• Round 20 - Sydney v Collingwood: Old Mates & Old Foes

    Old Mates & Old Foes

    ‘Mateship’ is a concept that can be traced back to early colonial times. The harsh environment in which convicts and new settlers found themselves meant that men and women closely relied on each other for all sorts of help. In Australia, a ‘mate’ is more than just a friend. It’s a term that implies a sense of shared experience, mutual respect and unconditional assistance.

    I’ve been mates with Shep since we were pre-teens, growing up together on the sporting fields of Orange. For over twenty years now, we’ve leant on each other through the good and bad. A big part of this mateship has been the Sydney Swans. From the moment Derek Kickett sauntered through our high school gates alongside Jamie Lawson to teach us the art of kicking a drop-punt – to a 6am cycling trek across the cobblestoned streets of Dublin to find a TV showing the 2005 Grand Final – to sitting together at the MCG though the pain of last year’s decider. We’ve gathered many a memorable Red & White moment together, and we’re hoping that tonight will bring some good fortune.

    This one’s been planned for a while – Swannies v The Pies – Friday night footy – SCG.

    My great mate and I liked the sound of this as soon as the fixture landed. We’ve got some old scores to settle with some old foes. For year upon year, a black and white army would descend upon Homebush for their annual collection of four points. Sergeant Major Malthouse would orchestrate a blockade upon the Swans’ fifty-metre line. Impenetrable. The ambush of the home side’s goal would then arrive courtesy of an artillery battery including Corporals Didak, Cloke and Thomas. Resistance was futile and my team was often left to dust off and approach the match with nothing but forlorn hope. This would only result in some last ditch ‘Guerrilla tactics’, all to no avail. And this dominance did not only occur on the battlefield, but also in the stands. Commodore ‘Joffa’ Corfe, would arrive in the black and white stripes, revel in three hours of tyranny and leave, rejoicing in his sparkling golden coat. As regular eyewitnesses to this insufferable treatment, the pain felt is still palpable. Thankfully, we’re not in Homebush tonight.

    Our regular SCG routine includes a pre-game refreshment in The Entertainment Quarter. Tonight we are joined by fellow Bloods Almanackers and the scene is set. Conversations focusing on our courageous heroes provide a genuine sense of belonging that you get when you’re surrounded by your own. As I return with a beer for my mate, his look of trepidation causes the thought that he might have never quite forgiven me for lacing a glass of milk with fish sauce as he sat parched on my parents’ couch. Those were the days. These times when we get to share in a laugh are not so common these days, and I treasure them more each time. As Henry Lawson once said – The greatest pleasure I have known is when my eyes meet the eyes of a mate over the top of two foaming glasses of beer. A little dramatic perhaps, Henry, but I understand.

    Right. We’re in. Come on Swannies! Up the Bloods!
    As the game begins, it is clear that this battle will be tough and tight in the clinches. Not unfamiliar territory for the Bloods at the SCG. From the outset, our mindset seems sound and The Pies, who are playing for their season, look committed to the cause. Tonight will be a bruising affair.

    En route to the match tonight, Shep and I decide to place a wager on the first goal scorer for the evening. We’re unanimous in agreement on the selection of our young star, Heeney. When he takes a fine contested grab in the fourth minute and lines up for goal, we begin to count our cash. We’ve placed many a wager together over the years, and this one unfortunately joins a long list of unsuccessful attempts at gaining instant wealth. Joey nails our first a few minutes later, and we’re away.

    After a sluggish start, The Pies begin to work their way into the match, looking as comfortable in residence at Moore Park as they did at Olympic Park. At half time we’re up by a goal, and remarkably, Tommy Mitchell has already had the pill twenty-seven times. There’s a certain charm to seeing young players debut, develop and then dominate. This is the case with our nuggety number six and we love him. The third term sees the lead change hands for the first time tonight and the black & white enjoy a period of domination over our beloved red & white. Gaz stands up with two outstanding goals, and when the great man, Goodesy snaps truly, all Swannies stand as one! At the final break, we’re nine points down.

    Sadness envelopes the forty thousand faithful at the beginning of the last quarter, as our reigning Best & Fairest lies crumpled on the turf. Parksy is one tough nut, and if he stays down, there’s clearly something wrong. He’s stretchered off, Heeney’s hobbled, Gaz is sore and Laids is already subbed out. It’s time for some leadership, and our men of action do not disappoint. Our bevvy of onballers wrestle back control, and Jets, Reidy and BJ finish off their work with some fine slingshot goals. Your writer is delirious and dancing in the aisles of Bay 12, high-fiving strangers on the way. We’re all mates here.

    Eleven points to the good as the siren sounds, and this has been the gutsy, gallant victory that we needed. As Shep and I make our debut in the famous SCG rooms post game, the solidarity felt inside these walls becomes abundantly clear. With liniment stinging the nostrils, family and friends gather to share in the celebration. Players mingle, some past greats chat with old friends and the mood is buoyant. I’d always imagined a footy club to be perhaps the epitome of mateship: reliance on each other to ‘get the job done’, and then to share in the spoils. This privileged rare glimpse into the inner sanctum of The Bloods has only confirmed this. A wonderful win and a wonderful night filled with fondness, affinity and benevolence. It’s time for my mate and I to celebrate too.
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