Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Wish you were here - joy and despair with the MFC since 1989

Now here's a Twitterist who knows what floats my boat.
... which prompted me to think about the worst individual days of my supporting career. I'm only going to include debacles that I attended - meaning losing to Sydney in 1993, the 2002 final against Adelaide, either Grand Final, the Jordan McMahon tankfest, and 148 are all off the agenda. And as I only started watching at the end of 1989 the obvious #1 ticketholder 1987 Prelim is not in the running.

If you'd like to tackle any of the 2005- games in long form we've got something for you here or here, but otherwise let's have at it.

The terrible 10
Apologies to Round 10 1999, Round 17 2000, Round 19 2003Elimination Final 2004, Round 18 2006, Round 12 2007, Round 13 2007Round 19 2008, Round 7 2013, Round 16 2013 and Round 18 2013. There's a heavy bias towards the #fistedforever era in the runners up, because our losing streak at the start of 2007 tipped me over the edge from mildly passionate into complete lunacy.

10. Round 14, 1990 - North Melbourne 31.14.200 d. Melbourne 10.13.73
Remember when you were a kid and going to the footy was fun? Even losing wasn't so bad. But unexpectedly being beaten by 127 in the middle of an otherwise good season, with John Longmire thrashing home 14 goals, was no way to celebrate my first trip to the MCG. There have been worse days there since, but it's a wonder I didn't turn and run a mile after this. Records do not show whether I stayed right until the end but I doubt it.

9. Round 21, 2014 - GWS 15.8.98 d. Melbourne 3.16.34
Because everyone needs a reminder that the Paul Roos era wasn't all good times. He put us on the right path, but we had to get there via some of the most tedious football ever put on. This was a special, 22 players desperately clawing towards the finish line to the point where they were thrashed by a side three men down for the entire second half.

Not only did we play miserable, dull football that you wouldn't look out your window to see, but I got my first (and to date last) warning of ejection from a bored security guard, and went home with a jaw clenched tight like I'd been bitten by a rabid dog. At the time I described it as "a pea-hearted, putrid performance from a club halfway down the S-Bend of the footballing toilet", and that was probably being generous.

8. Round 2, 2010 - Collingwood 12.14.86 d. Melbourne 12.13.85
Any deeply over-committed fan knows that having unexpected victory yanked out of your grasp can be almost as painful as a thrashing. You walk in thinking "I'll take a six goal loss", then by the end when your side has got 35 points closer than expected you're left thinking it's the worst thing to happen since Cyclone Tracy. Or in my case on this day, left with a pair of sunglasses stomped to dust and four skinless knuckles from abusing a Ponsford Stand seat.

It was the day Ricky Petterd played the game of his life, and just failed to top it off with a second left as the ball fell from his fingers right in front of goal. It's not his fault, it would have arguably been worse if he'd taken the mark then missed, but looking down the ground at the ball flying towards him, and knowing how little time was left I instinctively stood up, causing the late sunnies to fall to the floor. As the mark went down, the siren rang, and a Pies fan taunted me to his child by saying "ha ha, he thought they were going to win", the red mists descended, the glasses were trampled, and much to the detriment of my hand a seat was wailed on. Turned out to be a reasonable season, but how was I to know that at the time?

There was an additional moment of panic when I got a text message outside the ground commenting on an awesome tantrum, and thought the TV cameras must have captured me fritzing out. Fortunately it was in regards to Petterd's frustrated beating of the turf, and not my anti-social behaviour.

7. Round 1 2007 - St Kilda 13.15.93 d. Melbourne 9.8.62
Where it all began, the first night of the era that has come to define the 21st century history of the club. Admittedly as much of a shit night as I had, starting with accidentally insulting a hairdresser and going on from there, it didn't feel that bad at the time. In fact when Matthew Whelan shirtfronted somebody in the first quarter it looked like the good times from the 2006 Elimination Final were going to continue. We'd already got two Saints coaches sacked and contributed to a third going, so why not ruin the career of first gamer Ross Lyon before it even started?

The reason it qualifies here is because of what it represents. We were alleged to be Victoria's best hope of a flag. Now I look back to Brock McLean busting his foot, the way almost all the veterans simultaneously hit the wall, and the introduction of a gameplan that was nothing more than panic handball lunacy and it feels like somebody took a major wrong turn at the end of 2006. I'm not sure if we could have been saved, but we might have waited a few weeks before totally imploding.

