Hometown

by Tom Briglia

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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?

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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.

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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.

***


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.

 ***

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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.

The rest is history

by Tom Briglia

“Hometown goes wherever you go”
– Haley Bonar

 

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For the first time, anyone in my generation lived the existence of those St Kilda supporters that had come before us. Following a club that failed to build on the greats before it and make something of itself, instead collapsing into the joke that had been the subject of well-worn gags since its disastrous entry into the VFL. Hell, since 1873.

That identity that made our experiences as young supporters during 1997 that much more pronounced, surrounded by parents or relatives or family friends and public sentiment who we could sense were experiencing something that didn’t just happen at St Kilda. It was hard to ignore the historical weight behind that entire season, even as a nine-year-old. Even accounting for the 1998 and 1999 collapses and 2000 wooden spoon, the arrival of Riewoldt and Koschitzke, Malcolm Blight and an aggressive recruiting drive set up the next 1+10 seasons (five for each of GT and Ross), meant my generation had lived a life of heavily weighted hope, expectation, and not-quite-success.

By quirk of our arbitrary time measurements and cultural reference points, the final year of the decade marked the 10 year anniversary of the 2009 season and its sad and wasteful end, while also being well as the closing year of the decade that began with 2010, a season that would ultimately revolve around the Qualifying Final win and then the Grand Final Draw.

This decade was supposed to start with a premiership defence, if not for bizarrely poor kicking on that Grand Final day in 2009. The gateways that appeared open in that moment of Round 19 in August of that year – everything that was written for us, the path paved – should have meant were celebrating a 10th anniversary this year, not mourning one. Eight top line players were missing in Launceston, Max Hudghton was captain, and 10 players with 51 games of experience or less took the field, and held off the reigning premiers to go 19-0 with teams outside of the eight to come in the last three matches of the home and away season. The Age certainly believed, beckoning fate on the club’s behalf by splashing a scrappy win on the front page of the Sunday sport section with a headline that was terrifying to us because, in that moment, quietly, what it was suggesting was probable. We didn’t know what that felt like. The 1966 premiership team had gathered for a reunion at the Launceston ground that day, and watched the 2009 Saints kick 10.14 (74), the same scoreline as that of the 1966 Grand Final.

Instead, the 2010s began with a dour, torrid redemption effort that so very nearly worked. For the first time perhaps in St Kilda history, the club was fielding a team that was good enough to win at will. Some fans still complained as unfashionable, uninspiring wins piled up. The Ross era was a template copy of the GT era, down to the 2004 and 2009 starts with late-season stumbles and the close losses at the end, to the wild, terrible and fantastical follow-ups in 2005 and 2010, right down to Lenny Hayes’ knee injuries in the comedown throes of 2006 and 2011.

The theme of reflection might serve to tie up a decade that has essentially been one of footy grieving. Those Grand Finals were a decade in the making – with Preliminary Finals and rightful premiership expectation throughout – and the cold comedown has lasted just as long. Part of me thinks we are still in some disbelief.

The Road to 2018

The 2009 headline in The Age wasn’t their only misstep in talking up the Saints. On the Saturday morning of Round 6 this year, the front page of the sport section declared us “the story of the year”. Indeed, for five weeks at the beginning of this year, it looked like the Road to 2018 worked. We were on top of the ladder on the Saturday night of Round 5. We celebrated goal loudly, we hit bodies hard. Within three months, Alan Richardson was sacked.

Cliché yes, but still truthfully, St Kilda sells itself on hope. What else is left? Even that is in short supply after the GT and Ross eras. Going to the footy in anticipation of seeing a brick that could become part of the club’s next premiership is a forgotten experience, giving way to simply supporting St Kilda as a lifestyle choice. “Where were you?” turned into “where was I?” as in, I actually can’t remember that nondescript, inconsequential few hours at an empty Concrete Dome in artificial light that brought the weekend to a close by two in the afternoon.

This has become a chaotic swamp of boredom and anxiety we hadn’t lived for a sustained period of time, never mind the heartbreak of literally everything that happened from 2002 to 2011, never mind the humiliation of everything that didn’t happen from 2002 to 2011.

Really, the aughts and the 2010s are mirror images. A coach sacked and a wooden spoon in 2000 to a Grand Final in 2009, and in this decade starting with Grand Final – two of them – and a sacked coach in 2019 as the club officially acknowledged the rebuild had failed, and that the Road to 2018 never had materialised beyond a marketing stunt.

The Road to 2018 was paved with a press release for a supporter base that was depressed as fuck and hoping to hear from the club that all we had to do was draft young guys like we’d done over the 10 to 15 years earlier. In the fineprint of The Road to 2018 we will read that it actually has next year to deliver a premiership before it can be officially considered a failure. Otherwise, where are all the New Zealand members? Where are the 50,000 members in Australia? We certainly haven’t finished in the top four any time lately.

Richmond’s plan from 2009 is on course to deliver three premierships, and the 75,000 member number is now more than 100,000. We have watched them go from the laughing stock of 37 years to the greatest club in the land. Not only was there time for this in the 2010s, but Hawthorn won three premierships, the Bulldogs broke their 62-year drought, two new clubs to entered the AFL, and Collingwood has already run through their cycle between flag tilts.

