Ever felt like the minority?
Maybe you spoke out of turn when the teacher asked the old-fashioned rhetorical question. Maybe you glowed over Kevin Rudd at a pro-Liberal dinner party. Maybe you passed wind in an elevator.
Or maybe you’re like me – the one Carlton supporter in a family that, hand on heart, is born, lives and will die a Collingwood supporter through and through.
It would be a great understatement to suggest that family affection is put aside at least twice a year, as over twenty Lodges turn on the youngest of the family.
My family; my lovely, adoring family. Reasonably successful, well-mannered people during business hours, but come Friday night and beyond, they turn into savages.
And twice a year, I have to face them. With surprisingly all dentures intact, I am subject to insults relating to “scum”, a particular player’s mother and “traitor”.
Why “traitor” you ask? You see, I was once one of “them”.
My fellow Carlton supporters, I had no choice. The second I was brought into this glorious world, I was ripped from my mother’s breast and thrust into a cot of Collingwood teddy bears, paraphernalia, a year-long membership and a football.
I emphasise; I had no choice.
I grew up supporting black and white in the same way that I cried for a black and white loss, with a bleeding black and white heart.
Born into the unsuccessful era of the late 1990s, there was a lot of crying.
Many times, I felt like throwing the towel in. I couldn’t bear the morning bus where the school bullies – Kangaroos and Essendon supporters in that period from the late 90s to the early 2000s – would tear shreds off me for barracking for the ‘scum’ down at Victoria Park.
Many times, as a six-year-old, I would question my commitment to a team that couldn’t get a kick in park footy under then-coach Tony Shaw.
I voiced my concerns to my father, who told me to hang in there; that better times were ahead.
I tried voicing my concerns to my mother, who told me to focus on mathematics. Telling her I mastered my six times tables due to football didn’t have the convincing effect I’d hoped for.
My father turned out to be right, yet there was one obstacle to clear in 1999 before the glory days started to take shape.
As clear as day, I remember round 22, Collingwood versus Brisbane Lions – the Magpies’ last match at Victoria Park.
Outmanned, outplayed and outscored, Collingwood were humiliated by 42 points and handed their farewell prize of the wooden spoon for the 1999 season.
Sitting next to my father, my uncle and my aunt, I was a six-year-old witness to two hours of barracking, insults and cusses. Eventually I saw three grown adults stare solemnly forward as the deflated Pies left the ground, tears pouring from my relatives’ eyes.
It didn’t register at the time, but having visited Victoria Park to view the Under 18 National Championships last week – my first return to the hallowed ground since that fateful day – it reminded me of the stature clubs, and their suburban heritages, held to their communities.
Fast-forward through the years of 2002 and 2003. Gazumped on actual tickets, my immediate family, now living in Byron Bay, flew to Melbourne. My father trekked it both times at 4:30am to the snaking queue of swags, black coffee-filled canteens and puffy-eyed desperados lining up for the final MCC members tickets.
For both games, he trekked alone and both times, wandered home a sad, sorry, dishevelled figure. If you could capture his feeling on both occasions, coupled with the tears that rolled from my fathers face on that day at Vic Park in ’99, you’d need no words in the dictionary to define sadness, only a picture of Senior Lodge.
But then came the tougher years.
11 months on after the 2003 Grand Final failure, 2004 saw Collingwood straggling towards that same wooden spoon we’d won just five years earlier.
In my mind, enough was enough. The naivety of my fledgling self toyed with the idea of a change of teams, a notion I had voiced to my father.
True to his diplomatic self, he didn’t curse, rant and rave, or throw the stainless steel fry pan – of which he was using to cook scrambled eggs when I dropped this bombshell – at my head.
Well, truthfully, that part came later.
I was first asked why. Why did I want to change teams?
My answer was simple in my 11-year-old mind: Collingwood sucked.
My father pointed out that the Magpies had just featured in back-to-back Grand Finals.
There was a temptation was to swallow my father’s ‘wisdom’, yet I persisted.
I was then asked – should this be permissible in the laws of team supporting morality – which team, if any, would I take up as my new club?
Again, naivety struck me, as I blurted out Hawthorn. It didn’t strike me quite as hard as the afore-mentioned frying pan as my father – to put a common spin to the term – lost his shit.
I learnt many things that day.
