Farewell: A Final Fumbles
In our (grand) final edition of Touch Of The Fumbles, our correspondent ponders the philosophy of football fandom: his abiding and, frankly, entirely illogical love for the Crows and, of course, why Port are in fact the Devil.
Our Fumbles correspondent is flying the coop. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily
So this is the way it ends.
Not with a bang (ie, a triumphant farewell after a long-awaited and richly-deserved AFL flag, with a joyous yet battle-weary lap of the oval before hanging up the boots, a la Shane Crawford), but a whimper (slinking off the ground after a meaningless late-season fixture against a fellow bottom-four contender which – I’ll be honest – I don’t even know who won because I actually wrote this late last week).
Yes, after chronicling the better part of nine seasons of the Adelaide Football Club’s highs and lows (well, mainly the lows really), your Fumbles correspondent is moving on.
After all, we’ve been filing these melancholy tomes now since 2014, and there’s only so much either of us can take.
And thus, in the immortal words of Majak Daw, “in speaking with my management and the club, we’ve all agreed that the timing is right for me to retire”.
In a perfect world, we might have carried on until, say, the Round 23 Showdown, ending our Fumbleland run in the same way it began – with an annoying loss to Port Adelaide.
That probably might have been a good way to go out, on reflection….
That first defeat of our Fumbleland tenure – the first of many, as it turned out, including one particularly painful Grand Final – probably set the ground rules, in hindsight.
In effect, as George Orwell famously used to say: Adelaide good, Port Adelaide bad. Or something like that anyway.
Which was ironic given for much of that godforsaken season, the Power appeared on track to win the bloody premiership!
For which, in hindsight, I thank them.
Spoiler: they did not win the premiership. Photo: Joe Castro / AAP
Because, for a start, it probably helped forge the general sense of downtrodden paranoia that has served us Crows supporters – and this column in particular – so well in the years since (particularly the last few).
And moreover, because it highlighted a simple fact that Port supporters have never quite seemed capable of grasping.
Namely, when we say (fairly) that we dislike their team with every fibre of our being, we’re not saying that they’re bad at football (although, bless them, they often are).
We’re simply saying that, despite on occasions playing a very attractive and skilful game, and despite (on balance) the bulk of the team seeming like they’d be not too bad fellows if they played elsewhere, and despite being broadly competently run and relatively easy to deal with from a media point of view, Port Adelaide are in fact the incarnation of pure evil.
I mean, think about it.
As I said at the time (which you won’t remember, so I can get away with pilfering it): if the devil was to take the form of a football team, do you think he’d be a dull, turgid, incompetent one? No, of course not. He’d play a pacy, free-flowing, highly-skilled, exciting, winning brand of football. How else would he expect to recruit unwitting followers to his diabolical mission?
Anyway, I digress.
In reality, it doesn’t much matter that we’re signing off after a loss (or win? I dunno) to the Hawks instead of a painfully symbolic defeat to Port (or epoch-making victory, which would be a somewhat more upbeat way to go out).
For in the end, each of these games carry through them the collective genealogy of three decades of trauma and triumph (or one decade of relative indifference in the case of Gold Coast and/or GWS).
Last year’s win against the Hawks, for instance, was a relatively meaningless affair that depending on your general outlook on life either provided a welcome respite from a run of recent losses or cost us a crack at #1 draft pick Jason Horne-Francis (I tend to fall in the latter camp, you’d be unsurprised to learn).
But it also etched another chapter in a rivalry that includes our club’s first-ever win – that glorious (and ultimately not-very-representative) 86-point debut drubbing – and our first-ever finals win, a 15-point MCG triumph en route to the first of our (sadly very representative) preliminary final losses in ’93.
And, of course, in latter years, Buddy’s ’07 elimination final heartbreaker, a five-point prelim loss in 2012 that appeared to stamp us as future contenders but instead ushered in our post-Kurt implosion, and a tepid semi-final shellacking in 2015, a week after one of our greatest ever wins against the Bulldogs.
And every time we play the Hawks, it adds to that legacy.
They each add at least a footnote to the ever-unfolding tale.
Back in the days when InDaily ran reader comments under these missives (and they were not often complimentary, I can assure you) one correspondent took umbrage at my generally despondent tone to tell me: ‘You must really hate football.’
And that’s right, I do.
But I also love it.
Weirdly, when the Crows were actually good, I probably hated it the most.
When you’re actually contending for a flag, individual wins don’t seem to matter as much. Indeed, they just increase the paranoid delusion that every victory is simply further buoying your hopes, only to more completely dash them when we again fail to snare that elusive third flag.
That paranoia was pretty well founded, as it turned out.
And more weirdly still, now that we’re no good at all, I rather enjoy the games more, in some ways.
Without the burden of soon-to-be-dashed expectation, one can appreciate the simpler things in football: a silky passage of play from a young player yet to cement his spot. A concerted run of form from a forward you’d started to think may never quite arrive.
And yes, of course: even the odd win.
Going in to round 17, we had five wins this year.
That’s the same number we had after five rounds in 2017 – the last time we were unambiguously good (apart from, y’know, the day we could have actually used it).
While that’s clearly a depressing comparison, it’s also true that those wins – particularly the ones you don’t see coming – are cause for quite disproportionate levels of celebration.