The Draw

Brendon Goddard’s mark and goal in the final quarter of the 2010 Grand Final would have become one of the greatest moments in VFL/AFL history. The Milne bounce is the most oft-cited moment in that game now given the result, but the ball could just as likely have bounced the other way – back towards open play – or bounced up for him, or have bounced on straight through for a freak Lenny Hayes goal. There was still plenty of time left in the game. Worth reminding ourselves that between BJ’s mark and the bounce, Collingwood had grabbed back the lead, and then had a set shot to extend the margin beyond that one point.

Poor kicking by Collingwood had allowed us back into the game, and if not for a Travis Cloke miss before half-time we would have gone into half-time 29 points down. We simply weren’t good enough to have been as close as Geelong had kept themselves one year earlier when we were missing our own shots. Never mind the Milne bounce, the first half was our biggest problem.

There’s nothing new here. Thinking of passages of play unfolding differently still make you wince or catch on your breathing just that little bit. I still feel the exhaustion sitting on the third level of the Southern Stand one week later watching the Collingwood players walk around the ground as the sun disappeared behind the Ponsford. The Replay felt like the gateway from the GT and Ross eras to the rest of our lives.

The Irrelevance

Few St Kilda highlights beyond 2010 would feature in any “best of” packages for a given year, let alone a decade. No moments to get attached to, few games to get us attached to the players. The win over Richmond in 2017 has only become known as an aberration. We became attached to guys like Jack Newnes and Blake Acres only through attrition. They were the ones turning up in St Kilda jumpers.

None of our players would be considered for any AFL marketing or promotional material. What does a good player look like? What does a good team look like? We sought to replicate the rebuild of the 2000s and during the second of 2016 it was working. Only percentage kept us out of the eight, just two places below the eventual premiers. Gresham, Billings, McCartin, Acres, Bruce, Membrey et al were complemented by a Riewoldt hellbent on atoning for the sins of the past, and Jack Steven, David Armitage, Jarryn Geary, Mav Weller and Seb Ross were in support. Fanciful now, but for one summer it made sense. The younger guys were untradeable; by mid-2018 they were largely untraceable. Some have indeed been traded since.

The procession of players that we pinned our hopes onto in the same way we did to young Riewoldt, Kosi, Ball, Hayes, Dal Santo, Montagna, and Goddard et al is embarrassing. Jack Steven’s best and fairests didn’t mean anything for the club’s success, ultimately. Nor did Josh Bruce’s huge mark against GWS, or his 2015 season. Blake Acres, Tom Hickey, Rhys Stanley, Jack Newnes, Tom Lynch, Mark Hutchings and Jamie Cripps are all now at different clubs. Luke Ball left for nothing and won a premiership with Collingwood in 2010. Eli Templeton’s crucial goals that helped us get over the line against GWS and to go 2-0 at the start of 2014 and Spencer White’s three goals on debut later that year are trivial.

We desperately projected our desire to get out of the fresh post-2009 Grand Final and then Grand Finals hell on Arryn Siposs, Billy Longer, Tommy Walsh, Nick Winmar, Tom Lynch, Mav Weller, Cameron Shenton, Tom Lee, Terry Milera, Eli Templeton, Cameron Shenton, Nathan Wright, Jason Holmes, Tom Ledger, Ahmed Saad, Tom Simpkin, Brandon White and Nathan Freeman. Paddy McCartin and Hugh Goddard were our anchors up forward in defence for the next 12 years. Our Messiah Complex has now landed with Max King, and we’ll try and do everything we can to double that and pry his twin out of the grasp of Gold Coast and the AFL.

Drafts became less of an event as the echoes of what we were able to do over the 2000s faded. Is Chris Pelchen held responsible by anyone? Was it the club itself that couldn’t handle Hickey or Saad or Lee’s development? Was our drafting that bad? Was it the club’s development? We certainly turned the players into terrible kicks for goal, and the stain of inaccuracy on 2009 Grand Final day became a part of the team’s identity. From Ben Dixon to Billy Slater to Josh Bruce, no one knew what to do about it.

The State

We created new nightmares, leading into time-on in successive Grand Finals, with an aggregate margin of six points on the final sirens and managing to not win either. The summer following the 2010 season was headlined by the “St Kilda Schoolgirl”, and a heartbroken club was now back to being a public joke. The Stephen Milne and Andrew Lovett cases, while the incidents were nearly six years apart, still had more time to run.

On the field, the players looked like they’d rather be anywhere else. A loss in the last 20 seconds to Geelong in Round 1 after an entirely unnecessary Jason Blake turnover made sure to set off the first tremors of a comedown. The 2011 Grand Final was between the two teams that had beaten us in the Grand Finals of the two previous years.

By then, Ross had become the ex-Boss, off to the nearest thing to a joke to us in the AFL, our Bizarro rivals Fremantle. Maybe a change would give some life back to the club and the supporters. Scott Watters brought in Ahmed Saad and Terry Milera and some fast footy. In a year that felt like there was more of a future beyond it than 2011 ever did, you could make a decent case that inaccuracy proved the difference between pushing for top four and finishing ninth.

We had to face the day-to-day reality of what followed the failed premiership push in 2013. Stories floated around at the time and since about Watters’ willingness to take the captaincy of Riewoldt and install Tom Lee as co-captain, over-reaching around the club outside of his role as coach, a disconnect with senior and the coach over the team’s direction, and personality clashes. A call to SEN on the first morning of November ultimately brought the end of curious stint.

