top of page

Rd 22 - Blues v Dees

 Closing in

Having only watched two and a half quarters of play, the final stages feel like the crescendo of a much shorter version of the sport – a Twenty20 or ‘Fast4’ equivalent. The scores at half-time were basically level, meaning the decision to linger at a pub for the Matildas hasn’t cost any vital plot details. I arrived just as the stadium was recalibrating from the soccer. Dad sat through the first half with a radio app for company. I sense, for him, the commentary is decorative, rather than an avenue to crucial insights. This, the first match that’s been just the two of us in some time. As spectators, we show contrasting styles. He’ll take games in carefully, whereas I’ll natter about star contributors, decisions missed, opposition players I especially don’t like.

For him, sitting in the stands, there’d be a special layer of evocation. In his mind, he must shoot forwards to the ground itself, must glide to wispy formulations of times when he’d been centre stage, when thousands bayed for contests he’d impacted. These memories over two decades old, now – from the last days of woollen jumpers, an undeveloped Members stand, ubiquitous black boots punting the ball outside the scope of TV frames. They’re his memories, exclusively, but it’s special to sit in their vicinity, a plastic seat away, and to know they’re ‘in the family’. Although in no way mine, they’re a help for contextualising my own obsession with the sport. Dad’s hungrier for Blues success than his general demeanour lets on. In 2011, for instance, he facilitated us travelling to Perth to watch Andrew Walker get held in a semi-final. Whenever he raises Carlton injury or team selection news as small-chat, it could be a case of reading my mind, but I sense it’s as much him expressing what’s on his own.

In tonight’s last quarter, my phone is out for checking the time remaining as soon as Charlie puts us three goals ahead – not to brush-over Owies’ effort from the flank that first re-established a lead. Pickett’s snap (and goal) out of a pack seems ominous, although in a fashion that’s perhaps too cruel to be fulfilled. We’re protected, in a way, by the heartbreak of last year’s loss to Melbourne at a similar stage of the year. Our backline stands-up brilliantly, and yet the Demons manage the goals and ‘handy points’ that land them within a kick. Cincotta falls across the legs of van Rooyen (without penalty) and Dad’s expression, when I look for it, is sheepish. Little does he know it’ll be his personal gripe – score reviews for ‘touched’ goals – that shall have the strongest say in our win. On what’s ostensibly a ‘soccer night’, it’s fitting biblically-named Caleb Marchbank enacts a ‘Hand of God’. Granted, injuries have prevented Marchbank as yet attaining the status of Diego Maradona, and his action was something of the inverse (rather than punching a goal, Marchbank’s hand may have immaterially prevented one). He signals ‘touched’ to the goal umpire, as any of us would’ve done, like Silvagni trying to deny Michael Long in ’93. Dad squirms as the AFL’s VAR deliberates, all the while inching towards inconclusiveness, ‘umpire’s call’. It’s unclear which of Marchbank’s phalanges (left hand, right hand, right foot) are the prime suspect. Let’s not forget, though, this moment of divine intervention requires the help of forty additional seconds of dour defending, and at least one more deliberate ‘out of bounds’.

At the siren, I leap to my feet in surprise, chiefly because my lagging app had suggested there were still ten seconds to wait. The navy swathes celebrate like it’s a guaranteed finals spot – certainly I do, until another check of the ladder predictor on the train suggests it isn’t quite. An extraordinary win, but at the burst of the song, Dad’s thinking of dogs he had to leave down the coast, wants to make tracks. Maybe after finals wins, if they come, we’ll linger for a quarter-hour or so. We chat about best players, form-lines and the logistics of September tickets. He introduced me, long ago, to the tradition of victory donuts. Over these, we judge it’d need to be 14 wins in a row for a flag this year (his old guernsey number). He quips it’s achievable given, in ’95, they’d won 16 en route to a cup I was then small enough to be arranged and pictured inside. Maybe such optimism from him explains where some of my own susceptibility to ‘dreaming’ derives from. Dad disappears towards Richmond and I take an opposite course for Jolimont, messaging whoever might share my enthusiasm on a wild night for Australian sport. Fittingly, if the Blues can beat the Suns next week, properly locking-in their first finals appearance in a decade, there’s some chance of a public holiday.

bottom of page