Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Mighty Blues

The photo to the left is of me in my home knitted Carlton footy jumper at the back of the slide.

I have a passion for sport –it is after all now my profession [and I’ll write more of that later] – and it is difficult to grow up in Melbourne and not have a passion for an AFL team which in my case happens to be Carlton, the Mighty Blues. Until four years ago in more than 100 years of competition Carlton had never finished on the bottom of the ladder, but since then have done so three times. As a consequence we now have a very young team with a lot of potential that has yet to be realized.

I don’t know when I got indoctrinated to barrack for the Blues but it happened very early. Both sides of the family followed Carlton and it was inevitable that I would too. I wrote about Mum’s difficulty being Catholic and marrying into a Protestant family but that would have paled into insignificance if she had married a Collingwood or Essendon supporter.

Mum’s Dad, my Grandad, was born in a small gold mining town called Cassilis in East Gippsland, which around the turn of the century began to run out of gold and is now a ghost town. The family moved to Melbourne and settled in Williamstown. When Grandad met my Nana they moved to Carlton and were not too far from Princes Park where the football team were located. Now I don’t know what came first, I do know that his father and brothers also followed Carlton and many a Saturday afternoon was spent on the terraces at Princes Park watching our own version of suburban warfare.

I spent a lot of school holidays at my grandparents house and I too would make the trek to Princes Park and watch the Blues play. I well remember watching giants of men like John Nicholls and Sergio Silvagni running around playing a hard, tough brand of football. We used to stand behind the goals at the Robert Heatley Stand end of the ground and my cousin and I would spend the time of the Reserves game collecting beer cans so we could stand six inches higher and hopefully get a better view of our heroes. In those days, cans were made of tin, not aluminium, so they made a sturdy platform. Hot pies and hot dogs were consumed by us boys whilst the men of the family continued to down their beer throughout the day.

When I got a little older and when it wasn’t school holidays, I would lock myself in m bedroom on a Saturday afternoon, rule up an exercise book and take down the statistics from the radio call. There were two things I hated, firstly when the Carlton match was broadcast on a radio station that also covered horse racing meaning that we got about five minutes per quarter of the actual game called. And secondly, I hated losing, in fact I was a poor loser and not worth talking to on a Saturday night if we went down.

I was lucky that I grew up at a time when Carlton was entering it’s golden years. Premierships came regularly, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1987, and yes there was probably a bit of arrogance about Carlton supporters. But we were good, and why shouldn’t we have told people that.

In 1970 Carlton played in a Grand Final against arch enemy Collingwood and at half time were 42 points down. I remember crying that day at that time, standing in the front yard where no one could see me, weeping tears of blood as a 13 year old. But in the third quarter Carlton began to run and in something that at that time was unprecedented, we got up and won the Premiership in what is probably still the greatest of all Grand Final victories.

If there is one rivalry to match that we have with Collingwood, it is against Essendon. Yesterday, just before half time Carlton were behind by 48 points and as with that 1970 victory they began to run and eventually prevailed by three points, in the largest comeback of the Club’s long, proud history.

My son Glen was there at the MCG yesterday and rang me just after the game to bask in the glory of the win. And yes, just like my parents before me, my own kids were indoctrinated very early and are all proud passionate Blues supporters. That generation’s commitment to the team began when my oldest son Luke was a day old and I gave him his first football jumper.

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