Ride lonesome

by Tom Briglia

Fremantle 1.2, 6.4, 9.7, 12.7 (79)
St Kilda 7.2, 8.5, 8.5, 11.7 (73)
Crowd: Very Few at Metricon Stadium, Saturday, July 12th at 12.35pm

St Kilda is the kind of club that would be troubled by Fremantle. The Dockers are truly the tacky 1990s aesthetic joke answer to The Traditionalist Losers, and naturally we’re the only team a club like that can mess around with. Matt had messaged me in the morning saying “This will be like the Gold Coast games last year”. Ratts had warned us several weeks ago (immediately after a win, no less) about inconsistency. After a blistering first half in prime time the week before, cautious mentions of St Kilda being “capable” of “doing it” this year were whispered. Coming into this week, the top four featured the same teams as 2004 (swap the Cats and the Saints and you’d get the same order). By the end of Saturday, that had turned into a Round 1 redux, allowing for “Comeback of the year”, according to AFL.com.au. “It was the greatest comeback of the year and then the great escape all rolled into one”. We’re a whole lot closer to being “that team” now. Two 36-point leads blown against what are broadly considered weaker opponents. Who else but St Kilda, Where Else But Queensland?

This week’s Fate Tempting By Media came in the form of “Destination St Kilda…via Noosa” on the front cover of the AFL Record and a double-page spread about the club finally being able to attract talent from elsewhere (how does Brad Hill and Dan Hannebery chewing up $1.6 million a year feel right now?), and a longform look on the ABC about what has changed on the field.

And now, the bottom two teams ahead of us. A 5-2 record beckoned. No Marvel, but we were fed pictures of a group post-match last week that look focused and maturing fast before heading interstate. Well, never mind the analytics. Club culture can follow you beyond state borders to a hub in Noosa during a once-in-a-century health, social and economic crisis.

***

Of course, Freo gets to make its history with and over St Kilda. Fox Footy hadn’t even waited for the game to finish – and for Freo to actually win – before they wheeled out the footage of Longmuir’s mark and goal after the siren against us late in 2005. What the fuck would it have looked like if they’d drawn or lost from that point? Welcome to the latest chapter of the Bizarro Rivalry (a few years ago I wrote about the parallels and curios the “rivalry” has been built on). This decade’s opening offering: Fremantle vs St Kilda on the Gold Coast, at the traditional time of 10.35am for the home team’s fans. In short St Kilda, blows a 7.2 to 1.2 lead at quarter time, not kick a goal from the 16-minute mark of the second quarter until trailing by 19 points and with six minutes left, kicking 3.1 to draw level, and then uhhhm losing. Add it to the list.

Saturday afternoon (EST) started with perhaps the best quarter of footy a St Kilda team has played in a decade. Walters kicked the wrong way from the first bounce and a sloppy 50-metre penalty gave Membrey the first goal in the opening moments. Two goals from score reviews gave you the feeling this would be the kind of day that goes your way. King was making big contests. Butler and Billings were consistently at the fall. Within a couple of hours bitterly turned into a waste of time. What to make of Hill running the length of the play for a slick centring ball to Membrey? Kent working off his opponent, bouncing off the goal post padding and kicking the goal whilst glaring at said opponent on the ground? Butler blasting through the forward line with repeat efforts for a casual snap that he didn’t even bother celebrating? Nothing. Blake Acres wins.

Lonie found a free kick in the final second of the first quarter and kicked straight, no matter the siren sounding as he wound up. We got use to St Kilda’s notoriously slow starts interstate under Richo, not to mention being able to back up decent wins or create extended periods of good form. This is where the inconsistency was supposed to bite. But were up, seven goals to one. Fucking hell!

***

Like the North Melbourne game, there was no wild shift in momentum. Slowly, slowly, slowly, forays forward became rarer. Kicks out of defence more rushed. They just weren’t being cleared as far. Moments and passages of genuine quality shown in the first quarter and seen multiple times since the resumption simply…didn’t happen. Slowly, Freo’s moments came. Big marks by Lobb and Fyfe bookended the run prior to half-time. They made it louder.

There were chances in the second quarter to snuff out a Freo comeback before it really started.. Gresham had a set shot in the opening moments of the term that was royally sliced, and would have given a scoreline of 8.2 to 1.2. Gresham out of the middle to Max King for a goal after Lobb’s turned the game back. Long barrelled through the middle and set up what should have been another goal to King, but he missed a snap around the corner he should have kicked. Hill turned over the footy a few moments later and hit King on the lead. He missed. He’d kicked 1.3 and that was the last score until the final quarter. By then, comments from Former St Kilda Supporter Gerard Healy and Johnno about Max King kicking six had dried up.

