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I grew up in my grandfather?s house, along with my family and my four aunts. The eastern suburbs of Brisbane, in the 'sixties. It was rugby league heartland. It was one of those old weatherboard houses on "stilts"; I slept in a room that was converted from the old front verandah.
It was a very full house. I remember watching the old black and white television ? the Mickey Mouse Club and the Flintstones were favourites. All of my aunts were young, beautiful and unmarried, and they covered their dressing table mirrors with Beatles stickers. It was a wonderful childhood, with so many people paying attention to the first of the new generation. Apart from parents, aunts love the new children in the family almost more than anyone.
But none more than my grandfather. I remember sitting on his lap on his rocking chair while he told me stories, and football was a favourite topic. Our household was an Eastern Suburbs Tigers household.
My grandfather played for Coorparoo, the club that was eventually transformed into the Easts Tigers. He used to tell me repeatedly how they would ?have to win the fight on the field? against the opposition before they could win the game. Then they would have to "win the fight all over again after the game behind the dressing sheds". If the team played away, they would not only have to fight the other team after the match? they would have to "fight their way through the opposition supporters" to the truck that would take them home.
When I was a child, the Easts Tigers were my grandfather?s life. It was my uncle?s life as well. He played for Easts and then he became a coach for Easts in the junior grades. It now seems like a blur. I can?t remember the timelines and all the details? I keep getting told about how I was taken to my first ever football game, at the age of six months. It was at Davies Park in South Brisbane ? Easts versus Souths in a lower grade match - and my mother keeps telling me how I got thrown from player to player on my uncle?s team after the match.
In another blur of childhood, my aunts, one by one, seemed to marry footballers. I loved them and my heart broke as they moved out, but my uncles were Tigers, some more prominent than others, but they were part of the Tigers family no matter what.
My earliest memories are of my grandfather going down to the Stones Corner pub every Saturday morning, selling chook raffle tickets for the Easts Juniors. He was a football manager in those days, and the Easts junior team he managed in 1964 presented him with a rocking chair. It was there as long as I can remember, in the corner of my ?room?. My uncle got exactly the same chair in the same year, as coach of the team.
My family moved out of my grandfather?s house when I was nearly seven years old. A few years later, I remember a day at Lang Park, when my uncle was the coach of the Easts reserve grade team. They won the Grand Final that day, and our whole family was in tears. There was nothing better. Football was our lives and winning the Grand Final was the ultimate. It didn?t matter that it was reserves. We lived and breathed Easts.
Today, in 2005, the Tigers are still living and breathing. Some of the clubs of my childhood are not - the Valley Diehards, Brothers - and no longer compete in what is now the Queensland Cup. But I moved away from Brisbane long ago. I moved to Canberra in the year that the Raiders were established. I have a passion for a team that didn?t exist when my grandfather fought his way home after an away game decades years earlier. He passed on the year before I left Brisbane.
I still remember what he told me as a kid, sitting in that rocking chair: "Football. It is in the blood."
The rocking chair was left to me in my grandfather?s will. It sits in the corner of my study, a proud memento of my childhood. The tarnished silver plaque can still be read: ?To Reg. From Easts Under 18. 1964.? A journey from the Tigers to the Raiders, that chair will always represent the development of my love for rugby league.
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