THIS is a story of three jumpers. Football jumpers. Australian Rules football jumpers. A story of stripes and numbers, of collars and colours. This is a story of a brother, a father, a daughter. Of a widow, a greengrocer, a stranger.
The first jumper was worn by my brother. Long gone. The woollen jumper had wide vertical stripes of red, yellow and black. Long tri-coloured sleeves, if memory serves correctly. With black cuffs. And maybe even a collar. My brother wore it when he played half-back-flank for the St Joseph’s College second XVIII. Fifty years ago.
More than 10 years ago the first jumper spawned a 1500 word essay about grief and loss and yearning and football and family and a coroner’s report. The essay was simply called My Brother’s Jumper.
… In an act that might have drawn both admiration and concern from his coach and teammates, Mark once crashed into a point post. I wasn’t at that game but I like to think the thick football jumper would have protected him in that collision, if only slightly. Would that same jumper offer me any protection now from the collisions of life and death? Would it be of any help if I found it after all these years? It would at least be something tangible, something close to my chest…
My brother did not have many possessions but unfortunately the footy jumper, which had number 37 on its back, was amongst the things lost. I myself may have mis-placed it, discarded it, forgotten it. Or perhaps my parents, when moving house 10 years after their eldest son died so suddenly, mysteriously and incomprehensibly (the coroner ruled ‘misadventure’) knew that possessions would never bring him back.
THE SECOND jumper was worn by my father. Not so long gone. Twenty years. Yellow and blue stripes. Long yellow sleeves. Yellow cuffs and collar. I found it in his wardrobe, some years after he died.
The jumper, which even has yellow buttons, such is its antiquity, presented puzzles. For starters, it has two tattered numbers stitched onto its yellow and blue back: 31 and, underneath that, 4. For seconds, Dad did not play football. I eventually joined the dots. The jumper was a gift to Dad from a friend, a widow. Rita’s husband Bill, a greengrocer, had played local football in West Geelong, for the Cheetahs, in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Six years ago the jumper spawned a reflective piece.
… I can imagine my Dad wearing it through the winters, walking along the Moggs Creek beach, or through the bush tracks. Remembering Bill, remembering Mum, thinking about his children. Thinking about that duffed five-iron on the seventh hole at Winchelsea. Wondering which horses might get up in the daily double. Dad probably wore the jumper while fishing, too, under his old brown jacket or his old red tracksuit top. Standing on the shoreline, rugged up, waiting, hoping for a tug on the line, feeling the blue and gold wool protecting him from the cold, from the wind and the rain, from the spray of the surf, from widowhood…
THE THIRD jumper was worn by a stranger, if it was worn much at all. A wide green stripe down the middle, flanked by yellow. Long blue sleeves with green cuffs. Blue on the back. Not much wear and tear. It was found by my daughter in an opp-shop in Anglesea one summer’s day late in 2019. An impulse buy for my birthday, neither Hannah nor myself were to immediately appreciate its significance beyond sentimentality.
It is not as old as the other jumpers. It is not as woollen. (It’s 70% acrylic.) It has no number on its blue back, so has never been worn in a game of football, in a contest. But somebody (maybe a widow?) no longer needed it. The colour combination was a fraction familiar, but the design did not ring true. There are a lot of football clubs out there, so it could belong anywhere.
This jumper spawned a trip into the world of Twitter seeking answers.
That has school team written all over it I reckon was one of the first responses. Then came Same colours as St Kevin’s College but don’t know if the school, or even the Old Boys, wore this design. Most likely though, to be a prototype. The strongest contender was a simple, confident tweet: St Kevin’s College first 18 jumper – 1978 to 1980s. This was soon confirmed: Correct. It’s a First XVIII St Kevin’s College Jumper, late 1970s to 1980s. I’ve still got mine. The second XVIII (and juniors) wore the dark blue jumper, with green and gold V. Today, the design is different again.
The Twitterverse was not to know that before my brother played for St Joseph’s Under 18s he attended and played for St Kevin’s. Under 16s. Late 1960s. He had let me tag along to a few games, a ten year old little brother waving the goal-umpire’s flags on cold Saturday mornings. The Under 16s wore a dark blue jumper, with a green and gold V.
Of course, jumper designs and materials change over the years. And even colours. The yellow and blue of the greengrocer’s Geelong West jumper is now orange and charcoal, with the club merging with two other local teams to become the Giants (rather than the Cheetahs).
I NEVER wore my brother’s jumper. Never came close. I often wear my father’s jumper on cold Sunday mornings, warming up for a kick of the footy with a few mates. When I first wore it, some thought the jumper may have been my brother’s. Given its age and its ailing condition it is probably time to retire it to my wardrobe. In its place I will wear the jumper of a stranger, the jumper that caught my daughter’s eye, the jumper bearing colours once worn by my brother, long gone.