6. Round 1 2008 - Hawthorn 23.16.154 d. Melbourne 6.14.50
For all the disasters of '07, culminating in that degrading spectacle against Carlton in the last game, I faked hope across the summer leading up to the new season, pretending it had been a necessary correction, and that we were going to recover to at least mid-table. Then the game started. Hawthorn were building to something very special, we were puttering along hopefully with not many changes from the '07 side, and were violently dispatched accordingly. You just have to look at our side to know what a nightmare we were in for. At least I lived around the corner and was home within minutes.

5. Round 2, 1999 - St Kilda 19.16.130 d. Melbourne 13.6.84
My darkest day for fan behaviour. Coming off the grand recovery of '98 and a Round 1 win, I went to Waverley full of vigor, half full of liquor and made a Rex Hunt out of myself. After settling on St Kilda as my most hated team thanks to the conduct of their cheersquad in the previous years' finals (more on that later) I did not take losing to the Tim Watson All-Stars well.

At one point the Footy Record was lobbed off the staircase at the back of the stand, then around the time unbeknownst to me Spider Everitt was saying terrible things about Scott Chisholm's race, some terrible things I said about his footballing ability prompted an elderly Saints fan to stick his nose into my business. Being young, dumb and full of glum I said something so outrageous I refuse to reveal it here, then did a runner when it became clear every St Kilda fan in the vicinity was about to do me in. And I would have deserved it. Never again have I gone to a game pre-boozed, or indulged heavily outside the safety of a corporate box.

4. Round 6, 2007 - Port Adelaide 10.16.76 d. Melbourne 9.17.71
Where the stress of going from premiership contenders to arseholes finally exploded in a shower of sparks, my first great public outburst since punching the bejesus out of a chair after losing to North by a point in 2000.

When the AFL inaugurate their Museum of Howler Decisions I will set up a picket line to make sure the James McDonald deliberate handball 28 minutes into the last quarter is included. Maybe if I finally see a replay it will become clear to me that he really was going for the boundary, but the myth of him being rorted, and my subsequent tantrum has achieved such iconic status that I don't want to be proven wrong. Anyway, part of the issue was that Port had been casually walking the ball over the line all day so it was a fine time to pay one.

As the free was paid I jumped to my feet in the middle deck of the Ponsford Stand, and charged up the steps unloading a defamatory, and to be honest unfair spray about Andrew Demetriou trying to kill us off and how everything was a giant conspiracy. Which was embarrassing, but didn't stop me flipping out in a similar fashion just three weeks later after losing by a point to North. Angry angry young man.

3. Round 1, 2013 - Port Adelaide 19.19.133 d. Melbourne 8.6.54
And now to the podium - three games, three different coaches, three different types of catastrophe. As we've already seen above, there's nothing like a Round 1 disaster to harpoon your emotions. You've spent all summer preparing for something better, trudge here, there and everywhere for meaningless pre-season games, then discover that your side are still putrid.

In this case there was an additional layer of poison on the disgrace lasagne that was Melbourne under Neeld. I'd tried to stay positive throughout 2012, no matter how bad it got I thought the coach had inherited a team in some form of disarray and needed time to put his stamp on it. Even when Fox Sports were roped into reporting he was about to be sacked by a parody Twitter account about eight games into his tenure I didn't want to be the person who goes off too early on a coach then has to crawl back later. In this case the people who refused to get involved from day one (many of them contracted players) were right.

With seven new players - including four ring-ins from other clubs - this was Neeld's team at last. And they were no good. Nobody at the time knew that Port were going to climb off the canvas and almost make the Grand Final, so as they kicked five goals to a point in the third quarter the pressure of 20,000 Demons in the stands began to elevate to dangerous levels. By three-quarter time I knew I was off the coach for good, and the antics at the final siren with people nearly trampling each other to scream in a player's face was a dream for neutrals.

After Essendon humped us like a dog the following week, hurling abuse down the race had become a national sport. By mid-season the MCG introduced a tunnel to shield players as they went off. It was quickly retired, but when somebody tries to give you cliched talk about our fans being ponces I invite you to point out that we were responsible for the tunnel.

2. Round 19, 2011 - Geelong 37.11.233 d. Melbourne 7.5.47
I think we're all across what happened here. 186, the day Schwab leapt from the gallows by shoving Bailey into his place, and a nice train trip to South Geelong Station ruined by footballing ineptitude on a nearly world record scale.

I remember very little, if anything, about the game. My method of watching footy is almost entirely based on what we do with the ball, which is problematic when the opposition are running around carrying it on a string and generally taking the piss. The cruelest part of it was the shock value. If we'd lost by 31 goals in 2012 or 2013 it would have been a major setback, and we'd still be talking about it for years to come, but this was like being shot by a sniper while walking down Flinders Street. Except it wasn't even a clean kill, just a hail of bullets mowing us down like Willem Dafoe in Platoon.

