West Coast Eagles stole my heart over twenty-five years ago and I am hooked . In the years since I started writing this blog, I’ve kept my secret, but now it’s time to tell.
One scorching day in September 1992, I discovered a pile of royal blue and yellow ribbons on my desk, oddly out of place in the office of the health centre at the edge of the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia.
Some young Martu women had asked me to help make rosettes in the team colours of the West Coast Eagles. The opportunity was too good to miss: I grabbed the time and space to talk to these women about health matters. As well, I liked their offer of company and the chance to find out more about their lives and interests.
We made enough rosettes for the women and their friends. Then we made a hundred more to pin on the notice board outside the clinic. Anyone who wanted could take them. Little kids and old women wore them pinned to shirts and hats until they fell off in the dirt.
Although the Australian Football League was firmly based in Victoria, that year the Eagles, considered rank outsiders, had risen to the top of the home-and-away ladder and fought off the competition. Every week of the finals games, the Jigalong mob became more excited.
The shade temperature reached over 40 degrees Celsius every day. Young and not-so-young men ran about the community in blue and yellow beanies and scarves over their T-shirts. The very energetic played games of football on the ‘oval’, a rugged gravelly expanse of ground.
In a community of around 400 people, where many people lived in makeshift humpies and old cars, often the only available working public toilets were the two on the outside of the health centre. How I hated those toilets! Another story.
However, on Grand Final day, by some miracle that I never worked out, there were enough working television sets for everyone to watch the game.
West Coast Eagles played Geelong and defeated them to become the first non-Victorian team ever to become AFL Premiers. Jubilation at Jigalong lasted until the following day. My passion had been ignited.
Life before the West Coast Eagles
My earlier interest in football existed as a sense of duty as head of a one-parent family. I learned to kick a football and the rules so I could teach the kids. I attended some games, but there were many competing interests with six children. Like a good mother, I took my turn to wash the footy jumpers and cut up oranges for half-time. My heart ached as I drove my oldest son, Michael, to hospital to have his fractured collar bone attended after a particularly heavy bump.
Three of my sons continued to play good football. Michael played a few games with the Eagles until he was injured and not re-selected. James played A-Grade for the Karratha Cats well into his thirties.
Since the Eagles burst into my life
I am a committed follower. My winter weekend social life since Jigalong depends on when ‘my’ team is playing. Exceptions can be made for weddings. My children laugh gently at me. They may even feel embarrassed by their dear old mother’s folly. I make bets (which we never seem to pay) with Docker-following members of my family.
James and his wife Kylie moved to Onslow in the north-west of the state, and we mostly have their membership tickets this season. John and I have gone to some of the best Eagles games this year at the impressive new Perth Stadium. Bliss!
The first game the Eagles played in the Stadium we left home ridiculously early. I occupied myself taking photos of almost empty stands. Later, there would be a record crowd.
When we moved to the apartment, I reluctantly let go my blue and yellow scarf. I also bundled up the cap which John bought me one year, the one with the legend,
‘We have big Cox’
emblazoned on it. (A reference to a star player, Dean Cox.) There seemed little point in keeping the cap and scarf because we were unlikely to go to any more games, at our age.
I wear my new scarf in the right colours and a blue beanie with pride, and wrap myself in the blue plastic sheet John bought to keep us warm and dry. I pull up the hood of my raincoat, laugh at the wind and the rain and try not to imagine how I must look. Who cares that we are in our eighties on footie days or nights!