Two years ago, my brother took his three boys to the Sydney game and had the luck to watch one of that 2003 side's best wins of a tremendous season. 2005 is a season that doesn't look like going anywhere, but this eternal optimist had an inkling this game might just turn out to be a big winner and pondered a trip to watch it. That decision was sealed when the girlfriend, who lives in NSW anyway, suggested we go to the match together.
Decision taken, it was straight into planning the trip. Since my brother hadn't planned on going, first step was to see if he wanted to make the trip after all. Following some hesitation, he confirms he'll go. Girlfriend adds to the mix by inviting two workmates. Andrew plays footy in NSW and is a life-long Collingwood fan. No worries there. GF's daughter, however, is a contrarian; discovering that I barrack for the 'Pies, she opts for the red 'n white. So, we have 10 in all, 8 'Pies supporters, 2 Sydney. I'll drown 'em both if the Swans win.
Contacted Pie in the Sky Travel and started organising the trip and tickets.
After looking at the hotel options, decide "what the hell" and opt to go 5-star, the Sydney Marriott Hotel near Circular Quay and The Rocks. There's some good pubs down that way, I'm told!
However, the room bookings take some time to finalise. There's five of us flying up on Friday afternoon, so need three rooms for three nights (we're not returning until Monday), then GF and her sprogs join us for the Saturday night only and the two workmates are making their own arrangements.
Also discover the option of travelling to the game by boat. After doing a quick ring-a-round, everyone's in on the boat trip, with drinks and sausage sizzle on board.
Ten match tickets and ten cruise tickets rounds off the requirements.
Stacey gets this all done after two weeks of many, many emails. Thanks for putting up with the ever-changing requirements, Stacey, you're a gem! Oh, and just in case you're actually reading this, my brother reckons you're downright beautiful. Think I might collect the tickets myself next time so I can thank you personally!
Brother hoicks over to Prahran to collect all the documents and we go down to the Lexus Centre for some pressies for the newbies. Two Ralphy Bears (one for GF and the other for her daughter, who turned 12 on the Tuesday before the match) and three Collingwood scarves. Also buy the two-DVD version of 1990 "Road to Victory" and the complete Grand Final and get myself into the mood for the weekend by watching the Grand Final again!
Friday June 24th
Took the Thursday off work to make sure everything is done on time, so wake up on the Friday and find myself with a few hours to pass before the taxi will arrive. Settle down for a replay of the 2nd half of the 1990 GF again!
10:30 Phone for taxi.
10:40 Taxi arrives. Ballarat station first stop for the airport shuttlebus.
11:30 Depart Ballarat station for airport.
13:00 Arrive airport. Brother and kids arrive a few minutes later and luggage checked in. Through to Qantas Club for a couple of drinks and some nibbles.
14:30 Depart Tulla for Sydney. There's a handful of Collingwood supporters on board but it's a 767 so we're spread well around the plane. We might need to get a bit better next time and take over a complete section and organise a in-flight video of the 2003 match to warm us up! A few beers and we'll be in fighting form on arrival.
17:00 Arrive hotel. Check in and change into Speedos for a swim and spa.
18:30 Time to quit the pool and spa. Brother and I leave the kids to it and change to hit a pub for a few beers. Trouble is, it's pissing down outside and it's Friday night "happy hour", so the pub is full of "suits". One pint each does it for us and we're back in the hotel lounge (bar and jazz/blues - bloody gorgeous singer!).
19:00 This is a 5-star trip, so we order a bottle of Moet.
19:30 Kids join us for sip of the bubbly and their cokes, whatever.
20:00 Up to the 2nd floor for the buffet. It's a seafood buffet and the sideboards are groaning. We order a bottle of white wine (semillon/sauvignon blanc, for the wine snobs amongst us). Start off with a dozen oysters, some sushi and sashimi. Follow up with a plate of chilli mussels, pipis and Moreton Bay bug tails. 3rd plate is prawns and half a lobster. One of the kids comes back with a bowl of garlic prawns. "OK, sport, where did this come from?" we ask. Kid points to chef hidden at the back of the room, so up we jump to investigate. Sure enough, so order the garlic prawns. Two rather nice sorts come up with half a lobster each and ask for it to be cooked. We'll be in on this too, so after the prawns are devoured, it's another half lobster, garlic butter for me and mornay for bruv. We need a nice bottle of red to finish the meal, so a bottle of Shiraz is ordered. Oh shit! The waitress has trouble with the cork and then drops the bloody thing on the floor. Poor kid. She's almost in tears. Actually, she is crying. Can't do much more than try to console the kid. Don't think it works, but.
