I was on the brink of giving up on football when I fell in love with St Kilda, and I’ll be forever grateful to Max Hudghton and his famous tears in defeat in Round 9, 2000.

Born and bred a die-hard Fitzroy supporter from a fanatical Roy Boys family, I’d ridden the highs and lows (well, mostly lows) of football all my life, until the Club as we knew it ceased forever in 1996. My sister Kristy and I were so devoted we’d often watched the team train, and always got to the game in time for the bounce in the reserves, so of course we flew to Perth for the last ever Fitzroy game. My poor Dad couldn’t bear it and stayed home.

The pain of losing your team is something I hope no other footy fan ever has to experience and as a family we swore to never support another club. Four years later, once some of the anguish had passed, I’d been casually following the Saints (my “second” team) and realising how much I missed having a footy team. I was at the game when Maxy let the tears run free after that heart-breaking loss to the Bulldogs and I too was overcome with emotion - that was the day I realised I was a Saint for life.

Max Hudghton's heart-on-sleeve character had the power to convert.

I joined as a member in 2001 as excitement was peaking with the debut of a flashy young blonde future captain, and 17 years later Nick Riewoldt himself called to invite me to be in the guard of honour for his last home game. I was ordering fish and chips at the time, and asked if it was someone playing a joke. Rooey laughed and assured me it was real, and the thrill of being part of that day is something I will treasure forever.

I’ve been one of the lucky supporters to have experienced the inner sanctum and have even watched the boys sing the song after a win in the clubrooms a few times. There are so many great memories, and thankfully I’ve been able to share the good times with my family and many new friends. It didn’t take too long after I joined to get Kristy signed up as a member and these days our gameday family also includes my long-suffering Dad who now bleeds red, white and black, Kristy’s daughter Milla and my other niece Tayla, a promising young footballer in her own right who has become just about the biggest Saints fan I know.

Belinda (top-left) is counting down the days until she can reunite with her game-day family.

The Saints fixture is locked into our calendars. The only variable is what time to meet, and whether there’s time for a pre-game beer at the ground or not. I look forward to these times with my beautiful family because it means rarely do a few weeks pass without seeing them. We share the wins and we commiserate the losses, and proudly live the mantra that you “never bag your own team” and you never leave before the final siren...EVER! We shared those three grand finals together almost daring to dream what might be, and we still dream of the day it might happen.

Friendships have been a huge part of the whole experience as well. We’re lucky enough to have reserved seats on the members’ wing and have shared the last 20 years with those around us as babies have grown into young adults and the rest of us have got a bit older and wiser, but still chasing that elusive flag.

Kristy and I took an interstate trip to watch the Saints in Sydney many years ago and became instant friends with a couple of other massive fans, our great mates Paul and John who were also from Melbourne. It was the purest of friendships - completely platonic and forged through a shared love of our team. And wouldn’t you know it, Paul had also supported Fitzroy as a youngster so he understood us even more, and he was the greatest bloke you’d ever wish to meet. Sadly Paul passed away suddenly at just 35, on Good Friday in 2015, and we lost a great Saint that day. Kristy and I miss him so much, and every win involves a toast to our great friend. St Kilda will always mean a great deal more to me because of Paul, and how much he loved the club.

"Kristy and I miss him so much, and every win involves a toast to our great friend."

I realise I’ve barely mentioned the players who run out on the field for us every week, but where do you start? We had a family Zoom meeting this week and I asked everyone to name their favourite player ever, and tell us why. I agonised over my selection - should it be Max Hudghton for reasons explained above, or the great Lenny Hayes who was such a warhorse and never let us down, my old favourite Aaron Hamill who I just fancied as a bit of a spunk, Sam Fisher who was the ultimate go-to backman (and also a bit of a spunk) or my current favourite goal-kicking gun Tim “Skunk” Membrey?? In the end, of course it was Nick Riewoldt for me, and as we went around the family it was all “Nick, Nick Nick”, except for Dad who named some old Fitzroy dude. He’s still not quite over it, I don’t think.

It feels so strange not having football in our lives at the moment, and while I’m lucky to have found another great love in horse racing (which thankfully continues) I am counting down the days until I can take my ground floor seat at Aisle 36, B40 and pick up where we left off.

I’m still paying my membership, because I can afford to, and I’m very grateful to everyone working behind the scenes to keep St Kilda alive for the long term. I’ve been through the pain before; I can’t go through it again.