One, Le Creuset cooking appliances hit hard. Two, how to effectively carry out the RICE injury treatment acronym. Three, don’t change your team in front of your father. And four, if you are going to, anyone but Hawthorn.
Senior Lodge is simply one of the many non-Hawks supporters disgruntled about Hawthorn’s innate ability to play in grand finals through the ‘80s.
My father has been on this earth nearly 60 years, alive for just three Collingwood Grand Final wins, 16 losses and two drawn grand finals.
An avid attendee come Grand Final day, whether his beloved Pies participate or not, Senior Lodge has seen Collingwood win on Grand Final day live just once. He has – against his greatest will – been a front-row witness to 15 losing and two drawn grand finals.
For a man who has had much success in life – a great medical career, a wife of over 30 years and can safely lay claim to contributing 50 per cent to the creation of my good self – luck in football is something utterly foreign.
And never was this more apparent than in 2010.
I was living in Sydney at the time, yet Senior Lodge had worked his magic and nearly sold the family dog to get tickets in the right forward pocket on the fence.
This was the year, Senior Lodge said.
To digress, if I may, just two years before I had signed a deal to see me as a Carlton NSW Scholarship holder.
Then a 17-year-old and with the possibility of maybe joining the AFL ranks in the Old Dark Navy Blue, I had grown fond of Carlton. So much so, that I had gone to both the 2008 and 2009 elimination finals at the Gabba and Homebush respectively and whole-heartedly barracked for Carlton.
The final at the Gabba saw me seated with Senior Lodge, who looked on in horror as his only son and heir apparent went through fifty shades of emotion for “the enemy”.
On top of this, I had had interviews and training sessions at Visy Park, of which my father reluctantly attended.
He had joked, before we walked the hallowed halls of Princes Park to recruiting manager Wayne Hughes, that he might need therapy before walking through the gates.
He sent this email and chuckled to himself, before stopping to reflect in hope that ‘Hughesy’ had a sense of humour. Fortunately, he did.
Therapy was again an understatement for Senior Lodge as he followed me around the facilities underneath the Robert Heatley Stand.
Carlton legend Wayne Harmes walked past us through the corridor, brushing my bristling father who had visions of the 1970 ‘disaster’ (his words) flooding back to him.
It was all too much. Well, only that experience was topped by my father’s first attendance with me at a Collingwood-Carlton game as a Blues player last year.
Sitting in the Carlton section of the stands together, it was a dirty night for my father’s Collingwood boys as they were rolled (magnificently) by 10 goals.
Asked if he would like to come down to the Carlton rooms afterwards to see what it was like inside the inner sanctum post-match, my father happily agreed.
His cooperation to this idea was short-lived when we entered the changing rooms, as the boys were mid-way through a glorious rendition of the battle hymn commencing with “da, da-da, da-da”.
I joined in for the remainder of the song before turning to bring my father in closer to where the boys were. Only, he wasn’t there.
After two lines of “Lily of Laguna” he’d scarpered, unable to bear anymore. This partnered a short text message to explain his hurry-off: “F*** this.”
But back to 2010 Grand Final day. As I said, in Senior Lodge’s eyes, this was it. The day.
We sat together, father and son. True to my form as a former Pies supporter, everyone in Bay 13 knew my thoughts as everyone, from Travis Cloke’s wayward kicking, to any St Kilda player, to the umpires, copped a verbal hammering.
My father had brought a beer just before the national anthem, with five minutes to go in the final quarter and the game up for grabs, the same beer was just under half-full.
However Senior Lodge saw the plastic cup half-empty when Brendon Goddard sat on Harry O’Brien’s shoulders to take a history-stamping screamer at the tip of the goal square.
Having not uttered a word all day and only politely clapping every Collingwood goal, this was the moment where my father – again I stress, a well-respected, mild-mannered village doctor in Byron Bay – let out an explosive outburst of anxiety.
There might have been 100,016 people packed into the MCG, but those in South Yarra would’ve heard the expletive my father dropped from their terrace homes.
Five minutes later, he matched the outburst as the final siren went and the MCG went into a stunned silence akin to a morgue.
As a medical student, my father had sat witness to North Melbourne’s comeback to draw the 1977 Grand Final and then win the replay. My father struggled to find his words, at a complete loss to explain the numbness he was going through.
While my father struggled, I trudged off to the toilet.