22:30 I think we might have had enough. It's been one of the best value meals we've ever had. $69 for bruv and I, heavily discounted prices for the three boys, one of whom has probably eaten more than we have. I like his style with a fork! Finish the red, pay the bill, then decide to go listen to some jazz and blues.
23:00 Lounge Bar. Give the singer a wave. Order a couple of cognacs. I could get used to this life!
Saturday June 25th
03:30 Woke up a bit early, it seems. Need a few glasses of water. Must be the Sydney air that's different!
09:24 Time for a shower. Have been dozing on and off since 3:30 and need some sustenance.
09:45 Join brother and his kids for a bite of breakfast. Cripes! Look at that, the bloody buffet is groaning. Order a very strong black coffee.
10:15 One huge plate of bacon, scrambled eggs, sausages, black pudding, mushrooms, tomatoes and toast later, feel at peace with the world again. The three glasses of fruit juice kind of helped a bit, too.
10:30 We'll go for a walk. Pat and the kids won't join us until midday, so decide to traipse down to the Opera House. The boys bring their footies. On the walk, we sign up for the 12 o'clock powerboat trip around the harbour. Continue to the Opera House, playing footy as we go. After climbing all the way up and all the way down, start a bit of kick-to-kick in front of the Opera House. The millions of Japanese and Chinese tourists think this is worth watching. The occasional braver one actually picks up the footy and asks, "Aussie Rules, yes?" "Bloody oath, sport. Have a kick, mate". Which he does and all his group give him the high fives. Bloke's grin must stretch from the Opera House to the Harbour Bridge. Should have asked him if he was going to the game, but too late. Could have gained a million converts but, like the kids, I'm more interested in the kick-to-kick.
11:45 We're due to sign our lives away on the "no responsibility taken" form for the powerboat ride, so pick up the footies and head off.
12:00 Waterproof ponchos on, kids in the back seats and seatbelts tightened, we're off! Christ! This bloody thing flies! Driver tells us that he'll give the boat the occasional spin. Guns the throttle and we're jumping five feet in the air with every tiny little wave we cross when the bastard gives the signal, slams on the brakes and spins the wheel. I think half the bloody harbour just about drowned us but everyone's killing themselves laughing. I don't know how far we go but the driver turns in a big, sweeping turn and heads back for the Bridge. We go under it and up the other way. Finally head back for the bridge and cruise into Circular Quay. We're soaking wet but happy as Larry. It's been a little bit different, today!
12:35 Back on dry land. There's three Pommy blokes at the top of the pontoon trying to work up the courage to go on board, so talk 'em into it.
13:00 Back at the hotel, Pat's waiting with the kids. I'm so glad to see her. It's been two weeks since we went to Canberra and I've missed her. The feeling is obviously mutual, 'cause the hug's a pretty strong one. Get the kids into their room and wait for the bags to turn up. Leave her to settle them in and arrange to meet in the lobby for lunch.
13:30 Lunch in the Lounge. Restaurant is not open for lunch on Saturday. Order some wine for us and non-alcoholic cocktails for the kids. Brother and his boys come in a bit later after a swim. A couple more non-alcoholic cocktails ordered!
15:30 After a bit of discussion, agree to meet up again later at Darling Harbour for the cruise to the game. We'll go to Paddy's Market and have a look around. Jump in cab and bloody cabbie starts an argument saying that footy is a ponce's game. Retaliate and the argument's on. Tell him that he must be wrong because all I ever see when I watch League is blokes with their head stuck up another player's bum, so who are the ponces, I ask?! The trip is a quick one. Pat is killing herself in the back seat as the cabbie and I happily argue all the way. Let's call it a draw. I like the bloke, so slip him a big tip. I suspect he's off to find some more Collingwood supporters to see if he can win the next argument. On yer, mate!
