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A tale of two Grand Finals

From the Members Tuesday SEP 13

By R. G. Fraser

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

I am fortunate to have attended a dozen MCG Grand Finals over the course of my 61 years. Well, effectively 56 years - we arrived from NSW in 1966, and back then footy was seen by my family as nothing more than aerial ping pong. By chance, or divine intervention, Dad’s co-worker at his new job and my best mate in Prep both barracked for the Mighty Fightings…so my fate was sealed.

My first Grand Final was as an impartial observer at the “Great MCG Turkey Shoot” of 1972. Tickets must have been easier to come by back then, as somehow Dad got hold of three tickets for two Hawthorn and one Melbourne supporter to see the Tiges kick a phenomenal 22 goals…only to be bested by 28 from the Blues. I was not emotionally invested in the game, as my friend Richard and I cared more about the numbers coming up on the scoreboard to show who won at the races that day (a novelty) than witnessing the record combined score for any Grand Final before or since.

Things got more serious thereafter as it was the Hawks I was going to see. I am happy to be able to say that of the 11 Grand Finals I have witnessed first-hand in which Hawthorn have participated, we have won eight. That is indeed fortunate, for as I am want to say around Grand Final time to anyone who will listen:
The best thing about winning is not losing.

Grand Finals have the ability to produce a range of emotions in me like nothing else I know. For two that I didn’t go to (1991 and 2012) my friends and family forced me to watch the game in another room, such was the tension and anxiety oozing from every pore. In 2012 I had to leave the function I was attending as it all got too much for me – at home I lay on my bed turning the radio on, then off, then on, then off….and finally left it off in those awful final minutes.

But that was not the worst of them. Let me tell you about 29 September 1984…a date that will live in infamy.

The worst of times – the 1984 Grand Final

Faithful readers of this correspondent will be aware that I have worn my lucky outfit to every Grand Final I have attended since 1983 (“Superstition and the Art of Attending the Football” Balcony Banter 21 July 2022). The Grand Final of 1984 saw us lining up against the team we had easily vanquished the previous year. I think it fair to say at this stage players and supporters of both clubs held each other in no higher disregard than any other team – Lethal had busted a point post at Windy Hill in 1982, but that was nothing more than an anecdote. Dipper had facially massaged Alan Stoneham in ’83, the same year Don Scott none too subtly accused Roger Merrett of being a Hit Man (meditate on the irony of that, if you will). Combine that with the ’83 point drubbing we handed out in the Grand Final of that year I can see how the Voldemorts (sorry, but I just can’t use their real name….) may have been itching for a bit of redemption and were dying to knock us off our perch.

We went into the finals series having defeated them twice in the home and away season…although they did finish a game clear on top of the ladder. The Second Semi-Final of 1984 is the greatest game of football I have witnessed. We just couldn’t shake them. We would surge, but they would respond. They would get clear only to see us claw our way back in front. We were two points up – the same differential as when the quarter commenced - when Rocket Eade kicked the goal as the final siren sounded to see us through to our second Grand Final in a row. With the siren still blaring I turned to the red and black supporters sitting directly behind us, shook their hands and said “see you in two weeks.”

Unfortunately, we did.

Grand Final day, 1984. First bounce, free to Dermott, kick down field and Lethal Leigh goals. Thirty seconds was all it took, if that. We quickly follow that up with another goal, this time from Robbo (who happened to be standing next to Tim Watson when he got sun stroke the year before…). Then Robbo again. Bill Duckworth was flying the flag for them, but Dicky Loveridge bagged another from the goal square. Then Dermott. Merv Neagle was making his presence felt but so was (ah-hem) Mr Matthews. Tucky goals. Six goals to two our way in the first quarter.

The second quarter saw them lift, but we goal first. Then Lethal squirts one through from a pack. Eight goals to two goals. How much was that record winning margin again? Then it happened….at about this time, my darling, dearly departed Mother, sitting next to me enjoying the spectacle, leaned across and whispered in my ear:

This is too easy

I smiled, not appreciating at the time what she had done. Providence never likes to be tempted.