What are we going to do about it? North Melbourne had set the template, but even then the challenge had been laid down by half-time. They were two men down. That Round 1 problem could and should have been consigned to the pre-pandemic era, showing that the changes at St Kilda in 2020 also include learning lessons. We thought that had happened after half-time against the Bulldogs. But their no-names were moving the ball and their kids were running down Seb Ross and knocking over Rowan Marshall. Richo-era problems were back. Another performance missing interstate. King kicked 1.3; Membrey kicked three but his one behind came from his most important shot of the match. Butler and Hill were anonymous after quarter time. Downhill skiers, flat-track bullies. It looked a whole lot sillier when Wilkie lost the ball in the sun and Banfield took the mark and goaled. Desperate moves were made when there was a failure in leadership. Clark in the middle, Geary in attack, and the ultimate Richo-era white flag: Carlisle thrown forward in the last quarter. More than anything else, the failed comeback was an insult to St Kilda fans.

***

Ben Long’s hit on Sean Darcy will be used in headlines and Fremantle folklore as a turning point. Darcy was one of Freo’s best at that point and they were suddenly two down on the bench. Like we did with J. Longmuir, the St Kilda Football Club were there to help create Dockers heroes. A hamstrung Nat Fyfe kicked two important goals resting forward after the first break, when perhaps he shouldn’t have even played (and in the middle of a pandemic!). St Kilda was coming off a nine day break, and Fremantle six. (I’d vaguely complained about Collingwood getting choice time slots all year and that the only time they didn’t, they ended up playing us on a nine-day break against our six-day break. That obviously didn’t matter.) “Lachie Schultz from the Longmuir spot!”, with St Kilda opponents in an excellent clash jumper helplessly standing around him is a football memory and experience we all have now. Walters made the opening gaffe and gave away the 50 metre penalty in the final minutes that allowed the Saints to draw level, but he won the next two centre bounce clearances and helped set up the match-winning goal – that came from our captain panicking and bombing it long on the rebound with scores level and plenty of time left, and despite being in space with teammates around him.

Am I still afforded the same level of frustration and anger towards players and the club in a season like this, as I am fleeting dreams of the best-case scenario (Victorians not having to quarantine before an inevitable interstate game on Grand Final Day)? Call it one less worry. The siren sounds, and it’s back to being some guy on the couch on a wet and grey Saturday afternoon during a pandemic.

Temporary

by Tom Briglia

Round 5, 2020
Carlton 1.1, 2.4, 5.6, 8.7 (55)
St Kilda 4.3, 7.4, 9.5, 11.7 (73)
Crowd: 0 at Docklands, Thursday, July 2nd at 7.40pm

No sooner had Gary said on SEN on Monday morning, “Carlton-St Kilda at 1.45 at the MCG on Saturday has match of the round written all over it” did it become “Carlton-St Kilda at 7.40 at Marvel Stadium on Thursday night”.

Direct from the Brunswick West frontline, the absence of travelling to the ground and sharing the pre-match experience has been exacerbated, never mind the rare Thursday night timeslot. I spent the evening Stress Eating For St Kilda. Cleaning my room. Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle was on but only being half watched. I balanced with the novelty of watching the pre-match on Fox Footy and then, of course, Channel 7. Until this point we’d been Bruceless and BTless (and Hamishless and Darce-less).

During the Thursday, thoughts of footy and wanting to see the Saints still made it through the checkpoints. Not so much that a good game or a win was guaranteed, but how the team and individuals would back up another week of positivity, after only allegedly making it to the MCG a couple of weeks ago. Part of the pressure of being an actually good team is the unfamiliar positivity in the media. That’s just really tempting fate for the Saints. AFL.com.au asked if Dan Butler is “recruit of the year?”, Herald Sun style, and the Herald Sun itself went all-out out with a “Saints’ accuracy a gold mine in goalless world”.

***

An early trend that’s been vaguely agreed upon this year is there is a premium on fast starts. This game was won in the first one and three-quarter…quarters in a fast-moving style of play from a young side with some decent recruits that echoed 2004. Even from the Brunswick West couch, resplendent in my giant pink fluffy dressing gown and slightly-too-small Kmart tracksuit pants, this was slowly turning into an Almost Fun Carnival of Footy and Recession and Death and Health Concerns and Destroyed Livelihoods.

