballer of the time, then Blethyn can be described as the VFL’s Buddy Holly.

HB TEES BLETHYN

I have two Dons cards from ’72 and they are both shot from the same up-the-shorts angle.” says Rees of his oldest football cards. “I always liked this card and could never imagine quite how he played with the specs. When I recently looked up his record and saw that he kicked a ton in 1972, that was the genesis of my idea to bring some of these unfairly forgotten players back to people’s attention.”

A recent Age article by Peter Hanlon celebrated both Blethyn and this range of t-shirts. It’s great to get Geoff’s reaction to being ‘immortalised’ on fabric.

”We’re all a bit quirky in our own way,” was his take on the players selected.

Read the article here http://www.theage.com.au/afl/afl-news/blethyn-specs-a-tall-order-20130625-2ov7y.html

SCANLENS QUINLANContrary to popular reports, Kevin Murray was not the only player to pull on a Fitzroy jumper during the 60’s and 70’s. ” I eliminated Kevin Murray as he has had plenty of (fully warranted) attention in recent years. But it seems like Superboot was due for some recognition. He’s a sneaky inclusion in a 1970s-era list as he really shone at Fitzroy in 1982 and 83.”

HB TEES QUINLAN

Quinlan spearheaded the Roys to a final tilt at the ultimate success in both their 1983 and 1986 finals campaigns. The Roys fell short on both occasions. In a career of two halves, Bernie played for 9 years at Footscray before heading over to Fitzroy where he equally spent 9 seasons. At this point in time, he is ranked 7th on the all time games played list.

SCANLENS DEMPSEY

I really like Rees’s explanation on why he chose Gary Dempsey as Footscray’s 70’s enigma. “I picked Dempsey on his record – not the Brownlow medal but his club Best and Fairests, six in eight years. It sounds like he was carrying that club.”

HB TEES DEMPSEY

The Dogs didn’t have much going for them while Dempsey was around. Sometimes a player can keep a club going in tough times in terms of giving fans something to cheer about. It reminds me of what Matthew Richardson meant at Punt Road.

SCANLENS SCRATCHER

To be honest, other than knowing the name ‘Scratcher Neal’ and that he played for Geelong, I knew not one thing else about the man. In my research, I came across this great little piece on Scratcher on the ‘the terrace’ website. And to me, this is what Rees’s t-shirt series is all about, bringing long forgotten footballers back into some form of limelight.

HB TEES NEAL

I love his nickname and that he’s that he’s from Wynyard (Tasmania-also the Cats) and his outrageous red hair. In his card from 1982 his fringe is ruler straight and his hair is a shiny copper helmet.” says Rees of this Geelong wingman. And the nickname Scratcher derives from his background as a potato farmer! A great addition to the enigma series.

SCANLENS TUCK

If ever there was an enigma, it was Michael Tuck. He has played the most games of league football in history, virtually an extra season’s worth than his nearest rival Kevin Bartlett. Consider also that he also played 50 games in the reserves before consolidating himself in the senior side! Remarkable longevity.

HB TEES TUCK

“I hate Hawthorn, so this one was always going to be a challenge. But Tucky never whacked anyone, never grandstanded, never staged for a free – just kept going and going and going. I didn’t think any of his footy cards really captured Tucky so I painstakingly drew this one from a bleary frame taken from YouTube.” His wiry frame is indeed captured here. As are his 7 premiership cups!

SCANLENS FLOWER

Robbie Flower is responsible for one of my very first footballing memories. It was in his Forest Hill sports shop, served by him, that I brought Dale Weightman’s iron-on number 3 to put on the back of my Richmond. Flower is the the first league footballer I can remember laying eyes upon.

HB TEES FLOWER

“Robbie Flower stood out clearly as the man to represent the Dees. No still picture seemed to convey the essence of Flower which to me was his run. So I went back to YouTube and drew a sequence of 12 little Robbies.”

