With spring’s warmth kissing our little city on this exquisite Friday evening, where else to meet for this Crows and Cats preliminary final clash, but at the Malcolm Blight statue?
Yes, the man who fostered enduring belief in Corio Bay by taking Geelong to three grand finals, and then with a magical swiftness, scurried in and out of Adelaide, but gifted them successive flags.
I shake Citrus Bob’s hand. We chat, and I ask after his dogs, “How’s Freddie Flintoff and Chloe on Flinders?” I wonder if the real Mr Flintoff has ever ascended the stairs at Young and Jackson to admire the eponymous bar’s nude portrait. No, I decide. That’d distract Fred from his singular, ferocious work on the ground floor.
Standing by Blighty with Bob must be like flopping down on a Trafalgar Square bench with Mick Jagger. Celebrities, past presidents, parents of players, media identities: Bob knows them all. As Patrick Dangerfield’s grandfather, this is no surprise, but Bob’s a star himself. Olympians, octogenarians, off-spinners: all say howdy to Citrus. And we’re not inside the ground yet.
Our seats are in Bay 130 of the Riverbank Stand, next to the Geelong players’ race. Finishing his warm-up Paddy runs down the tunnel. His grandfather waves a hot chip at him. “No thanks,” Paddy nods. He was always respectful.
After the curious theatre of the national anthem and the Crows’ warrior stance we’re away. Torrents of sound drown us, like a mallet banging the inside of a 44-gallon drum. Betts and Cameron establish their key theme early with a pair of conjured scores inside two minutes.
It’s hot at Adelaide Oval and the giant ceiling fans are twirling in the Riverbank Stand like the helicopter rotors of Captain Willard’s nightmares, but the Crows fashion a dream start. Cricket Australia would welcome a balmy (barmy) evening such as this for the inaugural Day/Night Ashes Test.
Paddy begins forward and completes a contested grab, to the roaring delight of the Cats who surround me, like a TS Eliot creation. But he pushes the drop-punt to the right, as if he, too, is puzzled by the haunting, inexcusable absence of the Chicken Salt hoarding.
It’s Flemington fast footy. However, the locals are quick by hand and foot, and run to space in ominous formation, while the Cats seem hesitant and lack precision when travelling goalward. Betts registers his second and I ask Citrus, “Has there been a more fun footballer to watch?” Bob has witnessed many decades of this game, and smiles an instant no.
Adelaide dominates the stanza and a message blinks through, not from my man in Amsterdam, but a lad in Largs. It’s raining. What might this mean? There’s not much in it, and I think of my wife’s late grandfather, who would’ve described it as, “three squirts of nanny-goat piss.”
Despite its habitual, incurable dropping, Joel Selwood’s neck continues to play well, and enjoys gushing admiration from the umpires, who offer Secret-Service-murmuring-into-their-lapels levels of protection to the Cats captain’s décolletage.
The third quarter sees the Cats produce some fleeting patches in which they look poised to snatch a canary or two, but the Crows respond and counterattack, if not accurately, at least with psychological potency. The Crouch industrial/ military complex again dominates and as we steadily build a lead, the record crowd begins to sense something special, two decades in the making.
When big Cat Hawkins is caught juggling the ball, like it’s the opening hour of Circus School, I ease into the moment. Then, a mostly subdued Tex Walker curls one through from just inside the boundary immediately in front of our bay, and our collective ecstasy finally commences. The Cats fans are gracious, if resigned. A Mexican wave does a few rippling circuits and once the demons of 1993 have vaporised, throaty baritones belt though the Crows song.
With the siren, I feel a couple of hot tears, and wonder at the berserk week ahead. My phone pings a message from Louisville, Kentucky, and then one from Harrow in London. I thank Citrus Bob for a great night. He’s going down to the Geelong rooms to see his grandson.
The world’s a shadowy, sometimes unknowable place, but right now Adelaide’s golden.