When was the last time St Kilda did something good tactically that came off? Beyond a straight-up Clint Jones tag (maybe Jack Steele too a few times more recently), or casually throwing Goddard/Fisher/Gwilt up forward at moments during Roo’s 2010 hamstring recovery? Geary kicking two goals from very strong marks was fun, kicking a third might have kept him forward for some time. Almost impossible to keep Cripps entirely out of a game, so the next best thing is to force their hand and Steele made sure of it.

Never mind the Thursday night timeslot. As someone who is fortunate enough to be able to buy a membership every year and go to every Melbourne game, taking in the game through lens(es, literally) of Channel 7. We’ve been neatly tucked away on dud Fox Footy timeslots, and it was strange to hear that the outside world knew any of our players, or what they do, or vaguely praising them. Even if it was just BT getting excited about Dan Butler and articulating it poorly.

Perhaps the 7 team was surprised. That early part of the game showed off a lot that they wouldn’t have seen live or had to call in real time. Max King kicked the first of the night from a high mark, Callum Wilkie had eight touches in the first eight minutes, Geary kicked two as a leading target lol, Ben Long took an excellent mark going back with the flight.

Steele attention for keeping Cripps quiet. Gresham hadn’t had a touch at the first break but opened the second quarter with a clearance, a give back from King and a running goal with a borderline arrogant celebration. Butler gave off a deft and selfless Richmond chip on top of Max. Butler’s running goal was the peak of the night – both in margin, intent, execution and quality – and was mostly met with silence from the couch. It was disarmingly slick. We’d forgotten what genuinely good teams do.

***

Slowly the momentum turned. BT, Bruce and the Channel 7 hierarchy were really hoping for a closer game, coaxing supporters even at half-time with their talk about the Blues comeback against the Demons a few weeks ago. The flowing game of St Kilda disappeared. North Melbourne #2 loomed.

Geary took another mark on the lead but poked at it. Bruce’s reaction and the camera angle would have had you thinking you could think we were home, relax, and think about the news reports highlighting that Geary had kicked three. Hannebery was done, Wilkie may or may not have been done (as per slightly-too-excited commentary), Paton’s nose was a tap. Steele’s tackles on Cripps weren’t sticking, and Cripps was making an impact wherever he was. Geary got shown up and the Blues had all the momentum. Cripps making an impact whenever he was.


There were some quality moments dotted a different points of the quarter that were ultimately enough to see us through. Max King deserves a bit more attention for his score involvements. The intercept of Jones’s cross-goal kick and the curling no-fuss snap to Butler on the goal line was obscenely athletic and clinical for someone his size. Ben Long took the mark of the year contender we thought we would take. If Butler’s goal was the peak of what Saints Footy looks like in 2020 Pandemic Resumption Phase #2, then Billings’ set shot on the Zac Dawson 2009 angle might be a checkpoint – Marsh’s lead-up mark and Battle joining the dots in between (with a contested cameo from Geary) allowed a team up against the momentum to pierce through on quality alone. Bruce noted it was perhaps the most important goal of the night.

Some dumb luck in the final seconds of the third quarter could have effectively sealed it. Ross took the ball out of bounds on the wing, then threw it, and Battle received a non-free not too far out from goal. Out on the full. The club needs to have more unforgiving hardarsery to take those.

***

The response early in the second half of the Bulldogs game was great because the team had gone out of its way to address the half-time lead and make sure there wasn’t a repeat of the Round 1 fade out. What made this different was that a challenge materialised, and the team maintained function enough to hit back.

After an objectively funny Geary shot on the run early in the last, Membrey and Kent both produced quality forwards moments. Membrey’s kick reaching just far enough to get over the line was a small wink (although we are pattern-seeking mammals), and Kent’s fantastic finish made things a little more comfortable. Long put his body on the line later on, in another moment of evolution for the team. Maybe we can start to rely on these guys to do the right thing more often, no matter the circumstance.

***

Time for Aesthetics Corner. Firstly, Carlton vs St Kilda is the kind of Grand Final jumper match-up I have in my head. The contrast in colours and match up of two founding clubs with traditional jumper designs is excellent. There’ll be more time for this in the next St Kilda Jumper State of the Union, but it’s disappointing the design aspects yield to the Deliveroo logo on the back, rather than the Deliveroo overlaying the stripes on the back (which are very welcome).

