No one was sure whether the No.17 on the left cheek of Rae Smith symbolised the number of agonising years since her beloved Encounter Bay had won a flag, or it was simply in support of her favourite player who wears that number – Scott Welsh.
A certainty was that, Richard Littlely, the man she hugged after the Eagles had beaten Willunga in a classic contest by 12 points, also felt the emotion as they shared their tears. It was 46 years ago that he had won a premiership as a player in his first season on the committee at the club, and now the Bays had won again in his last year on the committee, as president.
Then we had Ang Hooper, crying for her son, Tom, who was ruled out of the game earlier this season with a lacerated kidney, and for her other son, Will, who did.
And as the tears flowed into the night, Will and all of the other players became legends, especially grand final medallist and captain Jed Wilson, Ian Perrie and Welsh, who led a magnificent revival after being down 21 points late in the third quarter, and Hamish Lindsay, whose goal by the left flank boundary put the Bays in front with two minutes remaining. Rae’s hero led the goalkicking with four. Great stuff.
However, Richard, with tears long after two very deserving sides had battled their hearts out in a magnificent event presented by the Great Southern Football League, said this victory wasn’t just about him or any one player, and not even the club of 2013.
“This was about everyone who has walked through the doors when we first started as a club (in 1921 two years before the GSFL) and helped us make us what we are today,” Richard said. “Come here any training night or match day over the years and you see the players, coaches, support staff, committee people, those serving in the canteen and behind the bar… it’s just as much their premiership as it is those involved directly in today’s game. It makes me proud to say I am a member of the Encounter Bay Football Club.
“There are a lot of people who have been behind this over many years, but gee whiz, there are some who really deserve this, like Sharon Crispin, who does a phenomenal amount of stuff (including as treasurer), Dom Rumbelow and his wife who work so hard in the canteen, Mick Mallard the head trainer, and Randall Neale, who helps so much. I could go on and on; there are a lot of them.
“I also feel for the people who played in the A-grade this year but didn’t make this premiership side; this is about them too.
“We have a special club. We’ve always had a good strong group of workers. We’ve been happy; never really any strife. We don’t have the number of supporters that we once had, but those we do have are great.
“We’ve got a terrific bunch of players too; there’s not one that I would not be proud to call my son.”
The impact top-name recruits, Perrie and Welsh, have had on the team has been profound this year, and Richard knows the rumours of how much they were paid will get further from the truth by the day. He’s not concerned; besides, rarely have recruits given so much back to a club on and off the field, including taking juniors for training, as these former Crows.
After 14 years as president over three stints, Richard is comfortable about handing over the reigns. “I told everyone two years ago this is the time; it’s right for me and the club. We need someone with fresh ideas.”
Rae has served Encounter Bay for more than 30 years, and last year received the “Club Person of the Year” award. She was a trainer when it won its previous two flags in 1989 and ’96, and along with other marvellous club people has helped present thousands of meals, especially on Thursday nights when the place is packed with mums and dads and their kids.
“This is a fantastic club and I’m pleased for everyone that we won,” Rae said. “The game was exhausting, exhilarating and exciting because Willunga made it a fantastic contest, and I will live every moment over and over.”
At that moment the tears flowed once more, reinforcing the belief that, no matter whether it is the GSFL, AFL or the back end of football territory, the emotion is the same. It’s why you should never believe winners are grinners all of the time.