The boy had always said the words; at home he’d yell them to the heavens, and in later years he’d yell them across the crowd towards the players: Carna Pies!
He’d yell into the sound that swelled around him, yelling in an ecstasy of feeling. It was a reflex – more than a reflex – it was a spasm. In full throat, in full cry, he was somehow one with the ‘Pies. He was passion, he was hope. Carna Pies, he’d scream, and the scream was prayer, purer than the ritual prayers which he recited faithfully, facing Jerusalem, every morning and every evening.
He never really understood how many things he meant by Carna Pies. He only began to understand when he wrote a letter in Hebrew to a friend. Both of the friends were Collingwood supporters, had yelled Carna Pies together as boys, yelled it as men, then the friend went away and settled in Israel. Now he was writing and feeling those memories. He wanted to translate the old words, but how do you translate Carna? And in which other language could ‘Pies be birds?
He rendered Carna Pies! as ‘Let the ravens of the brook ascend!’ It was not the same, but in the poetry of the words he recognised something. The same tone was there in the Magpie motto – Floreat Pica – Latin words, a scholar’s formula. The mock formality of the words satirized the frenzy of the raw vernacular, and honoured it somehow.
As he got older he glimpsed more of his meanings in Carna Pies!
He wasn’t born into the cult of the Magpie. Every year he would travel from his home town in the Riverina to Melbourne for the solemnities of the High Holydays. This was the season of the birthday of the world, and of the annual Day of Judgement.
On these visits to the city of his birth his father always took the “Age”. He liked it for its seriousness. He’d put aside the sports pages and the boy would read them, wrestling with the broad sheets that dwarfed his small frame. Avidly, he’d read about the footy finals. Every year Melbourne were expected to win and Collingwood to be contenders, and ultimately, gallant losers.
And every year, after the Day of Judgement, what had been written had come to pass: Melbourne were premiers and Collingwood were not quite good enough. Carlton were nowhere in sight.
The boy and his brothers chose their own allegiances. His older brother chose Carlton because their father had been born there; his younger brother chose Melbourne because it was on top; and he chose Collingwood because they were David, and one day, David might overcome Goliath.
The boy became familiar with disappointment. He came, in time, almost to enjoy the nobility of losing gallantly.
When the boy was nine, his family left the country town and moved to Melbourne, but it was years before the boy actually went to the footy.
He’d listen to the radio broadcast religiously – a tricky task for an observer of the Sabbath. He’d listen to grand final defeats at the hands of Melbourne and others, and he’d live in daydreams in which Gabelich would gallop endlessly into open goalmouths, and Weideman would avenge all wrongs and the siren wouild never blow until Collingwood were ahead.
In 1990 he actually saw the magpie come into full flower. Not since 1958 had the ravens of the brook thus ascended. He saw Daicos kick a goal from an angle that defied Euclid. He saw Gavin Brown rise from the stupor of his concussion to mark and goal, and goal again. He saw Darren Millane rampant on the wing, Darren Millane of happy memory soaring towards the sun, before crashing to his death only weeks later.
He stood among those thousands, among those tens of thousands, stood and roared Carna Pies! At his side was his son.
Father and son had walked the many kilometres to the ground. They would not drive because Saturday is the Sabbath. Faithful together in their observance of the letter of the Mosaic Law, joyous together in their neglect of its spirit, they shared this day. In the world there were only those who supported Collingwood and those who wished they were Collingwood supporters.
The son always regarded the father as a fine weather supporter, one who’d leave a match early when the cause was hopeless and the end was nigh. The boy was one eyed and wondered why his father would bother using an extra eye to see two sides to the struggle.
The boy did not know the father’s secret.
For the father loved footy even more than he loved Collingwood. He had loved Carlton’s Bruce Doull, he’d loved Malcolm Blight, Paul Roos, Timmy Watson – he loved all the laughing cavaliers who hadn’t realised that winning was everything.
He loved Dougie Hawkins who left his name on the wing of a club’s lost home.
And when the premier declared a state funeral for Teddy Whitten, footy’s smiling assassin, he wept and he approved.
(Ah, he mused, they don’t make nostalgia like they used to.)
And now Collingwood found itself an accidental contender in another Grand Final. Amazingly, among all the people who were Collingwood supporters and among all those who wished they were Collingwood supporters, the father found himself the possessor of two tickets for the Grand Final. And so they went, father and son, to see whether the magpie might yet flower again.
They would never win: David never beats Goliath. It doesn’t happen. The Maccabees had no chance against the might of Antiochus, Ho Chi Min was never going to beat Uncle Sam, Collingwood had no show against Barrassi’s team in 1958…
But it would not pay to get hopeful.
So they went and they watched and they saw the miracle almost happen. They saw how, but for the will of Michael Voss, the ravens of the brook might have ascended.
They walked home – it was Sabbath again – through the warm rain of early spring. The son, now a man, and the father, still a boy, walked together those many kilometres, and their feet were not heavy beneath them.
They had seen a marvellous match, a mighty struggle. They had each seen what they wanted to see – the father happy because winning was not everything, the son consoled because the ‘Pies could only improve – the son, with quickening steps returning to his wife and to their unborn child who might one day walk with him, and see, and shout Carna Pies!