Immediately post-siren, I have a feeling that Channel 7 took the audio of the club song playing from its sound library from a game last year (off the top of my head the Hawthorn match they broadcast in Round 4), because it didn’t sound like it was being played at the ground (happy to be corrected). It would be nice if the club actually took steps to make sure The Fable Singers version of the song is used – I’m sure if Collingwood (one of the first and most vocal clubs to reject the bemusing new versions of 2018) wanted their Fable Singers version being played on the broadcast, they’d get it. This is the only way fans are going to be able to hear it this season. The Carlton Draught Home Game used the bad cover version of the song during the week. The club was silly enough to allow it for 2018 and 2019 and now it might float around in perpetuity

***

Another week soaked in the artificial lighting of the Concrete Disney Store, were any game could have been played at any time of day or night, in any season. We’d never know. Part of footy’s place in our lives is that it marks the time and frames the year. The t-shirts and bright colours in the crowd of the warm pre-season, the wetter, darker days of the winter, the renewed sunlight of September. This might have been the last for the year. Perhaps the last in Victoria. Maybe not. Bruce said this looked like a club reinventing itself on and off the field. Hamish and Jobe both said we could win it. Never mind worrying about if we’re a premiership fancy – we didn’t even know where we’d be playing next week.

From the window

by Tom Briglia

St Kilda 5.2, 8.2, 12.2, 15.3 (93)
Richmond 4.1, 6.3, 9.5. 10.7 (67)
Crowd: 0 at Docklands, Saturday, June 26th at 4.35pm

Panic buying is back. Not sure if I’m going to be able to get out of Brunswick West at all soon, let alone see the Saints play. You might as well afford yourself the luxury or decadence of saying “this is our year” after Round 4. Teams have drifted in and out of matches, in quarters and halves, and the form guide reads just as patchily now as it did in the Monday wash-up a fortnight ago.

As well as an unknown ongoing sickness and death toll, economic collapse and political vacuums, the pandemic is throwing up some weird footy trends, scores and aesthetics, in some ways echoing (on paper at least) the non-professional early 20th century years. Perhaps it’s the slimmed down footy departments and an enforced break for the players. A fourth-game player looks worthy of the Brownlow; Lachie Neale kicked 0.6 and Hugh McCluggage 1.5 on the same day for the same team; while on the day before St Kilda basked in the novelty of accuracy, kicking 15.3, and Gold Coast and Fremantle bettered that within hours with the most accurate first half in the league’s history.

My pre-match notes included the following tripe: “Who better than to play you into form than St Kilda? Of course it was wonderful that a club like Hawthorn were able to get the opportunity to play the Tigers when they were down. Really, this is an exercise in joining the dots between the poor fortunes of a shithouse club and the club just kinda of being not that good anyway.” And this: “We discussed North Carolina TV – our turn for the US MAJOR LEAGUE SPORTS Winners Of Choice. Literally a drive by. idgaf, I’m posting it again.”

The state of the game has been called into question again, but somehow we’ve ended Round 4 of a fragmenting season as the glamour boys. “St Kilda’s sparkling style enlivens low-scoring AFL season” says the ABC. Individual players were back in the spotlight. Dan Butler dominated the post-match coverage and was on SEN in the morning, and by evening he was touted by Herald Sun as the “recruit of the year!” (keeping in mind The Age called us the “story of the year” after Round 5 last year). After the interview, Gary said “Carlton and st Kilda 1.45 at the MCG has game of the round written all over it”.

This wasn’t quite the post-match satisfaction of the Round 5 win last year after Melbourne (keeping in mind the context of where the club/clubs/Earth were at then). Reliability has been evasive since 2010, barring late season patches in 2011 and 2016. We’ve learned that between weeks. Brett Ratten’s warning of consistency (or inconsistency) held true again – Round 1 was played in two extremes, and we’ve lurched between those from week to week since the resumption. I barely noticed Jack Billings having the equal-most disposals on the ground, nor Tim Membrey kicking three goals. Rowan Marshall looked more like the player we – say the word – expected him to be this year. Outside of a new recruit kicking some pretty handy goals, the evenness and will of the team won the day.

No more than a few hours into a week of basking in positivity were we told to saddle up for Thursday night. South Australia extended its border restrictions with Victoria this morning. Gil’s 153 game journey is becoming the reality, but good PR or just accidental PR, yesterday he seemed to vaguely revel in it. The shackles are off, the weight has been lifted, choose your idiom. The pressure of waiting for this kind of circumstance to happen has gone. Now we’re living the shitshow, one in which we might still actually play good footy. I had the thought post-match that this win perhaps makes up for the North game, but no, these are the games, this is the season. No one can really claim a genuine form for anyone yet, but neither footy nor the world necessitates a formline.