Richo, who wasn’t keen on the job two years earlier, was given the role in a scramble. Everyone else in the industry knew where they’d be in 2014. After the win over Essendon in Round 5 of Richo’s first season, we could secretly entertain the idea that we might be able to dodge the extended rebuild. Billings, Dunstan, Steven, Bruce, Newnes, Stanley, Templeton, Ross, Hickey, Armitage – maybe this could work. We lost to the winless Lions a week later in New Zealand, and for the 27th time in VFL/AFL history, we finished last.

Not until Andrew Bassat took over as president did anyone officially acknowledge the culture at the time “was a mess”. He has called out more than that, too. Bassat, Matt Finnis and Simon Lethlean have taken the club to a much different place. Brett Ratten is an exciting appointment, and having non-St Kilda people Gubby Allen, Jarryd Roughead, Brendon Lade and Billy Slater can only be a good thing. We know there are no guarantees. The last rebuild failed, and there’s no real reason why the next period should be the same, or any different.

For the first time in decades, we are left without genuine Saints taking the field. An easily traceable lineage from those that came from the Jeans era into Barker, Lockett, Frawley, Winmar, Loewe, Burke, Harvey and into Riewoldt, Hayes, Fisher, Montagna, Dal Santo et al has no heirs apparent.

The Experience

Large shits were taken on parts of the club’s identity and spirit. Seaford was an awful mistake before it happened, while it was happening, and will remain so. The administration’s efforts to get the club back to Moorabbin were huge.

The club song was replaced with a weak cover version for literally no given reason at the start of 2018. The club itself has bizarrely dodged what otherwise seems to be an innocuous query. Playing other songs after goals during games, however – that was deemed a pass by the marketing team, also early in 2018. Round 1 of that year was the first time I didn’t enjoy being at the footy in my life. The theatre of the game had been sucked out by event planners who don’t care for that. People in the members section became visibly and audibly annoyed by it – for some reason the club kept going with it as the margin blew out to eight goals in the final quarter of Round 3 in 2018. Another match day addition no-one asked for that was also brought in at the start of 2018 was the playing of Saintly Hymns chants over the loudspeaker. Not only does it negate and interrupt the atmosphere across the ground, it dilutes one of the few things that give a specific part of the Concrete Dome some genuine character and some semblance of asymmetry – the people behind Saintly Hyns themselves, whose chants grew organically on the level one members’ pocket.

Playing home games at the Concrete Dome turned into playing home games at a concrete Disney store. And no, it doesn’t need to be an inevitability. The weekend ends early because the stadium was suspiciously not built to the right orientation. Every game now is under lights. Every game looks the same. The 1997 Grand Final has an apocalyptic quality because of the eerie overcast conditions that took hold in the second half. Why do you remember the 2009 Grand Final so painfully? Because it physically hurt to be sitting in the wind and the sleet and the rain, and it was so cruel that the sun came out for the Cats as the siren sounded.

I’m not exactly sure what going to the footy is anymore. This isn’t worth the “it’s for the kids” weird generational disconnect argument. I watched a Carlton crowd herald the return of the Blues as a force in the AFL in the elements at the MCG late this season. The Fable Singers version of the club song, a home ground that is actually a footy ground and doesn’t have a roof, young guys playing like they give a shit. The crowd itself mattered, the footy itself mattered, given life by a context that had developed over several months and beyond. Carlton fans were queuing more than an hour before the game to get their tickets. The roar when McKay’s goal went through was the roar of a sleeping giant. No roof or changed song or Spider-Man wall needed. And you know what? That was one of the better days at the footy this year. Maybe the next division in the game is clubs who trade on playing footy, and clubs who trade a match day experiences that will be outdated by the time we leave the ground.

The Legacy

The “Riewoldt generation” is a term I happily borrow/steal from an excellent Jake Niall article written in 2012. For all intents and purposes, the Riewoldt generation was supposed to have reshaped and rebuilt this footy club. The gravitational forces around Seaford and then Moorabbin, the special unknowns that constitute “culture”, wherever St Kilda has wandered since 1873, wore it all down.

The weight of culture and history was too much. This decade was spent watching that legacy of the Riewoldt generation being dismantled. Somehow, even through the most turbulent and hopeful and terrifying and successful period, St Kilda remained more St Kilda than ever. One premiership, and finding fantastical ways to deliver hope and deliver heartbreak. The idea of the Saints reaching the summit felt daring, like it would was to do something wrong, to break the footy laws. We have been punished for even attempting to do so since.

Whose fault was all of this? Nettlefold’s? Westaway’s? Summers’s? Kim Duthie’s? Ross Lyon’s? Richo’s? Tony Elsaug’s? Jason Blake, for kicking the ball to the only spot he shouldn’t have in the final minute in that first game of 2011?

We found out what would become of the Riewoldt generation, and we lived the first distinguishable period after an era that in the early months of 2004 felt like we had forever in front of us and everything to enjoy. That is added to the decades we grew up hearing about, and that we will talk about. Stories of the great teams of the 1960s and the 1970s, of the Saints Disco and Saints Discounts of 22 cents in the dollar in the 1980s; the resurgence in the early 1990s and the singular reference only required by the phrase “1997”. They will be joined over time by stories about Riewoldt, GT and Ross eras of the 2000s, the 2010 season and Draw. And now, a long and cold comedown.

All of those history books and footy club profiles we read as kids featured the same sad note when it came to the Saints; “Premierships: 1966”. We thought there would be at least one addition to that. We had never been so close to the second coming when the siren went on Grand Final Day in 2010. At the end of 2019, the idea of a premiership is something that is on a different plane of existence. A different time, a different place, a different world altogether. Forgive any of us for wanting to go back 10 years. Of course, that’s a long time for anything, but part of us still hopes that we got it wrong, or there was a glitch, or we’re just remembering it incorrectly, and it turned out the way we thought and hoped and really wished it would.