Before the game I ran into the most shabbily dressed, and usually mortally ill looking person in my then office, and when I saw him again after the final siren he described me as looking like I was sick. This coming from the man whose desk/monitor positioning once exposed the banner of a brothel review website. After that I should have gone home and sulked, but was due to go to a Film Festival event and tried to be brave by pushing through instead of letting sports get to me. Halfway through I turned to the people talking behind me and said "could you please shut the fuck up?" Somebody had to cop it, and a pair of dreadlocked crusties were as good as anyone.

1. Round 6, 1992 - Essendon 18.16.124 d. Melbourne 19.9.123
Then there's this, which seems like an incongruous #1 because a) it happened when I was an innocent child, and b) we only lost by a point, but it's all about what it did to me psychologically. When Chris Sullivan (though for years I thought it was Glenn Lovett) kicked the goal to put us 46 points up at the start of the last quarter it looked like a good old fashioned day out at the footy, and that a comfortable win was coming our way. Then the Bombers piled on seven goals in a row, and in the dying seconds Gavin Wanganeen finally kicked a goal to put them in front.

This has destroyed my confidence in leads 46 points or less in the last quarter for the last 25 years, and the pain may never go away. Everything else on this list caused me somewhere between one day and five years of grief, but this has affected me for a quarter of a century. I can't even remember how helpless the players must have looked while the Bombers mowed us down, but I don't need to because I remember Wanganeen kicking the goal which affected my childhood, teenagehood, young adulthood, adulthood and now middle age.

The terrific 10

To balance things for the sunshine and lollipops crowd who hate negativity, here's my best moments. As above I had to be there, so Garry Lyon running riot in the '94 finals, the Jeff White win over the Bulldogs in '05 and all sorts of interstate snatch and grabs fail to qualify

Considering how relatively few contenders there are it was much harder to narrow this list down, and the last 10 years is under-represented. Maybe because before that I knew that the light at the end of the tunnel wasn't the light of an oncoming train.

Apologies to Round 8 19981998 Qualifying Final, 2000 Preliminary Final, Round 18 2004Round 5 2005, 2006 Elimination FinalRound 7 2008, Round 17 2010, Round 7 2011Round 13 2012, Round 13 2014 and Round 20 2016.

10. Round 15, 1997 - Melbourne 18.11.119 d. Carlton 15.10.100
An otherwise forgettable late season win in a nothing game, but the match that reopened my eyes to footy after over two full seasons of sooky teenage refusal to participate. Convinced to go by a Carlton fan, who probably thought there was no chance that the Greg Hutchison-powered Dees could spring an upset, we did just that.

It was good enough as it was, then a Blues fan interrupted my celebrations by poking his finger in my face and yelling "the umpires gave it to you!" From there it was obvious I had to get involved in this stuff again, allowing me to get clamber back on just in time to enjoy the fantastic '98 season.

9. 1989 Elimination Final - Melbourne 17.9.111 d. Collingwood 13.10.88
Where it all began, as a group of Collingwood supporting family friends took me to my first game. They must have thought it would be a real lark, driving home with a lone impressionable child to taunt unmercifully. Then we won. Get stuffed the lot of you. I didn't convince my mum to go to games until mid-next year, but this was the real start of an obsession that last until early '95, and has been going non-stop for 20 years.

8. Round 21, 1993 - Melbourne 26.19.175 d. Richmond 8.6.54
The biggest evisceration I've ever seen us deliver, and at this rate am ever likely to see, with the half unlikely goalkicking duo of Andy Lovell and Allen Jakovich sharing 16 goals. That would be memorable enough if it wasn't for the three quarter time fiasco where I raised my hand to point at something and a seagull dropped a toxic turd right on my finger. It was the second most disgusting moment of my childhood, only behind a trip to the zoo where the apes made me spew by throwing feces at each other.

7. Round 22, 1998 - Melbourne 19.19.133 d. Richmond 8.9.57
This was a master class in schadenfreude, one that will eventually rebound on me when we either a) stuff up the last round in a similar way, or b) the Tigers win a flag and laughing at their misfortune doesn't seem so funny. We went into the last game of '98 on top of the world, in red hot form with a double chance locked in, while Richmond were playing for a spot in the eight. They'd already beaten us earlier in the season, on the day where I accidentally sharted while kicking a rubbish bin in frustration on the way home, and could afford to wear a loss of up to about six goals here and get still displace Essendon. Then we thrashed them to buggery.