***

The team that ran out on Saturday should have been wearing a third jumper in as many weeks. This time, for Maddie’s Match, a purple hot cross bun (with ISC’s odd intrusive positioning of the cross, off line with the club, AFL and sponsor logos). The pandemic meant that after the retail run earlier this year, the player issue run was sitting overseas, unable to be shipped. We took the field in purple socks instead, and for the first time St Kilda wore the red, white and black home jumper against Richmond’s yellow clash, now in its sixth year. Bubbling away was the troubles at ISC. Those had been discussed on my favourite board on BigFooty for some time and confirmed by Saturday. We’re going to be looking for a third jumper manufacturer in as many years.

A scratch match at Punt Road was a chance missed for the second week to show off the crusader (this week: red) as a clash jumper, with white shorts against Richmond’s mostly-black pre-season/training uniform. The 121-31 loss Scratch match sure, but these are the best chances guys will get to get a game. I guess we could not pay too much attention to it for a few days.

***

Events and individuals and circumstances scatter and then rollick back – yes, stars align – at uneven and stirring and wonderful and jarring times. In the week of the match named for her, and in which footy may have settled into some sort of rhythm for the first time this year – marking the first time any round had a before and after on the weekends either side – Maddie Riewoldt’s Liverpool won their first English top flight title in 30 years. Maddie’s Match is about the people closest to you. And the people around you. And perhaps people you don’t know. But ultimately showing care for them. We’re used to going to Maddie’s Match wearing the purple, red, white, and black scarves, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” being performed, and the Saints running out in purple, and the purple hues around the ground. There is a heightened appreciation for being able to be at the game and sharing the space and the weather and the trek into the ground with the people around us.

That doesn’t really exist for the moment. The pandemic has splintered everything in some way. Liverpool’s title is an event that will always be viewed, even partially, through the lens of the extraordinary circumstances in how the club that both promises and consoles us that You’ll Never Walk Alone was crowned. The golden sky at the end of the storm means different things to different people. An impressive, entertaining win by a young St Kilda team brought a few hours of calm.


Vessels

by Tom Briglia

Collingwood 5.3, 10.4, 11.7, 12.9 (81)
St Kilda 2.1, 4.2, 5.6, 5.7 (37)
Crowd: 0 at the MCG, June 18th at 4.35pm

Bad days can happen to anyone. Three teammates around a partially contested ball watching their opponents dig it out and run off, options in space ahead. No connection, no movement. There are different ways to describe the intangible missing element – spirit, urgency, Dare®. Too many low percentage handballs under pressure to a teammate already under pressure. Unsure kicks that become sure turnovers. As a contest between two sides, a game that feels like it only exists so the paperwork can be filed to show that Collingwood was dominant of St Kilda, that Collingwood started well again, that Collingwood’s defence across the ground kept their opponents to just five goals again, that St Kilda is still sorting things out as the Suns and Lions and maybe the Hawks and maybe North and maybe Essendon and maybe Carlton join the 53-year list of teams that go past us.

Bad days happen less often to some teams, and more often to some clubs. For some, they happen often enough that they define a team and then maybe a club by weight of numbers, over weeks, over years, over decades, over centuries. They happen in the decadence of a non-pandemic era, they can happen during a pandemic.

The momentum from the week carried right through to until about the time I turned onto the Nepean Highway towards Matt’s place in Elsternwick and my phone started rattling with messages about Connor McKenna and a press conference with Gil at 4. Until then, St Kilda was on trend, if only for a few days. This was the match that Robbo was looking forward to, Robbo had tipped us, The Age on Saturday morning ran a double-page spread about Hunter Clark, and the Saints, wearing the yellow hot-cross bun jumper (closer to the Pura Lightstart version that didn’t have the red detailing), outlasted the Magpies in a practice match at the Corporate Name Centre. Yet again, we sucked the life out ourselves as we did last year in the Saturday afternoon of Round 6, the same day The Age declared us “the story of the year”.

***

Momentum is at best fickle for Saints fans. Collingwood had Pat McAfee jump on their bandwagon during the week. I would be a little surprised if theirs was the only marketing team to move quickly to send him a jumper and some other bits and pieces, but how does a US sports celebrity knock back one of the biggest clubs in the league?

