We are a vaguely happy team at Hawthorn :)

Sunday, 28 September 2008

I'm totally spent. My football team won the flag yesterday. I cannae believe it! There are more Grand Final celebrations going on today down at Glenferrie, but I am socially worn out. Need to stay home and get quiet and get recalibrated :) And so, before Discombobula returns to normal broadcasting and stops making every post about football, here is my personal take on why this flag means a lot to me :)

Back in 1996 my team was threatened with extinction when the AFL set in motion plans to try to merge it with another Melbourne-based club (called, strangely enough, Melbourne). The club administration agreed to its own potential demise, and talks began in earnest. The members would have to vote at the end of it all on whether we would merge, but possibly from the club's standpoint Hawthorn members seemed apathetic, going on low membership signup figures. Indeed, that was part of the reason why the club was $1.7 million in debt. The AFL probably would have thought we were an easy merger target. I remember the four-colour glossy brochure outlining why it was that Hawthorn could not continue on in its curent incarnation. Reading it, depending upon your susceptibility to shiny four-colour views, you could concede that indeed, it looked like the end had come.

This was a team that had been one of the most successful clubs in the history of the game. In the eighties they were unstoppable, the team everyone hated because the bastards wouldn't stop winning flags - 1983, 1986, 1988, 1989. And another one in 1991 just to top it off. But five years after that last flag, here we were with talks afoot to do away with the team, merge it into this new bastardized hybrid called the Melbourne Hawks. There were valid reasons why the club honestly didn't see any alternative - because without vision the people perish, because football had become a commodity like everything else, because the members were not signing up. Hawthorn members, the rather spoilt little breed that we are, had become complacent. You get complacent when you've had a lot of success.

In response, an ex-player, Don Scott, started up a breakaway group which became known as Operation Payback. He believed the club was entering too quickly into this undoable situation. It's true that the club was $1.7 million in debt, but Scott wanted to put it out to the members first and see what could be done. It's funny how simple faith in possibilities is so ridiculed, is so small, and yet so powerful. The media and the club both did their share of ridiculing the impossibilities of the situation. Everyone knew the reality was we had to merge, right? It was all down there on paper. It certainly felt like a David versus Goliath battle, believing against the black and white evidence. I know, 'cause I was there :) Signed up almost from day 1 to answer phones after Don Scott put the call out for the supporters of Hawthorn to do something about it and so found myself heading down to Glenferrie after work, to hang out in a tiny little room upstairs in the social club and answer phones and start feeling the snowball gaining momentum. Heady stuff.

The resulting groundswell of support was part of the reason why I will continue to support AFL football despite its professionalism and shininess. I know that at the heart of my club is a group of passionate people. I saw it, and was involved in it. All those hours spent are some of the fondest memories I have. Making coffee for Don Scott (he's scary). Making a few friends (indeed, I would later marry one of them). Answering calls from opposition supporters who didn't even like Hawthorn but wanted to donate some money to the cause because they were sick of being dictated to and told that teams would be eliminated simply because what was once a Victorian-based football league had now gone national, and it was simply untenable on paper that there could be eight Victorian teams, making up half of the competition.

Well, that was all fine and good and spreadsheet savvy. But there's nothing like a cause to get your blood pumping, and the righteous anger that the AFL would try to merge my club - my club, the club my grandfather barracked for, my mother did, and now me, the club that has arguably been the most successful club in history, made my pumped blood boil :)

By the time it came to the September meeting that would determine the fate of the club, we had raised the $1.7 million required to get us out of debt. But to keep a rational level head on the situation Ross Oakley, the head honcho of the AFL, said:

It's all very well for people on the fringes to come out and rant and rave, they will have to carry the responsibility.
Well. That September meeting at the Camberwell Civic Centre sticks in my mind as the scary way a group of people can become a mob. Yikes. That night, members howled at club stalwarts on stage. Peter Hudson, one of the club's most loved players, was howled down and as club CEO advising we merge, his face was ashen grey that night. I shall never forget it. I understand people's passion, and I felt it myself that night, but to spew vitriole at people who are following the course they think best is just not on. It made me sick.

But that's what happens when you mess with football clubs. In this strange little passionless world we live in, sport is one of the few areas where vast groups of people can come together with common cause and passion, and dress up, and paint their faces, and jump up and down, and hope, and shed tears. I saw a lot of shed tears yesterday by members who have been carrying the responsibility ever since 1996. Onfield success now sees more people jumpin on board and this year Hawthorn had somewhere around the vicinity of 40,000 members, some of who got to be part of the 100,000-strong crowd that rocked it at the MCG yesterday.

So the members voted against the merger, we went on to fight another day, I went on to insert yet another cliche in this post, and Hawthorn went on to win the 2008 flag. Going by their season form, Geelong should have won yesterday - they only dropped one game all year. Indeed, of their last 43 games they have won 41. And on the stats spreadsheet for yesterday's game, they should have won, too. They had more shots for goal, but sprayed them. Choked under the pressure. But while Geelong may have thrown their side of the game away off their own boot, there's no doubting that Hawthorn won their side. With aplomb.

Spreadsheets and prognostications are empty wineskins with no people in them. If you lived according to the spreadsheets, Hawthorn wouldn't even be here at all. If Hawthorn played according to the spreadsheets, they wouldn't have turned up at all. Hell, according to the spreadsheets, we weren't even meant to be contending for the flag until 2009.

That we will. Just with the 2008 cup in the trophy cabinet :)


Edit: Changed my mind. Can't stay home, even though I desperately need recalibration. I think writing this post has recalibrated me a bit. It shall have to do. I'm off to Glenferrie :)

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