It came from the Sir Edwin Smith Stand.
A booming baritone with a certain gruff, yet worldly quality, it was also evocative of the larrikin 1970’s. If I closed my eyes, I could see spectators in duffle coats with Ebert, Carey and Blight on their backs. Some were wearing black ripples, and eating Chiko rolls.
Its owner knew some theatrical principles and employed expert timing and escalating repetition and like a comedy festival veteran, held his Adelaide Oval audience in high estimation. We thought we were here for the SANFL preliminary final between the Glenelg Tigers and the Adelaide Crows.
A Glenelg fan, the Heckler’s target was Elliot Himmelberg: a stark blonde, tall and imposing Adelaide Crow. If there’s wisdom in going after the biggest enemy, then Himmelberg was it.
In his mockery was an arsenal of cultural and historical allusions.
He put me in mind of the celebrated Sydney Cricket Ground supporter Yabba who bellowed at an opposition batsman from his spot on the Hill, “Send ‘im down a piano, see if ‘e can play that!”
His opening shot utilised famous fictional wizard Harry Potter, Hogwart’s School, and one of its four Houses, ironically the one best known for hard work and fair play. Following a Himmelberg skill error and turnover the Tigers scored a goal. Shortly after and aimed sharply at number 34 this boomed around the arena:
“Thanks very much. That started with you, Hufflepuff.”
I cackled in my chair. He now had my attention.
About a quarter later The Heckler then took his pop references in a more 1970’s and 1980’s direction itemising everyone’s favourite Baywatch and Knight Rider star, and unfathomable German pop icon. With the scores tight he barked at the Crow:
“Try and get a kick, Hasselhoff.”
Students of our game will note that Hollywood’s David Hasselhoff and Port Power champion Justin Westhoff share a nickname, “The Hoff.”
This makes it an especially brutal barb, given that Westhoff has played 268 games and is regarded as one of the best and fairest ever in a Port Power jumper. Additionally, Himmelberg’s team and Port Power are fierce, if not bitter cross-town rivals. For the Crows’ AFL side Elliot’s played but eight games.
The Heckler had moved briskly into stinging satire.
Laughing to myself on my seat in the Sunday sun, it was excellent unofficial entertainment. Public witticisms always amuse me, especially when wholly unexpected.
I wondered if these were all studiously prepared, in a manner similar to that of the retired AFL commentator, Dennis Cometti, who once observed that Libba, a Western Bulldogs footballer, came out of a collision with a sore head by saying:
“He entered the pack optimistically and emerged misty optically.”
A polished performer The Heckler understood the Rule of Threes, and his finish was impeccable. In this he married a 1937 German passenger airship disaster to a fashionable phrase originating in World War 1 aerial dogfights.
In the last quarter as Glenelg surged towards the grand final his roaring jeer again riffed upon Himmelberg’s surname, and was delivered with sparkling confidence.
“Hey, Hindenburg! Crash and burn. Crash and burn!”
Laughing uncontrollably, I then had to explain to my eleven-year-old and his mates.
“Crash and burn” is a metaphor expressing spectacular personal failure, and the New Jersey zeppelin calamity has continuing global infamy.
Was the heckling low and inappropriate? Perhaps. Is satirising another’s name poor form? Maybe. Was it different to the usual hollering mindlessness? Undoubtedly.
However, it was an originally funny sequence to hear at a SANFL football match. Having shared it with family, friends and colleagues, days later I’m still giggling.
I’ve not met you but well done, sir.