The Pilgrimage Series: Game Day

Words by Maggie McDade

Published on May 1, 2012


Mick McDade has been going to see the Essendon Bombers play for a little over forty years now.  His daughter Maggie has been going a little over five. Here, Mick and Maggie talk about their pilgrimages to the football.

Game day. A slow start to the morning but with definite purpose in mind. Mum and I would go to Windy Hill, and Robin and Dad to Footscray.

We’d head off about 11.30 and listen to the pre-match talk on 3AW in the car. We’d usually park about mile away from the ground, and join the stream of people walking across the train foot-bridge, and into the ground. We’d always go in next to the members section because you’d often see Gods of the game here. Then Mum and I would walk through the crowd over to the “outer”. The outer was standing room only and this was where the opposition supporters would mostly go too. Lots of arguments and punch ups. The toilets were bad.­

Food at the footy was hot chips, hot dogs, and pies. It was always different. Often cold too. There would be pie boys who’d fill up a box that they used to carry around on a sling and sell them as they walked through the crowd. “Hot pies – four’n’twenty – hot pies,” they would chant. And they did it so much that the words would end up distorted and they’d each have a distinctive way of saying it, almost singing it.

When we come around the back of Richmond station and look out onto Punt Road, there is a sea of heads and colours, all walking at steady pace toward the MCG. Boys no older than five wearing jerseys with a big number 4 on their back, holding the hand of mum or dad.  Old women carrying cloth bags filled with sandwiches and thermos’ of tea.  Teenagers full of muscle and talk, singing their team song.  The Record blokes yell over the crowd, ‘Get your Recoooooord.  Recoooooooords five dollars.’  There’s usually someone playing the team songs bagpipes, in team colours, the tunes floating over the people and creeping traffic.  The crowd is drawn into the MCG, big mouths at the sides of the stadium welcoming them in.

I walk to the football with my Bombers scarf around my neck. Nanna knitted it for Dad when he was a kid, and when I moved to Melbourne I became its custodian.  It’s really long – red and black stripes.  I flick the ends over my shoulders and it still manages to drape down my back.  Sewn neatly on the stripes are tags with names of old players from the sixties, when Dad wore the scarf to matches as a kid. Robin Close.  Alan Noonan.  Ken Fletcher.  I’ve added a few badges – a 2012 members badge, and a white badge from last year’s Anzac Day match against Collingwood.  It’s a scarf that causes people at the pub after the game to comment on – ‘That’s incredible’, ‘how old is that?’ they say.

Always entertaining was the ball being kicked over the fence behind the goals. The local kids would queue up to grab it and bolt off on their bikes. The people up the back would signal to the boundary umpire if they needed another ball because the kids had got it – there would be an official down there too but it was fair game.

I always go to the footy with Duncan.  Sometimes there’s another – my housemate, a friend from overseas, but always Dad if he’s down from Brisbane.  After the slow walk into the ground, we get a ticket and find a spot.  Sometimes it’s in the standing room.  I like this best.  Here we lean against the rail with our plastic schooners and watch.  It’s nice and close.  When the players run along the flank, you can hear the thud of their boots on the ball when they kick.  The stands breathe with the sound of thousands of throats moaning, gasping, and yelling as they watch the lithe men in their tiny shorts scramble and leap at the ball.

More often than not we would lose in those days. So the walk back to the car was subdued.  Plenty of pissed people everywhere, and you’d often see a post-match fight. Windy Hill was freezing. Toward the end of the game, if it was a still day, a mist (mostly cigarette smoke I’d say) would sort-of linger. Then, back in the car we’d listen to the post-match radio.

Get home, and Robin and Dad would be there almost at the same time. Footscray would have been beaten for sure. Evening meal was normally pea and ham soup in front of the TV, watching – wait for it – footy replay, where they’d play the last two quarters of football from a couple of games. This was played on every station, other than Channel 0 that were weird and treated with contempt for not doing so.

Dad always talks about the going to see the Bombers in drizzle and rain out a Windy Hill, but my memories are crisp, bright blue days.  Days when the grass at the MCG is luminous under steady sunlight, and you drink cold Carlton Draught and look out onto the ground.  It’s never warm though; you never go to the footy without a jacket.

The game is usually book-ended by the pub.  After the game, bars in Richmond are packed full of people rowdy and talking about a mark or kick, or what Hirdy will do next week.  I wander home to put my scarf back in the chest of drawers til next time.

Even the next day we would watch Wide World of Sports – which was code for VFL again. They would have interviews and various other oddities about the game.

Off to school and talk footy, and slowly get ready to do it all again the following Saturday.