Fremantle 75 Geelong 94 (AFL)

Fremantle Geelong 01

Fremantle 75 Geelong 94 (21/06/2009)

Also South Fremantle 74 Subiaco 102 (WAFL, 20/06/2009)

Perth, on Australia’s West Coast, has a well-deserved reputation as being a sunshine capital, with even the winters being warm. That is certainly true, but what they don’t tell you is that the “short showers” common in the winter might well only be short, but they are also extremely heavy, and frequent. When I was there they appeared to come about every 20 minutes, last for about 10, and dump more rain than falls in an hour in England.

A boat trip to an island off the coast was cancelled due to storms putting the ferries out of action, but I spent a day in the neighbouring port of Fremantle anyway. After a day sightseeing, culminating in a trip round the no longer used prison, I took in a Western Australia league game next door to the prison. Running behind schedule, I could even hear the siren and the occasional shouts of players and fans from over the prison wall, and wondered how torturing those sounds of “so close and yet so far” normality must have been for those inmates who weren’t visiting as part of the kind of visit I was on.

It was actually into the 2nd quarter by the time I left the prison, but with the cheap price of admission, and with the threat of rain looming again, I thought it would be a good place to spend the remainder of the afternoon. The South Fremantle Oval is something of an eclectic venue. It’s best feature is a Victorian main stand. A multi-gabled roof of ornate latticed ironwork sit above a stand decked out in cream and green, with rich maroon bench seats. With more pillars than the Acropolis holding that same roof up, it certainly isn’t perfect, but it oozes charm from every beam, and it’s good to see a structure like that still in use. In England it would have been needlessly condemned years ago. Oddly this stand is set so far bad from the outer edge of the field that there is room for a car park between the two. Given the unsettled nature of the weather, the ice cream van in this car park seemed somewhat optimistic.

Further round the same side sits a more functional stand. It’s not ugly, but it’s no beauty either, but does the job, as well as having a large bar cum social club area behind the seats. Between these two stands sits a tall but very narrow pavilion, again with more gables, just two this time, on the roof.

Further round still, stopping just before the goal, is the administrative block and training centre of the Fremantle Football Club. Both the AFL club and the local South Fremantle Bulldogs regard the South Fremantle Oval as their home, even if the Dockers don’t play here any more. Even more gables here on this new building, but they don’t quite work, and make this end look more like the bays of an exclusive golf driving range. The rest of the ground is just fairly steeply banked open terracing, which on this day of variable weather was occupied only by the hardy and the foolish.

Oversized the venue may have been overall, but even with WAFL crowds having dropped hugely ever since both Perth and Fremantle entered teams into the big league, enough were present give a the place a lively feel, even when the home side were comfortably beaten from a team from the Subiaco district of Perth.

Subiaco is also where you find Perth’s main stadium, where both of Western Australia’s AFL teams, the West Coast Eagles and the Fremantle Dockers, play home games. It’s also where the WAFL Grand Final is played, and where South Fremantle would have the last laugh over Subiaco that season, defeating them in front of 22,738, eleven times the crowd of the game I went to.

My AFL game at Subiaco, on my last afternoon in Australia, would see a traditionally weaker Fremantle take on Geelong, the powerhouse of the last few years. The venue had built up an unnerving reputation over the years. Not only did teams have to contend with travel distances that were long even by Australian standards, but the home form of West Coast in particular had made this a venue even the best were wary of. Neither West Coast nor Fremantle were having the best of it in 2009 though, both finishing in the bottom half, and Geelong were clear favourites.

As a venue it always looks smart of TV. Two tiers of seats – rising to three behind one goal – sweep round both ends and one side. A flat double tier of executive boxes sits atop a lower tier on the other side. Suggestions that the ground needs replacing seem wide of the mark. Up close it is maybe easier to see why. Much of the seating is bench seating, not offering much of a view, and the cover is limited to the upper tiers only, which is perhaps an oversight for a winter sport. It still seems like a good venue, but in June 2011 it was announced that a new stadium, on the other side of Perth CBD, would be built to hold 70,000.

None of which mattered too much on this June afternoon two years previously. Fremantle, the underdogs, clearly had a game plan, and it was working. Geelong were being stifled, particularly with the giant Aaron Sandilands of Fremantle, all 6’11” of him, winning the ball at every stoppage. By the end of the first quarter the normally free-scoring Geelong had been limited to just one goal, agonisingly deep into added time at the end of the quarter. Fremantle had hardly been prolific themselves, scoring just the two goals themselves, but the psychological difference between being 13 ahead at the break, and being just 7, was significant. From looking lost, Geelong had a toe hold.

That toe hold was all they need. Three and half minutes into the 2nd term, Geelong were ahead and turned the screw. From looking like going into the first interval 13 ahead, Fremantle instead faced going in at half-time 13 points down.

Despite a quick Fremantle goal in reply, Geelong pulled away, increasing the lead to a seeming conclusive 25 points, before the game swung again. Four unanswered Fremantle goals allowed them to end the 3rd quarter with the scores tied. A real shock looked a genuine possibility.

It’s a mark of the best sides though, that they can dig deep and get results in tight situations. Geelong, who were to win the premiership again that year, dug in and got the first two crucial goals of the 4th term. Fremantle were always chasing after that. They got to within a goal, but Geelong edged away again in time added on. A further goal put the icing on the cake, and made the final score look rather more comfortable than the reality. The surprising large continent from 1700 miles away in Geelong, would have a good trip home, as would I.

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