Photo: Elizabeth ‘Nazz’ Tanter
Twelve months ago today, I saw Jonathan’s band The Football Club perform for the very first time. Three days ago, on Wednesday night, I watched Jon’s very last performance as a member of The Football Club.
If you’ve ever come out to one of the shows, I’m sure you’ll know by now that The Football Club is a self-proclaimed “folk-punk band from Footscray,” who play sad songs about getting drunk, being queer and drinking bad coffee. The five-piece are quintessentially a representation of Melbourne’s live music scene, each member bringing something a little different to table. Together, they form a prolific band.
And that’s why Jonathan’s decision to leave the band has been so difficult. As all of us look forward to the future, I thought it might be nice to share some of the story of The Football Club, through my own outsider eyes.
(NB: This post – and some of the songs linked to this post – contain contextual swearing & adult themes, just so everyone is warned.)
Track One: Man, It’s Super Free
It was hot, and his jeans hugged his legs a little too tightly, and the map in his hands was crumpled. The courtyard was a noisy hubbub of activity. Students were rushing between classrooms, and new and old friends alike stood in the shade and discussed what they’d done all summer. In a neat, little row at the end of the yard were a collection of multi-coloured food trucks, all lined up and ready to serve. There were supposed to be free samples, but Jon wasn’t holding his breath.
“It’s gotta be around here somewhere,” he said, squinting down at the map. A bead of sweat trickled down his brow. His backpack felt heavier with each passing moment, and if he didn’t find this room soon, he knew he’d be late for his first class of O-Week. As he looked up, he saw a kid crossing the courtyard, striding forward in his direction, with some clear sense of purpose that bewildered Jon (She looked like the kind of girl you’d for ask directions, if it wasn’t for the ice-creams she held in each hand).
“Hey,” Jon called out to the kid, flagging her down with a wave of his hand. “How free is the ice-cream?”
The girl stopped in her tracks and smiled, “Man, it’s super-free!”
She represented all the kinds of people Jon didn’t want to meet at Uni, but they exchanged a friendly smile anyway. And later, when Jon finally did find the right classroom, an ice-cream cone in hand and three minutes late (but who’s counting), who did he see sitting across the lecture theatre but the very same girl he’d barely met in the courtyard? He supposed this was going to be an interesting year.
~ ~ ~
The first time I met them was at Leah’s nineteenth, a little house party in Coburg, complete with weed and alcohol. It was the first time I’d ever been to a party like that (I know, this whole paragraph probably makes me seem pretty lame). Even Jon was nervous (not that he’d admit it), but we blamed our pale faces on the chilly autumn weather, and soon enough, an obliging girl with fiery red hair set about lighting a gas heater to keep us warm. Later, she would introduce herself to me as the eponymous Leah, birthday girl, all harsh angles and soft lines. We got pizza for tea, and Jack Maff said something about an in-joke I didn’t quite understand.
I flushed red when a cute girl with a septum piercing told me she liked my snowflake sweater. I don’t think I’ve worn it since. Jon didn’t seem to notice. He was slouched low in his chair, laughing about something with the guy they called Thad. He was a surfer, originally from Lorne, and he sure looked it, tan and blond, an intricate fern tattooed on his forearm.
Ruby was sitting beside them, flicking through pictures on her phone of some other girl’s dog. The dog (and that girl) she had left behind in Brisbane, a year ago when she moved down to the Northern Suburbs with a one-way plane ticket and the clothes on her back. She took a swig out of her bottle of cheap red wine. “So was Jonathan always this shitty or have we been a bad influence?” she asked.
I smiled, “Nah, I think you’ve made him better.”
~ ~ ~
Once, when we were still in High School, my best friend Rachel had a huge falling out with Jon over whether Jared Leto was a good choice to play trans woman Rayon in the film Dallas Buyers Club. Rachel argued for diversity and representation; Jonathan argued for Leto. I looked down at my plate of gnocchi carbonara and sighed.
It’s safe to say that Jon and Rachel don’t argue anymore – at least, not about anything that matters. And I think that we owe this, at least in part, to The Football Club.
~ ~ ~
They had all met through Uni – Ruby, Thad, Leah, Jon, and Jack. One afternoon I opened Facebook to a new message from Jonathan, an audio clip of the song which would later become ‘Black Dog.’ The sound quality was terrible, but my smile must’ve been something contagious. Later that week, Jon sent an equally terrible recording of what is arguably Footy’s best known song – their second single ‘One Dollar Coffee.’
Even up until a few weeks ago, whenever Jon sent me a new recording or demo of a Footy song, I would get up in my lounge room and dance. Or at least, get up and stare melancholically out of the window, depending on what the song was about.
The band had met in February, formed in March, and by April, they were working together on their first EP. But in the middle of April, everything would begin to spiral out of control.
