Hope

By Colin Hockley*

Long ago a callow and bewildered newcomer to Melbourne was taken by a friend to see the strange sight of Australian Rules Football. The game was held at an ugly stadium in the unfashionable Western suburbs. The day was wet, cold and blustery. In places the ground was ankle deep in churned mud and a bleak wind howled across the ground sending the ball and players scurrying into a pocket of the oval. A lonely and much abused man in white armed with a whistle made sense of this activity as flags stood horizontal and ragged above a grandstand resembling a wartime bunker.
It was all very confusing and brutal. Red faced men clutching beer cans yelled unlovely insults at the players and the incredibly thick skinned man with the whistle who laboured away in the winter mud bringing some order to the confusion. He was universally referred to as “yer white maggot”. There seemed to be several players named, “yer poofta”. 
His friend insisted that cold beer added to the experience. Wanting badly to fit in he drank some. Within minutes, after receiving directions, he raced off to find a toilet. This was a tin shed easily located by the stench of urine awash on a concrete floor. Those not drinking beer, or buying more beer, or shuffling in the urine, or insulting anyone on the playing field were standing in an endless queue for hot chips. 
Oddly however, an understanding of the game crept in and colonised his physiology. Quite soon, rather like a lot of others, he fancied he was smart enough to understand the beauty of the game. Over time, things improved. The chip queue got a little shorter as the chips became more expensive. Less beer was drunk. The habit of public drunkenness came to be frowned upon, resulting in slightly less smelly and wet underfoot toilets. 
His now adopted team struggled to achieve success. They played in a poor part of town filled with the working class and migrants. Money was scarce to pay good players. Those who stayed did so because they loved that bleak Western suburb and it’s rusted on, passionate supporters. Now and then the club caught, by accident, a player of great talent, or foolhardy bravery. Rusted on supporters can trot out the skill, acts of courage, loyalty and exploits these rare players to each other endlessly. Highlights of recent triumphs or a long ago game are wired into them with a passion. 
Tragedy is writ large. Shocking injuries, the worst a dashing, handsome young man rendered quadriplegic in a collision. Another left blind in one eye. There were many missed moments of magic as great prizes ran away with Lady Luck, and on occasion, the White Maggot played his part in our agony. 
But what seduced him besides the sheer athletic wonder and courage of the players was the ethos, rooted in an indefatigable failure to accept defeat. Strong men with bodies like Greek Gods and minds of steel playing, in the words of one of their champions, “a game of hurt”. Even to win hurt. To see them in the rooms after, huge ice packs strapped to the parts of their bodies that must train and fight again next week and the week after. A win is a happy thing. Grown men lustily sing a silly song of victory. Winning flags and scarves flap recklessly out of car windows, strangers shake your hand in the street on seeing your club colours. We have no enemies. Only pity disguised as friendliness.
Defeat means harder training, meetings focused on strategy, disappointed and demanding supporters, eager younger players wanting to knock you off your perch in the 1st team. In defeat, the supporters always say, “next week” and at season’s end, “next year”. And everything changes. The home ground changes. The name is tweaked. Coaches come and go. Presidents change. Sponsors run away and hide. Dreams come and go. Years pass. Decades pass. Membership rises and falls, like a politicians popularity poll. The rusted on grow older and they cling to the “nearly” moments, the “robbed” incidents and the past champions who blessed us with hope.
Hope. 
Hope.
Hope.
It’s a simple word, wonderful and life affirming. 
Whatever the cause hope always triumphs over experience. 
The name of my football team was hope. 
After 60 years the planets lined up. Hope was ascendent. Great decisions were made by the right people. Players of immense talent emerged. A coach blessed with, not merely the knowledge but wonderful leadership skills landed like an angle on the blighted place. Melbourne, the cornerstone of which is this game, sniffed something magic in the air. An agony of injuries brought them, not undone, but gave them added fight and inspiration. 


Man Love abounded. Tears fell like spring showers. 
Unlikely, indeed, impossible heroics happened. He of the rusted on and the other lot, the come lately stood in that great Colosseum where dreams are made and lost. As the players ran out onto brilliant green in the sunshine, their colours dominant, flags flying, their noise creating tremors shaking the vast concrete floor. 70,000 voices, only ours, could be heard. The silly song roared. It seemed the blue sky with its scudding clouds shook with the chanting. A small bewildered boy lay wide eyed in the arms of his bedecked father beside him. 
The game had yet to begin. His body tingled all over and there was quivering in his midriff. Tears and snot ran unheeded. He could have gone home at that moment and died happy. But with 99,981 people in his way he was wedged in, immovable, right on the edge of claustrophobia. This was their day. Their moment. His moment too. At the end, no one left. Not a single person raced for the car park or the train. They just stood and sang some more, over and over.
Hope.
That triumphed.
*Colin is a close and beloved friend and Western Bulldogs supporter.

Adam the Original

 
Years ago I had the privilege of working in partnership with a Brownlow Medallist. Dr Donald Cordner was the scion of a family as distinguished for Medicine as for football. I learned many things from Donald: it was he who transformed me from a sluggard to a mechanism for perpetual motion. Like my father he personified a thirst for a meaningful life both within and without medicine. 

Donald captained the Melbourne Football Club in its fertile years of recurring premierships. Of the Medal he spoke seldom and little. I remember one datum: the Charles Brownlow Medal is awarded to the player voted by the umpires as the FAIREST and the best. Over the twenty years we worked together that described Donald Cordner: he was the best at everything he put hand or foot to; and he personified honour.

 

Like Donald, Adam Goodes captained his club. Like Donald he saw a role for himself in community service. Like Donald, Adam Goodes is a leader, a man of vision, of substance.

 

In 2003 we saw Adam receiving the first of his two Brownlow Medals. Although he shared the distinction that year with two other champions – one of whom captained the club of my own allegiance – it is the image of Goodes that lingers. More particularly the choice of his companion. Alone among the great young men, Adam brought his mother along, the sole parent who raised him and his siblings. Goodes’ mother contrasted with the other companions, generally blondes, frequently trophy females with cleavage.

Mrs Goodes looked what she is, an Aboriginal matron. Nothing fashionable – read, ‘mutable, evanescent’ – just his Mum, the woman Adam Goodes chose to raise to public honour.

 

When I looked at this man, this original, I saw one who stands for family, for loyalty,  one who knows his roots and is proud. Like his ethnically distinctive medallist forebears, Robert Dipierdimenico and Jim Stynes, Adam is Australia incarnate. He reminds us of our inextinguishably diverse makeup. That diversity, for most Australians, is our glory; for some an intolerable truth. When those persons boo Adam Goodes, they boo their community, they boo themselves.

  

 

Carna Pies!

images-10The 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!