After Years Of Near-Success And Horrific Suffering...
We've just entered the oldest most historic structure of Simonds Stadium on our Ford Australia organised personalised tour when Maki runs behind a chair, under a magnificent painting of a young Bobby Davis, and makes that facial expression that always reminds me of Bert Newton eating chilies. Horror engulfs me as he fills his pants with the kind of putrid that is just utterly incompatible with such an exalted and revered space.
Luckily our tour guide Brenden says, 'Don't worry, I have three kids under 11. I understand.'
Once I've changed Maki's nappy we head over to one of the many training rooms within Simonds Stadium and right there, throwing a basketball at a specially designed backboard that has a hoop on it, is the Captain of Geelong.
'Look boys!' I say, 'It's Joel Selwood.'
You will notice in many of these photos that I am not smiling and that my face looks a tad bloated and that's because I was on the verge of tears for the two hours we were on tour. The Geelong Football Club were a major part of my young life and right up until I was in my early thirties there was heart-ache in four horrific Grand Final losses that rendered me a catatonic on the floor of the shower for hours each time. That's how much it meant to me.
During the tour I kept telling Brenden that this was an amazing opportunity 'for the boys' but what I didn't let him in on was that I was including myself in that sentence. Brenden had five children to control on this tour – Archie aged 8, Lewis aged 6, Tyson aged 4, Maki aged 20 months and me aged 39.
At this point I'd like to wipe away some tears, compose myself, remove the melancholy playlist of 80s classics from my ear-holes and acknowledge Ford Australia. They gave us a Ford Territory to fang around in for a month and organised for us to have access to the inner sanctum of The Cattery, and there is no other way to describe how we all feel about that except to say that right now I am waving fingers at my face in an attempt to dry the happy tears from my ruddy cheeks.
As a way of saying thanks to Ford I want to urge you all to go out – right now – and buy a Ford Territory. It is an awesome car and you deserve it.
After having a chat with Joel and getting him to sign our jumpers we re-enter the bowels of Simonds Stadium where – unlike actual bowels – the technology and the architecture actually become more modern and less smelly and that makes me wonder if bowels is an appropriate word to describe them. It was probably only Maki pooing his nappy that made me think of it anyway.
While Archie is trying to find Tom Hawkins on a wall that lists every person who ever played for The Cats, Corey Enright walks down the hall and says, 'Hey, boys,' just like he's an average person!
Only two doors later and out comes Steve Johnson. 'Boys!' I almost squeal. 'It's Stevie J!'
'Yes,' he says, before jokingly, 'Hey, where's number 20?'
Archie is wearing Tom Hawkins' number 26 and Lewis and Tyson are wearing Jimmy Bartels 3 and I suddenly feel incredible pressure to impress Stevie J and so say, 'We'll throw these jumpers out and buy number 20s as soon as we get home.'
Suddenly and without fanfare a topless Travis Varcoe walks down the hall and I brazenly ask if he would put his t-shirt back on so that we can get a picture with him. It's a moment of unthinking-ness that later comes back to haunt me because I could have had some excellent fun photo-shopping Travis into various situations and selling the resultant pictures to female-focused magazines like Woman's Day or Girlfriend.
When I ask Trav how long until he is back from injury he says, 'Soon... four of five weeks' and I say 'Four or five weeks?!' like a whiny baby, which make him recoil a little and momentarily flattens me with embarrassment.
I've noticed, to our right, is Allen Christiansen and I want to harass him for a photo as well but he's involved in what seems to be an earnest conversation with a trainer of some kind and so when our eyes meet I avert mine and decide to try to catch him later.
In averting my eyes I manage to relocate my gaze to another prize - Andrew Mackie is walking towards us wearing some nice bone colored pants and a devil may care attitude. When I tell him that my youngest son is named Maki (coincidentally and is not actually named after him) he says, nonchalantly, 'Oh right' which makes me think that he not only expected it but also assumes that all of my children are named after him. Once we thank him for the photo I address each of the boys individually as Maki in the hope of impressing Andrew but he turned away quickly and may not have heard.
Archie – a Tom Hawkins fan – stops in front of a doorway and looks back at me schrispering (a schrisper is a scream in a whisper) , 'Dad, it's Tom Hawkins!'
And it is. Out of the door comes a giant man and right behind him a colossal man, James Podsiadly. They kneel down, shake the kids hands, talk to them and make them feel awesome.
I am not a small man but I look tiny in between these two Geelong Cats behemoths. It looks as if they could pick me up and cradle me like a baby. And, secretly, I wish they would.
I didn't think of Ford Australia once during that whole exchange and thought I better record that fact right here so that I could say Ford again and link back to their website. (Have you guys gone and bought a Territory yet? If not duck out now. I'll wait until you get back.)
Brendan then dragged us out of the intestines of Simonds Stadium and on to the hallowed turf.
I still don't know how to describe that experience. I mean, how do you describe Nirvana... if you just answered a band headed by the late Kurt Curbain you'd be correct in an irrelevant kind of way but that doesn't help to capture the sense of awe or the resounding awareness of 'coming home', or of returning to the source of all things, or of...
Um, I think Nirvana actually do describe it better than me with these lyrics from their hit song, 'Lithium' -
I like it I'm not gunna crack
We played as five boys on that sacred ground – where my father had taken me to watch many games; where his father had taken him – for only thirty minutes, but we will carry the memories from that short amount of time through years and into future generations.
Brenden manages to drag us of the ground and back inside and with a knowing smile on his dial extracts Coach Chris Scott from his office.
What Chris doesn't know is that after years of near-success and horrific suffering I cried like a slapped-child in the Great Southern Stand of the MCG, 2007, when The Cats won their first premiership in 44 years. I cried again like an motherless kitten when they won another one in 2009 (to read aboutt hat in detail go here). And then I wiped away tears as I gaped helplessly – like a just-caught cod – when we won yet again in 2011; the year Chris Scott was coach.
'Thanks for 2011, man,' I say.
He nods as I go on to explain my painful Cats-supporting childhood and then says. 'Well, hopefully the last few years have made up for it.'
'Oh, they have,' I say. 'But I want more.'
Stupidly, I didn't get a photo with Chris Scott. So I'll just fill in this space with a completely unrelated picture of me getting out of a Ford Territory. Chris Scott actually owns two Ford cars. You should too.
We finish up the tour with some pics around the new stands and Brenden gives each of my children a Geelong Cats show bag and I am left standing there, with my hand out, which helps me to remember that I am actually a grown man and will turn 40 this year.
There it is. Brendan walked us out of the ground and into the carpark and put up with me shaking his hand for two full minutes as I told him how grateful we were what an amazing privilege it was for the five of us.
A massive thanks to Ford and The Geelong Football Club from Archie, Lewis, Tyson, Maki and me. And a parting message to the gods...
This year has been one amazing gift of opportunity after the other and I have no idea why. It makes me ponder the possibility that life is a random series of accidents with humans tumbling into occurrences without any real claim to deserving them, whether they be good or bad. But then that would make the whole idea of talking to the gods a kind of pointless insanity and so I just want to thank you – with everything I have. If I ever take my life and the opportunities within it for granted please smite me across the left cheek, or enter my rectal cavity with one of your giant lightning bolts and get me back on track.