The AFLW was a matter of weeks into its inaugural season when my wife, a football novice, came to the conclusion that she would support the Western Bulldogs' women’s team.
As we were living in Melbourne’s inner west at the time, wilfully participating in its gentrification, and Essendon wasn't fortunate enough to have its own AFLW team, this was of no surprise. I supported this decision on the proviso that when the AFLW was eventually greatly enriched with the presence of a team running around in the foreboding black with a red sash, order must be returned – she would follow the Essendon AFLW team.
When I thought this discussion/minor threat had reached its conclusion, she then remarked that she would also follow the Carlton AFLW team. Ignoring the obvious football faux pas of supporting two teams, I was dumfounded, aghast with such a treacherous act of cruelty. Once I had completed my indignant rant as to why this decision would be grounds for divorce, and regained my composure and rationality, it occurred to me that being the football novice she was, my wife hadn’t quite fathomed, and probably never will, the deep levels of pure hate I reserve specifically for one thing – the Carlton Football Club.
It would be prudent of me to warn devotees of the red and black that what I am about to share may include content that could reopen old wounds, or even worse, trigger PTFD – Post Traumatic Football Disorder. Nevertheless, my hatred for the morose navy blue jumper emblazoned with the initials CFC (in case their fans forget what they’re called), and anyone wearing it, was born on September 18, 1999.
I was 15 years old. My parents and teachers escaped my customary teenage angst; it was exhausted every weekend from March to September on questioning umpiring decisions and providing constructive feedback to opposition players (Darren Goldspink and Wayne Carey were favoured targets). Still riding the high of a dominant qualifying final victory over the hapless eighth-placed Swans, I skipped my morning classes, lined up at Greensborough Plaza’s What’s New store (whatever happened to those stores?) and purchased a ticket to the preliminary final where my beloved Bombers would face Carlton (who should never have been there in the first place, but that’s an argument for another time).
As I sat on the train, which incidentally was the last time I was able to find a seat on a Melbourne train (one of the perks of getting on a train from Eltham in the year 1999), my feelings towards the game were a cocktail of pessimism and quiet confidence, with a dash of fear, and a squeeze of anticipation. I attended the game by myself, which is one of the few things I recall about the day - memory loss being a common symptom of PTFD. This is not to say I was without a friend, but was in somewhat of a transition stage of who I attended the football with. Dad, my previous football comrade, had moved to Geelong. And my mum hadn’t yet transformed into what would become an uncontrollable one-eyed Essendon supporter that even Cyclops the Greek giant would be in awe of.
I have few recollections of the game itself, including THAT TACKLE. I never blamed Dean Wallis for the result. Not once. He took the game on, a game we should have already sewn up, and it didn’t come off. Good on him for trying.
Sadly, I recall two other moments. The first being a missed goal by the exquisitely talented footballer, Mark Mercuri, in the dying moments of the match that would have given us the lead. Wedged into my ground-level seat in the former Olympic Stand at the Punt Road end of the MCG, the Sherrin left Mercs’ aesthetic right boot and snaked its way past the wrong side of the post. It was a shot at goal that I’m certain Mercs himself would declare as bread and butter for him.
The second moment was when the final siren sounded; a sound that was as audibly pleasing as a dying cat listening to Andrew Bolt. As much as I have tried, I haven’t been able to scratch the memory of a smugly smiling Justin Murphy holding the ball aloft from my brain (damn my prefrontal cortex, cerebrum, frontal lobe and medial temporal lobe). I left the ground immediately. If timed, my walk to Jolimont Station, fuelled by a John Wick-like rage, would rival the likes of Kerry Saxby or an EPO-infused Olympic Russian walker. I was devastated. The Carlton theme song echoing from the ground combined with the guffawing Carlton supporters in the MCG carpark engraved in me a hatred for the Carlton Football Club that would be vehemently described as illogical by any scientist. But football isn’t a science. If it was, we would have won that game. But we didn’t. And that is why I hate Carlton.
Fear not, that is not how this story ends. Less than 12 months later, I watched my Bombers flick the Blues aside in a preliminary final rematch on our way to the 2000 premiership in what was the most dominant season of AFL football I have ever witnessed, biases notwithstanding. To make matters even more satisfying, Carlton has not won a premiership since 1995. The Blues have been the worthy recipients of the wooden spoon no less than five times since 1999, and have been the worst performing club since that forgettable day (even scientists have confirmed this). Furthermore, my wife has graduated from novice football fan to four-year member of the club. She refers to Dyson Heppell as ‘Dyso’ and marvels at the exploits of ‘Tippa’. I too am a member of the club. Have been for 28 years. Despite not being anywhere near as raucous and parochial as that 15-year-old in 1999, one thing remains. I still hate Carlton.
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