On Friday afternoon I found myself in Young & Jacksons. I’d caught a train to the city to meet Boris under the clocks at Flinders Street station, but he had a better idea. With a friend from Adelaide – a Crows supporter, who knows not of what is good for him – he waited across the road, with a spare pint ready on the table.
Boris Kilpatrick is 49 years old and was born in Glenelg in Adelaide and has lived most of his life in Glenelg and has only ever barracked for two football teams: Glenelg and Richmond.
As he tells it: “I used to go to the footy every week with my old man and watch ‘The Bays’ (Glenelg Tigers) and we’d get home and mum would toast crumpets and we’d put The Winners on TV and watch the VFL Tigers.”
So at a bar in the heart of Melbourne on Friday afternoon I learn about football elsewhere, and ‘The Bays’ and their rollcall of distinguished VFL/AFL players (Stephen Kernahan, Chris McDermott, Tony McGuinness, John Nicholls, Mark Williams, Brad Ottens, among others), and about Graham Cornes and a mark he took for Glenelg in the dying minutes of the 1973 SANFL Grand Final against North Adelaide that’s etched in South Australian folklore.
In the shared language of football, these were stories unknown, but readily understood.
And in 1973, for an eight-year-old Boris Kilpatrick, it was as if the stars aligned. Glenelg won a famed premiership in the SANFL and Richmond won its eighth premiership in the VFL and the two teams played before 34,194 spectators at the Adelaide Oval in a high-scoring semi-final on 6 October in the Championship of Australia.
Boris sat on his father’s shoulders, on that day in Adelaide when Glenleg wore plain yellow guernseys as a “clash strip”.
“I created the bandwagon,” he laughs now, of his support for a club in a distant city that for him was like a dream. “I was the bandwagon. People jumped on me. And now I’m the only one in Adelaide holding the reins.”
The Adelaide Crows formed in 1991 and two former Glenelg Tigers – Graham Cornes was coach, Chris McDermott captain – were in charge, and all through South Australia football loyalties were reconsidered. But not for Boris. “You can’t change who you barrack for,” he says. “I grew up watching ‘Disco’ Roach, and Lee and Weightman, and Jimmy Jess and I loved it. The Crows were not my team. The Tigers are my team.”
A few weeks ago, Boris contacted me and said he was coming to Melbourne with a friend, Jamie, and their wives, for a weekend of shopping (the girls) and football (the boys), and he wanted to buy me a ticket to the St Kilda game. It was a generous offer that I accepted, but then reneged on. A wedding invitation arrived late, from a friend who’s a musician. He booked a midday wedding, on a Saturday, in winter, in Melbourne. He’s no interest, obviously, in football.
The least I could do was to meet Boris in the city and buy him a beer. But he’s too generous for that. He bought me a beer. He gave me a t-shirt. And he furnished me with football stories from Adelaide.
Saturday’s game beckoned and mostly all I felt was ambivalence. It shouldn’t be like this. Maybe it’s because I knew I wasn’t going, and wasn’t watching, and wasn’t to be involved in the day’s drama, whatever it would bring. Mostly what I thought about was seeing Richmond play St Kilda on a Friday night at Etihad two winters’ ago, and standing with a cold wind at my back, but warmed by the game’s spectacle and its prospect, and a mark by Jack Riewoldt and all his goals, and at a critical moment in the last quarter a tackle by Addam Maric on Brendon Goddard that was the play of the night, and won us the day.
St Kilda were seventh on the ladder and we were 12th and we hadn’t beaten them for the longest time, and 49,337 turned up, and none of us wearing yellow and black could have gone home disappointed.
Now two years later, how the gloss has tarnished. Goddard is at Essendon. Addam Maric plays for the Werribee Tigers. And before the bounce on Saturday, both these teams could hardly be any further away from September.
But then the game arrives and I get edgy, and from upstairs in a pub in Port Melbourne – after the vows and before the lusty drinking – I sent a text:
Can Tiger peeps please lemme know the score/highlights. At wedding. Wrangling children. #gotiges.
What follows is an edited critique of the game, and of the day.
@loumur81: Who gets married during footy season? #pooreffort
@eddie1007: playing with some ferocity. 6pts up. JR8 being fed very well. Lining up for his first......and a goal.
@SatchSkippygirl: Tiges OK so far!
@eddie1007: Cotch having a picnic - 4 goals, 14 touches. Tiges by 31
@eddie1007: Grimes kicks his very first AFL goal.
@eddie1007: JR8 doing Vickerys job, being accountable. Meanwhile, Vickery - 3 touches and missed a sitter. #enoughsaid @dugaldjellie #aflSaintsTigers
@eddie1007: 2nd half not too pretty but alright.
@eddie1007: Tiggies up by 26. Cotch with 5. Career high.
@eddie1007: @brandonjellis needs a mention, 27 touches so far @dugaldjellie !!
@eddie1007: There's some biffo. There's some feeling now. #AFLSaintsTigers Up by 24 points 3qtr time.
@eddie1007: 10mins to go. 25 points in it. Ellis 33 touches, @snippermiles25 going beautifully with 24 touches. Cotch up for number 6...
