Sunday felt more like a lucid dream than anything else, and trying to recount it feels much like the mutually mundane exercise telling someone about your own dream, and as if the conversation was happening 20 years ago. “I bought a coffee and a bottle of water and Mum and Emma and Matt and I got there at 1.30pm, but the ground didn’t open until 2pm, and it was at Moorabbin. Girls were playing and it was February.”
This was a place I knew, and had been to, and recognised. But the old stands and the scoreboard were entirely gone. I’d never been to this stadium (“stadium”) before. I’d never watched footy from this angle, from this elevation in the weird sole temporary stand set up on the forward flank, and with this backdrop to the ground. Is this what a genuine St Kilda crowd looks like? I remember exactly what Molly McDonald’s goal looked like and sounded like from where we were sitting. And so, is that what a genuine St Kilda crowd sounds like?
St Kilda isn’t associated with success. From the 1870s to the 2010s (who knows what magic the 2020s will bring), the club has been known as any or all of inoffensive, incompetent, inaccurate, wasteful, terrible, more concerned with the Saints Disco than the Saturday afternoon, unlucky, unfortunate, poor, poorly, wayward, bad, a joke, and absolute fucking rubbish. Ultimately, unsuccessful and heartbreaking. Over the past decade, even just the memory of hoping for a premiership again became something that belonged to another dimension. The club again became that joke.
You could argue that in true St Kilda fashion, any concern of success on Sunday was cast aside. That we were just happy to be there. This would certainly sell the team itself short (the tackling alone would tell you that it was playing with purpose). Many St Kilda teams – many at Moorabbin – couldn’t lay claim to so much. For one day we could forgive the L. This was about the W (maybe one day the AFL can sort itself out with the T). Sunday was the most positive St Kilda experience I’ve had for some time.
By Sunday morning, the constant references to “RSEA Park” had given way to “Moorabbin”. But the ground’s naming sponsor dominates the Linton Street frontage in the same elevated place the club’s logo once did; the same logo that gets smaller and smaller on the club jumper as the seasons go by. For all the changes at Moorabbin that have taken place over the years, it still felt like Moorabbin. It felt like St Kilda’s home, even if it was broken down along with the club through 2009 and 2010, and is now being slowly rebuilt and being reacquainted with the supporters. It was relief, as if the club had invited every one of its supporters to come to Moorabbin and dream of wearing the St Kilda jumper.
There was a freewheeling element to the way the team played. That can have a negative connotation – was it the carefree Saints Disco style of the 80s, or the barnstorming days in 1991 and 1992 led by Lockett and Harvey and Loewe and Winmar? Perhaps the candy striped 2004 and 2005 seasons of the GT era, when St Kilda became St Kilda again? Maybe this was more of a 2003-style performance, as the team was developing.
Indeed, it was the dashing blonde-haired player wearing number 1 who made a big impression and wrote their name into history at Moorabbin. This St Kilda jumper is familiar, too: a more prominent white panel that is more in line with the traditional and bolder version of the tri-panel, which is really black with white and a classy dash of red. The cut of the jumper means the logo is more prominent, too.
Jake Niall’s article considered what could have been. This was a genuine St Kilda crowd. What if a few different decisions had been made by the league and then by the club itself over time? The G. G. Huggins stand was gone – all of original pieces are (I managed to get the Gate 3 sign for my Dad when they were being pulled apart) – but it was still Moorabbin. Was it racking up another loss? Was it The Fable Singers? St Kilda felt like St Kilda. And for what Sunday represented for the club and beyond, we were fucking thrilled to be there.
