Christmas 2010. Belle and Din ran through the house straight to Grandad and Grandma, sitting out the back, just as I hoped they would.
Big Nev and Din hadn’t had much time together, given that my son was only a year old when we left for the UAE. And although Nev had, I think, 763 of them, granddaughters were rolled gold.
I was warned. He’d suddenly become confused. The biggest difference I noticed was the absence of the beatific, sentimental Christmas scan around the yard at his kids, grandkids, and the start of a fourth generation. It had blurred. The loving patriarch of a good-sized tribe was struggling.
I’d given my dad more than his fair share of worry over the years, taking a longer road than most to get to where your nature intends you to be. But while we were sitting together after lunch he brought up the better of those days, when we’d meet under the standalone scoreboard on top of the bitumen slope at Princes Park to watch the Royboys.
“Those people used to come from the far side of the ground to shake your hand,” he said, in a voice that later had me howling behind the shed. “Why was that?”
Couldn’t answer him, and I remembered a lot of things from those days – the pride in introducing those I did know at the ground to the big feller in the camel or grey parka, the big wins, his company along with that of my brothers and friends, the day we saw out a piercing hailstorm in that same uncovered spot.
The old FFC logo was like a bugle. It also gave me a bridge between Geelong, where I lived at the time, and Nev’s eastern suburbs home when we were playing at the Western Oval, now my heartland. Sweet days.
Eventually that particular time together died along with Fitzroy, whose colours, mascot, history and eight players were sold to the Brisbane Football Club in 1997 after a long, slow demise. To me they looked like the Lions, their song sounded like the Lions’ – but they weren’t a duck.
Nev had too much history – in his early years and with his sons – to change colours. I was too unwilling to adapt to the corporate age of football and move allegiances 1,660km up the track, despite his occasional urging and reminiscences of the recalcitrant Martin Pike, a mutual favourite.
Thankfully Big Nev had his reward, in trumps, for his loyalty to the Lions before he left us. Three flags on the trot from 2001.
I was sorry we couldn’t share them. We wore different colours.
He was on my mind a lot as we yelled the Dogs home to take the flag this year. There was no outer at Princes Park, or Western Oval, or the Junction. No ‘G. But Bella and Dinny were by my side for the whole match in the Abu Dhabi flat we’ve made our home. My crowd.
I can only hope they were enjoying the time with me a fraction as much as I loved watching football and just about everything else with that beautiful old bloke.
Sitting in the cold Melbourne cafe eating its dry, niggardly breakfast in the early afternoon with the rain thwacking down outside, the thought occurred that you really could not get things any incorrecter.
It was September 25, 2009. Dinny, just short of his second birthday, was asleep in his pusher as he had been ever since we left Flinders St Station 30 minutes earlier, completely oblivious to the life-defining event he was passing up – one on which a great deal had been written.
A month earlier, the sports desk at The National in Abu Dhabi had commissioned 1,500 to 2,000 words on the AFL Grand Final for its Saturday essay, to take up pages 2 and 3. But there were two particularly niggly snags to the deal.
First, it was to be published on the Saturday before world sport’s biggest day; and second, the Friday deadline for the piece coincided with the kick-off for the preliminary final, when the Bulldogs and Saints were to meet on the MCG’s honoured blades. There, they would kick things until time ran out. The loser would watch the Grand Final from the social club, with ticcy smiles for the fans. The winner would have a much more intimate view.
So, by the time copy needed to be filed no one could say for certain who would be playing in the bloody thing.
Therefore it was to be a tale of passion, and of passing love of the game from one generation to another. Dinny’s first Grand Final Parade, the start to a lifelong tradition, a bond between father and son.
And while writing the essay, a most appealing image appeared. That of standing with my boy on my shoulders in the broad, yet crisp Melbourne sunlight, as he kicked his little legs in delight and said “Daddy!” a lot while watching dozens of the country’s finest athletes being triumphantly paraded through the heart of a great, beautiful city.
A week later it was rattling down. People in the front had their umbrellas up, blocking any view. Dinny was cutting logs. I didn’t give a stuff who was in the cars. I’d watched the Dogs lose on the Friday night before. I wanted to go home. The bubble had burst.
After seven years of licking wounds, the demon was finally exorcised two weeks ago. Din and his sister Belle sat next to me as the Dogs finally broke a 54-year-old loser’s drought. Before the game started, Din said he wanted a Dogs jumper for Christmas, with the No.35 on the back. How sweet can life get?
Even sweeter when I finally got them to stop making fun of Marcus Bontempelli’s name and watch the game. Woof.
- For anyone even remotely interested, here is the article. You must remember it was subbed by foreigners who prefer games where you’re not allowed to use your hands, God bless them. There was a little misunderstanding with drawn Grand Finals, and Terry Brown says I got his stuff all wrong. Bloody subs.