GRAND MEMORY: SUNDAY AGE SPORT EDITOR
In the early 1980s most of my weekends were spent travelling from south west Victoria to watch Essendon play and hanging around the dubious surrounds of the Essendon Cheer Squad — which it has to be said was never as well organised or as 'cool' as the hordes that flocked behind the Collingwood and Richmond goals.
That my teenage years coincided with the rise of Kevin Sheedy and the Bombers made for years of tall football stories. There were the highs (announcing our arrival with a thumping of Collingwood at VFL Park in 1981, knocking off Carlton by one point at Princes Park) and the lows (bowing out in an elimination final at the end of the 1981 season), but through it all the lure of a Grand Final win one day.
Cheer Squads are much maligned, but before being regulated into a marketing arm of the clubs were a heady mix of loyalty, bravado and rebelliousness. Mostly I remember trying to get away with stuff that I shouldn’t have been trying to get away with. This came in handy later on in all sorts of fields.
After the false Bomber dawn of the 1983 decider, by 1984 I was working as a sports journalist in Warrnambool and reporting and playing local football. This meant for the first time in years I missed much of the Bomber's season, but the cheer squad connections came in handy when I arrived at the MCG on grand final day with only a standing room ticket, but found myself front row, wing as the Dons stormed home in the last quarter.
What a day! People forget that at that stage the Bombers had gone since 1965 without a sniff of a flag — it was the first one in my lifetime and still marks a personal milestone between my childhood and adult life.
In 1985 I saw even less footy in Melbourne. I was working every weekend in the bush and only managed to get to one or two games. Still, I rocked up confidently for the grand final and prevailed upon my mates who had stayed the course in the front rows to cut me in on a ground pass.
Thus, once again my standing room ticket became a front row seat with the bonus of a jaunt onto the MCG before the game to hold up the Bombers run-through. Quite an experience, if somewhat unearned.
By 1993 I was working for ABC Radio and as a Bomber fan had the best day of my working life, working on air previewing the match with legends like Simon Madden before jumping the fence at the urging of the one bloke I knew who was doggedly holding on to life in the cheersquad.
"We need an experienced hand" was his suggestion, and again I snuck out to again hold up the run-through. It's sad really how we'll hang onto the glory days!
As a working reporter, the rooms after that Bomber's win over Carlton and getting to chat to Michael Long after his triumphant day remains one of my enduring memories of working in sport.
These days, it's a desk job. But despite having enjoyed many great moments in a career reporting AFL, much of what I bring to editing the Sunday Age is informed by my experience as that young supporter catching the train every week to the ‘big smoke’. I'll be working hard this afternoon to make sure your paper is as colourful and fun as the day itself — and sometimes just a bit rebellious.
Who knows, I may even get to a grand final again one day.