16:00 Kids want to go look around by themselves. That suits us, so we go looking for a coffee shop. Find one and sit down. I really do love this woman. I want to grow old with her, so open my heart and tell her how I feel. We're a good match and she knows it; I can see it in her eyes. She's a bit defensive still, but I understand that, so tell her not to worry. If this is for real, we'll work things out. We wander off, arms around each other. It's rather a public place but who cares, lean over for a kiss and get one. Yep, this is for real all right. If she trusts me enough to show her love in public, then I know we can make this something special.
16:30 Meet up with the kids and head off for Darling Harbour.
17:00 Good timing. There's a bit of a crowd in front of the aquarium, mainly in black 'n white. Pat's colleagues Andrew and Amanda find us and then my brother and his kids turn up. No boat, but, so it's bit of wait until one eases it's way to the dock. Crowd starts moving forward but we're close the front, only to be told our tickets aren't for the first cruise but the second. Can't see anything on the ticket saying so, but who cares. There's enough people around for at least three boats, so don't mind missing the first one.
17:15 File on board the second boat. Grab some champers and soft drinks and head to the back, where it's out in the open. It's been raining all day but it's not cold and the rain seems to be holding off for the while. Being out in the open is better. Nice group of people already standing out there and the conversations start up. Find out from one of the crew that the trip will take about 45 minutes. With a couple of glasses of champers and some conversation, plus admiring the view as we cruise along, the time flies by. We're at the stadium wharf before we know it.
18:05 There's a bus waiting but, with ten of us, we'll get the next one, as the first is pretty full anyway. The kids start a kick-to-kick until, whoops, the ball runs away into the harbour! And floats away. File aboard the bus and set off for the trip to the stadium.
18:15 Arrive at the stadium. Crew give us a ticket telling us what our return bus number is and where we go to get it, then it's off to the game!
18:30 Finally get to our seats. We were at the entrance before we realised that nine of our seats are for one section and the 10th is for another miles away. Stuff that for a joke! We'll just go in this gate and we'll cram into the same area. If it's full the 9yo will sit on his dad's lap but, as it happens, we're close to the back row right behind the goals and there's stacks of room, so we just sit down in a row. If a later-comer claims a seat, we'll politely ask him to move one seat along and explain what's happened. No point getting our knickers in a knot over what's obviously a stuff-up back in Melbourne. No doubt some other poor bastard has a group somewhere else with one odd ticket and maybe that's the one next to us that we should have had, but, hopefully, he's staying with their mates as we are.
18:40 Turn my attention to the ground. There's a huge mob of kids indulging in either synchronised gymnastics or line dancing; it's hard to tell which. There's some young couple singing a duet. They finish and a group of young kids runs out to replace them. The big screen is repeating some crap about the NSW Public Schools and the Sydney Swans being the perfect performers. Bullshit! It's mildly entertaining, but I can't help thinking that if they need to do this sort of thing to keep the Sydney supporting throng interested until the game begins, it's no wonder the bloody game is struggling to survive up here. What's wrong with just chatting to your mates? Maybe they can't even keep up a conversation for more than five seconds and need the distraction.
19:03 The white maggots walk out to a deafening silence. This is definitely not the MCG!
19:05 Collingwood runs out with Bucks leading the team. Massive roar. If there was anything on the screen about the late changes, I didn't see it. Fraser and Johnno missing, Egan and Lokan in. Ooops, that's got to be a blunder. It means taking Cam out of the forward line to relieve Fanning in the ruck and that means a weak forward line. I can't see Fanning being up to this caper just yet, as he's still too young and raw. We should have replaced Fraser with another tall. Plus, we need another tall for the backline in case Hall gets on top of Presti. I think the Swans will kill us in the middle if they run the ball out quickly and Presti is too slow to stop Hall on the lead. I don't like the look of this at all.
19:10 Game on! Trouble is, Bucks is picking splinters out of his bum on the bench. Not good. For impact value, he should have been out in the middle of the ground.