Never mind North Carolina’s Sports Night literally driving by St Kilda and choosing twice premiers of the last three years Richmond, who plays at the 100,000-capacity MCG and which has a membership base of more than 100,000.

McAfee retweeted the AFL’s final score graphic, introducing St Kilda’s lack of success to another continent. A decade on from the 2010 apex of the Riewoldt generation, Collingwood is wearing its 10-year Premiership Anniversary jumper, complete with the superfluous Adidas shitstains including the semi-circle on the back and collar bib. Collingwood is also wearing a 30-year 1990 premiership anniversary jumper as its clash (and which might actually be its best-ever jumper). They’re getting retweeted to MAJOR LEAGUE SPORTS enthusiasts. We’re fresh from a pledge drive.

***

From the moment Brett Ratten mentioned consistency post-match last week we should have been wary. He certainly was. This ended up being the kind of game that you don’t actually remember anything happening. We’re immediately back to looking for moments from young guys to make us feel like this is part of a journey that leads to somewhere better. There was Max King’s tall mark and excellent set shot goal, and that was about it. Even Jack Steele’s tackle and Ben Long’s hit on Taylor Adams didn’t have much of an effect on him once he got his breath back.

Marsh was in for Geary. Good to have a fast-moving big body in the wet, or too tall? Neither mattered – it was a beautiful winter’s day, and if you stand around watching your opponents it doesn’t matter who you are. Matt remains adamant that the St Kilda team that took the field wouldn’t have been able to win – not a team designed to be competitive enough around the ball, nor go with the Collingwood forwards leading to perfectly-weighted forward-50 entries. He’s probably right. Regulars weren’t helping out much. Dougal Howard got caught between deciding whether to compete with a teammate or completely miss a high ball into Collingwood’s attack, and Jack Lonie burned teammates as he tried affording himself the luxury of a snap around the corner on his favoured left boot in the middle of a competitive AFL-level match. If last week was all the things we’d been promised in the off-season, this was the payment that inevitably comes with a young St Kilda side with a bunch of decent recruits finding its way.

For a few days we thought we’d earned a free-to-air TV showing over some of the more fancied club, but score one for the AFL using up a rare chance for St Kilda fans to not bother going to the MCG twice in three weeks during a pandemic, making sure the big clubs can capitalise further on the marquee match-ups later on if the crowds are coming in (that’s a very flighty “if”).

Maybe we can forgive the inconsistencies from week to week. Fresh faces. Ratten might have warned us but he looked like he was only realising what he might be in for as the Fox Footy broadcast cut to him in the box. There’s a reset button of varying sizes, which really just gives us a slightly different look at something we’ve become used to.

***

Big day for St Kilda jumpers. The club promoted the game on social media with a graphic of Dan Butler wearing the red-heavy hot cross bun training jumper, and the Saints wore the yellow version in the practice match at the Holden Centre. At 4.35pm a very classy clash jumper based on designs throughout periods in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s was debuted against Collingwood at the MCG in Round 3, just as Candy Stripe #2 was in 2015 (and just like that night the team was barely sighted after quarter time).

This is the kind of jumper that would look even better with black shorts and black socks. Maybe it could do with slightly broader red and black panelling and, like all St Kilda jumpers, from a larger version of the club logo that the club itself appears to be trying to shrink. Like the 1997 Hot Cross Bun, the Candy Stripe #1 of the GT era and the 2009/2010 broad panel clash, we’re waiting for another signifier of a vaguely more successful era. The bedsheet-sized Deliveroo logos on both the home and clash jumpers threatens to spoil things.

In a week that Eddie McGuire’s really cracked the shits over Port Adelaide’s prison bars jumper, it’s worth noting he upended the 1970s-themed 2007 Heritage Round for Collingwood and St Kilda, because he wanted Collingwood to wear its “home” jumper at a home game rather than its, uh, “traditional” jumper. So, in Heritage Round on a Saturday afternoon at the MCG, we were treated to this.

***

I asked last week “what does St Kilda mean on this side” of the pandemic, and neglected to even try answering it, and also neglected to say that I wasn’t planning on answering that in that post. No one knows. We feel a lot further from finding out any time soon.

