In winter, when I was a little boy, my dad would take me to the footy just about every Saturday afternoon. I wasn’t that interested in footy but I knew Dad liked taking me. We barracked for Carlton whose home ground was Princes Park in Parkville. We would park the car and walk towards the ground. The reserves match would be playing and as we got closer the roar of the crowd would get louder and that roar had the ability to travel up my spine and give me goose bumps. Once in the ground, once part of the crowd, the roars didn’t have the same effect, my voice was part of the crowd now, I was part of the game.

The Footy Record was always purchased before entering the ground. Prior to the first bounce I would study it to memorise the positions every player was supposed to be in. Then I watched as they ran onto the ground to make sure that they went to the position the Footy Record said they were supposed to be in. Any changes were discussed and someone always said that he knew they would make that change. The scoreboards were small and the names of the teams playing other matches were shown by letters, the Footy Record told you which letter stood for which team. Without the Footy record all that you knew was that A was thrashing the pants off B.

The main match started with a blast of the siren and all attention focussed on who had the ball and the failure of the umpire to award obvious free kicks to our team. We would always be in the standing room area between the scoreboard and the goal posts. When enough beer cans had been discarded a common thing to do was to stand them up and stand on the cans, two under each foot, to get a better view. As the booze took hold, balancing on cans became harder and during the last quarter it was common for over excited fans to forget the precariousness of their situation and come tumbling down. I was fortunate, if I couldn’t see properly, Dad would hoist me onto his shoulders and squeeze my leg when Carlton scored.

The standing room area under the scoreboard was full of Italians and many of dad’s workmates would be there. At this end of the ground, Italian voices urged the mighty blues on. At half time the salami came out and was carved up and handed out. Dad knew I didn’t care for salami so he would give me enough money to get a pie and a can of Coke. Halftime was also when everyone made a bee line for the toilets which, by the time the 3rd quarter started, had become a sea of misdirected piss. Half time was when the little league played and this was a chance for the supporters to continue their criticism of the umpires and his complete ignorance of the rules and berate him for his appalling eyesight.

The second half was when things got serious. The players hit harder and the roars seemed to come from some place under the turf, they could linger and bounce around the stands and collide with the next new roar. Puffs of cigarette smoke hung over the crowd.

Even though footy is a winter sport my most vivid visual memory of all those Saturday afternoons was of the soft winter sun raking across the lush green grass, so different to the summer sun that just wilted and baked everything. No matter where I am now, when I see a soft winter light caressing the land I think back to those Saturday afternoons and the only time that I ever really connected with my Dad.