19:25 Bucks runs on to the field to a massive roar from the Collingwood Cheersquad and supporters behind the goals and Ablett runs straight into him. Umpire blows his whistle and tells the umpire controlling play to give the ball further upfield to Collingwood. Goal! Bucks lets Ablett know all about it. Good call, ump! With Bucks leading the way, I feel better.
19:30 Bucks first touch and his kick is a bloody beauty. This bloke is a class above anyone else on the ground. Shit, it's good to have him back!
19:40 Quarter time. Coll 3.5 Sydney 2.3 We've had by far the better of this quarter. I thought we could win this and, although my gut is crawling with nerves, we're looking pretty good right now.
19:50 2nd quarter under way.
20:25 Half time. Coll 4.7 Sydney 5.6 Sydney are right back in this game and its not looking too good. Our forwards have fallen in a bloody heap and the Swans are getting some run out of the centre. Fortunately, they then immediately lapse back into playing slower than Woey and don't utilise a significant pace advantage to good effect. This might just be a nail-biter all night now.
20:45 3rd quarter under way.
21:15 3/4 time. Coll 6.11 Sydney 9.10 We look gone. Sydney can move the ball so quickly when they want to that we don't even see it go. Fortunately, they prefer to play in quicksand and don't move quickly for the most part, so we're not completely out of it but it's going to need a miracle to get back into it. Somehow or other though, both Pat and I think we can still win this.
21:25 Last quarter underway. Malthouse has made some changes and we've got a bunch of midgets in the forward line!
21:28 Hall scores the first goal and we're four goals down. Hard to get back from here, I think. Christ! Woey comes out and takes a great grab in the goalsquare right in front of the cheersquad. He's done nothing all bloody night and comes up with that one! We're back in it. Cara goals and it's starting to look brighter. Burnsie picks up a free in front of goal. Pretty bloody blatant, that one! Four points the difference. As the quarter drags on, we're finishing all over Sydney but kicking points when we need just one lousy goal. Dids takes a massive swipe at a bouncing ball and it dribbles through for a point. My gut is a bundle of nerves.
21:55 It's all over. We've lost by one rotten lousy point. I'm spewing. Coll 10.16 Sydney 11.11 Shit! There were a dozen different little things we could have done better in the last ten minutes that could have won it for us and we rushed where we should have taken our time. Sydney got a goal from what looked like a right old mix up in their goal square. I couldn't see it clearly but it looked like someone spoiled a Collingwood mark under pressure. Plus Bucks got pinged for running too far earlier in the game when he delivered the ball right onto Taz's chest ten yards out and the Swans kicked a goal from play resulting from that free kick. When Bucks' run was replayed on the big screen, Andrew and I counted his steps and he kicked exactly on the 10th one. An umpiring blunder which ended up costing us a 12 point turnaround. It's hard to blame the blokes for the loss, though. They've had a red hot go in the first and last quarters and nearly won a game interstate against a side that's won 6 out of it's last 7 games and looks destined to play finals, maybe even finish top Four. We're far, far better than our ladder position suggests. It looks like our lousy start to the season will cost us dearly again. The two bloody little Swans-supporting kids are cock-a-hoop. Poor Andrew. He's gunna cop heaps from Pat's daughter for months by the look of it.
22:10 Back to the bus and then the boat. Couple of deadset drunken idiots can't wait ten seconds for a beer to be handed to them so swill a couple of waiting glasses of champers each. Greedy pricks. We don't need this sort of behaviour and I'm surprised they've even been allowed on board as there's a bloody big sign saying that drunken, obnoxious behaviour is an offence, punishable by removal from the boat. The crew would only have to do that once and the word would get around, then it wouldn't happen again, but I guess the crew are like publicans, more interested in earning a buck than enforcing the behavioural standards their licences demand.
22:25 It's bloody well pissing down now and nearly everyone herds inside the boat. Meet a nice young couple from Daylesford. Gees, it's a small world. Go all the way to Sydney for a footy match and end up talking with people from just down the road! When the rain stops, we go outside again. As the journey ends, I'm standing on the deck, arm over the side, wind in my hair and enjoying the fresh air. I was born beside the sea and I love it still.