This season feels like following a season of AFL 98 without selecting a team, watching the whole year play out in refreshed round-by-round scoreboards. I keep expecting to hear that 90s studio session rock coming in at the end of a game, something which Fox Footy strayed dangerously close to playing its theme music on the final siren of Round 1 games. Add this to the case for a day Grand Final. Every game looks the same, whether it’s under the Concrete Disney Store Roof and artificial lighting, or played under the towers in a TV-friendly time at any other stadium. The same stock graphics for each team over the empty stands, and what have become quickly standardised club tarps behind each goal. A digital replica of a terribly flawed club in a digital replica of an unforgiving competition that feels made for everyone else.

I see everything

by Tom Briglia

Round 2, 2020
St Kilda 3.1, 7.3, 12.3, 14.4 (88)
Western Bulldogs 2.4, 3.4, 5.6, 7.7 (49)
Crowd: 0 at Marvel Stadium, Sunday, June 14th at 6.05pm

Does Gerard and Robbo talking about where clubs are at on a Monday night still matter? Can you find the Front Bar as funny when they’re all still obviously social distancing? Does a premiership matter if we can’t be there with the people we’ve shared the journey with? All those people in the seats beside us at all the empty Concrete Dome games, and the tens and hundreds of thousands that shared the lived experience? If not, what is the purpose of a season? Of following the St Kilda Football Club any time soon (even if just for the overall tease)?

Somehow the coronavirus wasn’t even the number one story of the past few weeks, but that said more about broader societal functions than it did a pandemic (which, yes, is happening right now).

At half-time of Round 1 we all roughly knew what was going to be happening to the game pretty soon, and at half-time of the mid-afternoon match it was confirmed. There was a lot of talk in the lead-up to that weekend about what footy would mean to people. There was probably some mythologising too, as well as a disconnect in the application of circumstances then and now. Footy was and is (in some parts) its own space. Turning the Concrete Disney Store into…well, a Concrete Disney Store that is more like a TV studio takes away from the notion and experience of “going to the footy”, of travelling to a place and gathering with people and experiencing first-hand a team on the field representing your club. There’s no comparison between that and a pandemic, obviously; what I’m trying to get at is that in this case, we knew we wouldn’t even be allowed to go to the footy. To be at the footy, to be in that space, to live that experience with other people, to be the home crowd, to be the away crowd, to represent and create a lived experience. The decadence our lives can afford us that footy matters, and that St Kilda matters.

We probably all knew 10 minutes into the first game of the season that footy like this was not going to be what we thought it would, at least not for some time. Some 80 days later, we were sort-of-not-really on the other side, but the “other side” means something happened and a lot of us are covered in the dust and debris and weird goopy stuff of the impact. Some of it we might not be able to brush or pick off.

Some things we’d forgotten about experiencing the footy like this. Some things looked and sounded a little off, like a glitch in the system that this whole world feels like at the moment. The crappy graphics in the crowd, the cardboard cut-outs behind the goals, the 2019 membership scarf-dominated Lockett end where the Saints cheer squad would usually be. Nib was sponsoring Richmond’s jumper twice, and Ford Geelong’s jumper thrice. Pre-match on Thursday, the echo of the siren at the MCG filled what would have otherwise been crowd noise. The canned crowd noise was ok, but ultimately a step towards Channel 9’s timelessly cynical “let’s turn up the crowd noise as the players get closer to each other” non-atmosphere inducer. Canned crowd noise can never replicate the crowd’s anticipation of a snap curling its way back towards goal, or the groan and gasp of a turnover. When we watch over any of these games in the future, we will hear crowd noise on an eerie even loop throughout most of the game, rising far too often out of context, or too late after a goal. The Showdown proved 2,000 real-life humans trumps any amount of algorithms. Final scores look like they’re from the 1930s, with your 79 vs 73s and 88 vs 49s and 36 vs 36s and whatnot, while the pandemic trend taking the footy world by storm is neat and tidy scorelines like “17.6” and “14.4”.

***

There was a lot less gravity watching this time around, but the uncomfortable feelings of being stuck on the couch whilst watching what is increasingly a different class of well-paid, high-profile people remained. Like the crowd noise, we could forgive it a little more this time – rather than helplessly accept it at best – because for the time being the most uncertain period has passed. I say that very cautiously.

So, what does footy mean on “this side”, whatever it is. What does St Kilda mean on this side? The suspension had already triggered an SOS campaign masked as a pledge drive, and Jeff Kennett and Peter Gordon started putting pressure from one end of the competition on others (i.e. the St Kilda Football Club) to sort their shit out. Maybe we won’t have too long to figure it out before we’re regularly booking trips to Tasmania.

