My eyes aren’t what they once were and despite improvements in prescription spectacles, it can sometimes be a little difficult for me to gather the clearest picture of events happening before me.
However, the very familiar trip to Toorak Park for Round 1 hardly filled me with trepidation. I cantered down Glenferrie Road and then High Street in my Austin A40 and Gavan Woodruff (I think) was there to let me inside the gates of the famous old stadium.
I had quite forgotten that the seniors were to play a night game and I ambled (very liberal use of the term) up the steps of the grandstand and took my usual seat. Weather warm, track fast. It was nearly 2:00pm and I wondered why no-one had raised the 2016 premiership pennant, and why the game was underway with no recognition of last year’s feat. (There had been hints from a few that I might be asked to unfurl the banner, so I wore the suit and red and black tie, just in case.
I turned my attention to the onfield activity. It was a massive crowd and they were yelling and cheering wildly. This threw me entirely, as I have come to know that fans of Old Xaverians are a curmudgeonly lot, who stay silent most of the time, except when the team isn’t going too well.
Even then, the noises emanating from them are usually grunts of disapproval rather than cries of encouragement. This reluctance to shout, I have been told, comes from watching too much winning football. It’s a shame, really, but not every supporter can be as enthusiastic and as firm of voice as Maurie Plant, Rodney Calhaem and Ralph O’Shaughnessy.
The Xavs wasted it early, and then finally, number 15 booted it straight and the crowd went wild. Who kicked that, I asked a nearby stranger, younger by a number of decades than me. (And who isn’t!)
“Golds” came the restrained reply.
“Ah, Tim Golds, XC 2011, formerly of the Sydney Giants, a year with Collingwood and new to the Old Xavs this year,” I retorted loudly as if to show off my knowledge.
“Er, are you blind, old man?” the youngster asked gently. “That was Gabby Golds.”
The quarter time siren blew and I hustled (as best I could) on to the field. I had a look around the huddle and was disappointed to see some of the players with their hair tied up, some even in ribbons.
Good Lord, I thought. I turned to a familiar face saying “Mr Ongarello, they’d never tolerate hair ribbons at Xavier. Would they? I know times have changed, but it’s still a man’s game is it not?”
I don’t remember the next five minutes, though the trainers told me the story when I awoke on the rubdown table.
“Donga told you it was the Old Xavs Women you were watching. And Chips, you just fainted!”
I lay still on the table, wondering where I was, thinking perhaps that I had somehow entered some alternative universe. Had I heard correctly: “Old Xavs Women”? Apparently so. You could have knocked me over with a feather – actually, not even a feather had been required.
Still groggy and in a state of disbelief, I hobbled out of the change rooms, up the player’s race and back into the light. More cheering, and it wasn’t for me. The Red and Blacks had kicked another goal. There was still plenty of encouragement coming from the fans. I heard a shout of “Go get ‘em, girls”; a communal appeal for a free kick “Holding the woman”; and instructions roared from the bench “pick up your women”. So it was true.
When did all this happen? I have lived a long, and some would say a fruitful life. I’ve seen many things I thought improbable: Jack Bowen missing a Xavs’ premiership win, corporal punishment abandoned in schools and the Mass being celebrated in English.
I’ve also seen many things I had considered downright impossible – Premier Daniel Andrews, man landing on the moon (1969), Old Scotch beating Xavs in a final (1959) – but I never, ever, dreamed I would see women playing football for the Red and Blacks.
It’s surely the first real step down the path to a co-educational Xavier College!
I enjoyed watching the women play and they seemed to enjoy the experience too. Good on them. I could hear them singing the song after the game and they sounded a deal more melodic than the boys do after a big win.
After all that, I’d had enough excitement for one day, so I headed home and listened to the main event on the radio. Another win for the Xavs, but the crowd didn’t seem too excited, despite a nice last quarter burst from the Blood and Tars.
I noted too that St Kevin’s had beaten Uni Blues, Trinity had tossed Blacks and Collegians had taken care of St Bede’s/Mentone Tigers. In the other game, lightning stopped play. Ah well, it is Melbourne, though in a century of watching amateur football, I don’t recall that happening before. (And yes, these days, I don’t recall much at all.)
So on to this week . . . and thanks to Norm Nugent at the VAFA, I have the Amateur Footballer to guide me in this.
Old Trinity is at home, meeting St Bede’s Mentone Tigers. I like the roar of the beast, but how is the team from the smallest ground going to knock over a form team at home on the biggest ground? Simple. It’s not.
Beaumaris travel up the highway to meet Blues at the once-beautiful University Oval. Perhaps it is beautiful again. Pretty or ugly, the start for Beauy is all-important, and that means finding a good parking space. Difficult at best. The students will tram it and probably win.
De La Salle host St Kevin’s, a local-enough derby. The tricolors have age and experience on their side and I’m quite partial to that, as you would perhaps understand. But will it be enough? In the end, probably. They tell me the loss of the ice-cream parlour across the road from Waverley Oval has had a shocking effect on morale of the neighbourhood and at the club.
Uni Blacks wander into the Trott. Well used to parking issues, they will get there early and begin as a settled side. However, I am hearing the Purples are loaded and probably will have enough to get the points.
Old Xaverians head to Sportscover to meet Old Melburnians. OMs are the tenants at headquarters, which should count for something. Well it does, except when they play the team that owns the place. I hear the Dark Blues are a good team – and they will need to be to get up in this one. The Xavs won’t be underestimating them, but as long as they survive the wind and the Spartan change-rooms, they should prevail in a close one. We will see.