I agree that the sense of balance and movement you get from theses ’12 little Robbies’ encapsulates the great man well. “It’s mysterious how it’s established wisdom that he was Melbourne’s only good player for about a 10 year period and came out of it with ONE best and fairest.” says Rees. A trivia question I would most certainly have gotten wrong.

Watch Flower in action!

SCANLENS DENCH

I particularly love the cery 1970’s moustache and hair which David Dench is sporting in this image. If you averaged every white Australian male from the 1970’s, then David Dench is what you’d end up with.

HB REES DENCH

“I was stuck on North Melbourne – Nolan? Cable? Kekovich? Dench? I approached the highest profile Roos supporter I could reach, Tim Rogers. He was unequivocal – it had to be Dench. I always loved his square head, his moustache and his manner when he was captain-for-a-day in the Roos 2nd flag in 77.”

Dench certainly played out of his skin in the drawn grand final. His move forward provided a catalyst in the final term, and he kicked 2 of his career’s 29 goals on this day. A week later, he held aloft the premierhsip cup.

SCANLENS MCGHIE

“The only players with tatts in my card collection are Kevin Murray and Bones. His name, his tatts, and his legendary toughness set him apart in my mind.”

“Then I saw the photos of him Rennie Ellis took on Grand Final Day 1974. A smoke while he does he up his boots pre-game, a tinnie on field after the win. I took inspiration from the pics, but changed his pose so not to incur Rennie’s wrath from beyond the grave.”

View Rennie Ellis’s glorious photograph of Bones McGhie HERE!

HB TEES MCGHIE

I’m not too sure what needs adding here, other than to say I get a thrill whenever I end up at the local supermarket at the same time Bones does! As a Tiger I’ll be sure to add this ripper to my wardrobe.

SCANLENS COWBOY

Cowboy Neale is often remembered as the bloke who king hit Peter Hudson in the 1971 grand final. The hit caued Hudson to miss a string of gettable goals which left him stranded on 150 sausage rolls for the season, just one shy of breaking the record. However Cowboy often misses out on the true adulation he deserves.

“I always thought of him as a lovable rogue, with a reputation for biff. I was surprised when I looked into it that he basically won the 1966 flag off his own boot, but old Barry Breen gets all the press.” says Rees of his choice for Kevin Neale.HB REES NEALE

“His card was chewed by the dog at some stage, and the few extra creases around the face thanks to Minnie gave him a very smiley look. This is the one proper press photos that I have used, and I am happy to settle up if the photographer wants to make himself known.”

SCANLENS BEDFORD

Finally we come to Peter Bedford, another name I’m glad that Rees has brought to light. I actually know the name very well, a Brownlow Medalist who grew up barracking and playing for Port Melbourne in the VFA before joining South down the road in the big league. But what I didn’t know was of his love for cricket and that he represented Victoria 39 times as a batsman/leg-spinner. Sounds like the exact thing the national team needs right now! And upon finding Peter Hanlon’s piece on Bedford from late last year, I learned that cricket was his first love!

HB TEES BEDFORD

“I have Bedford’s 1974 and 1976 footy cards. I have always been impressed that he struck the same lairy “selling the dummy” pose. (see below) I don’t recall seeing him play but as a Brownlow medallist and Shield cricketer he commanded respect anyway.”

hb-tees-bedford-callery

So where can I get myself one of these t-shirts?

Wonderful question, I’m so glad you asked. You can view and purchase the wide range of styles, sizes and colours that these prints come in, from small to triple XL, from mens and women’s t-shirts to hoodies and long sleeve tops… all at the link below

1970’s Footy Enigma T-Shirts

Bernie T

An example of how the Quinlan t-shirt comes up on this very pasty Fitzroy supporter.

You can also follow Chris on twitter @4Boat if you would like to make contact or have any questions about a purchase.

I think these shirts and designs are just the sought of thing that needs to be injected into the often sterile AFL marketplace, and I look forward to seeing them proudly worn at the footy. As Molly Meldrum would say, (whilst wearing the Cowboy Neale hoody) do yourselves a favour!