On a Saturday afternoon in Launceston in 2009, as it turned towards September, St Kilda came the closest it ever has to invincibility; to being a sure thing. The rest is history.

Cut up the past

by Tom Briglia

Round 23, 2019
Sydney Swans 6.2, 6.3, 11.4, 17.7 (109)
St Kilda 2.5, 5.9, 7.12, 8.16 (64)
Crowd: 33,722 at the SCG, Saturday, 24th August at 1.45pm

What do we remember from dead rubber games to close out the season in the past? A comfortable last round win over Fitzroy at a drenched Western Oval in 1994. Spider Everitt forewarning the competition of what was to come with 7.7 out of 20.24 against Adelaide in 1996 (Adelaide didn’t need to provide any warning, it turned out). Geelong edging us at Kardinia Park in 2003, as that rivalry really emerged. A sunny day at the MCG against the Tigers with Fraser – retiring for the first time – kicking a goal after the siren to ice a 10-point win (Andrew Thompson retired for the first, and, to date, only time also on that day). A tight and entertaining win against the Blues on a sunny day with the Concrete Dome roof open in 2012 that was Brett Ratten’s last as Carlton coach. Lenny’s, and CJ’s and Gwilt’s, last games against the Crows in 2014. Roo kicking nine against the Lions at the end of 2016, where we appeared to be racing down the Road to 2018. Our kids were untradeable, our senior players still high performers. Fast forward two years to an echoing concrete dome, with the club beaten down and the North Melbourne end having their own party as they willed Ben Brown to the Coleman Medal sent off Jarrad Waite.

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By quirk or by quark, or whatever, Sam Rowe played his first game for St Kilda, and his 100th and last. In an era of high production values for social media content, this was a story that told itself, and never needed to be plumped-up filler for fans in the cold June cage of a faltering season. The video made by the club during the week was neatly respectful.

He joins Mark Dwyer, Fergus Watts and Colm Begley as players in recent decades that came to St Kilda to play just one match, and adds to a longer list of players that came to St Kilda for brief and perhaps curious finishes to storied careers built elsewhere: Matthew Clarke, Sean Charles, Damian Monkhorst, Tony Francis, Brian Wilson, Jim Krakouer, Geoff Ablett.

Rowe tossed the coin. He had a couple of chances to kick a goal late in the last quarter, but hooked them both. In the final minutes he put in the hardest chase of possibly his entire career. No goal that he was so deserving of, but his presence on the ground was celebration enough of his journey.

Sydney’s own retirees saluted in the last quarter. There was a sense of inevitability once the Swans kicked the first couple of goals of the final term. On the St Kilda side, there was simply not enough to play for, apart from very unsuccessfully trying to spot up Rowe on the lead. Until that point we weren’t interested in using the ball effectively anyway, be it under pressure or not, long or short, forward or back. Like we were the opposition jumpers perched in the background of Carlton’s homecoming last week, so we were for Sydney’s big day on Saturday.

A final exhibition match, a final showcase, a final celebration of whatever this past year was. Long to kick a quality snap goal and celebrate like the season was still on the line. Lonie to squirt a set shot and fail to make the distance via his pokey set-shot kicking style, and scuff a short pass to Rowe in the final quarter. Ross twice giving off a bad handball sideways to Wilkie who was stationary. Lonie missed Hannebery on his own, the bounce missed him and then Bruce, who slipped over. This was looking like a lot of park footballers, but everyone is a park footballer on the last day of the home and away season. The umpires let go Hunter Clark getting slung after getting the footy, and then Stuv throwing Parker to the ground off the ball. It’s been a long season for them, too.

The things that made the season; they all get another run around to remind us of the dirt and gravel and dust and dried grass and the weeds that make up the bulk of a footy season, among the few things that did flower in 2019. Inaccuracy made another timely appearance. At one stage we were 4.12. Let’s take one last look at the big board:
13.7 (85)
10.16 (76)
9.12 (66)
10.14 (74)
15.5 (95)
10.8 (68)
10.10 (70)
10.10 (70)
10.11 (71)
9.14 (68)
9.15 (69)
11.14 (80)
8.11 (59)
10.10 (70)
11.7 (73)
8.9 (57)
17.14 (116)
15.14 (104)
10.10 (70)
10.12 (72)
10.8 (68)
8.16 (64) 

***

The fists are down now, if we weren’t exhausted on the ropes three months ago, or on the canvas two months ago. While the pre-season matches are exhibition shrouded in all sorts of messed up fantasies and storyline, the last round is exhibition shrouded in relief and reflection. Reflections of reflections. What happened to running teams off their feet at Marvel Stadium? What happened to Billy Slater? To the loud goal celebrations? To Jack Steele going out of his way to hit Jake Stringer and give away 50 metres after he clocked Jimmy Webster? One more time. Let’s go out and kick the footy, let’s go out and watch the footy. 

It is a lifestyle. It frames the day, it frames the week, and the season frames the year. Footy is a way of marking time. The season is a story, tied in with the calendar year. The depths of winter are framed by it. Saturday saw the completion of another season in the story of this club, and the stories of our own in supporting it. All of that goes away now – from a St Kilda perspective – and that leaves us to our own day-to-day. Something goes away. Time to sit on the grass in the sunshine and not need to think nor worry where or when we need to be this weekend.