From Jeff Farmer taking the uncrowned Mark of the Year in the opening minutes it was a procession, leading to the hilarious scene of grown men crying in the usually butch smuggled booze and dope smoking top of the old Ponsford Stand. This remained funny until 2013 when we lost by 150 and a fan was shown crying on every media outlet in Australia.

6. Round 20, 1991 - Melbourne 20.20.140 d. North Melbourne 13.10.88
The biggest haul of goals by a Melbourne player I've seen, as Allen Jakovich put the exclamation point on his trash to treasure first season by taking the Roos for 11. Sitting in the lower deck of the old Olympic Stand I was in awe, this is the guy who'd done stuff all in two early season appearances, and had practically ruined a footy clinic at my school with his disinterest in being there, now he was tearing a team apart. Not only did he kick 11.7 and one out on the full, but completed the set by being reported for abusive language towards an umpire. We have quite literally never seen anything like it since - including the iconic scissor kick goal - and probably never will again.

5. Round 2, 1998 - Melbourne 19.11.125 d. North Melbourne 15.10.100
If a brave but plodding win over Carlton late in '97 had dragged me back in, this was the wedding ceremony. I'd thrown myself back into things in the off-season, even attending the Family Day where I posed in a photo with Jim Stynes where one of us was a Hall of Fame legend and the other was dressed like a berk.

After a loss to Fremantle, on a day where Dockers fans couldn't even be bothered launching a Carnival of Hate style anti-Jeff White campaign, this was our return to the MCG. It was not yet clear we were going to be a finals side, much less give the prelim a reasonable shake, so there was nothing to indicate that we'd be toppling North with a side that was practically the same except for White and '97 Grand Final scapegoat Jamie Shanahan. But we did have the returning Garry Lyon, launching his last great season by running around like he was a young man again, kicking goals (prompting Sandy Roberts to issue the immortal wonky commentary line "welCOME BACK! Gawwy Lyon!") and opening up a 40 something point lead.

It couldn't last, and it didn't, with North cannoning back to within a kick in the last quarter before a Lyon tackle in the middle, and a David Schwarz goal where he turned at the speed of a cruise ship before kicking from the Olympic Stand boundary line steadied us, and we went on to win comfortably. I'd never been a song singer until then, but was so inspired that I belted it out with the random small child sitting next to me, gave him a high five and would rarely waver from this disastrous lifestyle again.

4. 2000 Qualifying Final - Melbourne 15.6.98 d. Carlton 12.15.87
Breaking a losing streak is one thing, but there's a special feeling that I'm desperate to get back that you only get from racking up a pile of wins in a row. Even better when they lead you into a top four final, with a free pass to the prelim on the line. With eight wins in the last nine (and the only loss by a point - RIP my epidermis) the last team to have properly beaten us were the Blues, and they did it by 98 points as the third leg of our traditional mid-season collapse.

With memories of that debacle still fresh I didn't expect to win here but could be comforted by the likelihood of a second chance. Things looked especially ropey when we were down by 21 points at the last change and Carlton looked far more potent in attack. We'd already had the Ox running into an open goal and displaying the ball to Blues fans, only for their side to kick six of the next seven. Then the comeback unexpectedly arrived and it was magical. Relative unknowns like Brad Green and Cameron Bruce appeared, and we slowly worked ourselves into the lead.

This was another great moment seen from the top of the Ponsford, and I clearly remember my despair when after we'd done everything to get back in front the Blues went straight down our end and kicked a goal. But that was only temporary intermission, we stuffed through two more, Dennis Cometti screamed "THE ROOKIE!!!" when Bruce kicked the sealer and we were one game away from losing to Essendon in the Grand Final.

3. Round 10, 2012 - Melbourne 8.10.58 d. Essendon 6.15.52
The modern day miracle, and one of the most remarkable examples of an opposition necking themselves that you're ever likely to see. We'd lost our first nine under Neeld and there were already coups and revolutions being planned to topple him, while the Bombers were merrily at the top end of the ladder.

Obviously there was no thought given to winning, and so knowing that I was probably in for an unpleasant time with fans of either club I decided for the first time to get as far away from humans as possible by going to Row MM of the Ponsford Stand. This decision was vindicated even before I got up there when first I saw a guy simulating his flange with a 600ml Coke bottle, and then a lunatic tried to engage me in conversation outside the Ponsford Stand TAB.