Duckworth moves forward and gets busy. But nothing to worry about yet, surely. Dermott shoots and kicks it out of bounds on the full. Then Lethal does it. Then Dicky Loveridge does it. Here we go – “The Hyphen” Lester-Smith takes it just forward of the wing. One bounce, two bounces, three bounces…FOUR BOUNCES….closes to within 30 metres and…….out of bounds on the full.

We should be 10 goals up at half time but instead there are only 25 points in it.

The third quarter is an arm wrestle, both teams scoring two goals. At the last change our lead has reduced by two points to 23.

And now, dear reader, I pause to share with you the great lesson I learned that fateful day – 29 September 1984 – at that fateful time – the last quarter of the Grand Final. At each game of football spectators can purchase a publication known as the Football Record. This publication contains commentary on the game in general, features on players from both participating clubs, with the centre pages devoted to the teams as selected inscribed on a cute little oval. On the facing page is space where each player’s contribution to the total score for that day can be recorded. I know all this, for my final 30 minutes of the 1984 Grand Final were spent studying each and every page of the Football Record. Head down, reading to myself and trying to block out the cacophony of sound emitted from the simians in red and black leaping about in the aisles, in the walkways and on the green seats that surrounded me. Having finished, I read it again. And again. The final siren went and I walked away, dazed and disbelieving. That night I was supposed to go to the birthday party of my (until recent) fiancée. Instead I just sat in the shower for two hours, hot water turning to cold, wondering what had happened. Just shaking my head, wondering what…just…happened?

We lost again the following year, but we were never really in it. I mean, Chris Langford in the ruck? At least we won the fight. But 1984 – that still stings and will haunt me until the day I die. An all-consuming, impassioned hatred for the mob at the end of Mt Alexander Road was born that day.

The best of times – the 2008 Grand Final

As noted above, I wasn’t at Waverley for the 1991 Grand Final, the Batmobile, Paul Dear’s greatest game and Paul Hudson matching the feat of his fabled old man. Didn’t matter, I thought…just go to the next one as we have Reserved Tickets.

Reserved Tickets to the Grand Final, get it? Because I barrack for the Hawks and we have been in eight of the last nine.

But we didn’t get it…in fact we didn’t get it (or get there) for 17 years. Awful, for the most part barren years. Years of good players, even some great players, but not the champions and tough men on every line as we had in The Golden Years #1. We lost Trent Croad to gain the first draft pick in 2001, and we all know what that meant (and then Croad came back). Favourite Son Schwabbie was given the flick and some angry ant from Kaniva who used to play for North and Melbourne came to coach us. 2004 and we get Rough, Lewie…and some other bloke when the Tigers took Richard Tambling. Finals again in 2007 – one good, one bad.And then 2008. I went to the game in Round 6, and my very, very clever friend Murray (a Tigers man) commented “They are moving around guarding space just like a soccer team.” No fool Murray – he is the first person I know who identified our new system …the “Clarkson Cluster”. So many times that season I would rejoice in seeing teams, flummoxed by the wall of Hawks players in front of them, resorting to chip, chip, chip around their backline whilst nervously looking for opportunity to break through. When they finally timidly pushed forward we would often pounce and goal on the rebound. 17 wins for the season and second on the ladder. Only one team performed better, losing just one game. The reigning premiers – Geelong.

In 2008 I was a Restricted member of the MCC, and my Hawthorn membership (MCC Associate) guaranteed me a ticket to the Grand Final should we make it. Comprehensive wins against the Dogs in week one of the Finals, and then in Robert Harvey’s final game with the Saints see us back in the last game of the year for the first time since 1991. For me it was my first Grand Final attendance since 1989. The “uniform” is dusted off, albeit with new Dunlop Volleys in brown and gold rather than the retired Adidas Romes. Greying hair dyed brown to accommodate the spray on yellow streaks. To the outside world I had seamlessly slipped back into the confident and strutting Hawks supporter of our magical run in the 1980’s.

But I hadn’t. I was terrified. Although we had played well for most of the season the mob we were up against were nigh on invincible. They only lost once for the entire year, for goodness sake. I gave us a 30 percent chance of success at best. Undaunted, I left our annual wine bottling early and jumped on the train from Eltham to Jolimont. Only a smattering of supporters at the ground when I walk in and take up my place amongst the Hawks Members’ seats behind the goals at the Punt Road end. The sun is warming as other Hawks diehards drift in. We smile at each other nervously, all appreciating the mountain we have to climb. Eventually the pre-game entertainment commences. I send a text to my wife Sheridan - “I can’t breathe” is all it said as my emotion, hope and anticipation threatened to close my windpipe.