What fucking relief. To finish off this season, we were afforded the vague luxury of not actually having to go anywhere, certainly not to outright surrender a sunny late August Saturday afternoon to the confines of the Concrete Disney Store, which on the weekend added “terrible basketball venue” to its CV. Consistently it tries to be a futuristic SPORTSBALL AND COLDPLAY stadium but has dated fucking terribly, to go with being built the wrong way. It won’t take long for the basketball court configuration alone to be looked back on as a quirk of overzealous salesmanship. Last week at the MCG was a sad reminder of what the experience of going to the footy has become with the Concrete Dome being St Kilda’s home ground. Watching the team play in the elements again on Saturday felt awfully foreign and fleeting.

Being inside all footy season is exhausting. Writing this blog is exhausting (although that one’s entirely on me). A second season of emailing the club and social media posts asking about the club for a single fucking answer about the club song that have been really weirdly dodged take their toll. Something – anything – would be nice; surely the Ultimate Membership gets me something? No? Oh, ok.

***

All the highlights of St Kilda games past don’t really mean anything over the off-season. Or for anything now. Marking the 15-year anniversary of Stephen Milne kicking 11 against the Lions on the club site and social media channels three days after the close of this season – and this decade – is sad. What the fuck is the point of that? “Remember those times, when we were good and there was a future?? Now it’s a Tuesday night three eras later and Jake Carlisle and Josh Bruce all of a sudden are on the trade table. Stuv is probably gone, Bruce was either very unconvincing or very hungover talking about his own situation on Channel 7. Is anyone that fussed? We’re going nowhere fast – certainly not because of those individuals; but from a supporter’s view a chasm lies between the heart of the club and the players on this team.

After several years of slow and staggered disconnection, the prospect of a new season is more exhausting, and the end of the footy season an increasingly bigger relief. A time to revel in the wildest, most frivolous thoughts. The knowledge that another season will inevitably come around gives us a cushion for any brazen self-dares. They’re getting wilder by the year, though. What would it be like if we followed the game but not have to deal with the Saints? What would it be like to not follow the game at all? What if we don’t need this?

Or it is not

by Tom Briglia

Round 22, 2019
Carlton  2.4, 5.5, 8.11, 11.12 (78)
St Kilda  3.3, 7.4, 8.8, 10.8 (68)
Crowd: 51,876 at the MCG, Saturday, August 18th at 1.45pm

IMG_7856 (1)

Much like all the wild fantasies and scandals we might have conjured up for the Ladder Predictor, including weird shifts in form and blow-out margins that wouldn’t have matched what actually happened, the scandalous storylines that open the pathway for a bemusing fairytale to unfold at this club are gone. Brett Ratten to Carlton? Brett Ratten to North Melbourne? Clarko to us? Ross Lyon to Carlton, and then we play them in the Grand Final in a couple of years? Which could mean maybe Robert Harvey to us? Or maybe Ross Lyon straight to us? Omg Lenny? IS GT COMING BACK? HOLY FUCKING SHIT MAYBE IT IS ROSS.

Whatever grown-over, baited pathway that lies beyond the Road to 2018 isn’t going to suddenly become apparent and neatly paved because of a late-season change of coach. There’s no Teague Train charging through the Frankston line to Moorabbin station. There was no McKay or Walsh or Cripps or Curnow or Curnow or Dow or McGovern or Setterfield or Casboult or whoever waiting to be rearranged in a large navy blue jigsaw and unlock the code to reawaken a giant club that had laid dormant since the Semi Final weekend of 2001, with intermittent disturbances.

***

Just like our Saturday match-up against Melbourne at the MCG earlier this year, this game offered a glimpse of an early 2020s Grand Final match-up featuring St Kilda and another emerging or Secure Long-Term Future club. For some reason we’re wearing our clash jumper as we did in 2010, but preferably a version of the candy stripe, or maybe what we have now. This weekend it was the 2022 Grand Final Day jumper match up. St Kilda’s clash jumpers are far more “St Kilda” than Carlton’s clash jumpers are “Carlton”, or Melbourne’s jumpers are “Melbourne”. For that reason I can’t quite imagine a Grand Final in which St Kilda is playing Carlton with the Blues in a clash jumper, or the Dees in theirs. The 2017 match-up was a test for the AFL but I’m sure they would step in and make us wear white shorts with the home jumper? But that’s a conversation for a different dimension.

Saturday afternoon at the MCG with two founding clubs of the competition. There’s nothing quite like it. For as long as the roof remains closed at the Concrete Disney Store who knows where or when we are? If Saturday’s game had been played there, the roof would have been closed. Sunshine for one day. I said the other week some moments feel like they’re made for the seat you’re sitting in. The play or the moment unfolds and you have the perfect view. Some days at the footy feel like they’re made for wherever your life might be at that point.

***

There was anticipation around the ground as I walked in a stupor at 12.15pm from Wellington Parade to Gate 2. There were already queues of Carlton fans outside of the ground waiting to pick up tickets. People had already got their hands on the navy blue hand sign wavy things. Out in the sunshine, to watch a game in the actual weather. Remember that? People are still doing this. Walking around outside the ground was a much needed reminder that all of this was still a thing. It was a relief.

Of the 51,000 crowd, 80% would have been Carlton fans. This was the awkwardly presented membership make-up game for Shanghai, and having the city end entirely for St Kilda looked great, but that was basically it. If just about any other club was playing there would have been 65,000. Keep in mind the stakes for this one were zero.

