Ea­gle fans have their say on the flag that changed lives

The Sunday Times - - NEWS -

THEY are an eclec­tic gag­gle of footy fun­da­men­tal­ists, from cel­e­brated mu­si­cians and nerdy tax ac­coun­tants to parochial Vic­to­ri­ans whose love of the West Coast Ea­gles only blos­somed on that won­der­ful last Satur­day in Septem­ber.

One has played 640 games of footy in three States over 36 sea­sons, an­other is do­ing her PhD in gen­der and sport at Vic­to­ria Uni­ver­sity while an­other is a wannabe play­wright who spends his spare time as a WA Foot­ball Com­mis­sioner.

There is a rather odd man who de­scribes him­self as a right-handed poet, some pro­fes­sional types who twitch at the sight of a Sher­rin and a fa­natic whose fam­ily banned him from watch­ing Ea­gles games on TV due to his ap­palling lounge­room eti­quette.

Their spir­i­tual leader is Melbourne-based broad­caster, writer and racon­teur John Harms and their pas­sion and knowl­edge shows up many ex­perts who, as it now ap­pears, seem­ingly know a bee’s-dick more than the rest of us when it comes to our national game.

Meet the writ­ers and thinkers who make up footyal­, one of the game’s most pop­u­lar plat­forms. They are known, quite sim­ply, as your av­er­age, ev­ery­day fan.

And ev­ery year post-GF, they pro­duce a col­lec­tion of the best am­a­teur works about the premier’s highs and lows through­out the sea­son.

The Ea­gles Almanac — Friends, Fam­ily, Flags — is brim­ming with in­trigu­ing in­sights from those who make up the heart and soul of this

Tony Bar­rass great West Aus­tralian footy club and the game they play.

Like those re­called by Jebe­diah front man Kevin Mitchell, aka Bob Evans, who re­traces the deep con­nec­tions he has to the blue and gold.

While record­ing his second al­bum in Nashville in 2005, the cel­e­brated Fre­man­tle muso re­mem­bered how he fi­nally found a pub to watch the Ea­gles play the Swans in the first of those two epic grand fi­nals.

Un­for­tu­nately, the ho­tel’s in­ter­net crashed, and with no images many miles from home, Mitchell strug­gled to lis­ten to the au­dio, “the worst kind of way to ex­pe­ri­ence a grand fi­nal and a mem­ory I will hap­pily let fade away with age”.

The next year things were dif­fer­ent. He also re­mem­bered Ben Cousins, hav­ing both played ju­nior footy at Bull Creek Bombers, as a “lovely, happy, easy-go­ing kid whose mum and dad were re­spected by ev­ery­one for be­ing thor­oughly nice, de­cent peo­ple”.

Then there was 2018, the “most fun I’ve had as an Ea­gles sup­porter since I was a kid scrap-book­ing those games in the early 1990s”.

There is a great piece in there by Michael Sex­ton re­veal­ing how the Ea­gles’ skip­per got his moniker.

It turns out it has been passed down the South Aus­tralian gen­er­a­tional line. Shan­non Hurn’s old man, Wil­liam, is a “Bunger”, as was his dad, Brian.

In­deed, Brian “Bunger” Hurn cleaned up the vis­it­ing Poms in 1958, back in the day when the tour­ing sides played State teams be­tween Tests.

That Bunger Hurn, then a 19-year-old fair and tall speed­ster from Barossa farm­ing stock, went through the top order like sheep drench. He had no lesser lights than Colin Cow­drey, Tom Graveney, Ted Dex­ter, Frank Tyson and Tony Lock back in the sheds be­fore they could say “By Gum”.

Bunger the First would be part of South Aus­tralia’s 1963-64 Sh­effield Shield win­ning side and, after a long ca­reer of pub­lic ser­vice, go on to be­come mayor of the Barossa.

Bunger the Second would cap­tain SA at un­der­age footy be­fore playing 135 games for Cen­tral Dis­tricts in the SANFL.

Sex­ton sums up what most of us love about Bunger the Third; the char­ac­ter­is­tics that coun­try foot­ballers so mag­nif­i­cently bring to the great game.

“Rather than get­ting into groups with white­boards and flu­o­res­cent sports drinks at quar­ter-time, Hurn and (Jeremy) Mc­Gov­ern should just wan­der off to the side and drink from some old enamel mugs and say noth­ing to each other be­cause they already know what to do,” he wrote. “They just need to pull a cou­ple of splin­ters out of their fin­gers and squint up at the sun to check the con­di­tions.”