Track Two: The Day You Could’ve Died and Some Other Bad Days
I had only just walked through the front door when the phone rang. Mum picked it up. I slumped down on the couch. It’d been a long day at Uni. The only saving grace was the dumb meme I’d posted on Aaron’s wall during my lunch break. It made me smile just thinking about it.
As I watched my mum talk on the phone, I saw her face drop. “Aaron’s been in a serious accident,” she said to me, cupping a hand over the receiver.
The doorbell rang. It was Jon.
“I know,” he said.
When my mum got off the phone, we learnt the severity of Aaron’s accident. Induced coma. Broken body. Punctured lung.
At first, there was the emptiness that settled like a cloud – a dull, throbbing sort of pain that lingered at the edges of my consciousness and dampened any sense of hope. Then, there was the guilt and the crying. And then, there was the comfort.
Jon and I sat together on the couch, eyes closed, arms wrapped around each other, warmth emanating from our bodies. We needed some background noise to take the edge of the silence, so Jon hit play on his old iPhone. There was so much we didn’t know, and the only thing that was certain was the way the music sounded as it played through Jon’s tinny phone speakers.
I couldn’t bear driving for months after the accident, but when I finally worked up the courage, I made a mixtape of all the songs we’d listened to that night, plus some. Songs that managed to make me feel at peace even when I felt anxious or afraid. Songs that made me feel like nothing else mattered, that it was just me and Jon lying on the couch again, and that things could be okay, and that maybe they would.
Most of those songs were demos by Ruby. Many of them would become the songs that made up The Football Club’s first EP. Those songs aren’t just good. They’re also incredibly sentimental.
~ ~ ~
Less than two weeks later, and the band’s drummer Jack decided to move on to other endeavours. At this point, stress was only building for Jon and I. We sat in the back of my car that night and had a huge row. Jon’s mum came out and left us chocolates on the windshield.
“Thad always says that bad things come in threes,” said Jon. “The accident, Jack, and now this. We’ve had our share of bad things.”
And sure enough, things did eventually start to get better. The Football Club found a new drummer in the incredibly talented Lee, the band kept practicing, writing and recording, Jon bought a dodgy DVD player so we could all watch Eurovision with Aaron in the hospital, Uni finished for the first semester and we earned a much needed holiday.
~ ~ ~
One good day amongst all this was a second house party, held in mid-July. This one was a house warming rather than a birthday. Ruby and Thad had recently moved into a joint share house. There was a painting of white rabbits forming Hokusai’s The Great Wave on the wall, so of course, I fell in love with the house immediately. I think I drank about 5 glasses of water that night. Ruby was drinking red wine out of an old white mug, and she’d put Elliott Smith on the speaker system.
Thad grimaced, “Elliott Smith isn’t good party music.”
Nobody else seemed to mind.
~ ~ ~
There were some more bad days towards the end of the year. Over Christmas, huge bushfires threatened homes and lives in Thad’s hometown of Lorne. Thad and his family were forced to flee, leaving everything behind. The Football Club played their last show with Thad two days later, at the Evelyn Hotel. Before their next gig, Thad was hospitalised with some problems that meant that he couldn’t play guitar for a little while.
And so began the search for someone who could fill Thad’s shoes.
Track Three: The Only Football Club Who Sings Songs
There were a lot of good gigs – nineteen, to be precise. The Football Club’s first official gig was on September 10th 2015, at the Reverence Hotel in the band’s hometown of Footscray. The venue was packed. It felt almost like a spiritual experience. You could feel the emotions from the songs washing over you. You could feel the collective effervescence when people sang along to Footy’s first single, ‘Banrock Station,’ which had been released earlier that month.
The second gig was at the Grace Darling in late October. There were candles on all the tables and that’s where I first remember meeting Vanessa. She was drummer Lee’s girlfriend, tall and pretty and kind with perfectly shaped eyebrows. At the start of 2016, she would join the band as a talented singer and pianist, replacing Thad’s role and adding to Footy’s overall character.
After that, there was an all-ages charity gig at Collarts, a loud set at the Bendigo Hotel, a night out at the John Curtin, and Thad’s last gig at the Evelyn. Footy’s self-titled EP came out on the 10th of November and I haven’t stopped listening to it since. In 2016, there were more gigs: a huge crowd at the Bruswick, a private performance on the lawn to celebrate Jon’s dad’s fiftieth birthday, a beautifully memorable show at the Pinnacle, a very strange gig (but not by Footy’s volition) at nightclub Untz Untz, a lovely show at The Worker’s Club, a sold-out gig at Northcote Social Club, a second show at the Grace Darling, a second show at The Worker’s, The Last Chance Rock n Roll Bar, The Old Bar, again at The Evelyn, a third show at The Worker’s, and finally, The Gasometer.