Happy Snap #20 The impossible mark on the dunny wall


Danny Hargrave!
Do you remember when you were a kid and your imagination wasn’t limited by the laws of physics, gravity and the like? The above drawing by my little brother Pete embraces this freedom in creativity as  he imagined his Footscray hero, Danny Hargraves, floating above the pack and plucking a grab in the square. I have to say it also bares a remarkable likeness to the famous mark by taken by Footscray’s Merv Hobbs in the 1961 preliminary final.

Merve Hobbs

What was a bit special about this drawing however was that it was ‘immortalised’ upon the  dunny wall at Blackburn primary school, the same dunny where I had my 1991 BPS premiership photo taken. Amid flutes, skipping, flowers and trees, all lovely, sits this footy gem, or at least sat. The toilet block was demolished some years ago.
Pete pic 22

The giggling artist, 1997, as a 10 year old Doggy fan in Melbourne’s leafy east.

pete pic 2

A broader shot of the dunny wall, which was basically included to show how mangy the rubbish bins were!

And I show you this picture as a source of inspiration. I am currently collecting peoples footy drawings that they did as kids, or drawings their own children have done, for an upcoming post. I have already received some cracking entries, and would love to see your drawings too, with any back story you may have.

Please contact me on twitter @TheHolyBoot or by email-john@cherrystone.com.au.

Backyard Gladiators

Yes, like a lot of you, my backyard was my footy ground as a kid. Poorly placed lemon trees, clothes lines and vegie gardens became obstacles to overcome, much like an opponent, although luckily we grew up on a rather big property in leafy Blackburn.

                  

Here I am in front of the newly erected pavillion (1986)…surely one of the last wooden structures before the modern obsession with concrete and steel. The Tiger jumper you see there now fits my own daughter, although she’d like to morph my Dale Weightman’s ‘3’ into an ‘8, like Jackie.’

I loved playing footy in the backyard as a kid. I would act out each upcoming match, concocting the most bizarre of circumstances! Richmond, 23 goals in the first quarter against Essendon! Or trailing Carlton by a hundred points, the Tiges would come back and snatch it with a miracle goal after the siren! I did commentate a little to myself, but I was more into mimicking the crowd noise as the Tiges came storming back! The glory was never reflected come the weekend, but I’d be back the next week, dreaming up glorious scenarios for my Richmond.

It was often said to me as a kid that the muddier you got, the better you had played. I must have been a bit of a star then! Yep, that’s my sister Mezz and I. Mum did the unthinkable and tried to convert her to Essendon, but she had the sense to follow the family team, and the sash was soon a yellow one. I enjoyed playing footy with my lil’ sister, and I had her kicking really well, but her heart just wasn’t into playing. I had a dream to play for Richmond. That was sadly not a reality for her so why bother? What I needed was a mind for moulding. Thankfully, my footy mad baby brother came along.

Inexplicably, though he’s wearing yellow and black here, he grew up a Footscray supporter. He does have a soft spot for the Tiges however, as I do for the ‘Scray, but going to Footscray v Richmond matches is a big no-no!

Far too old to get away with it, but that didn’t stop us!

There was a six year gap between us, but I wasn’t your typical ‘beat-up on you little brother’ type. I preferred an even competition, so would introduce handicaps for myself. I’d have to start on my knees, only kick on my left and the like, all the time searching for some semblance of realism. The backyard was my own league ground, and I tried to play it to scale. This meant kicking shorter, running slower…all in the search for reality. A visitor would come over, boot it over the fence, and essentially ruin our game.

But my brother grew up. Pete now stands half a head above me. In my latter years at home, we were able to compete without handicaps…it was man verses man….ok…. boy verses nearly man. We had two main games. For one of them we’d stand 20 meters apart, one of us would kick the ball high into the middle and we essentially played a version of chicken. After a sore head or two however, we resorted to the game you can see in the surrounding pictures.

