Round 1, 2020
North Melbourne 1.1, 2.2, 6.7, 8.8 (56)
St Kilda 3.3, 6.7, 6.11, 7.12 (54)
Crowd: 0, Docklands, March 22nd at 1.05pm
This is genuinely a paragraph I had written in my notes (pre-pandemic) in the lead up to the season:
“The last few seasons at this point in time, I start to think if I can get out of it. Can I send them a text? Should I send them a heads up that I’m not that keen, not today? “Hey just a heads up, I’m not feeling very well, but hopefully I’ll be able to make it!” Is it too late to send a text? Just send them a text, it’ll be fine.”
At this point it’s back to the men’s season as a marker of time, as a marker of the beginning of the year, of the depths of winter, of redemption for those who have earned it in the September spring sunshine.
The new decade instead threw up all sorts of Hell Bingo. Is every game going to be shootout? Is this going to be the State of Origin match all over again? The way people like Eddie and Dwayne “THAT COULD BE BALL” Russell spoke following the announcement on Wednesday night appeared to tempt fate. What if we got a Utah Jazz/OKC situation in which the teams run out, a club doctor gets word someone’s tested positive as they’re circling around back of the centre square coming into the instrumental verse of the song, and have to turn around and run straight off without breaking stride? There was certainly going to be no comfort during the week, and for all intents and purpose the ideas of “rounds” framing our weekends was going to be thrown out. Gil had already changed the phrasing to “games” and by the AFL’s own admission knew a suspension was inevitable.
“If you take away history, then what is the club?” – Andrew Bassat
If you take away the fans, then what is the club?
Who is there to have an attachment to carry a club’s history into the ground with them, to feel the song when they run out and the anticipation of the first bounce, to have the physical attachment, to see what no one else saw from an angle and an experience that no one else did, and to report back? The rain and the cold and darkness of an afternoon and the Fable Singers’ version of the Geelong song are the memories of the 2009 Grand Final. That’s part of the club’s history and part of our own history as supporters.
The fans’ presence reflects the club, qualitatively and quantifiably – its trajectory at any given time, within a season or a decade or a century. The same is true at home, or away at the MCG, or interstate. The opposition fans tucked at one end of the ground in hostile and foreign territory make it that, a bold smash and grab raid, taking on a history of anxiety-riddled interstate performances.
Rather than a uniting force for hope, watching any games over the weekend felt much more immobilising than I would have dared thought. People and media figures during the week talked about what the game and its heroes of the World Wars and the Great Depression meant to fans. But in those times, people gathered at the club’s ground that was another home to them – think of how Moorabbin felt – and gathered together, sharing the experience of seeing the jumper and the club your life revolves around in the flesh, being in a different space and different environment.
Nick Riewoldt spoke of “Craving something to look forward to.” Was the situation that dire already? Not even looking forward to the thing itself, just having something to look forward to? At least last week it was an unknown, or a curiosity. That thing itself was sadly, painfully a let down. Just a few minutes into the first match the respite we hoped this would be wasn’t there.
Footy on the weekend only served to reinforce that we are in isolation, and in a time of health, social and economic crisis and anxiety. We are watching hugely paid athletes given instant access to coronavirus tests playing footy and getting paid heaps and still being able to do all the things they want to do. We just had to sit there and watch it.
Endless advertisements from the Herald Sun kept popping up on my social media feeds during the week about fucking Supercoach. Match and player preview links and headlines chirped, “Will Sam Walsh have the second year blues?” On the Thursday, Shane Savage and Josh Battle were effectively dropped. I hardly noticed and it was harder to care.
I remember several things from the game. Max King kicked two of our seven goals and Billings kicked two excellent long goals himself. I remember Brad Hill through the middle passing to Membrey, Paddy Ryder taking a strong mark on the lead, Brad Hill to King, Razor Ray missing the trip, and sunshine and the elements at the Concrete Disney store. A whole summer and pre-season of optimism turfed in a second half of inaccuracy and indifference.
While I’m here, special mention has to go to the home jumper being worn with white shorts and with – for the first time ever – the mostly white clash socks worn since 2009. The St Kilda jumper is often at its classiest with mostly black and white and touches of red. This was effectively what the club was planning to have worn if we saluted on Grand Final Day of 2010, changing into the home jumper for the cup. I would say Richmond had planned the same in 2017, but why would you bother in the moment, but even that feels like a lifetime ago, and certainly is a world away now.
Meanwhile, Fox Footy couldn’t fucking help itself. North fans would have been holding out for that moment on the siren, to see the difference between despair and joy and own the better side of that, while their club song provided the soundtrack and minted the win. But for no decent reason other than self interest and self promotion, even in this moment, the producers at Fox Footy put their finger on the button and cued up their theme music (which they “overrate and overplay” – Sebastian Hassett) instead of letting North fans enjoy the song after a close win. To just allow them that few fucking seconds after everything that had happened over the last few weeks, and not knowing if they would hear it again this year. It might have felt like a practice match, and it’s easier to forget if you throw away a 31-point lead in a low scoring game, but that moment would have the briefest of respite for any fan. They decided to stain that moment and that footage themselves, as if they genuinely thought their Stock Uplifting Sports Strings Music_Promo.mp3 should be the soundtrack for that. How fucking dare they.
We didn’t know until Wednesday night whether or not the season would start. By Monday night 80% of the people who make the clubs run day-to-day without getting the airtime or public profile were gone. The players were sent home (but still wanted a bunch of money). Just like that, a pandemic had broke out, and just like that footy was done. The world doesn’t know and certainly doesn’t care that we’re here. It certainly doesn’t know and doesn’t care for St Kilda fans wanting to see a rebuild pay off and deliver, some time, that second premiership.
“Footy will find a way. It always does,” Gillon said, signing off the Monday’s press conference. It’s a line of defiance and some hope, but he said the line as put the paper he was reading from down without any bluster or gusto.
But even then, should it come back in winter, we might be at the depths of something we already just don’t have any references for. We’re left with a season that will before anything else become about off-field survival, that is, survival at all. The longest pre-season. Footy again finds a way to reflect the world around it, something about ourselves that we can find in our clubs and the opposition and the stories woven into them. So, until then, but even then.