At half-time in the 1970 Grand Final between then traditional rivals, Carlton and Collingwood, now irrelevant (?), the Magpies were 44 points ahead. With a record crowd of over 120,000 at the MCG, the Blues actually winning the flag from that deficit seemed impossible. As an incorrigible football addict and a devout Carlton fan, tears cascaded gently down my face, my mind in turmoil about whether to stay and watch my team play to its bitter end. Its demise seemed inevitable. Drying my moist eyes, I did remain to witness what I believed would be the ultimate descent of my beloved Blueboys, only to shed tears of ecstatic joy within an hour when history of another kind was recorded for the books. Carlton defied all precedent to win the premiership making the impossible possible with just 20 mortal men running around on the ground; notwithstanding the blond messiah who helped deliver the miracle; No. 7 Ted Hopkins. That same year, Australian rock band, The Master’s Apprentices released its best-selling hit – “It’s Because I Love You” with the famous words ‘Do what you wanna do, be what you wanna be, yeah!’ It seemed amazingly prophetic about my love for Carlton and myself.
In life, it oft seems impossible to really do what we want to do, let alone be what we want to be, particularly amidst a social milieu that dictates not just how we should think and behave, but imposes, albeit unconsciously, what attitudes we should adopt towards ourselves. Despite many families encouraging their offspring to do and be exactly what they want, other voices echo in their heads to be realistic and recognise the limits of their intellect and talents. Forbid fantasising about the future too much as you could be delusional; out of touch with who you are and what you can achieve. Certainly, thousands of young boys dare to dream about playing in the big time of the AFL and now hopefully girls, too, but how many really make the grade? Moreover, how many continue to work hard at their game to make the grade or at least keep on trying to? Should reality, whoever defines it and however it’s perceived, circumscribe people’s aspirations? What was in the Blues’ players’ heads at half-time in 1970 that morphed into a winning performance on the field?
Of course, I can’t answer that as I was standing in Bay 13 balancing on beer cans to see the game over the fence, but whatever coach Ronald Dale imparted to the players and whatever they were thinking, the second half of that Grand Final offered me great inspiration and insight for my life ahead. The game’s final 60 minutes or so seemed to epitomise a story of self-belief, confidence and teamwork for the Carlton players. Irrespective of how impossible victory seemed, they applied their strengths, physically and mentally, to overcome the weaknesses on display during the first half of the game, their fighting spirit enflaming their hunger for the ball. It was as if a different team ran out after half-time, a team transformed with fervent belief they could outplay and outscore the opposition. They succeeded beyond all popular expectations at the ‘G’ that cold, Saturday afternoon to take their place on the dais and hold The Cup aloft. Suffice to say coming from 44-points down at half-time to win is another record yet to be surpassed in a Grand Final since that memorable day.
I was 20 years-old and the game I was previously prohibited from playing as too rough and too bruising for the body of a female adolescent shaped my future in a way I couldn’t even envisage at that time. Like The Master’s Apprentices’ song, Carlton’s victory was testament for understanding and acknowledging that there are indeed no realistic limits to what we can achieve if we really allow our passion and strong sense of self to enhance our efforts and endeavour. This ensures we can transcend all the trials and tribulations thrown at us during our lives so we develop the determination, discipline and dedication needed to reach our potential. There is no finite limit except what our own perspective proscribes for us. We only need appreciate the success of Michelle Payne at The Melbourne Cup last year who won after admitting she had contemplated giving up racing, and more recently, Leicester City’s win in the Premier League in the UK. Sporting history is resplendent with successful stories that have defied the odds; stories where the impossible became possible reassuring us that you can do what you wanna do and be what you wanna be yeah!
Parents instilling in their children supposedly unattainable ideals and ambitions are oft criticised as unrealistic and impractical, with teachers advising students to moderate their aspirations according to exam results. Years later, these parents are vindicated and educational experts bowled over when some low-achieving, academic student defies social perceptions to attain far more than anyone previously considered possible. Sport can provide great psychological insights into how we should all aim high and reach for the stars beyond the race track or the boundary of a football field. We don’t need to be sportsmen and women to apply the lessons of sport in our own daily lives.
The sporting arena is a great social leveller encompassing philosophical and moral instruction for men and women from diverse socio-economic backgrounds to lace up their boots and don the gear, metaphorically speaking, to compete with and among all classes, nationalities and religions in a spirit of competitive amity and camaraderie. Competition can engender the best in us all. Sport is a great melting-pot with a myriad mix of gender, colour and sexual diversity teaching us all about harmony and tolerance as well as inspiring us to dream the impossible and make it real.
Reading this most of you would never have heard of me but I have lived my dreams not to achieve fame or fortune; but rather, my success has evolved from winning my own premiership, albeit a personal one that still involves following that football on weekends and working for myself to achieve my goals. Self-belief is the name of my game, learned and borrowed from my football addiction over the past 50 years. I don’t play on a sports’ field and never could as I was all fingers and thumbs and regrettably, blatantly inept, but I always tried to win for myself at whatever I did and however best I could do it. I failed some of the time and my confidence felt fragile, only to reignite with resolve, rectitude and resilience. There are many players who achieve only a pass mark as ‘average’ footballers at one club to shine and sparkle at another; Eddie Betts just one of them as well as dual Brownlow medallist, Greg Williams, who initially unwanted by Carlton and then Geelong, went on to excel as ‘extraordinary’ at the Swans and return to Carlton as a champion. In coaching circles, after failing to win a flag at Geelong with three abortive attempts, Malcolm Blight resurrected himself at the Adelaide Crows in the late 90s with two premierships.
Since the halcyon days at Carlton in the mid 90s, the club has of course ‘won’ four wooden spoons and no flag since 1995. Yet, there are dreams anew within the club and its supporters to make the impossible possible once more. Football pundits should remember Hawthorn players being lambasted by its president, Jeff Kennett, as ‘soft, mummy’s boys’ not that long ago. There are different players and a different regime now on the field and off it at that club. It’s all about doing what… (they) ‘wanna’ do and being who..(they) ‘wanna’ be, yeah! The impossible made possible; some dreams really can come true.