I stood at the urinal doing my business – and desperate not to make eye contact – when I heard a voice to my right say, “Great kit Lodge.”
The ‘kit’ this person was referring to was a black long sleeve jumper, underneath a white shirt, underneath a Collingwood jersey. On my bottom half I had black and white-striped pants on and black and white converses. I was wearing a Collingwood beanie and scarf and had my entire face covered in black and white war paint.
A month earlier, I’d spent a day training at Princes Park on a weekend trip down to Melbourne.
So who should this voice belong to but Darren Harris, the Carlton development coach, accompanied by no less than the rest of the Carlton coaching staff.
It would’ve been easy, at that point, to consider me a St Kilda supporter, given how red my face turned amid the war paint.
As it was, the Pies won the following week, yet we were on a pre-planned camping bush. The following year, we again went to watch Geelong run away with their third premiership in five years, with Meatloaf acting as the figure of pathetic fallacy.
To this day, October 6, 1990 remains the only day my father has seen Collingwood crown champions live. In the wee hours of October 7, 1990 he went home in the back of a divvy van.
So, being my father’s son, how do I cope? And how – beyond all things – did I change my allegiance from Collingwood to Carlton?
In my family’s eyes, I am the Old Trafford-born bloke who supports Manchester City. I am the New South Welshmen who barracks for Queensland. And I’m that guy backing England in the current Ashes series.
Twice a year I am a living subject of Collingwood’s membership slogan: ‘It’s Us Against Them’. Never has a public relations ditty been more applicable in my life during those two nights between March and September.
As I sit and pour my story to you dear reader, I can safely inform that I now epitomise the Blues’ membership phrase, “I am Carlton”.
I cannot go back to Collingwood. 12 months inside the walls at Visy Park taught me one basic thing, we love to hate Collingwood.
It’s a simple non-negotiable. It’s Carlton and no one else.
Blues-Pies clashes are now much more clear-cut in my mind. There’s no speculation, there’s no toss of the coin. Just the cold hard fact of the matter being that I have been disappointed twice in rounds two and 15 this season.
Above being part of the system for one year, the main reason I support Carlton is because of the 22 blokes who run out in front of packed houses at the MCG, and the other 20-odd blokes trying to push their case at local, suburban grounds on chilly Saturday afternoons to be one of those aforementioned 22.
I got to know everyone on the current playing list way beyond who they were as footballers. I travelled overseas with them, had meals out with them and competitively went through blood, sweat and tears to eke out a career that didn’t eventuate for me.
While I may never play football seriously again because of failing body, I’m more heartbroken at the current stories of blokes like Rhys O’Keeffe and Patrick McCarthy, whose injuries have allowed them very little continuity in their stint at the Blues.
While the eyes were on the seniors, I was empathetic to the guys like Nick Graham, who fulfilled his boyhood dream of being drafted to Carlton before being told he’d be having a significant layoff, recovering from corrective knee surgery.
To see him come back and dominate the VFL for the Northern Blues in the last month has warmed my heart more than most things.
But the fact of that matter is my heart will be broken, when, such is the system, players will be given the tap on the shoulder to alert them their time is up at Visy Park.
As an only child, it is the sense of brotherhood I developed amongst the boys that defines my allegiance as solely for Carlton, not the rookie wage they paid me last season.
I am the outcast of my Collingwood-adoring family and it suits me fine.
Even Senior Lodge is coming around to the fact and enjoys watching Carlton as an impartial observer.
His interest was spiked when Uncle Mick – in his eyes, the Lord and Saviour Michael Malthouse – took on the top job down at Visy Park.
And he likes to keep close tabs via my Twitter account to see how the young boys such as Dylan Buckley and Luke Mitchell are going for the Northern Blues. And then, he simply loves Nick Duigan.
My father will say he loves ‘Duigs’ for the way he goes about his football and his approach to life as a registered psychologist. I tend to think it was Nick’s offer to buy consecutive rounds for Senior Lodge that was the clincher – he’s easily charmed, my old man.
Yet who brought whom the beer will be put to one side forever and a day when Collingwood and Carlton run out on the MCG to do battle once again next time.
With fingers and toes crossed, I do hope the next occasion might be sometime this coming September. And when that final siren sounds, I’ll be lustily joining in the modified version of Leslie Stuart’s catchy number – from start to finish.