Confessions of an unfaithful footy fan

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CHIEF WRITER RON REED has celebrated a lot of premierships in his time as a footy fan – so why was it nagging on his conscience when he rocked up to the MCG to have a drink in the family bar?

PREPARING to watch Melbourne and Carlton do battle at the MCG on Sunday, I realised the time had finally come to unburden myself of a guilty little secret that I have been carrying around for decades. It was the Demons’ theme song blaring out from the speakers as they ran onto the ground that got me, or at least one line of it: “Should auld acquaintance be forgot …”

I have been a Blues supporter since the early seventies but, yes, the Demons and I are old acquaintances alright. Not forgot, just conveniently ignored, much to the displeasure of my late mum and even more so, her mum as well. For I have committed one of the most heinous sins imaginable among people who follow footy, which is most of Melbourne – I abandoned the team I grew up barracking for and embraced another. In this town, that’s sacrilege – which is why I don’t talk about it very often.

Percy Beames – 1939 Grand Final

From birth, I wasn’t given a choice. Gran’s brother – Mum’s uncle – was Percy Beames, one of the all-time great Melbourne players and among the finest multi-skilled sportsmen of his generation. Mum’s brother Max Orr also played a few games. Between 1931 and 1944 Uncle Perc played 213 games including three successive winning grand finals and was captain-coach for three years.  And as a batsman for the Melbourne Cricket Club, he played for Victoria 18 times, averaging more than 50. The war probably cost him a Test career.

So, it is little wonder his name lives on at the “G” 13 years after his death at 92. The Percy Beames bar on the second level of the Members’ Stand, just behind the Long Room, is where I can usually be found for a quick snort before any game of footy. When it’s Melbourne v Carlton… well, that’s when the guilts creep in when I see his name up on the door. And Sunday was no exception.

Carlton intruded into my life for no better reason that I found myself knocking around with a few of the Blues boys who were as famous for partying hard as they were for playing formidable footy in the seventies and eighties. Sportshounds contributor Dan Eddy has recently published a book about them, Larrikins & Legends, which is a best-seller.  If the point of barracking for a footy team is to experience the pleasure that comes when they win a premiership, then I was the one who proved that it is possible to have your cake and eat it too.

My time in the red and blue idolising Ron Barassi and Big Bob Johnson coincided with most of the Demons’ astonishing run of six premierships in 10 years. I was on hand for the last one in 1964, standing just behind the city end goals when back pocket “Froggy” Crompton kicked the winning goal against Collingwood. It sailed straight over my head. Last week, I heard legendary Magpie Des Tuddenham swear blind in a lunch speech that Crompton’s shot actually missed and that the flag rightfully belonged to him and his perennially frustrated team-mates. You wish, Tuddy.

I defected in time to revel in the Blues’ 1972 triumph, followed by 79, 81, 82, 87 and 95, while Melbourne never won again. Still haven’t. For them it’s now a 52-year drought and counting. For the Blues, it’s 21 years. Me? I’m just wondering if I’m doomed never to celebrate again.

Or am I? Whichever eye I used to view Sunday’s proceedings, it was an encouraging day. Melbourne won by eight points, taking them to fifth and confirming they are genuine candidates. In a cracker of a match, perhaps the best I’ve witnessed live this year, they showed plenty of character and fight despite trailing for most of the contest. Given how undermanned they were and the distractions they have endured recently, they do look to be the real deal.

That said, the Blues were the better team – or would have been but for some fatal mistakes after they got to nine points in front in the last quarter. They had more of the ball all day and had to play the second half without injured stars Patrick Cripps and Simon White. It was brave and often brilliant and probably deserved better than they had to settle for.

We fans of the Bluebaggers suspected we were in for a good day nine minutes in when, in a moment of captivating theatre, the boy in the long-sleeved No 1 guernsey took a running bounce and slotted home a terrific goal. That was Jack Silvagni, of course, and it was exactly what the faithful wanted to see.

Because of his legendary grandfather Serge and dad Stephen, Jack personifies the youthful appeal of this work-in-progress outfit more than any other player. That’s why his early goal represented both nostalgia for the good old glory days and fervent hope for the future, all in one 10-second cameo. Better still, it was far from his last impact on the game. He is getting better and better and he’s not the only one. Charlie Curnow was such a powerful contributor – again – that he is earning comparisons with former Blues superstar Anthony Koutoufides.

It was frustrating to see the Blues let the four points slip right at the business end, just as they have done several times before this year. But there was still a lot to like about their performance on what was, simply, a bloody good day at the footy.

When the siren blew, there was that song again, ringing out even more loudly: “… should auld acquaintance be forgot.” If the Blues can’t win the flag this year – and obviously they can’t – then, not for the first time, I hope the Demons do. For me, it will be like a second childhood.

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Author: Ron Reed

RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.

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