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Rd 5 - Freo v Gold Coast

Staring at the Suns


Looking to save some money through a 6am flight, the Crows v Carlton opener occurred to me, from sleep deprivation, as a fever dream. My team looked similarly stunned. Pittonet injured his eye (pecked, I assume, by a Crow) and, though we wish him a speedy recovery, many would have been jealous of his blurry vision by early in the last quarter.

Once we reached match 2, a suburban oval fixture between the Dockers and Suns, a proper sleep and 24 hours later, I’d sharpened. Others may have been more organised and motivated than us, hence we were made late by the parking situation close to ‘The Parade’. An ABC radio team were similarly nonchalant – Kelli Underwood and co. swanning around in a broadcasting marquee outside the entrance, seemingly talking about anything other than the match already unfolding inside. Upon entering, there was – unmistakably, pains me to say charmingly – the smell of frying sausages, emphasising the grassroots vibe and the wider festival of pigskin. The league-wide adoption of vegan footballs, ‘Beyond Sherrins’, could well be one of the next battlegrounds.

We (brother, sister, I) found a seat in a neglected corner of the grandstand, and the reasons for its emptiness soon became apparent. Whoever had designed the glass box of the adjacent ‘Wolf Blass Community Centre’ possessed scant regard for those in the community who’d favoured this western section of the existing stand, because the fresh structure jutted enough to obscure almost half the ground. Things were too crowded, though, to justify immediately moving from objectively the worst seats in the house. My attendance guess was 20,000. Jess, my sister, went for significantly less. A few ‘locals’ nearby were grumbling about the angles of the ‘Wolf Blass Centre’, too. The inserted stadium screen was too far away to be any help – I got slightly delayed highlights from Kayo instead. The fact that the yellow Sherrin rarely appeared for our half-quarter in Norwood’s version of Siberia spoke, of course, to the Suns’ early dominance, given they were kicking towards the hidden end.


A little tediously, I fixated on the bizarre, almost tidal movements of the Freo forwards, Suns backs who arranged upfield despite the ball not being in our sight. By their shuffling rhythms – pausing, jogging, bursting – a mathematician may have been able to infer some kind of biometric pattern. Again, I’m stretching the significance of this, but the conspicuous absence of the ball served as a reminder that it is the actual polestar, rather than the players. We go to matches to support favourite athletes, but our eyes are, without proper appreciation, influenced entirely by the faltering journey of an ovoid. It’s always the whims of the ball that are the crucial determinants. The centre half-forward roosts to the unguarded square, but it’s the orb itself that decides a goal by its landing mood. Present-day AFL players pass as diligent professionals, miles ahead of their forebears and immersed in cutting-edge skills programs, and yet even they cannot achieve mastery to the point of fully comprehending the ball’s myriad secrets, more numerous than those of any equivalent equipment in world sport. Perhaps this is why even top-flight players are still routinely criticised for getting sucked-in to the stupefied trap of ‘ball-watching’.


And much like that unseen ball behind the ‘Wolf Blass Centre’ was magnetising competing players, didn’t it have a hold on us? Wasn’t it one of a team of similar blobs that over the round drew thousands to attention-seeking Adelaide, injected cash, might’ve been the crucial factor in Ben and I travelling to visit our SA-bound student sister?


Much was made of round 5’s story of human migration (the AFL might’ve liked us to think it an Australian equivalent of Chinese New Year) but there was cause to doubt many of the relatively small cluster of Gold Coast fans we saw had made a trip. Most looked like hired help McLachlan’s goons had plucked from Adelaide malls. We changed our spot at quarter time, giving ourselves a fresh view directly behind the goals, the GC cheer squad, a timber platform for a Foxtel camera. What was notable about the GC disciples – planets, for how they claim to orbit the Suns – was their youthful demographic, the more than a few who, in breaks, took opportunities to narrate to social media. Many look like housemates who’ve picked the Suns as something to bond over, rather than a gardening project, Succession or Catan. I imagined this in stark contrast, of course, to the likely composition of a Carlton cheer squad (who I’ve never stood amongst, but should do for the purposes of these pages). In that more ancient coterie, I suppose, would be grey-haired devotees wedded psychologically to their team more firmly than any real spouse, decades of club history flapping in their minds surer than recent memories, much of it pertaining to Princes Park, our own suburban birthplace.


The Suns were by far the better team of the first half on Friday, then may have taken for granted that Freo seem shadow of last year’s version. As the Dockers pegged back the lead, then clung to one their own, their fans, once camouflaged in purple by the night, found a voice. And there simply weren’t enough Suns supporters present to have an effect in willing the frontrunners back. Accustomed to driving their own energy, the players almost managed it themselves. Behind the posts, we clapped Noah Anderson’s last quarter goals as though they’d suffice. Matt Rowell attempted a late soccer shot out of a pack, but the ovoid, in its infinite wisdom, didn’t think the effort worthy of the full six.


We left the ground disappointed for the Suns, tired of football and ‘gathering’ before the weekend had technically even started. The rubbish-strewn terraces may have added to the melancholy. Whilst the Blues need finals for the wellbeing of fans, there’s no team who truly need success, right now, more than the existentially-minded Suns. Perhaps, with all the stars who’ve exercised an individualistic right to leave, it’s unfair they’ve never had much. Can I suggest, though, that one way to get things rolling would be to do away with the home ground that was immediately big enough for hosting the pomp and splendour of a Commonwealth Games? Granted I’ve never been to Metricon, but they might find instead a ground in the ’burbs – or out in the canals somewhere – with an arrow-straight boundary line, a scary brick wall alongside, a superficially old grandstand, tired scoreboard, a glass box to impress moneyed fans and concrete terraces that harvest Coke bottles and beer cans as sure as paddies do rice. Something much like the ground the Suns commandeered for a half until the Dockers got themselves straight, where 9000 fans can feel like triple the tally, where a real congregation might meet and, over time, converge around a mythology. Far be in from me to offer any helpful advice to the Suns at this difficult point in their season, though. No doubt the cheery, ravenous Premier Malinauskas leant into McLachlan’s ear at some point over the weekend and suggested relocating the Suns permanently to Norwood, but I dearly hope in that case he was, for once, rebuffed.


Little-known performer of the week: The sneaky Suns supporter (or planet, remember) who attempted cheating the 30-minute alcohol queue ahead of the old grandstand just before the start of the second half. He was, in many ways, a white rhino: definitely over 50, pasty, wearing a short-sleeved GC guernsey and nothing beneath in a style that could’ve implied he, rather than Alex Sexton, was substitute for the second half, were it not for the cargo pants completing his kit. He slid into position, one place ahead of the container-cum-bar, with Malcolm Rosas-esque stealth (or that of Izak Rankine, miserably). Before I might’ve commented anything, the guy behind me, who actually looked something like a rhino (tough hide, a proud, scary face) intervened to reject the ploy. I protested – all-round pathetically – that the intruder might be afforded this one gesture of goodwill, purely on the grounds he was a kitted-out supporter of a team thirsting for men of his ilk even more desperately than another A-grade player, or more than the miscreant himself for an underwhelming beer. Really, it might’ve been Gold Coast’s 24th man who the principled grouch knocked-back, who this half-arsed writer barely defended. He moped over to the cheer-squad, lip maybe trembling with embarrassment. I wondered afterwards if another beer for him could’ve been the press of butterfly wings that stirred a battle-cry, that called the Coast properly to attention once they were overtaken in the last quarter. Instead, the Dockers, basic queuing etiquette, conservative values all did prevail.

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