***

Before a game of such stature, nothing short of the classics on the big screen at the MCG would suffice. And so, Carlton’s match day humans presented us with St Kilda vs Carlton in Wellington on Anzac Day of 2015; early in a year that saw the teams finish 14th and 18th respectively. The most striking thing about the game was the aesthetics – St Kilda in one of the three one-off NZ jumpers (this was the one with grey), and Carlton in their weird sort-of panelled clash jumper in front of a stadium one large tier of yellow seats. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yncPGRsy2KY

***

If you hadn’t bothered keeping track of anything this year, there were a few hallmarks of a late season dead rubber, and that’s beyond the mincing of disposal and non-physicality. Cripps trying to kick a goal out of mid-air, Hind trying to dribble one from the pocket. Footy back to its purest form. Nice to have the run around. Nice to be out of the house.

Membrey set the tone with a set shot miss from a clinical opening bounce clearance and mark on the lead. Nothing was going to be easy. Let’s take a look at the board:
13.7 (85)
10.16 (76)
9.12 (66)
10.14 (74)
15.5 (95)
10.8 (68)
10.10 (70)
10.10 (70)
10.11 (71)
9.14 (68)
9.15 (69)
11.14 (80)
8.11 (59)
10.10 (70)
11.7 (73)
8.9 (57)
17.14 (116)
15.14 (104)
10.10 (70)
10.12 (72)
10.8 (68)

Acres probably opened with three specifically bad kicks out of four, including two terrible forward entries. No rhythm and no momentum in this one. Bruce and Stuv ran into goal and messed it up. Bruce’s captain’s moment never came, Stuv was clearly struggling second up.

Eventually Nick Hind decided to take four bounces and floated a goal through against the flow. Like Stuv last week, it was a reminder of how rare it is that one of our own players will seem to physically break through the will and gravity of a match. What else did we have? Very quietly, not much really. It was a meek sign-off. Long’s goal? Oh yeah, I remember when he did that when our season mattered. Hunter Clark’s finesse, Rowan Marshall’s work out of the ruck before Kreuzer wore him down. In the way we could manufacture something the week before, we absolutely could not on Saturday. We kicked 3.4 in the second half.

Casboult at one end, to the lead of McKay, to the threat of McGovern. Simpson charging through the middle in the last quarter had the air of Ablett’s charge out of the centre in our last game at the MCG last decade. McKay’s wheel around and goal; Daisy’s side step; Casboult’s goliath protection at the top of our goal square. This was their day, and their time is coming. Never mind the noise when Jack Billings’ post-siren goal sailed through in Round 5 as we sat on top of the ladder. Did you hear that roar when ? It wasn’t just for this game, it was an affirmation that the Blues are back. That the appointment of David Teague was more than just riding the 2019 caretaker’s momentum.

This went into the file of watching a team run over the top of the Saints at the MCG, and feeling that the ground was simply too grand and too much for this club. Round 21 of 2002 against Collingwood, a shock loss to the Bulldogs in Round 12 of 2004, the 2005 Preliminary Final, the 2006 Elimination Final, Round 14 of 2007 against Collingwood (featuring Daisy Thomas), the 2009 Grand Final. You have that feeling in your core sometimes – not today, whatever the stakes.

***

Really, I’d forgotten what it was like to go the footy and enjoy the fucking day. Artificial light. I had a great day out with Matt and Dad. Dad and I spoke on the phone the next day and specifically talked about how much we liked the MCG and how nice it was to be out in the weather.

***

Melbourne loomed as our next vague rivals. Geelong and St Kilda was made for the early 21st century period of premiership drought breaking, and it made sense the Dees would be next after the Dogs and Tigers wiped out anything else beyond Carlton and Fremantle’s 1995. Our next rival appears to have already gone beyond us. The Carlton and Brisbane Lions that were a permanent fixture of derision and irrelevance look like the next big things (if the Lions aren’t there already), and perhaps what we refer to as the team of the 2020s later this century.

***

At what point is it late in the season? At what point does the early season feeling give way to the reflective nature of Rounds 20-plus? What were we doing or thinking in Round 15 or Round 16? The day-to-day reveals the banality of the actual lumps of dirt that make of the earth of the season – we’ve been filing out of this season for a couple of months now, and games have become a little bit more of an impost to the rest of the weekend. There is more relief now when a season is done than ever before. Footy season is a state of being. All of sudden this is the last rushed minute left to grab the membership scarf and get everything together (which I had all morning to sort out) before ungracefully rushing to the 58 tram. The last tram ride into the city, the last Saturday afternoon to watch the Saints play in actual weather and the actual earth’s atmosphere. This Saturday, the season will disappear in anonymity.

Yesterday’s problem

by Tom Briglia

St Kilda 4.3, 6.5, 8.7, 10.12 (72)
Fremantle
2.3, 6.4, 9.8, 10.9 (69)
Crowd: 17,715 at Marvel Stadium, Sunday, August 11th at 1.10pm

Screen Shot 2019-08-12 at 11.26.35 pm

By the end of Saturday night, Round 21 had seen GWS reduced to their lowest score in the eight years in the competition, and then North Melbourne to theirs since joining the VFL in 1925. Essendon had kicked a goal within 19 seconds of their game starting, but at the 21-minute mark of the last quarter were 1.8. Melbourne had kicked 3.8 at the final change that afternoon. Carlton were 1.6 at half-time on Sunday.

