A personal reflection of the Northern Blues Football Club ahead of Sunday’s heritage game. (PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Murdoch)
THIS website tells me this is just shy of the 900th article I’ve written for the Northern Blues.
But this article probably isn’t like one I’ve written before.
This Sunday will be the 97th VFL game I’ve worked for the Northern Blues since starting in 2014.
But this game definitely isn’t like one I’ve worked before.
For the first time in eight years, the Bullant will return to Preston City Oval in a VFL match.
I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to talk to guys like Dennis Armfield, Brent Bransgrove, Shane Watson and Tom Wilson in recent weeks about this game’s significance.
I’ve listened to greats of the Club like Ray Shaw and Harold Martin reminisce about the days in the VFA — greats who finished playing for the Club over a decade before I was even born.
I can’t talk to the history of VFA football. I wasn’t around for it.
But while I grew up watching my football in the Gardiner Stand of Ikon Park, Preston City Oval always wasn’t far away. Literally.
Back in 2003, the Northern Bullants officially became aligned with Carlton. It was a no-brainer for my mum to bring an eight-year-old me down to Cramer Street to watch those AFL-listed guys, barely 10 minutes from our Reservoir home.
I’d fetch the footies from behind the goals from guys like Darren Hulme and Matthew Lappin. What a time to be alive.
I was at Marvel Stadium for two lost Grand Finals in consecutive seasons. I was at the PCO on Mothers Day in 2011, when Brendan Fevola returned for Casey to play against the Bullants.
Fast forward to 2014, when I started working for Northern as an intern while studying at university. At the time, I always wanted to work for Carlton — and it’s a dream I’m so fortunate to be fulfilling right now.
My opening game saw Patrick Cripps and Sam Docherty represent the Blues for the first time. Two months later, C. Judd ran out at Ikon Park representing the NBFC.
In 2016, the most hectic day of all transpired — Brent Bransgrove’s all-too-brief 100th and final game.
— Northern Blues FC (@NBluesFC) May 22, 2016
While I may have initially thought of my time at Northern as fleeting and possibly a stepping stone, it became something I grew to love.
It’s why I’m still here now.
The VFL may just be seen as the reserves competition to a lot of people. However, even though it can be a thankless task, working for and representing this club is still an unbridled passion for so many.
I got to meet people who I now consider very good mates. I got to meet volunteers who have been around the Club for decades. I got to meet members of staff who were just starting out. I got to meet players and coaches who are just outstanding people.
I got to know about the ‘Ants’ Spirit’.
As Dennis Armfield put it a few days ago, every club obviously has their own term for what makes them tick.
Off the field, I daresay I saw exactly what the Ants’ Spirit is all about.
On Wednesday 25 January two years ago, my dad passed away after a brief illness. A week later on Thursday 2 February, we farewelled him at a church in Thornbury.
It was quite sudden, and something which my family and I will always live with.
The whole day of the funeral was a blur, but one thing you never forget is the people who were there for you.
More than a club.
— Cristian Filippo (@C_Filippo23) February 1, 2017
And while the following are things which may not seem like much to those who did them, they meant a hell of a lot to me.
The senior coach took five minutes out of his training session just to sit down and have a chat about how things were going.
The captain sent a message on the morning of the funeral.
The three members of staff who worked full-time at the Northern Blues stopped operations for an hour to come to the church that day, along with the president.
They’re the things which make Northern more than a team. They’re the things which make this club such a pleasure to be a part of.
While I never knew the Preston Football Club in all its might during the 1980s, I can’t wait to see what Sunday looks like.
I can’t wait to see the white Bullant on a red jumper run out. I can’t wait to see how much it means to those people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting that have been around for so many years.
Bring it on. Up the Ants.