— AFL Women’s (@aflwomens) February 9, 2020
It’s hard to reasonably articulate how excellent it was to have the team run out to The Fable Singers version of the club song. It was great to find afterwards that Channel 7 had patched into it in the broadcast as it was happening (usually something reserved for post-final siren scenes). How good to have that playing in that moment. I’m not 100% sure how or why the change was made, but I hope it is permanent across both St Kilda teams. The AFL’s Pine-O-Cleen version took one match in 2018 to become synonymous with a club that had lost its way on and off the field, and had lost touch with and the trust of its supporters. I’m not going to go as bonkers as I did in the moment, lest the club curiously change its mind and ditch it again, and there will be time for me to go bonkers about it and mention the state of it every week for another year. The AFLW team that ran out to The Fable Singers version of the song was running out to the same soundtrack of decades of Saints teams before them, that celebrated moments that heralded a new era, or indeed, the chance of reaching the Promised Land. It sounded like St Kilda.
“There are two classes of men who play football. With one the pleasure of participating is more than sufficient recompense for defeat: the other class thinks that a win is above everything else. To the first class I think those happy, genial Saints belong.”
– The Australasian, 1894
St Kilda obviously didn’t come into being with the creation of the VFL, but more is known about St Kilda’s 1897 team that lost at Victoria Park in the first ever round of the competition (and then just kept on losing) than the 1873 team that played a match against Carlton’s reserves, wearing red and black hoops and a white handkerchief around their neck. But we are constantly reminded of that history. The year printed is now printed on every St Kilda jumper, and as of the year, the inside of the collar bears a short summation of the old St Kilda club’s black and white being combined with the red and white of South Yarra. No incarnation of this club was or has been successful. Few of the players of the early VFL days are household names, even for Saints fans. Bill Matthews? Joe Hogan? Tom McNamara? (No, not Dave). Fortunately, we will have a much better record audio and visual record of this day, from the moment the team ran out, Molly McDonald’s goal, and every one of Georgia Patrikios’s game-high 18 disposals.
What does the club represent? What represents the club? Red, white and black? Moorabbin? The name “St Kilda”? The old St Kilda team that you can find made reference to in Trove articles before 1873? Once the suburb itself was a bayside getaway, home to our Junction Oval and then a bunch of loose rockers that are still broadly tied to the club’s image, all of which contributed to the club’s identity. Now it represents Port Melbourne to Portsea, or perhaps now “the South”, unless Hawthorn’s Dingley tip is predictably successful, we make some more mis-steps and “Port Melbourne to Portsea” comes to include Spirit of Tasmania’s berth at Station Pier.
Sunday represented a whole lot more than any of those things. Individuals, social progression, and names and circumstances that have taken on a belated place in history. From the women’s football match in 1921 – 99 years ago – as part of the St Kilda Football Club Carnival held at the Junction Oval (which featured players wearing the red, yellow and black V jumper worn from 1919 to 1922), covered in Table Talk under the header “Should women play football?” – to Dana De Bondt captaining a St Kilda representative side in a curtain raiser in 2017, through to Georgia Walker, the Southern Saints’ first ever captain, who was forced to retire in the team’s first season at just 19 years of age because of concussion issues.
By late Sunday afternoon, the crowd was already audibly saying “Molly!” whenever Molly McDonald went near it. There was a notable lift in noise when Georgia Patrikios was anywhere near it. People were already wise to referring to Caitlin Greiser as the G-Train. And then, in the final quarter the ultimate marker of attachment to a St Kilda team: audible exasperation and annoyance when Jess Sedunary tried one too many moves close to goal as the game slipped away and got caught holding the ball.
I grew up being told if I was good enough and worked hard enough I could play for St Kilda. Not because I showed anything in particular, but because I was a cisgender male, and white and straight to boot. So many people who have given so much to this club – and so much to the game – were never even afforded the fantasy, nor the daydreams, because they weren’t boys, because they were girls, because they were ladies, because they were women, because they were female, because for whatever reason no-one ever came up with a good explanation for, they just couldn’t and shouldn’t.
This was beyond the lifestyle choice of watching a club break down over the course of a decade in the artificial lighting of the Concrete Disney store. This was a celebration of the club playing in its heartland, at its home, and a celebration of all the fantasies and daydreams to be in red, white and black.