It’s hard to pick out a favourite gig. At the Brunny, we danced in amongst the crowd. People were lining up outside, hoping to get in. When we needed fresh air, we had to push our way out to the beer garden, dance under the stars, breathe in the joyous atmosphere.
At the Pinnacle, people walking past the pub would stop on the street and peer through the windows to see who was playing that catchy music. Footy kept on playing, oblivious to this fact, as the people in the club downed their drinks and listened on.
Their last time at The Worker’s, Footy played a number of their old hits – songs I hadn’t heard live for over six months. Every show was special and I have distinct memories from all of them.
~ ~ ~
After Jonathan and I got engaged in September (click for related post), we threw an engagement party in Jon’s backyard. It was a beautiful night, the sky decorated not only by a thousand stars, but also by strings of fairy lights. The Football Club sat around a patio table, joined by our four young cousins who looked up at them in awe.
One of the most moving moments of the night for me was when Ruby and Leah sat down on an old couch in the shed and Ruby played us her engagement present – a beautiful new song she’d written.
~ ~ ~
I think it was at one of Evelyn Hotel shows when Ruby said, “If you want to find us on Facebook, type in ‘The Football Club band,’ and that’ll help you. There’s a lot of football clubs out there, but we’re the only Football Club who sings songs.”
From behind the drum kit, Lee shook his head. “Every football club has a song,” he protested. “Every football club sings a song when they win.”
The Football Club was always singing songs. Maybe that meant they were always winning.
Track Four: Real Friends (A Kanye West Cover Song)
Harrison’s nineteenth birthday party was suddenly uprooted when Jon announced that he had a Footy practice that night which he didn’t want to go to. We were eating burgers at Grill’d when he dropped the bombshell.
“When’s the practice start?” I ask.
“Eight,” Jon said dismally.
“Why don’t you want to go?” asked Harrison.
Jon grimaced. “I think I need to leave the band.”
There was shocked silence at first. And then, we were bundling up Harrison’s birthday cake into the car and driving out towards the practice studio. It was definitely a birthday celebration we won’t forget. We sat the cake on the centre console and lit the candles right there. We’d brought ice cream with us too. Now partially melted, we ate it in the smoky car.
“I should go,” said Jon as the clock ticked over to 8pm.
“Are you gonna talk to them?” I asked.
He shrugged and walked away.
~ ~ ~
Jon’s very last gig with The Football Club happened on the 17th of August 2016, at The Gasometer Hotel. We all came out for the show, me and Rach and Harrison, Jon’s little brother who had only just turned 18 the week before, his parents, my parents, and their friends, Jon’s older brother Aaron and best friend Glenn.
We had dinner beforehand, sitting by the warmth of an open fireplace. I think the crowd of us almost took up half the bar. Just before Footy was due to play, we all filed into the band room, feeling a whole bunch of contradictory emotions all at once.
Sadness. Excitement. Joy. Disappointment.
And then when Footy got up on stage, all that melted away. Despite the fact I’d heard all the songs too many times to count, I was swept up in the emotion of the stories, feeling the things I was supposed to be feeling, and enjoying it.
~ ~ ~
The set list from Jon’s last gig:
*Look out for The Football Club’s new EP which will be coming out in September. It’ll boast these two incredible songs and more of your favourite Footy hits. The other songs in this set list are already available on Footy’s Bandcamp page: click here.
Track Five: What They Did Next
The Football Club will survive Jon’s departure. They’ve already survived the departure of two other members in the past. Jon and I will still go to the band’s shows. We’ll still listen to their first EP on our long car trips when ABC News Radio gets too boring. We will always love The Football Club – Ruby, Leah, Nessa and Lee (and Thad, and Jack).
It was just time to go.
~ ~ ~
When I asked Jon what his favourite memories have been from his time with The Football Club, he said something along the lines of ‘arguing about ethical veganism with Leah’s boyfriend Dylan.’ Like me, Jon has shared a lot of good memories with The Football Club. They’ve become an important part of his life, his friends and fellow musicians. And as we reflect on the past, we also look ahead to the future.
Jon will always love making music. For now, he’s still studying his craft at Uni. On the side, he’s still making music with his best pal Glenn, in the form of experimental band The Little X’s (a completely different taste to Footy). No matter what happens in the future, I think we can all be sure of one thing: there will always be the music.
~ ~ ~
Every song title that has been underlined in this post is a link to Bandcamp, where you can stream and purchase that song by The Football Club at your own personal leisure.
If you want to see where Jon’s musical endeavours will take him next, follow The Little X’s by clicking here.
I know that this blog post has been incredibly long. Thank you for reading it and sharing in these experiences with me.
Xx Annie May