Shoulder to shoulder, one of us would kick the ball high into the air, avoiding the pine tree. If you had scored, the other person kicked it ‘up.’ If you marked the ball, you had a set shot. If it came to ground however, it was on for young and old. He was young, I was old. Numerous winter hours were spent here, playing until dark. We’d bump, swear, tackle and rub it in the face of the other. All still within the framework of playing ‘to scale’ in our backyard though. We knew we’d never ‘make it.’ This was it for us!

Three things about this photo. Firstly, I cannot work out if I am wearing long shorts or short longs, but they do lend a certain early 1900’s knickerbocker feel to the photo. Secondly, it’s clearly a staged photo as can be seen by the limp ‘effort’ i am putting in. Our game was not so much about high flying either, rather marking ‘tussles.’ And thridly, it reminds me of finals time. Spring leaping through the trees and the smell of cut grass. I can smell this photograph.

There’s something about us older brothers. Though Pete is well taller than me, I can still outmark him through sheer competitiveness. I imagine league players, with older brothers who never made the highest level, still unable to defeat their older siblings in backyard footy. It’s a different beast. Visualise Jason and Cameron Cloke dominating and making Travis, clearly the pick of the trio, cry in the backyard. David would be umpiring of course. He never misses a match.

So whilst footy can sometimes be the only thing that ties siblings or parents together, that wasn’t the case with us. We had plenty in common and still do. But the footy is never far from being brought up. On both of our wedding days we even pulled out the footy, ironically in the backyard, to help settle the nerves. It’s something our respective partners are still coming to terms with!

Playing footy in mum and dads backyard is not as easy as it used to be.There’s a new vegie garden on the half forward flank, and though the clothesline has been removed (about time!) the goal posts have since disappeared. There’s more breakable stuff around too…while the golden elm encroaches onto the playing field like never before. But we can still navigate our way past the cubby house, blind turn the bird bath and nail the goal from the clothesline pocket, all with our eyes shut!

A Town painted Red, White & Blue

Living in Footscray, it’s hard to ignore the fact that as a Richmond supporter, I am in ‘enemy territory.’ (I’m actually quite partial to Footscray!) Unlike a lot of clubs, there is still a strong link between the suburb and the footy club. When I came across the below fire hydrants, I decided to do a little tour of the village in search of red, white and blue.

What impresses me is that the fire hydrants of Footscray encompass both home and clash strips!

Many houses are adorned with Footscray Footy Club paraphernalia, and when the Dogs are in the finals as they were recently the volume increases dramatically. Above are some of my favourites. From the subtle to the clever. The lower picture was found on Lara Cameron’s lovely blog http://kirinote.blogspot.com.au/2009/09/knitted.html

This is Doug Hawkins first of two appearances in this post, fitting given the connection he appeared to share with fans. He was one of them in a way. This is one small part on a wall outside Footscray City College, a large mosaic depiction of Footscray. Above Doug is some fantastic old advertising on the Rising Sun Hotel (now apartments…nearly), over the road from the Western Oval, while other street art around Footscray shows a great love for the dog. There’s even a Dancing Dog cafe!

We’ll skip momentarily out of Footscray, yet stay firmly in the west. The Braybrook Hotel proudly houses these fantastic statues of two Braybrook boys in EJ Whitten and Hawkins, arguably Footscray Football Clubs biggest personalities and two of the very best. Surely there’s no need for security with these two out the front night after night?Below is another wall mural, this one running along the Barkley Street side of St.Monica’s Primary School. The scoreboard reads Footscray 18.24.132 to Collingwood 11.10.76. If only that were the case more often than not! We also see that Footscray Primary’s uniform is red, white and blue, and back to the mosaic wall for another take on the Western Oval, along with a Bulldogs inspired playground.
‘Cafe Bulldog’ in the Footscray Mall unashamedly sports the clubs logo and colours, as does the trendier Gusto cafe in West Footscray, albeit with a somewhat artfully put together Bulldog to watch over patrons. (bottom right pic from the wonderful Footscray Food Blog-read here about the Whitten Oval’s Pound cafe!)

