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.

Wind on tin

by Tom Briglia

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.