Dad’s car pulls up onto the uneven grass of the Ross Gregory Oval on Albert Park Lake and I unload, taking uneasy steps down the grassy slope to the front of the footy ground.
The familiar smell of Dencorub, mud and hotdogs fill my nostrils. It’s Saturday and that means footy. Always.
I set up behind the counter; another home game means I take up canteen duties.
I’m sweating, even though the temperature outside has barely climbed over 11 degrees. I feel my cheeks blush as I prepare the hot pies, hotdogs and dim sims, tired before the first bounce. But I love it here.
I take out the old radio and set it to Triple M to listen to any game of footy that I can hear, bending the antennae at awkward angles to get even the smallest signal.
I’ve manage to get coverage of the Brisbane vs West Coast game up at the Gabba. The radio is crackling and over the buzz of the siren, the choice between PowerAde and the loud anticipation of our own game.
We’re almost 1,400km away from the Gabba, in the Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA) Division 3. Power House are hosting Parkside in a must win for both sides eager to make the final four.
The Lions, much like Power House, get away to great starts in front of goal. The House booting two while the Lions boot four and the contests seem alive.
In the second quarter, back at home, the battle is fiercely intensifying. A quick moving Parkside midfield has clawed their way back into the game, trailing by only two points at halftime. The Parkside and Power House sides are buzzing to prove their worth in the second half.
I try to get into the rooms to hear what Power House’s coach has to say. He’s so passionate, yet tactical and I’ve always been fascinated with what goes on behind the scenes. It’s access you can only get at grassroots footy level.
But I am stopped by the halftime canteen rush.
“Four hotdogs, three blue Powerades and three dim sims…”
My brain works overtime to ensure there is enough food ready, enough change handy and enough patience to get through my biggest test of the day.
The thought of that Gabba game is fading in and out over analysis of the Division 3 game before us.
“Those bloody umpires. Not decisive enough!” the hotdog man says.
“Did you see number 7’s goal? Unreal!” the Reserves players chime in.
“It’s about time for a change to this club,” pessimists from both clubs say.
I smile and nod, thinking about all the characters that these grassroots clubs hold. They’re one stitch in their club’s existence and without them their clubs wouldn’t survive.
I tune out of my reality when I hear that the Eagles managed to run over the top of the Lions in the second quarter, booting seven majors to one.
Their game seems sealed.
“That second quarter will win it for the Eagles,” chimes a Parkside supporter.
I smile and nod again.
The third quarter back home sees missed opportunities for Power House and a strong Parkdale fightback.
The crowd is fired up, shooting colourful messages to opposition players. Those players fire right back.
“Only at local footy,” a player’s wife exclaims over the three-quarter time siren.
I smile and nod. She’s correct, you wouldn’t see this interaction at AFL level. But that’s the best part of our grassroots game.
I’m almost out of hot food and I start my pack-up so I can fully invest in the final quarter.
I sit on the bench top of the canteen and dangle my legs, eyes on the footy.
The radio is still on and I assume that the Eagles remain in front.
The Lions still kicked five goals in the last quarter, but, as predicted earlier, the Eagle’s second quarter domination was a gap too large to make up. The Lions won clearances 44 to 32, according to the radio, but the Eagles dulled any serious midfield destruction and used the ball more efficiently across the ground.
I’m back to watching the game tactics and changes unfold in front of me. It’s low scoring in this last term, Power House kick two and Parkside only manage one.
The intensity has a rippling effect throughout the crowd and now I find myself hanging over the fence, engulfed in the moment.
Power House end up going down by a mere five points. I step back from the moment and see jubilation from Parkside and the heartbreak from the House.
Power House’s small forward Carroll booted four and reminded me of West Coast’s Mark LeCras, who also kicked four.
Parkside’s full forward Ross, who kicked three, emulated the game of Eagle Josh Kennedy, whose five goals guided his side to a 49-point victory.
20 minutes post game and the on-field emotion has died down as everyone makes their way up to the bar for the traditional post-match beer, as players and supporters from both teams gather to dissect the game.
Dad said that this socialisation used to happen at AFL level too, but not anymore. These days it’s only a grassroots ritual.
It’s 9.30pm when Dad and I pack up the car once more, this time full of dirty jumpers and muddy footballs that we will bring back next week to do this whole thing over again.
I look back into the clubrooms, where many players stay socializing; drinks in hand and smiles on faces.
‘There’s no other place like this grassroots club and I’m grateful for that,’ I think.
“Ready to go?” Dad asks, motioning me to get in the car, tired from a long day of volunteering.
And I smile and nod.
BRISBANE LIONS 4.2 5.6 7.8 12.10 (82)
WEST COAST 4.3 11.6 14.11 20.11 (131)
Brisbane Lions: Walker 4, Hanley 2, Schache 2, Taylor, Robinson, Bastinac, Hipwood
West Coast: Kennedy 5, LeCras 4, Darling 4, Cripps 2, Giles, Masten, Hill, Shuey, Yeo
Brisbane Lions: Robinson, Zorko, Hanley, Rockliff
West Coast: Gaff, Kennedy, LeCras, Shuey, Hutchings, Yeo, Sheppard
Brisbane Lions: Harwood (knee)
West Coast: Priddis (broken nose)
Umpires: Schmitt, Hay, Meredith
Official crowd: 12,777 at the Gabba