Perched in the heavens I realised you could see so much more of what was happening off the ball, and witnessed Essendon do everything they could to avoid kicking goals. Whatever drugs they were on must have run out this night. Players would miss sitters, or dash into an open goal and overrun the ball, anything to avoid registering six points. Meanwhile down the other end we had Colin Garland as a makeshift full forward because the coach had read his dossier during the week and discovered he once played there as a kid. I'd have thought you'd read the files when you were appointed coach instead of at 0-9, but whatever.

While the Bombers failed miserably under not much more pressure than we'd put on for the rest of the season, Garland kicked two and we held on to win. Queue wild scenes on the bench, with Stockholm Syndrome suffering players leaping on their coach in celebration, and much more subdued scenes at the top of the Ponsford - where I discovered my legs were temporarily out of order. Not being able to walk downstairs without winding up in a coma I sat up there for the best part of half an hour watching the crowd almost entirely disappear before successfully managing to get out of the place alive.

2. 1998 Semi Final - Melbourne 15.17.107 d. St Kilda 7.14.56
The Qualifying Final win against the Crows was memorable for Jeff Farmer's demolition job on Andrew McLeod (and for them coming back to win the flag), but this was the day for me. There's an extra level of glee when you win surrounded by opposition fans - see also the '06 finals against St Kilda and yelling "FUCK YOU!" into the face of an annoying Saints fan when the sealer went in - and this day Ticketmaster Bass rewarded me for skipping class to queue under the Arts Centre by placing me across the aisle from St Kilda's cheersquad.

My hatred of the Saints has dimmed over the years, to the point where I completely gave it away in sympathy after they lost two thrilling grand finals, but this was the day that set it off. From the same people who idolised Nicky Winmar dropping racial slurs about our players, to their "GET UP YOU POOF!" style response to a Febey brother being knee-dropped by Barry Hall this was a new quality of people I'd never run into at a game before. You'd get the odd nuffy, but this was a tribe of people utterly off their face.

After going in behind at quarter time because of inaccurate kicking we slowly dismantled them over the next two quarters, much to the distress of the mutants next door, before unnecessarily piling on goals in the last term for fun. Even better it all happened without Garry Lyon, who should have put his hand up with Jim Stynes instead of having an insane go at playing in '99 and might have played his last game. The victory sent to us to the Prelim with North, and led to one of my favourite newspaper covers of all time. If it's possible to buy a print of the front cover of the sports section I want Sunday 13 September, 1998 - a gleeful Jeff Farmer hugging a suited Lyon with the headline FRIDAY ON THEIR MINDS. The rest of my life was a shambles by this point, but this was a highlight.

1. Round 20, 2005 - Melbourne 14.16.100 d. Geelong 15.9.99
I don't know why this game is so dear to my heart. It ended with an opposition player missing rather than one of ours kicking a goal, only barely kept us alive in the finals race and the Cats turned us over effortlessly in the first final anyway. But there's something about it, possibly my over the top class-warfare spray at the locals after the siren which backfired when their side won three flags shortly after, that brings me back to it whenever a favourite game is discussed.

Maybe it was just being surrounded by hostiles, knowing that any sort of loss would wreck a season that had shown so much promise. Or Phil Read being dudded for a shithouse deliberate in the last quarter. Then the siren went with the ball in Matthew Egan's hands just outside 50, and it was probably the closest I'd ever been at that point to collapsing on the floor with tension. I've never been there for one of our players kicking after the siren, but if it's anything like a regular shot I'll be convinced that there's no way our man will kick it from five metres out directly in front, but any opposition player down to a ruckman or full-back will likely convert from 50 metres out hard on the boundary line.

In this case he missed, we stayed alive, I went off my trolley saying all sorts of foul and offensive things to opposition fans, and Geelong had the last laugh both in the short and long terms.

1 comment:

  1. Great write up.

    Round 2 1998, A glorious day and the most glorious year of barnstorming MFC football that I can remember. I remember Garry Lyon getting a dodgy "MCC Members free" right in front of the smokers stand in the last quarter. When he goaled late in the 2nd quarter to put us up by 43 points I went nuts! Ahh Garry Lyon... I guess you should never meet your heroes...

    No 1998 vs West Coast away? Robbo winning it for us?

    Were you away in 1990? Some great wins that year - especially the Round 22 and Elimination Final wins vs the Hawks. The win vs West Coast where Brian Wilson and Rod Grinter walked off rudely gesticulating to the WC crowd.

    I would have that 1990 loss to West Coast in the Qualifying Final in my top 10 most disappointing. Weeks break thanks to the WC/Coll draw, and we had Essendons measure that year. Thanks to Steve O'Dwyer for injuring Garry Lyon at training that week.


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