@eddie1007: …and a behind.
@eddie1007: Tross superb and just gets better with age. #grangehermitage
@eddie1007: a narrow 44pt win. @brandonjellis 35 touches. #welldoneboys #AFLSaintsTigers
@eddie1007: make that 36 touches.
@oldcoady34: is 9th still in play?
@murdriggs: who won the wedding?
I was drunk on love on Saturday night, whatever that might mean. I made a Mietta O’Donnell chocolate cake on Saturday night, for our youngest son’s first birthday party. I put it in the oven and poured myself a chaser, and put a log on the fire and sat down with the pure delight of watching a recorded game in which you know your team has won. There are few things in this world that can give such simple pleasure.
Mostly, when I record a game I impose a media blackout – to preserve the contest’s tension – but there’s nothing about this season that is ‘mostly’. I recorded the Dreamtime game and still haven’t watched it, and probably never will.
But a win is a win is a win. And Dylan Grimes kicks his first goal! And how many goals did Cotch kick, again? And how did he come to kick so many goals? And I know to look out for Brandon Ellis, and Alex Rance, and…
…and I give thanks to Edstar (@eddie1007), who last I checked was watching from somewhere in Sydney, who interpreted the game, and offered a thread, and through all those flutes of champagne – through a glorious drunkenness – told a story that I read by the water’s edge in Melbourne and could see ended happily-ever-after.
Boris sent a text:
Frustratingly beautiful win. Cotchin, Martin, Rance. Hope the wedding went well.
Watching the game, what I think about mostly is how brave and courageous the players are. Nick Vlastuin runs back with the flight of the ball into a contest and I wince, concerned about his welfare. Anthony Miles gets crunched in another contest and I wonder how he can get back to his feet, how he’ll go walking in the morning. Each time there’s body contact on Chris Newman, I think mostly of soreness.
I would like to write about Dylan Grimes’ first goal, or Jake Batchelor’s first goal the other week and his renaissance as a footballer, or what the efforts of Anthony Miles might say about others at our club (the selection committee, for one), or the good form of Dustin Martin, or Jack Riewoldt’s gesticulations of dissent on Saturday, or how my man-crush on Nick Vlastuin only deepens, or my sigh of happiness when Reece Conca at last kicks his seasons’ first goal, or about the value of Ivan Maric’s marks around the ground.
I would like to write about it all, but do not have time. Besides, others can judge for themselves. We all watch a game of football; we all look at it in different ways, and for different things.
Besides, I’m distracted. Melanie Castleman, who last week was TTBB’s fan-of-the-week, sent through a pic of a new banner she had made. It is yellow and black and red. It has a love heart on it! All through the game when Richmond kicks goals and the camera cuts to the cheer squad for its response of approval, all I see is Melanie’s banner. There is love in this game and she holds up her heart! It’s impossible not to see. There is love, there is love, there is love.
I love it that the Richmond cheer squad has Trout and his luminous yellow ‘wig’ that I’m sure can be seen from the moon (even with the Etihad roof closed), and I love it that the cheer squad has Melanie and her home-made banners, and on the newest of which she holds up high her love-heart for her ‘Newy’.
Spread the news, share the love.
All I knew about Glenelg before I met Boris was that it was an Adelaide suburb, and the longest Australian toponymic palindrome I know of. I knew of the Claremont Football Club in Perth, and of their colours, but ‘the Bays’ and their long list of champion players was for me a blind spot. Now I want to visit Adelaide. I want to see the Tigers play at Adelaide Oval. I want to see Glenelg play in the SANFL, and write about it.
My time with Boris was short (TTBB’s other half, Chris Rees, was in Melbourne for a flying visit from Hobart, and coffee awaited in Lygon Street), and we talk about Craig Bradley, and John Platten, and Kernahan, and Boris’s days playing in the forward pocket at school (“I loved the game and kept playing until probably I was going to be killed”), and Richmond’s disappointing season (“I wasn’t buying into top-four, but this has been painful, it’s been horrible”), and his other great sporting true-love: baseball.
Boris knows more about baseball than anyone I’ve ever met. We talk about the game, and Wrigley Field in Chicago, and the difference between its two leagues in the US. Boris still plays the game (for ‘the Bays’), and writes a blog about baseball in Australia (see www.ablbuzz.com.au). We share notes about our labours of love. He gives me a T-shirt that he’s had made to promote his blog. I tell him about my ‘Tiger’ t-shirts and hoodies soon to hit the shelves of the TTBB superstore.
Boris is a generous man, he is a Tiger man. He offered to buy me a ticket to the football. He has never lived in Melbourne. He barracks for our team because of its colours, because of his loyalty to another. There is much that is unique about him as a fan.
Before I leave I ask for a photograph. He pulls out his Richmond top from a bag. Nothing is as you would expect. Whose number and name does he have on his back? What player has he chosen to wear? Riewoldt, Deledio, Cotch, Martin, King, Ellis?
Nup. He’s gone for No. 32, Brad Helbig.
Go Tigers! Go ‘the Bays’! Go Brad! Go Boris!
Tiger tiger burning bright