We finished 15th last year – and never had much cause to believe we’d wind up much higher than that – but I reckon I revelled in that Round One win over Geelong with more relieved zeal than I did when we beat them to make the Grand Final four years earlier.
Indeed, I felt strangely muted after that long-awaited preliminary final win.
After so many penultimate-hurdle stumbles, I was convinced that merely making the decider would be one of life’s great cathartic moments… but it kinda felt like just another win.
Maybe there was some premonition of what was to come.
Or maybe, after so long, it just didn’t feel real.
But that’s the nub of all this: the history stays with you. It’s a part of you.
If you follow your team avidly over a long time, it becomes enmeshed in the fabric of your life.
Be careful what you wish for, Random Crows Supporter. Photo: Julian Smith / AAP
In the early 2000s, back when Sandy Roberts would tell you to look away now if you don’t want to know the score (which was at the time intended for planning purposes but these days could pass for general mental wellbeing advice) – I moved around a lot. And I’d remember every game we played by where I was when I watched it.
And by extension, who I was with – and what it meant to me in the context of my life at the time.
For instance, I saw us beat the Swans at home in Round 3, 2002 (ironically) in a Redfern bar – the only place in Sydney at the time that both had FoxFooty and the willingness to broadcast it. Young key forward Ryan Fitzgerald kicked four goals against his former side, marking himself out as a star of the future (which he was, though not for any reason that seemed likely that April afternoon). The following week, I watched us lose away to the Bombers on the big screen at the Ainslie Footy Club in Canberra, where I then lived (the city, not the bar – though it was much of a muchness). That defeat became such a point of ridicule by a Bomber-supporting then-mate that I drove over to Melbourne to watch the Round 19 rematch with him in a pub off Brunswick St: gloriously, we won by eight goals.
Back then, back-to-back flags were a fresh memory, and we could be philosophical – upbeat, even – about a season that ended in a surprise preliminary final berth, despite the heartbreak of losing it.
I was still young, and so was my team. They were fun times.
A few years on, and there are pleasant memories in my 30s of listening along from my vantage point perched at an outside table as we visit my father-in-law on a Greek island port, sipping Heineken in the Mediterranean sunshine as we beat the Cats by 11 points. Neanderthal I may be, but it’s one of the enduring highlights of the visit. Moreover, on a return trip five years on our three-point victory against Port in the first Showdown after Phil Walsh’s death, blaring out via dodgy wifi as I nervously paced our apartment’s living room in the morning light, was the undisputed highlight.
Different places, different times of life; but the football endures – through good times and painful ones. Theirs and ours.
Many years on, I missed most of Tex’s first game back at Adelaide Oval after his knee injury in 2014, because my then-two-year-old son was sick and running a fever. On that day, what I saw of the soon-to-be-skipper‘s five goals was a welcome distraction to life’s bigger issues (and endless re-runs of Play School) even if it was mere background noise.
I remember too where I was, two years later, when my boy’s health was really challenged, and when our unlikely 29-point win away against West Coast was a sombre oasis away from lengthy, tearful discussions about what it all meant.
As my own life lost its shape, we resolutely held ours – keeping the Eagles scoreless in the last. In context, of course, a game of football didn’t mean much – even though it was the first real sign that my team could actually win that year’s flag (we didn’t, in case you we wondering).
But at the time, it was a moment’s respite from the helplessness of real life.
(And, more important, he’s fine – and now football-obsessed, despite the arduous journey his team has put him through in the years since).
This is the thing about supporting a football team: if you do it properly, it’s one of the most sustained and ever-present relationships across your whole life.
Sure, it may more often than not be an unhealthy relationship – our journey post-’98 has generally felt like an unending series of self-inflicted wounds.
And yet, we keep going back, and doing so gladly.
And we’ll carry on doing so – although you’ll have to find a new footy column to chronicle it (ie take the piss out of it all) from now on. A better one, no doubt.
As for me, I’ll have to find a new (and ideally slightly less time-consuming) avenue to exorcise my perpetual football demons.
But that enduring relationship, for all its fruitless frustration, is important… if only because – as I’ve realised the more I travel this country – even when we’re playing badly and no threat to anyone, our team is genuinely disliked by most impartial supporters.
Which is quite an eye-opening realisation.
In 2014, when we started these Fumbleland missives, we even had to contend with a broad consensus that Port Adelaide would be the football-watching nation’s second-favourite team (fortunately, this mass-delusion lasted about as long as the Power’s resistance in the 2007 Grand Final – and there you have it, my final ‘119’ reference).
But the national aversion is significant – for if it’s true that the Crows’ post-premiership journey has been a perpetually frustrating one, it’s also true that the Adelaide Football Club is a microcosm of the city that spawned it.
One which we revel in ridiculing, and yet staunchly defend against the tiniest barb from across the borders.
One that forever inspires loyal optimism in those that love it, despite its perpetual penchant for falling short.
Which talks a big game, but regularly forgets to play it.
And which, despite all that, can confidently assert itself as the pride of its state. Or, at least…
But which, for all its foibles and frustrations – and yes, occasional fumbles – we continue to believe in.
Despite it all.
This was the final Touch Of The Fumbles.