23:00 Darling Harbour. Say good bye to Andrew and make sure he'll call me when he comes down to Melbourne in three weeks time. We'll go to the footy and I'll take him into the Social Club at the MCG (assuming we're playing there that weekend!). He's a good bloke. Amanda is a lot quieter but a lovely lass. They make a great couple. The rest of us trudge off looking for a cab. Hail one on the back street and Liam and the boys head off. Find another cab near the end of the harbour!
23:15 Back at the hotel. Pat will settle the kids down then we'll go to the Lounge for a drink. My brother's waiting for us and we go to order a cocktail. Pat gets a brandy alexander and I'll have a macquarie splice. My brother chooses a southern comfort and coke, but I look through the list for something better for him. Settle on one made from kiwi fruit - a "randy little kiwi", promptly re-named a randy little sheep-shagger, and talk him into having one. Barman says the bar is about to close, so we order a second round, including the aforesaid randy Kiwi!
Sunday June 26th
10:20 I've slept half the morning away whilst Pat and the kids and Liam and his kids have breakfast and she packs. I couldn't be woken apparently. I'm still half asleep as we say goodbye. The young bloke has to play hockey this afternoon so they have to go. I can't say I like this part. A long-distance relationship is complicated to say the least, but the partings are the worst. I hope it's not too long before I see her again. I promise to ring later that night.
10:45 Showered and not-quite-fully-awake, I go for a late breakfast. Can't say my heart's in it.
11:00 Arrange to meet my brother later. He'll take his boys for a ride on the monorail and I need to take a walk. I ask the bell porter where I can find Melbourne newspapers and get directed down The Rocks. Good. I'll take it slowly and get some air. Walk down past Circular Quay and into George Street. See a couple of old pubs, so make a note to have a quiet drink there later. Find the Sydney Cove Newsagency and buy a Sunday Age. Some decent news about footy at last! It was bad enough waiting until Nine replayed the St Kilda-Essendon game at something like 5am Saturday to find out what that score was. I will have to vent my spleen to someone about footy news in Sydney but can't imagine who'll listen.
11:30 Park myself in the lounge in the hotel, order a coffee and sit down to read the paper. It's good to be home, in a sense.
12:00 My brother and his boys get back. Decide on a visit to the aquarium for the afternoon.
12:30 The Sydney Aquarium at Darling Harbour. We've heard terrific reports about this place. Long queue, but! The sun's come out for the first time all weekend and we're about to go indoors. You wouldn't read about it. It's not cheap either, for a family, but there are lots of family groups in the queue. This place is better than the reports have suggested. The first section is about the Murray-Darling system. Lots of exhibits and information. Next is the platypus enclosure. Since they can't stay underwater for long, they are forever swimming up for air, so there's always something for everyone to see. Then there's the tropical section, including the saltwater crocodile enclosure. Bloody right big old bastard in it! His eyes are open and I reckon he's measuring us all up for tea! Next stop is the southern seas section, including a penguin enclosure and a seal sanctuary. There's an open viewing platform all round up top of the latter and clear viewing tunnels under water. It's a big enclosure and quite exhilarating to be underwater whilst the seals cavort over and around the tunnels. Back up on top, one big fella has hoicked himself to the top of some steps (the feeding platform obviously) and is sunning himself in front of an enthralled crowd. Next stop is for an icecream! Then, it's through the Sydney Harbour exhibits, ending at the Oceanarium. Just like the seal sanctuary, there are two clear viewing tunnels to walk through, observing the sharks, stingrays and shoals of fish. The grey nurse sharks are massive but the information panels says that, contrary to their reputation, these are harmless fish eaters and are not dangerous. Next stop is the Great Barrier Reef exhibits. One is a wall-to-wall depiction of the real reef, with live coral and many species of extremely colourful fish. Extraordinary sight.
15:00 We've spent over two hours in the aquarium and my feet are killing me. I contemplated going to the Maritime Museum but now I just want to find a pub and sit down with a couple of beers. We walk to the cab zone and find a cabbie willing to take us all. The youngest hunkers down in the back seat with his dad and I tip the cabbie double fare for taking the five of us. Good bloke.