There was certainly the welcome return of being able to draw a short and direct line from “anxiety” to “the Saints are about to play/playing”, rather than the existential angst that’s been carried around for the past few months and/or 32 years. At around 3pm I felt the pang of nervousness that at least partially took me out of whatever this is, and Stress Eating For St Kilda began at about 5pm. In between sappy-as-fuck Westpac and Maccas ads, hearing the Concrete Disney Store siren through the TV and feeling that anxiety that the Saints were out on the ground there was very unfamiliar. I’ve lived in Melbourne my whole life and am fortunate enough (you know what I mean) to be in a position to attend all Melbourne games. Not knowing what’s further up the ground at a St Kilda match taking place at the Concrete Disney Store or the MCG remains a strange feeling.

***

After Round 1, jumping out to a similar lead at a similar stage in the game felt like tempting fate. A scramble up forward in the last minute or two of the second quarter, featuring Gresham and Billings slices, couldn’t quite close the deal. I didn’t like the 45 to 22 scoreline echoing the 43 to 14 scoreline of the season opener. Dougal Howard dropped an easy rogue Dogs entry ball from a Former St Kilda Player Who Actually Played More Like A Captain In 2019 Than Most Josh Bruce kick; Bruce with a free kick resulting (he missed), Bruce getting increasingly involved, Eddie almost saying a “St Kilda win” in the third quarter and then pulling out after “w-”. All of those little synergies that we instinctively look for as St Kilda supporters that tell us a downfall is inevitably on the way, and these are things that the record will show and others can point at and laugh and say, “Who else? You could even see it coming”.

This is where the messiah complex can kick in. Just having Max King named felt like a ridiculous luxury. A fast start out of the middle that moves through Dan Butler, Bradley Hill, Jade Gresham and Jack Billings and ends with Max King roving a goal? Ending the slickest St Kilda performance in more than a year with a tall mark and set shot goal? It’s his second game and he’s 204cm and grew up supporting the club and covered more ground than he got credit for. He wears number 12. Really?

There was something a bit more concrete about this performance than Round 1. The movement across the ground was more purposeful. The players linked up more consistently. For the first time in a long time there was an underlying confidence that the players might have learned from the past (it was a relief to hear Ratten and some players actually say the Round 1 fade out was addressed at half-time). Players that need never have concerned themselves with a club like St Kilda looked like they gave a shit about St Kilda. It was definitely a luxury to have Dan Butler’s speed and general professionalism and understanding of success, of Zak Jones (another St Kilda supporter) being everywhere, Hill’s pace and Ryder’s taps; the latter so good that Gresham shat his St Kilda home shorts when he got a direct hit out from a throw-in and immediately fumbled the ball.

***

This marked a step back towards normalcy, but normalcy won’t be normal. This is a before and after event. Round 1 felt like the world (at least our western experience of it) was being peeled away in strips of confusion, of panic-buying, and of quietly-antagonistic-and-suspicious-of-other-shoppers shoppers at Coles.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have died, hundreds of millions have had their lives thrown into social and economic chaos, and the US appears to have lurched closer to a Civil War-style…well, Civil War than a lot of us might have cautiously joked about heading into 2017. St Kilda and Bulldogs players completed the round of all teams taking a knee before the match. The club offered to refund a supporter’s membership who threatened to pull it if they did.

Much more locally, the St Kilda goodwill of the pre-season – the AFLW debut, christening of the return to Moorabbin, new players, new coach, new sponsor, new manufacturer, the membership figures, AND OF COURSE THE RETURN OF THE FABLE SINGERS – had disappeared in the real-world chaos, and then officially in Round 1 when a 30-point lead over an unfancied opponent was slam-dunked into the shitter. The bowl water that splashed out had dried into our iso-wear, and the prospect of footy was largely confined to footy itself, the ultimate distraction, rather than the optimism of what St Kilda specifically might bring in 2020, the other ultimate distraction.

However, all those things that we were promised in the off-season were here. They looked real. Max King starting the game with crumbing goal and finishing with a tall mark and set shot. Butler kicking on both sides in a chain that he was involved in three times and finished with the goal. Paddy with absurdly clean ruck taps. Billings kicking three and having 24. Hunter Clark’s finesse. Zak Jones being busy. Brad Hill being slick. And, of course, Max King singing the Saints song he grew up with, with his St Kilda teammates for the first time. All of those things appeared real. We could see it all on TV and via the internet in high definition, but it’s June and this was only Round 2, and still none of this quite feels real.