You are probably wondering why a 51-year-old man who lives in California is writing about the Essendon Football Club. It's not something that I normally do, but I want to be part of the celebration of the 150-year anniversary of the club and to reflect on the impact that the club has had on my life.
I grew up in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, deep in Magpies territory. My dad is a Collingwood supporter, along with two of my brothers.
I remember playing for the local club in the under-nines. The end-of-season field trip that year was to watch a Collingwood training session where I got Rene Kink’s autograph. Black and white clearly everywhere, but much to the dismay of my father, I swapped the black and white for the red and black.
The Essendon Football Club has been the anchor to my childhood home throughout my life. No matter where I've gone, something of the club has always travelled with me.
After high school I joined the army, completing officer training in Canberra and pilot training in New South Wales and Queensland. I spent most of my army life in far north Queensland, and deployed overseas to the South Pacific, Papua New Guinea and East Timor. I always carried something from the club with me - a good-luck talisman. During my officer and flight training, I wore Essendon football socks under my uniform whenever I needed luck. When I deployed overseas to East Timor or the Solomon Islands, I had an Essendon patch on my bag, and when I left the army and immigrated to the United States, all the club paraphernalia I'd collected came with me, much to the consternation of my wife.
This all leads me to the reason for this note. I wanted to share with the club one of my favourite photos. It was in 1998. I was a Black Hawk helicopter pilot and I had been deployed to Papua New Guinea to support drought relief operations. This involved flying an aircraft full of foodstuffs to remote villages. The flying conditions were awful. Visibility was poor due to smoke from fires, the weather was unpredictable, and the mountainous terrain made flying challenging.
During the deployment, we were tasked with flying out to a remote village that aid hadn't yet reached. It was right on the edge of the range of our aircraft fuel endurance, and we didn't know what the conditions would be like when we arrived at the landing zone. We loaded up with a full load of food and departed for the village. The landing pad was quite tight, a small open area next to a collection of about a dozen huts. As soon as we landed, the crowd of a few hundred people materialised out of the smoke and gathered around the aircraft. We quickly shut down the aircraft, and with the help of the locals, began to unload the aircraft.
It was at this point that out of the crowd a gentleman walked up to me wearing a long-sleeve Essendon VFL jumper. Here I was, 2000 miles away from Windy Hill and I come across a man wearing my team’s colours. I ran up to him full of excitement, gesturing at his jumper because I couldn't speak the local language and he didn't understand English. A colleague grabbed my camera and snapped a picture of me shaking his hand. I'm sure he had no idea why I was so excited, but I look back at that photo 20 odd years later and still get a sense of nostalgia on my time in PNG, and my support of Essendon.
I have been a lifelong supporter of the Essendon Football Club, and even though I now live in California, my support of the club is still strong. Every week, I check the scores when I wake up, happy if we have won and sad if we have lost. In this 150th year of the club's proud history, I'm glad my blood runs red and black.
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