Of course, Essendon kicked three arsey goals to let novelty scores and stats enthusiasts down and somehow, somehow, temper the loss with the last three goals. Teams like that will always find some angle, some cushioning. That deserved to be 1.8 at the end. . It’s often not mentioned that Port kicked the last 1.3 of the 2007 Grand Final – the margin had stretched out to 128 points. That does make a difference. The Bulldogs at one stage led 137 to 14. It was still their biggest loss to the Bulldogs ever, sure, but it just wasn’t the empirical freak occurrence it could have been, that belonged in the tired, very off-white pages of the copy of Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Australian Rules Football, But Couldn’t Be Bothered Asking that my Mum bought home for me when I was seven, and endlessly fascinated and partially terrified me with its odd font and strange tales about scorelines and happenstances that belonged to a time when freak occurrences maybe weren’t such freak occurrences, but were still of the same century.

The laboured point being is that this was the kind of game that might just well yield a only a couple of goals for each team on any weekend, let alone one that was already drenched in anomaly. Like those weekends where all the games are weirdly close, but usually the effects have worn off over the Saturday night. The close game aspect was one that felt likely, and to the point where I was more expectant of close piss-away of the type we saw in Round 3. We almost got something very similar – before Josh Bruce’s kick floated left we had kicked the same score as that shitty Sunday evening, and Freo were up by three points instead of five. Watching Ross Lyon’s Dockers in Round 4 of 2012 was like watching the same team play against each other on a video game, and watching the Saints over the past couple of years has been like watching a not-as-good, then briefly better, then worse version of Ross Lyon’s Dockers of the late 2010s. Perhaps fairly, both games this year were decided either way by less than a kick, and that is a very St Kilda and Fremantle thing to say when usually that sentence is applied to the Swans and West Coast and the 2005 and 2006 Grand Finals.

 ***

Anonymity is the lot of a team who is watching their season and another heavy-hearted decade quietly move to a close. The crescendo of 2019, really, was reached a few weeks ago, and opened the epilogue pages in Adelaide last week. No one has cause to mention the Saints for any good reason. All Australian squads, Brownlow tips, under 22 all Australian squads, a smattering of media awards, let alone anything relevant to finals or a premiership. No one has cause to mentioned the Saints for any bad reason. We just sacked our second-longest serving coach in an event no one really wanted to happen, but was inevitable, and is now in the past. The most we could hope for came via Channel 9 Adelaide this week in a piece about crowds being down throughout the year: Port Adelaide crowds by more than 3,000, Adelaide’s by around 1,270, “Torrential rain, bad time slots and match-ups <cut to footage of Adelaide vs St Kilda> all blamed”. Last week was the third-lowest Crows home crowd at Adelaide Oval.

No, high scoring doesn’t necessitate quality football, but the scoring of zeitgeist of 1919 had returned a century later, through snow or Concrete Dome conditions, and the latest edition of the Bizarro Rivalry had suitably been scheduled for two teams known for not being overly keen on kicking goals this year, or for much of the past decade, by design, by incompetence, and seemingly in some cases, both. Another look the board, please:
13.7 (85)
10.16 (76)
9.12 (66)
10.14 (74)
15.5 (95)
10.8 (68)
10.10 (70)
10.10 (70)
10.11 (71)
9.14 (68)
9.15 (69)
11.14 (80)
8.11 (59)
10.10 (70)
11.7 (73)
8.9 (57)
17.14 (116)
15.14 (104)
10.10 (70)
10.12 (72)

***

Jade Gresham was the latest edition to the 2019 Surprise, Unusual and Bad Injuries List, and we’d brought in two midfielders that are probably our best players but have played about 30 seconds of footy this year. The Best Player in the AFL Since Round 11, Rowan Marshall nearly joined the group after a collision with two Dockers coming from different directions that actually looked like a computer glitch from our view on the opposite wing. Matt and Dad and I had said less than a minute earlier that we’d had all the play for not much return on the scoreboard. Very quickly, Marshall had come off and 2020 was ruined. The game quite obviously shifted in that moment. Marshall is clearly our most important player. Welcome to the next rebuild.

Being the St Kilda Football Club meant the door was open and delicious food laid out for the opposition, and Walters was brought into the game within moments to kick Freo’s first. The Coff’s shoulder fell out a few minutes later and Fyfe (in clash arm sleeve) kicked a goal around the corner. There are clear differences in talent and careers built here, but Freo’s best players were now making an impact as some of the few highlights we had left in 2019 were quickly dropping off. Freo supporters continued ensuring their club remains an aesthetic 1990s bad novelty with the “Olé, olé, olé, olé” chant after goals. Cool.

The difference in leaders and star quality was slowly looking like it would take hold. That isn’t actually that much across the two teams right now, but that’s all it might take when you’ve got two teams that aren’t overly keen on scoring. Hannebery’s two goals were forgotten, and Stuv’s smart body work one-on-one that had contributed to a Membrey mark and goal then set off an excellent chain which ended with a long kick to Josh Bruce out the back tripping over himself. Freo took it up the other end for a goal, and Bruce – one of the few guys who has actually been playing like a captain – rewarded the neat work from Dunstan to open up the ground, and then some rare clean ball movement through Hannebery, Stuv and Lonie, with a missed set shot. Freo went up the other end again for a Fyfe goal. The Ross Effect had taken hold, Freo had unassumingly hit the front and Fyfe at that point had 17 touches and two goals.