And lastly this bit of graffiti, pointed out to me by Vin Maskell of the fantastic scoreboard pressure blog, sums it all up for me. For no matter where you are, there’ll always be a Collingwood supporter showing a bit of cheek.

Scoreboard Pressure – Western Oval

Be sure to check out Vin Maskell’s piece on the Western/Whitten Oval for his sight Scoreboard Pressure, an in depth look at scoreboards from a scoreboard enthusiast! A big thanks to Vin for using some of my photos, much appreciated and glad they could be of use!

http://scoreboardpressure.com/2012/06/04/whitten-oval-footscray-victoria/

 

Home & Away #3 Western Oval

Western Oval: League venue: 1925-1997. League (VFL/AFL) matches: 665 . Record Attendance: 42,354-Footscray v Coll’wood, r.121955.

 Having already looked back at the old league venues in Fitzroy and Hawthorn, we now head across the Maribyrnong river to Footscray’s Western Oval, now the Whitten Oval.

Photo courtesy of Maribyrnong Leader

Growing up in Melbourne’s leafy east, to me Footscray seemed an eternity away, both in distance and way of life. Fast forward to 2012 and I now live just a few drop kicks and a decent torpy away from the old Western Oval, many myths about Footscray having been debunked along the way.

 I took this series of photos when the ground still stood essentially as it was since top-level football departed it in 1997. Little did I know that the following week saw the scoreboard come down and work begin on the new developments at the kennel. While understanding the need to move forward, I’m sure glad I captured some of the old nooks and crannies that I did before it all came down.

I have watched with great intrigue over the past few years the developments at the oval, and have been pleased with how they have come about. While not as in depth as Victoria Park’s recent refurbishments, the Dogs have maintained much of the grounds feel, including a large section of old-school terracing which still exists behind the Geelong Road end goals. There is however a trendy cafe these days residing between the two old grandstands, a far cry from the old Western Oval where the Scraggers plied their trade.

The two old stands, and on the right the new cafe and administration joins the two.

I love the local touch that the Western Bulldogs still possess; if you live in Footscray then the chances are that they are your team. The suburb still has plenty of red white and blue on display in shops and on vehicles and is a club still connected to their community. Central to that has been the redevelopment of the Whitten or Western Oval, now a community space as well as an elite training facility

When it came to the redevelopments, there were elements of the ground deemed necessary for demolition. First to go was the old scoreboard. I took these photos just days before its demise, with the remnants of ‘congratulations’ for Chris Grants 300th match still on the board.

I also love the old wooden seating in the foreground which stood until recently, a world away from todays plastic bucket seats. They look more like pews, where supporters could kneel and pray. Whilst snooping around, I ventured into the scoreboard, quite tentatively as I’d heard that it was a home to squatters. This photo shows the old South Melbourne board, which must have sat there gathering dust since 1981. How I wish that I had grabbed the sign!

I

What fascinated me most about the Western Oval however was the Gordon St side of the ground. The Doug Hawkins wing. I just loved the integration of footpath, EJ Smith grandstand and Geelong Road bridge, with many a dark corner to explore. I was sad to see this go as it was just full of character, a stark contrast to todays near uniform stadia.



The Western Oval is now an elite training facility for elite athletes and will obviously not be hosting any more league matches. But the ground still has that old feel about it. There’s plenty of terracing left, the old stands are intact and the ground is well cared for, unlike others which have been left to decay. The Dogs still get a decent sized crowds to their intra-club matches too.

The one glaring admission is no signage to acknowledge the Dougy Hawkins Wing. I hope this is rectified at some stage.

