The love of footy I suppose is something that you grow up with. But it wasn’t till later in life did it become an affection. It was in my Uni years in Melbourne. First an affection then an obsession with South Melbourne/Sydney Swans AFL Footy Club – the wearers of the Red and the White.

How it all started

The Residence that I lived in a Monash Uni had a range of undergraduates, graduates and academics living on site. One of them was the Monash Professor of Economics Keith Frearson. He took me under his wing, as I think he does to some male undergraduate every year, and exposed me to the culture of the South Melbourne Footy Club. We went to various matches, celebrations, events, and player’s homes, together. He taught me the culture, the background, and the passion. I must have been open to it because now 45 years later it’s very much part of me.

Spiritual centre

The ambiance at the Lakeside Oval wasn’t all that abnormal to everyday life. But the exploits on the field were at times superhuman. And that’s what’s amazing about footy. The ballet, the chess, the brute, the speed all meld into something more than theatrical. There is comedy and tragedy, there is unfairness and justice. All of life’s events are on show in a game.

Lakeside Oval grandstand - the main grandstand on South Melbourne's home footy ground.
Lakeside Oval, grandstand, built in 1926

Watching a Tony Morwood kick as straight a goal as you would see to score (maybe not to win) from one of the pockets in front of the old stand was as blissful as it gets.

Watching Mark Browning run Rolls Royce-like through the centre, the wing, the flank, anywhere, was poetry.

These athletes did wrong but could do no wrong.

The people

The people around footy clubs were always so worthy and connectable. Probably because we have one thing in common and that’s the footy club. The passion to do well and to win. We invest in that and reimbursement is fair, or it’s not. That’s the risk. Thousands of mates are with you. They too similarly lost an investment. Shared disappointments create communities. If you win, then the sharing is the same, plus a bit of elation.

Footy clubs reveal the unguarded superstars and celebrity. Although their stage may often be aloft, when you meet these people eye to eye, they are as normal as normal.

I remember seeing Mike Willesee, TV personality and one-time President of SMFC, compere a pre-game function. He was at the front of the room speaking into a mike that had a series of red and white balloons tied to it, obscuring his appearance and constantly being batted away. Why a consummate media performer couldn’t resolve the issue, I’ll never know. It would have been a simple thing to disconnect the balloons and proceed unhindered. But maybe that’s my line of work and that’s why it was obvious.

Meeting Laurie Nash at a SMFC function was a highlight, although I didn’t know it at the time. Going round to Ricky Quade’s place and spilling red wine on his shag carpet was hardly a highlight, but the lack of complaint from his wife is still with me. Probably because of the embarrassment.

The Sydney move

The move of South Melbourne FC to Sydney and its reincarnation as Sydney Swans AFL Footy Club didn’t really fuss me – I knew the history was going to remain. History can’t be taken away or obliterated. And more history is created in a new location.

Going to games at the SCG has been special. Watching Adam Schnieder from the Dally Messenger Stand kick the match leading goal from the half forward flank in a home game in 2005 against West Coast Eagles was as good as it gets. Sun shining, on our way to a final series (that Sydney won) – it was a highlight.

I respect the players and the effort that everyone gives. My body and grain tenses during a match, and in its lead-up. I despair of losing but always relieved that there is another week, or even worse case another year to follow up on.

I find myself no longer missing a single game on the telly, reading all the tidbits and not even wondering how it got to this point.

How did it get to this point?

But why the passion?

I suppose I have invested so much in the brand. I love it and it’s something that I give high regard. The decision needs to be a wide one. Supporters let go of unwise decisions over time.

A year of campaigning is exhausting, and I’m usually quite thankful that there is no further progress through the Finals, because then I can’t start to enjoy footy again.

Odd isn’t it?

It’s the history

Somebody gave me these two Collectibles from back in the day. I’m presuming they are from around the 1930’s – looks like 1933.

Allens collectible cards of R. Hillis and W. Faul(l) - South Melbourne players from the 1930's
Collectible Trading Cards from 1934 – R. Hillis and W. Faul(l)

Bill Faul was an employed member of the South Melbourne FC (that means the club organised a job for Bill) who at a later stage was a Club Coach (1960-61) and part of the club’s Team of the Century; and Ron Hillis also played with distinction for SMFC, winning two B&F’s in 1930 and 1935.

I suppose these trading cards are the precursor of the loyalty card – put out by sweet companies, matchbox companies, and cigarette companies. The intent was to keep you interested in the brand and that product and to come back and buy more to complete the set. The domestic hobby of collectibles now seems such a twee activity and probably lost any significant interest in the wider community as a past time.

I’ve spent some time staring at the colourised versions of these players and find them too unhealthy to be real, and wonder why a real photo wasn’t used. Surely it wouldn’t have been that hard to keep the subjects still long enough to take a photo? But real photos did exist.

Bill Faul, or is it Bill Faull
Bill Faul

Faul/Faull? – What’s the story?

Not only were they not so accurate with their imagery, but Bill’s name also seems to be incorrectly spelt on the card – all online references refer to Bill Faul(with only a single ‘l’). Not sure what the back story might be, but online search shows Faull as of Welsh origin. Bill would have come in to prominence around the time of the depression, so who knows if that has some connection with change in Surname spelling. After all, it might have just been a misspelling on the card and nothing more sinister than that. Bill was part of the Foreign Legion that came over from WA(and elsewhere) to join SMFC, and I suppose that part of the SMFC history also connected to me, because I too am a migrant from WA.

The South Melbourne Football Clug Foreign Legion from 1933.

And Bill was part of the Blood-Stained Angels team that won the 1933 Flag. The first flag for the club since 1918. Bill was part of a stoic backline that kept Richmond to a miserly 4 goals 5 behinds, to South’s 9.17(71).

Sydney Swans AFL Footy Club has long-adopted the mantra of the Blood-Stained Angels.

And it’s the back story

And that’s the thing with AFL footy – everything has a back story. Sydney Swans AFL Footy Club has plenty. Footy stories are more varied than any other workplace I’ve been in. The mix of stories is across the whole spectrum. Cross-dressing experiments, academic pursuits, hard-luck events, conspiracies …… any storyline you can think of. The footy back story is full of legends, gossip and reality. Not sure why people bother with other reality shows. They are in the shade with anything footy can offer.

It’s a game that drains and sustains.

Signed jumper from Adam Goodes Sydney Swans AFL Footballer
My signed Adam Goodes jumper, received 2014, the year that Adam was announced as Australian of the Year