VAFA: Fitzroy v Old Melburnians
Fitzroy FC 12.9 (81) def by Old Melburnians 13.10 (88)
Brunswick Street Oval
16 May 2015
Grassroots footy is up against a crowded cultural landscape. It vies for attention with the elite competition, any number of other sporting codes, community organisations and recreational activities. But footy clubs have a unique ability to bring people together; in many communities throughout Australia footy grounds are epicentres of place and belonging.
This is true of the footy ground in the heart of Fitzroy. The Brunswick Street Oval has hosted footy for nearly as long as its been played. The Lions played more than more than six hundred VFL games there between 1897 and 1966. League matches are a distant memory but the Brunswick Street Oval is still a place where people from all walks of life come together to reflect, relax and kick an oval shaped ball around an ancient paddock.
Like so many Saturday’s afternoons that had come before the Brunswick Street was again home to a game of footy. Today it was the Round Six VAFA Premier B game between Fitzroy FC and Old Melburnians.
Fitzroy’s long and proud football history was on full display at a reunion luncheon held prior to the game. MCs Colin Hobbs (1966-71; 64 games) and Danny Wilson traded jokes, laughs and war stories with past players from a range of eras. Winner of the 1971 Stawell Gift Trevor McGregor (1966-71; 47 games) reflected on the challenges of balancing football and athletics in an era when cross training was unheard of. Paul O’Brien (1966-69; 47 games) discussed fighting at Preston jazz dances and playing Centre Half Back in the senior team. Brian Pert (1954-65; 125 games) recalled how he came to miss the 1960 Preliminary Final after being cut by a falling shard of glass after his teammate kicked a football into a fluorescent light hanging from the roof. While self proclaimed member of the ‘All Australian team of surnames beginning with Z’ Bruno Zorzi (1957-58 & 60; 18 games) shared his memories of debuting at Full Back on North Melbourne’s Jock Spencer and playing in Brunswick Street mud so deep that he lost his boot.
The modern day Fitzroy Football Club maintains a sense of community that is rare amongst sporting clubs, especially in the city. Supporters range from Fitzroy diehards to young families who just happen to live around the corner. Club President Joan Eddy takes the stage, welcomes them all and acknowledges a list of sponsors that reads like it would in any town in Australia: the local Bendigo Bank, the North Fitzroy Caltex, the Royal Derby Hotel and Piedimonte’s supermarket, to name but a few.
Joan notes that at 1-4, the game it is crucial in the context of Fitzroy’s season but also acknowledges that the competition is as tough as ever in Premier B. She makes special mention of Dale Sheedy and Luke Edwards who are making their senior debuts. She also notes second gamer, 7’01’’ ruckman Matthew Gaite. Edwards is a product of the Fitzroy under 19s while both Sheedy and Gaite have made their way to the club from the bush.
Looking out over the ground but it is hard to imagine the muddy bogs of yesteryear. It is a perfect autumn day and the ground is in beautiful nick beneath a cloudless blue sky. There certainly wasn’t any chance that boots would be lost to the mud.
When the siren sounds it is Old Melburnians who burst out of the blocks, moving the ball with fluency. Fitzroy co-captain Daniel Bisetto is doing his utmost to stem the tide, repeatedly dropping back and dragging in telling marks, but the Redlegs run and carry is generating too many quality opportunities and they take a two-goal lead into the first change.
The second quarter sees the intensity lift and with it a change in momentum. Gaite competes manfully in the ruck, using both height and reach to give the Fitzroy midfield first use. Redleg’s midfielder Edward De Fegely cannons in and out of packs but Fitzroy’s defensive pressure is decisive. Rory Angiolella and Dominic Pound-Palmieri both look lively and the Roys get themselves back into the match kicking four goals to one for the term.
The half time siren sees of past players, supporters and blokes from the 2s duck through the back gate of the North Fitzroy Bowls club for rumination and speculation over a couple of quiet pots. Attention is diverted from the clinking of glasses and the speed of the green when the siren sounds. The punters down their the last of drinks and head back to WT Peterson Community Oval for the second half.
The game settles into an end to end struggle. Old Melburnians draw away and Fitzroy to doggedly peg them back. George Hurley-Wellington is strong across halfback for the Redlegs but Bisetto is equally effective on the opposite line for Fitzroy. Thomas Bachet finds himself on the end of scrambled kick and converts for Old Melburnians but Chris Doherty finds the reply within a minute. Only two points separate the sides at the final change.
The final term is a seesawing affair. Fitzroy come out all guns blazing and skip away to a two-goal lead but the Redlegs rally with consecutive goals. The scoring dries as the ball is shunted from contest to contest. The deadlock breaks when the play opens up and Theodore Rosenthal puts the Redlegs in front. A big contested grab at centre half forward by Bisetto has the Fitzroy old boys nodding with appreciation. ‘League level grab that,’ is the call. The two sides go goal for goal while supporters anxiously glance at their watches and yell themselves hoarse. Thomas Hywood’s second goal seals the win for Old Melburnians and the Heritage Listed grandstand groans.
Fitzroy supporters walk away disappointed with the result but content in the knowledge that the Brunswick Street Oval still knows how to put on a show.
Originally published on footyalmanac.com.au on 19 May 2015.