(Ed. – This was recently rectified…great work by the club! Click here to see the rectified Dougy Hawkins wing! )

Please share any old stories you have from a day spent on the terraces at the Western Oval. Were you there when Carlton kicked just one goal? Or at the climactic end to the 1987 home and away series?  Perhaps you heard first hand EJ’s final address to his players as captain coach. I’d love to hear your stories. Thank

And be sure to check out Vin Maskell’s piece on the old Western Oval scoreboard on his Scoreboard Pressure site!

http://scoreboardpressure.com/2012/06/04/whitten-oval-footscray-victoria/

The Triumph of Respect

I’m not in the habit of republishing old material, yet I felt this an apt tribute to the passing of my old footy coach, Dan. This was first published on nickmaxwell.com in May, 2011.

“In the midst of the depression, blokes had to let off steam, and what better way to do that than a football match?”These words, penned by the great Jack Dyer, were in reference to what was known in the 1920’s as mid-week, or depression football. Played on a Wednesday afternoon in the sprawling parklands of Melbourne, teams  represented such establishments as Yellow Cabs, Railways, Painters and Dockers, Police Force and the Wharfies to name but a few.

Teams were made up from a collection of tradies, thugs, league players in search of a quid, the unemployed, criminals and enforcers of the law. Suffice to say it was not a league for the faint hearted. Dyer continues. “Mid-week football was a great escape and emotional release for the period, because everyone was poor. Many had lost all hope of ever getting on their feet again.”

While the teams have changed and the on-field violence well and truly curbed, it is with the same spirit that the Reclink Football League graces the playing fields of a Wednesday afternoon in Melbourne town these days, providing hope, social connection and a physical outlet for some of life’s frustrations.

Starting life as ‘kick-to-kick’ in a St.Kilda park in 1990, Reclink has developed into an Australia-wide operation. There are now more than sixteen sporting and recreational leagues, and a thriving 13-team football league operating in Melbourne, the cornerstone in Reclink’s operation.

According to founder Peter Cullen, Reclink exists to provide sport and recreation programs for people in the following circumstances; homelessness, drug and alcohol related problems, mental illness, physical disabilities and social isolation. It is designed to “improve participants’ social and recreational opportunities” as well as “short circuit the vicious cycle of boredom to frustration, to anger then drug use then crime.” Or in short… “to provide hope through opportunity.”

I’ve luckily been in a position to volunteer my time and limited ‘football nous’ with my local Reclink team, the Western Storm these past two years, with a third season about to begin! We play our games in Footscray at the Merve Hughes Oval, with a one-off Whitten Oval match thrown in yearly.

As I am not involved in an official capacity, I have had the privilege of getting to know my team-mates just as mates. I don’t know the intricacies of their backgrounds and difficulties, though some are happy to share. In return, from day one I have felt completely accepted and looked after by the guys.

Though the majority of ‘Stormers’ have been based in Footscray most of their lives, the nature of their situations, coupled with the changing nature of Footscray means that only a handful still actually live in the area, having gradually been moved further away to outer western suburbs, to Geelong and Bacchus Marsh. Yet Footscray is still a central hub or “capital” for the Western suburbs. Western Region Health, who run the Western Storm, are located in the heart of the suburb, meaning the Storm players are still very connected to Footscray.

Now about the club. There are three Jasons, two Jamies and one Jay running around, so if you call out “Jay”, the chances are that you’ve got the blokes name right. The other bail-out option is to simply call “Stormer!”

One of our players played his first competitive match of football for ‘decades’ last year. In fact, it was the first exercise he’d done in that time too. Though his stats were humble, it was a remarkable effort for him just to be out there.

‘Rabbit’ is our quickest player, possibly the quickest in the league. He often leaves opponents and team-mates alike bamboozled by his dazzling runs, sometimes the right way, sometimes not. Sometimes he’s just going in circles, but no one can catch him!

Image courtesy of http://www.reclink.org/

One of our “Jay” boys is the spiritual leader of the club. I don’t know the ins and outs of his situation, but it’s fair to say he’s done it hard over the years. However, he is a natural leader. Though not overly skilled, he battles away as Reclinks shortest ruckman. He looks after new boys, gives the team energy and encouragement as the oppositions’ twenty-fifth goal sails through the big sticks, and is always looking for ways to improve things around the club.

