I can’t remember the sound of his voice anymore but I still recall the comical way he would flick his scarf after every goal.
I still remember him shifting his arm-chair towards the centre of the room, pulling back the recline lever and settling in for the one great pleasure that remained for him; a spinal injury at work had broken his once proud spirit.
We didn’t get out much together, but Saturday arvo football was our time. To my regret, I would sometimes tarnish the occasion with my impudent tantrums in the backyard whenever Andrew Jarman and Co. were having a bad day – which was inevitably every time we ventured to a suburban ground interstate like Moorabbin or Windy Hill.
On one Saturday afternoon in 1996, though, he was unusually late out of bed, which was weird because the Crows were playing Fitzroy. He kept unusual hours, that was true, but he was never this late to rise. Mum and I both felt a creeping dread, and we eventually made the trip into his room together.
I could tell that he was gone before she could; I wanted her to just stop trying to resuscitate him, but I know now that she simply had to try. He must have been dead for hours.
When the ambulance came to collect his body, one of the medics tried to comfort me but I simply stared at the Crows on the screen. Perhaps he thought it was unusual that I wasn’t crying; that I wasn’t doing anything at all. I just went blank.
Apparently, we won by 32 points and Darren Jarman kicked eight.
I can’t remember much about that time at all. It was a bad year, 1996, for the Crows and for me. Our coach, Robert Shaw, was spat on by enraged fans; I was bullied at school. Not about my dad, though. I just went to school on Monday after it happened and didn’t say a word.
It was one of those times where all you could do was grasp tightly onto the few certain things you knew to be true, as the rest of your identity swirled about in the chaos. The Crows are good, Port Magpies are bad, Modra is king, they should never have sacked Cornsey.
Then Blighty came along and my world was changing again.
I joined the cheer squad towards finals time. I went to see us defeat the Eagles and the Cats, and then pondered travelling to the Prelim against the Dogs. We couldn’t afford for me to go to the Prelim and the Grand Final though, so I doubled down on a victory. As Tony Liberatore leapt into the arms of Brett Montgomery, pumping those enormous biceps, I thought my dream had died.
The next week, though, Mum dropped me off at the bus stop on Grand Final Eve and I voyaged to the MCG with the rest of the squad. I didn’t know any of the others too well. I was shy. I still am.
Something, though, had possessed me to make that trip. At the time, I think, I took our success that year and our ultimate victory as a sign that everything was going to be ok.
My father was a persuasive man, but I don’t know why I believed that he had more sway in Heaven than all the loved ones of St Kilda supporters.
It got me through that dark period though; this healing self-deception. It was something to cling to – evidence that my existence wasn’t entirely cursed. Twenty years have passed and we are in the Grand Final again; memories of the Saturday afternoons of my youth flood back.
It isn’t football that I love: I loved my father and he loved football.
James Murphy is a law tutor and freelance writer.
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