I was tagged in a Facebook post the other day, in which the headline contained both the words ‘hate’ and ‘Carlton’. Naturally my ears pricked up, so I went on to read an eloquent and passionate piece by Broderick O’Driscoll, to which I could closely relate.
At the end of the story, I was met with a footnote inviting more reflections from supporters. One topic was what you made you fall in love with the Bombers.
So, I’ve chosen a game that, 27 years on, remains vivid in my memory and still gives me goosebumps. The 1993 preliminary final against Adelaide, of course, and the moment, which I’ll touch on later.
But first, back to the Blues. They pipped us in week one of the finals in ’93. The first-ever night final, a contest we should have won. In week two, we eliminated the Eagles, denying them the crown of interstate dominance. It set the stage for a showdown with the Crows, the chance for another crack at the Blues.
Preliminary final day started on a sombre note. I hadn’t been able to secure a ticket, but plan B was to go to the Royal Melbourne Show with two of my Year 9 mates. A few rides and showbags later, the bounce was upon us. I had convinced my mates to join me at The Pavilion, as I knew it’d have the radio on.
A few minutes in, Matthew Liptak kicked the opening goal. Matthew Liptak. Who the bloody hell is he, I thought, a one-eyed teenager who only knew those in the mighty red and black. Liptak would go on to play a modest 116 AFL games, retire and become a respected surgeon, both achievements vastly outweighing any notable ones on my own CV. But in ’93, he was just another player in our way.
It was neck and neck for most of the opening term, until the Crows piled on three goals in the last five minutes to lead by that margin at the first break. A few sniggers from my mates riled me up, but in fairness, one, a Richmond supporter, hadn’t anything to celebrate in our years growing up together (he is making up for it now, of course). The other, a Hawks fan, knew his team's golden era had come to a close (I know what you’re thinking).
Their lack of interest in this game pushed me out of The Pavilion. I was outvoted, 2-1, so back we went to the Royal Melbourne Show.
With no other source of live updates at the time, I was oblivious to the six-goal-to-two second quarter in Adelaide’s favour, being thrown around in the Gravitron while digesting a Dagwood Dog.
Given our early start at the show, we were done by mid-afternoon and had a parent pick us up from the station. We headed to our rendezvous point and once safely inside the car, my first question was, naturally, what’s the score?
Adelaide by seven goals, my friend’s mum replied. My friends burst out laughing, but my disbelief led me to ask her again. She turned on the car radio, forcing me to listen to the half-time wrap. Please no.
The next ‘who needs enemies when you have friends like these’ moment hit in perfect harmony when both started singing Adelaide’s club song. I sunk into my seat. The Crows? Come on. Who are they, anyway? We’ve never had trouble with that mob.
By the time I was dropped off at home, my frustration hadn’t dissipated. To make matters worse, I went to open the front door. It was locked, nobody home. I had to break in through my own bedroom window to get in. I was well and truly peeved, but at least I was inside, and there was nobody to stir me up.
Now, the radio. I fired up the old silver and wood grain two-in-one turntable/radio and played with the dial, trying my best to get a decent AM station reception.
Down by 42 points with 24 scoring shots to 12. Oh god. My optimism was blind, but little did I know what was coming.
After only a couple of minutes of play, we had added two behinds. While we started to get on top of possession, we needed to convert every chance, I thought, and can’t let the Crows kick one. My head told me you couldn’t keep a team goalless for a half in a preliminarily final, but my heart longed to believe.
Some three minutes into the second half, we went deep forward. My man ‘Boris’ (Darren Bewick) got on the end of a chain of handballs, popping through the first of the quarter. Boris had been solid in the finals with three against the Blues, and two against the Eagles the week before. This goal was his second against the Crows, and I remember thinking, if he can kick two more, this could get interesting.
Every passing minute seemed like an hour. We’d stopped the Crows scoring, mission No.1. But we weren’t piling on the goals, an essential ingredient for this unlikely comeback.
After about four minutes, our next real opportunity presented itself. Eventually kicked by Paul Salmon, it seemed like the hardest goal we‘d ever manufactured. It was ugly, we couldn’t trap it cleanly, couldn’t get passed opponents. The footy was just going around in a circle on the spot before the big Fish got the job done. Six points.
Some three minutes later, after surviving a number of forward thrusts, the Crows somehow didn’t score. Enter Bewick to make them pay, again. The very reason I loved him, for his freak goals and perfectly timed flailing of arms when brushed by an opponent to win a free. From just 20 metres out, he slotted our third straight. That massive deficit was now only three goals and a bit. Hang on a second. My poor old stereo was now on volume 10, giving its all. Then, the moment.
It’s forever etched in my mind, something that would be replayed for decades and generations to come. Funnily enough, I predicted its significance as I heard it live. The moment. There was just something about it.
As Adelaide pressed forward again, a young, awkward Dustin Fletcher came out to meet the footy, trapping it unconventionally as only Fletch could do. He dished off a handpass to Gavin Wanganeen, who would become a Brownlow medallist in 48 hours, much to the disgust of Greg Williams. Next in the chain was Ricky Olarenshaw, back of the centre square. One bounce, two bounces, three, four, kick… an outstretched David Calthorpe marked, 50 out. Without breaking stride, he dished off to Mark Mercuri, sensing his presence. Mercs gathered, staring down the target with laser-like focus. I’ll never forget that steely look on his face (yes, I’ve watched the replay over 100 times). One step, two steps, three, four, five, six, closes in on 30, bang. Oh my god. That roar.
S***, the stereo’s blown up, I thought. Mum and Dad are gonna kill me. That squealing feedback from the 1970s sound system pierced my brain. I lunged at the volume knob, but by the time I touched it, it sounded normal again. Then again, I’d already turned it down (only to nine), just to be safe.
By now I had a balloon footy on the go, taking speccies on the couch and kicking unbelievable goals from all angles of the lounge room. We had one of those plastic supermarket indoor footies at the time, but that was banned after a couple of recent breakages, so the balloon stayed mid-air longer for those slow-mo high marks.
The moment didn’t put us in front, and there were a few more twists and turns still to come after it, like Stuart Wigney, who actually replied with a goal not long after, and Andrew Jarman, who marked and missed from 15 metres out. Thanks to Salmon and Bewick, though, the three-quarter deficit had been cut to 12.
We’d go on to defeat the Crows, remarkably, with another two from Bewick and a Timmy Watson special to seal it.
A week later when ‘Bomber’ (Mark Thompson) marked the first clearance of the game at half-back in the Grand Final, I was immediately at ease. I could feel it in my bones, in my stomach. We’d beat Carlton, and the rest would be history.
With the benefit of hindsight, every time I watch Mercuri’s goal, despite knowing every piece of it, every piece of commentary, every noise from the crowd, every blip on the worn-out old video tape, I knew it was the moment our players believed they’d win.
When it happened, I reckon every radio in every home in Melbourne couldn’t handle the raw power of it. If you search the game on YouTube and watch it (approx. 13 minutes into the third term), you’ll hear the Channel 7 soundbite falter under the roar of the crowd, the birth of our 15th premiership.
The moment, my moment. It will live with me forever. Sure, there have been many special moments in the years that have followed, but none that have matched it.
In Red & Black Reflections, we'll select a fan-written piece to feature on the website each week.
Got a favourite memory? A fascinating story about how you fell in love with the Bombers? Thoughts on the 2020 season? Whatever it is you feel passionate about, we're leaving it up to you.
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