One of the Jasons travels from Geelong weekly to train and play. An avid WWF fan, he has no shortage of moves to show off. He once displayed his extreme displeasure at losing by standing atop the boundary fence and angrily back flipping off it! It was an amazing and creative way to express disappointment. Another Jason is nicknamed ‘water-boy’, as each year he bobs up with Russell Gilbert on the bench at the EJ Whitten Legends match running the water. He travels weekly from Bachus Marsh.

Then there’s Roy. Roy is our trainer, looking after everyone like a father. Though getting on in years, he literally walks everywhere, volunteering his time and energy to the team. Roy’s been around footy clubs all his life, including a number of years behind the scenes at his beloved North Melbourne. However, his commitment to the Western Storm boys is his priority. You can find Roy in any of several cafes down Barkley St in Footscray, proudly wearing his Western Storm jacket and cap. He seems to know everyone, and everyone knows him.

As for the club, it has undergone a big transformation in the past few years. My brother in law has been playing with the Storm a few more years than I, so I had an understanding of the club before joining. Having attended several matches, the first thing I noticed was the anger. The coach was angry, the players fought with each other and the opposition, and it wasn’t rare to see players storm from the field mid-match.

Now the coach loved the players and really cared for their well-being, but from my position on the outside, it appeared he had been there too long. The relationship seem strained.

I joined the club at the same time as a new coach. A mass of players had followed the previous coach to his next appointment at the Collingwood Knights, another Reclink club, leaving the club thin for players. Somehow we managed to put out at a full team every match bar one.

The new coach (Dan) realised that things needed to change. The focus shifted from results, to behaviour. Anyone that was going to fight would be straight out of the game.

“If the opposition taunts you, ignore them!” he’d say.

“Help each other, give each other options!! ” He loved the latter so much that he came around the dressing rooms each match and textered a big ‘O’ for options on everybody’s hands.

He preached values that were not only beneficial on the football field, but life itself… discipline, self-control and working hard for each other.  Most importantly, he spoke of respect. Respect for each other, opposition players, umpires, and most importantly ourselves! The scoreboard? Don’t look at it!

Results didn’t go our way and we were on the end of some frightful drubbings, but the year was certainly deemed a success. Why?

The culture changed. After playing Sacred Heart and losing by 30 goals to 2, one of the Hearts stalwarts came to our rooms. He started to excitedly rant about how proud he was that we’d cleaned up our act. He praised us for giving up the fists, and said we’re all on the right track now. He was right, and you could see how proud our boys were of themselves. Respect for our opponents, team-mates and ourselves.

We may have sacrificed results, but it was worth it. We never walked off losers due to a lack of effort, and the feeling amongst the guys was very positive throughout the year. Last  season saw us continue in the same fashion, although our performances improved a little, culminating in a win against Odyssey House and a few narrow losses.

That brings us to this year, and another new coach, who has his own ideas and knowledge to share, and the guys are responding well which is great. But my hope is that we continue to build on the positive culture which has been cultivated over the past two seasons.

Finally, one of the great aspects of Reclink is some of the grounds we play on, such as Victoria Park, Western Oval, Punt Road, the Junction Oval and Windy Hill. You can see the thrill in everyone’s eyes as we grace these fields, self included, to emulate the feats of our heroes from years gone past.

And it’s Vic Park we grace this Wednesday to tackle the Collingwood Knights in our first match for the year. They thumped us there last year and there’s every chance it’ll play that way again. But we’re not about results on the scoreboard, as much as we would love to win. It’s our approach, attitude and effort that count. It’s about respect. It’s about enjoying a game of footy with your mates, and having a snag with the opposition afterwards.

-Go Storm.

Dan and the Western Storm holding up the 2009 Reclink Division E premiership cup