Kasey Sy­mons, a born-and-bred Vic­to­rian Ea­gles sup­porter, tack­les some of her footy su­per­sti­tions, par­tic­u­larly those in­volv­ing fash­ion.

She tells of the piv­otal role her orig­i­nal Ea­gles child­hood scarf played in the suc­cess and fail­ure of var­i­ous squads, along with her signed 2014 guernsey, which she wore to the 2015 grannie, “but look­ing at it still breaks my heart”.

And her socks. She writes how her beau­ti­ful mother bought her two pairs — one em­bla­zoned with Nic Nai­tanui, the other Josh Kennedy.

“I wore the Nic Nai­tanui socks to the round 17 match against Colling­wood. Nic Nat did his knee. Bin,” she wrote.

“I de­cided to wear the JK socks for the first time while watch­ing the qual­i­fy­ing fi­nal, also against the Pies, to sup­port him com­ing back into the side.

“He was out of form in the first half and I was a very frus­trated fan. To try to re­lax in a tense game, I made a cup of tea (Gin) at half-time and re­mem­bered my ex­pe­ri­ence with the Nic Nat socks.

“About five min­utes into the third quar­ter, I took them off. Then Josh Kennedy kicked his first goal for the game from the bound­ary, swing­ing the mo­men­tum back to the Ea­gles — and we se­cured a home pre­lim.

Not that I think I was solely re­spon­si­ble for that vic­tory, but you’re wel­come, West Coast.”

Rob McKen­zie, a West Coast Ea­gles di­rec­tor, uses his hot­shot le­gal brain to drill down into why Sand­grop­ers were so un­pleas­ant to vis­it­ing teams in 2018, a prac­tice which got sig­nif­i­cant trac­tion among the more in­su­lar east coast me­dia.

“Why are we so an­gry in the West? Why do we ha­rass opposition play­ers? For­mer cham­pi­ons of the game, who morph into un­tal­ented mem­bers of the me­dia in the self-pro­claimed home of foot­ball, con­demn us as shock­ing philistines in stark con­trast to them­selves.

“Well, the an­swer as to why we are so fu­ri­ous should be ob­vi­ous even to them. It’s the GST, stupid.”

There are won­der­ful odds and sods sprin­kled in; Did you know one more per­son went to 2018’s grand fi­nal than 2017’s, and that only five out of 123 grand fi­nals have been de­cided by five points — and in three of those Colling­wood was the loser?

Did you know an ana­gram of Op­tus sta­dium is Out­put Sadism, or, as An­drew Gi­gacz points out, “I de­tect a twist — Sheed’s Goal” can be re­ar­ranged into “The West Coast Ea­gles did it”.

Fi­nally, to John Gor­don. The Melbourne-based WA-raised lawyer, Clare­mont and Ea­gles nut has spent 22 years in Bleak City and seen all seven Ea­gles grand fi­nals.

His Father’s Day piece beau­ti­fully chron­i­cles the sheer joy footy can bring to those who love the game — in his case, a daugh­ter trav­el­ling in Italy, a “thrilled” 92-year-old father in Perth whose “body is let­ting him down a bit”, and a lov­ing son he sat next to at the ’G on “that won­der­ful, mag­i­cal day”.

I will not spoil it, but here is a tip; The Ea­gles Almanac is worth the price of that piece alone.

The most fun I’ve had as an Ea­gles sup­porter since I was a kid. Kevin Mitchell

Ea­gles Almanac 2018, pub­lished by Malarkey, is avail­able now.

As we laze through the first weeks of a sunny new year, talk around the din­ner ta­ble turns to . . . FOOTY. And while hope­ful Freo fans throw for­ward to sea­son 2019, Ea­gle die-hards rem­i­nisce about 2018 — a year they’ll never for­get. And one of the ma­jor fan fo­rums for AFL fa­nat­ics is the footy almanac web­site, where dis­cov­ers the true pas­sion of West Coast fans

Holy Grail: Daniel Ven­ables, Tom Cole and Liam Dug­gan cel­e­brate their pre­mier­ship vic­tory with fans at the MCG. Be­low: Kevin Mitchell. Main picture: Michael Wil­son

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