Please excuse the tabloid headline. It’s beyond cliché and I ummed and erred over it for quite some time. But for a while there, it held a lot of truth for me.
It was late 2005 and the Hawks had basically nothing to play for. Despite the Hawthorn and Essendon rivalry being historically strong, my 11-year-old self did not ever expect ‘the line in the sand’ match to be what it was. It was the first and last game I’d seen live with more than just ‘a bit of fire’. It was brutal and yet, incredible.
I attended that game with my father and his friend Andrew. Little did I know, that game was not only our last together, it was the day we would last speak. I hated Hawthorn. I hated Richie Vandenberg and Campbell Brown. Dad hated them too. I hated the supporters. They were ruthless that day. Any time James Hird got the ball, the bald headed buffoon in front of me would bellow “gooooooolden chiiiiiiiilllllld’.
Anger was building up inside of me. I wanted to make that supporter shut up. I didn’t like seeing my beloved Bombers get crunched in every contest. The anger from that day built up for a long time inside of me, but I never realised what the feelings really were.
Just one day later, my father collapsed on his morning walk. He was completely alone for about 10 minutes when another walker discovered him and called an ambulance. My father had a heart attack. He was 47. He lay in ICU for a week, but there was no hope for him. Every night I prayed, but on the seventh day, the decision was made to let him go.
I never had the chance to say goodbye. Just a week before he had been to see the doctor for a regular check-up and by all reports he was fine. He was a smoker, which I believe played a part in his death, but there wasn’t a clear answer to why his heart just stopped beating.
For quite some time, I believed it was the bloodbath that was the line in the sand game that caused my father’s heart to stop working. Psychologists would have had a field day trying to discover what my logic was behind that reasoning. All I knew was every time we watched the 1984 and 1985 Grand Finals together, my loving father educated me on the likes of Leon Baker and my childhood hero, Paul Salmon. (Funny side note – my self-appointed nickname in under 11’s football was Tuna, because I wanted to be the next Salmon. My password on MSN Messenger for a longtime was Tunafish in memory of my dad).
His was not the only life I believe succumbed to that game. That game was the last time I saw Andrew in a healthy state. Not too long after my father’s death, he fell apart. His marriage shattered and he was diagnosed with MS. He died a painful and lonely death; yet another victim for Vandenberg’s cronies in my naive mind.
My father instilled many things in me. My appreciation for food, my talent in poker and my desire for a slick hairstyle and a quiet home. The two things that he forever imprinted on me and that I’m most thankful for were a passion for football and how to respect others.
My parents were divorced when I was two years old. Dad had my brother and I every second weekend. My brother was 17 when dad died, so for the previous year or two, he often went out to see his friends on the weekend, which left Dad and I together.
On a Saturday afternoon, dad would make salami and cheese toasted sandwiches and we’d watch the footy together with his arm around me. He’d have the TV muted and the radio next to his ear. He’d listen to the horse races if he had a punt on, or if not, he’d have the Triple M commentary because he couldn’t stand Tim Lane and Robert Walls. Funnily enough, neither could I.
Flashback to the elimination final in 2004 between Melbourne and Essendon. Dad took me for my one and only ever experience in a corporate box thanks to a friend of his. As soon as I got home, I wrote a match report.
A few weeks later, dad and I watched the 2004 Grand Final together, while I took notes and wrote another report. We were both bemused when Byron Pickett won the Norm Smith. I’d tipped Roger James, but also hoped that Peter Burgoyne would win it, because he was electric.
Grand Final day 2004 was when I made my pledge to become a sports journalist. Dad loved my report. If he had said ‘that’s nice’ instead, I may have chosen a field where I could earn a lot of money instead.
Everyday since then I have honed my writing skills. Through high school, English was my best subject. Despite being moved or kicked out in 18 consecutive English classes in 2010, I still managed to maintain an average of an A for every essay. Cheers Ms. Abbott for being patient enough to see through my facade as a class clown and for persisting with me.
In 2012, I nearly gave up my childhood dream. I hated my English teacher. He seemed to hate me. Despite being the golden child through year 11 English, Mr. Day didn’t hear the rumour that I was top dog in class. He gave me B’s when I thought I deserved A’s and B+’s for work that was exceptional. No doubt, I was having a sook. I let him know on several occasions that I didn’t rate him much as a bloke or a teacher. By the end, I studied exceptionally hard for every other subject and aced all them. For English, I wrote barely any practice essays.
Going unprepared into the three hour English exam was, in retrospect, the most ridiculous way to spite Mr. Day. Somehow, my natural talent ended up snagging me a very solid score. It was my equal worst subject, but I still managed to get a good score. If I had a teacher who made me believe in myself, I am certain I could have had an exceptional study score for English.
All through this, I had the ideal teacher for Psychology, and I ended up acing it. Ever since the 2004 Grand Final, my goal was to get an ATAR of 96.00 to get into Journalism at RMIT. Two days before course preferences were due in, my hatred for Mr. Day made me put Psychology at Monash as my first preference. The day after, I changed it back to Journalism as I thought of my pledge to Dad. I haven’t looked back since.
My father made me the man I am now. His death was by far the most difficult experience that has ever haunted me. But without his inspiration, I probably would have been complacent in Year 12 and cruised through for a mediocre score.
I will never forgive Vandenberg’s Hawks for taking away my father, and I will never forget that bloke yelling out golden child.
My father taught me everything about football. My new goal is to become a successful sports journalist. I know that would make him proud.