I’ve always been a St Kilda person.
I attended my first game as a six-year-old, filling in the goals and behinds in my footy record at Stewie Loewe’s final game in 2002, where he passed his famous number 23 guernsey to a young Justin Koschitzke.
Looking back at my mementos from childhood, there are traces of my passion everywhere. Notes from my friends and family are always signed with ‘Go Saints’.
There are photos of my siblings and I kitted up in our Saints gear, ready to watch our Dad coach local footy on a Saturday after a big win the night before.
It still hurts to talk about, but after our crushing loss in the 2009 Grand Final, a picture of me, distraught on St Kilda foreshore, was published in The Age, alongside the quote ‘this is the worst day of my life’.
Little did I know what was to come.
Through the dismal 2010s, the journey to Etihad Stadium remained my weekly pilgrimage.
Sitting in the Moorabbin Wing all those years, you get to see who the real ones are. The familiar faces who are there week in, week out, sometimes sitting with an entire row of seating to themselves, listening diligently to their radios.
Sometimes we’d turn to each other at half time and talk about the rare and wonderful glory days, but mostly we’d keep our eyes on the spectacle. Scared to look and even more scared to look away.
Even the chanting seemed solemn some weeks.
These are the years when a true loyalty to your club is forged. For a young person coming up in the testing 1980s or now, the effect is the same.
With a solitary Premiership Cup and a night premiership we weren’t even allowed to smile about (lol), I’ve always felt that what we lack in silverware we make up for in inspiring moments and cult personalities: Barks, the patron Saint of loyalty. Harvs’ debut as a sixteen-year-old, his influence touching players from the 1970s to the present day. Nicky Winmar’s iconic stand against racism. Plugger. Rooey’s back with the flight of the ball mark against Sydney in 2004. Getting the W in the greatest home and away game of all time against Geelong in 2009. Blakey’s Brownlow vote. The history-making comeback against the Doggies in 2015. The annihilation of the premiers-to-be Richmond in Maddie’s Match 2017. And the flag, our one, magical premiership, one point between us and oblivion.
Lucky enough to be born in the 90s and to watch our rise, I grew up with many of these tales as bedtime stories.
Saints people are resilient yet skeptical. We’ve got chips on our shoulders but we’ve still got hope. Sitting at the bottom of the free kick differential ladder forever will do that to you.
Then you remember we were one fateful bounce from eternity back in 2010. The hand of God is never too distant for our Saints – ready to giveth and taketh away.
We are a club founded on loyalty and belonging, which is why it is no surprise we find ourselves here, at our fifth Pride Game. Social inclusion is a core value for the club born in the eccentric bayside suburb where rock stars rub shoulders with homeless people, where women congregate under colourful murals and moonlight and the rest of Melbourne flocks for the Midsumma March.
In my work as a children’s librarian I am lucky enough to talk footy with people from all walks of life. From refugees to people with disabilities, families that look a million different ways, almost everyone has a footy team or an anecdote to share, and it’s one of the greatest ways we can connect across all sorts of divides.
I cried at the first Pride Game, when lights shone in the darkness of then Etihad Stadium and we listened to ‘True Colours’ live. I cried because I was proud of my club, and of my place within it. I squeezed my friends’ shoulders and it meant the world.
When you feel vulnerable to hate speech and ostracisation on game day or in online footy spaces because of your gender or sexuality, your heart breaks.
I always remember a comment made by Mark Fine on his show on SEN, when a caller accused him of showing his Saints bias by saying ‘we’ when referring to the club. He replied that he’d never stop doing it, because he was a part of them (the Saints) and they were a part of him.
This intimate love is something all football fans feel on some level. When you sense that the footy isn’t a safe place for you because of who you are, you can feel completely ripped in half.
The Pride Game can be the antidote to ever feeling like you don’t belong.
Like it or not, the AFL as an organisation has the power to create culture, because footy is a constant part of millions of people’s lives. It exists in their homes, it solidifies and complicates their relationships, it becomes ritual.
When our club in conjunction with the Sydney Swans staged the first Pride Game in 2016, we were extending a hand to the thousands of footy fans who do not look like or live like the mainstream expects the typical footy fan to look or live.
It was life-affirming to hear the league echo what many of us have known forever; that footy is for everyone, and we all deserve to be represented as loyal members, dedicated spectators and knowledgeable students of the game regardless of how we exist in the world.
I write a lot about my unique perspective on the game on social media @saints_bish and in my zine ‘Season 2020’. On the back of this, I was invited to join the committee for Saints Pride, the LGBTQI+ supporter group for our club.
It’s been an honour working with my mates on the committee to develop our new logo. Our historic stickman, revamped by the talented Jayden Collins to celebrate our rainbow supporters, brought tears to my eyes when I first saw it.
Though the rolling fixture has meant we’ve had a very short lead time for this year’s Pride Game, it is no less meaningful. We will continue to spread our message of inclusivity and joy to the wider football community. We want everyone to know that the St Kilda Football Club is a safe place for everyone to gather, and band together in pursuit of our second premiership.
We know everyone will be watching with pride from home as we continue towards a long-awaited finals return under our gifted and deeply authentic coach Ratts. It is so exciting to see the whole team playing their role on game day, competing for spots and buoying our young guns as a new era dawns at the club.
I know I have St Kilda luck.
This means my destiny hinged on a fateful bounce on a sunny September afternoon back in 2010.
It means that the career of our holy blonde-haired boy Nick Riewoldt has been the most persistent thread connecting all parts of my life.
It means Molly McDonald kicking our first ever AFLW goal on the hallowed ground at Moorabbin was a spiritual experience.
It means mourning for our angels, Trevor Barker and Danny Frawley, gone too soon.
In fact, the ways in which I am an ‘unconventional’ footy fan just make me feel like more of a Saint.
Because although our supporter base is smaller than some other foundation clubs, it is strong and incredibly diverse, particularly south of the city.
Pride is just one representation of that. It is in me. I worry, sometimes I pray, it is in me on a cellular level. Born this way.
When I walk to the beat of my own drum, I know it is playing ‘oh when the Saints’.