Those retiring at the end of the season drive past in a motorcade. A murmur goes up amongst the Hawthorn members as one of those in the open topped car passes by is recognised. Softly at first, but then louder as more join in a resounding “BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO” is directed toward retiring umpire Darren Goldspink. We still remember the Prelim of 2001 and THOSE free kicks you gave to the Voldemorts. Hawks supporters have long memories.

Then the teams are on the ground and lining up. The girls from Wicked are singing the national anthem…and with a couple of bars left to sing we bellow “Go Haaaawks!!!!!” as the players disperse. We are kicking our way in the first quarter. Rough comes to the goal square – my God he looks nervous. So are we.

For we are not privy to the self-belief of this team, who got so close in Round 17 before Hodgey’s “Cooper birth induced” brain f@rt saw the Cats get out from under us. We were not aware of the “Kill the Shark” exhortation before the Hawks ran out which set the tone for the day. We were just trying to believe, trying to have faith that our habit of winning far more of these things than we lose would continue.

As for the game itself? Well, to be honest most of my memories are the product of watching the replay again and again and again. The overwhelming anxiety whilst watching live has almost completely eradicated my memories of the events during the game. I have fleeting recollections of feeling we were with them in the first quarter, but should have been blown out of the water in the second term when the Cats were woefully wasteful. Only now, when writing this article, do I see the parallels in reverse with the game in 1984 upon which I reflect earlier.

And then there is the third quarter. Oh that wonderful, magnificent, joyous third quarter. When “Fat Boy” Stuart Dew etched himself into the hearts of Hawthorn fans as the “unlikely, bulky hero”. For me the third belonged to my beautiful man, my Junior Boy, my #33…my Cyril Rioli. His hunt and capture of Max Rooke on the Members’ wing. And then, after Dewie marks strongly and with Crawf gesturing wildly for him to go long to Buddy, the ball is launched into our open forward line. With Cyril front and square, by luck or by design the ball lands in his path and he speeds to the vacant goal. Head slightly tilted to one side, he smashes the ball through. The TV coverage from behind shows him in full flight, left leg extended, with the Hawks members behind the goals (including me) in raptures. One day I will obtain a still photo of that image and hang it on my wall. To think of the joy Cyril brought us, and how he is now estranged from the Club, makes me very, very sad indeed.

In front at the last change we think the unthinkable…we might just do it. Goal to Mitch on his preferred/non-preferred left leg. And then Rick Ladson punches the air after he put us more than 30 points up…the dream might be the reality. Crawf tried to cap the day with a 30 metre goal along the ground and then – the SIREN! We had won. Flash to our coaches box, chock full of current and future premiership coaches embracing. Then to me, 24 years from that dismal day in 1984, again sitting wondering what just happened…but this time with the broadest of smiles on my face.

I think it was the aftermath of the 2008 premiership that sealed it for me as my favourite. The following day walking along the street with Hawks scarf proudly displayed, waving to the cars that went by tooting their horns. And for months thereafter reliving the event with fellow Hawks supporters, be they the man in the fish and chip shop or QCs and County Court judges – we were all ten years old again, talking over each other whilst recounting our favourite moments with bubbling excitement as we just didn’t want to let go of how good we all felt.

The age of wisdom, the age of foolishness

And now it is 2022, with the Premiers of this season yet to be crowned. Who will it be and who do I want it to be? Well that would be telling – but it would be nice to see a Hawthorn connection there when they receive the silverware.

And as for the Hawks, our season was at least a pass under our new Coach. For now all we have is hope, and the wisdom to know that it is hard to reach the pinnacle with a lot of things needing to go right. And along the way there can be much heartache.

But perhaps we also have the foolishness to believe, and perhaps to know, that sometimes miracles do happen. Amongst the hope and despair, the seasons of light and darkness, we will follow the team we love…all the way to the Grand Final.

Grant Fraser is an avid Hawthorn supporter who cannot believe his good luck at having experienced two sets of “glory years” in the one lifetime.