Decent looks at goal were rare, which made Hannebery’s snaps in the first quarter that much more valuable. He wasn’t quite pacing Fyfe but two goals and 14 touches might have been in the classier of halves played by a Saint this year. No fuss, no worry, no problem. He clearly wasn’t developed at this club. Uncompromising usually is a byword to toughness, and he has that, but he doesn’t need to think too hard about his disposal and intent. He knows what needs to be done, and he does it.

Marshall had been reduced to the Freo-style set-and-forget ruck, which only works heading into the 2020s if you literally, literally, literally are the tallest player to have ever played. Stuv’s goal and the celebration was an excellent moment that was brashly interrupted by the recorded Jack Steven chant over the PA. I don’t know if the club knows this, but that ascending tone that played at the MCG was one of the last in-game ground announcements and that kind of thing really is going to make the crowd stop and listen. The ground announcer and the club (I know we’re not the only ones doing this) can’t help themselves and are still running with the soccer-style individual player announcements before the game. They really built this one up after zero responses for any players number 1 to 26 and went for JOSH *vague “ooooooo” crow noise for “Bruce”* which just ended up as JOSH SILENCE. And they did the captain last, like it’s fucking Craig Willis after the fucking Grand Final.

When music was played after a late, meaningless goal in Round 3 of 2018 that visibly pissed off people who were only just coming to terms with the rebuild failing, I really wondered in that moment if the club would care or think about this kind of stuff. After the game and the crappy version of the song was played a few times they tried something different and went for the replay of Bruce’s winner with BONUS GROUND ANNOUNCER EXCITED VOICE and built up the crowd but they just still don’t understand the disconnect and went to that “you’re the best” song instead of the club song and people started leaving immediately. Yes, it did matter and it did make a difference in that moment.

***

That second quarter featured a string of Acres, Long, Battle and Paton that may have been the saddest handball chain of the professional era, and was immediately followed on the turnover into Freo’s forward line by a scuffed kick to Walters who was good enough to handball over his head to Fyfe. The skied kick meant an awkward dance shared by Carlisle and Sean Darcy, a dribbling ball towards goal and a weird attempted spoil by Battle with his boot via an awkward lunge. We talk about all the highlights of a season, but what is it that makes a season? It’s all the shit in between that builds up bit-by-bit.

Barging through the idea of Dunstan going for a checkside goal instead of a drop punt because he didn’t learn from the first time because he actually kicked the goal was Stuv. The one-on-one mark in front of goal lifted the crowd in a game that had become all about which side could reduce the other to the lowest score. By the time Acres, Lonie and Long had all shat directly into their pants in front of goal late in the game it was then about to which side could reduce themselves to the lowest score.  For all intents and purposes we were done before Stuv’s third goal. It might have just been too good to be true if he’d wheeled around for his fourth to put us in front shortly after, but it would have made sense in that moment, in the way the game was being played and the way that he appeared to break through the gravity of the dour game itself. Was he this good the whole time? Maybe we didn’t use him properly, if that’s possible. Maybe he should have played in the forward line more often. He outbodied his opponent and turned to look for a teammate, or indeed the goals, that made him our best small forward. He did start his career  off in that role – for many our first introduction to him may have been kicking the winner in the second round of the 2008 NAB Cup against the Cats, but more loudly the three goals against Geelong in Round 13 of 2010 as the search for redemption really got going. In the way that these stints in attack were out of necessity, so might the last few years have been. Too much class in the midfield to break into initially, and then in a slow and one-paced team crashing down the ladder, how do you take out your best midfielder? We might not have a choice pretty soon, but I think we’re going to be more than ok with that if that’s best for him.

Bruce eventually had his captain’s moment. He’d burned a few options earlier to take a set shot from outside 50 and didn’t score, but this is someone who has wanted to take responsibility whatever the game situation has been. Right to the end, when Josh Battle made the kind of play that really endears supporters to a young player.

***

There was just over 17,000 at the Concrete Disney Store for the last home game of the year. Secretly, yay. This was branded as “Saints Say Thanks” round, after we’d been “called upon” at the start of year as if we were still owing favours after decades of memberships and shitty winter trips to and from shitty games at shitty home grounds. I tweeted that I’d trade the free chips offered for having turned up to every home game for The Fable Singers version of the club song being returned (Rory: “I’ll have the chips … and the song returned too”, which was a more appropriate and reasonable response to be honest). There was no real response from the club, which brought us to 514 days since the new songs were “revealed” and St Kilda has not publicly referenced the change, nor publicly nor privately given any reason as to why, nor why they didn’t actually ask anyone about the change, nor why they didn’t say anything at all about it, now why it’s been so long that they didn’t. Thank you, Saints. I didn’t even get the fucking chips.

Another weird, shitty season under the YEAR 2000 lights of Incubating Disneyland Melbourne, where the seasons are forgotten. The changing in the angle of the sun is forgotten. Part of the journey of a footy season is that it tracks the path of our day-to-day lives from the tail of summer, as we reacquaint ourselves with reality, through the depths of winter, and then, if you’re lucky enough, spring springs for you in September as the weather warms and the sun shines heading to the final stretch of the year, which has soon enough become the year that was. Every game played at Docklands is an aesthetic duplicate now; no real record of a time or place other than a link between Disney and a Western Bulldogs board member, and the idiocy or fuckwittery of people who had every number of resources and dollar amounts available to them when designing and constructing a new stadium. So many games are played in this concrete dome – including most of ours – and it means so many games across the competition look and sound the same. The crappy echo of the unnecessary roof, the shitty grey, the same artificial lighting forever.