15:15 The kids decide to go to the pool and spa, so my brother and I will go find a pub and settle down for a couple of hours. The pub we went into on Friday night is closed, so we take a short walk to The Rocks and the "Fortune of War", allegedly the oldest pub in Sydney. It's a very small place but the beer is cold and the stools comfortable, so we settle down for the rest of the afternoon.
17:00 Time to leave and head back to the hotel. I need a shower, so go off to have one and make a call to Pat. She sounds very happy, has enjoyed the weekend and misses me already, so I figure all's well in my little world.
18:00 Meet downstairs in the lobby. My brother has spoken to the concierge and he's suggested a couple of restaurants in The Rocks. It means another short walk but I'm walking on air anyway and don't mind. It also starts raining again and we're in short sleeves (it's been a very wet weekend but not at all cold; short sleeves have ruled and I haven't even put a jumper on), but it's not far. The kids kick the ball to each other as we walk. The restaurant we finally decide on is "Wolfies". Order some champers to start with and peruse the menu. Settle on oysters to start off with and my brother and I share a chateaubriand. Two of the kids decide on the "world famous" mixed grill. Order a bottle of red and let it breathe ahead of the main course. The kids win. The mixed grill is magnificent. The 9yo struggles, so we share half his mixed grill around. Bloody beautiful. The desserts are superb as well.
21:30 Walk back to the hotel, well fed and content, through more rain.
21:45 A nightcap, sir? Certainly. A Macquarie Splice, thanks! Make that two.
22:30 Can hardly stay awake.
Monday June 27th
03:30 Didn't sleep very long. Doze on and off until it's time to get up.
09:30 Showered and spruced up, but this time, can't wake up the others. Finally get through on the phone.
11:00 Checkout. And off to the airport.
11:30 The last drama of the weekend. Go to produce my driver's licence at check in and can't find it. Eventually realise I've left it in the photocopier at the Qantas Club at Tulla when flying up on Friday (don't ask - it's too long a story, which is why I didn't mention it before). Find acceptable alternative ID and shoot up to the Qantas Club to check with Melbourne to see where it is. The person I need to speak to isn't in, so arrange to call in when we arrive in Melbourne.
12:30 On board. The flight is about 1/4 full (which is why we aimed for this one in the first place!), so rearrange ourselves into empty sections. Lunch is a roast beef roll and a fruit juice.
14:00 Arrive on time. Head straight to the Qantas Club and discover my licence has been mailed to me.
14:15 Collect my bag and check in for shuttlebus home, then go looking for a dunny and a newsagency, so I can get a local paper. Toilets are badly marked and wander around for a while finding one. However, the newsagency is right across from it, so buy The Age and head back.
14:30 Shuttlebus departs for Ballarat.
16:00 Back in Ballarat. Bloody beautiful afternoon and cabbie tells me it's been like that all weekend! Thanks, mate; that's all I needed!
16:30 The dog is happy and yappy, the cat is all over me like a rash. Feed 'em both and crank up the computer to collect four days worth of email. The one I'm looking for is there, written Sunday night, and it confirms everything I had thought. I hadn't met Pat's kids before, you see, and the relationship might have gone nowhere if we didn't get on. Fortunately, all's well on that front. But, there's more. The things I had thought but hadn't heard are all there in writing. She's wearing her heart on her "damp sleeve", to use her own words, but wonders if I really want to take on a podgy middle-aged woman and her two "loved babes"? Well, she can't deny that's she younger than I am, and this Sydney trip was all her idea in the first place, so the least I can do is to tell her what I think, and to wear my heart on my sleeve, too. But then, I've told her all those things already, whilst worrying that I might be frightening her off by saying them too early, even though they were 100% the truth, but obviously I had nothing to worry about.
17:00 It's growing dark outside and a great weekend is drawing to a close. The 'Pies have lost by the narrowest of margins but, somehow, I think they've still had a huge win. They've won two new supporters from amongst the League-supporting heathen but, more than that, I want to grow old with Pat and they've helped make it more than just a possibility. Now, I think it will happen.