Mark Wilson played bass in Australian rock band Jet. Born and bred in Geelong, he toured the world for ten years playing dirty rock clubs, Madison Square Garden and all points in between, selling over 6 million albums along the way. One of nature’s gentlemen, and now an Artist & Repertoire man of great ability, he’s a perfect Presentation Night specimen – a lover of music and footy in equal measure. Here he tells of us his previously little-known role in the Cats 2007 flag triumph…
On the day of what is sadly a Geelong-less Grand Final, and in one of OUR ‘odd’ years where recent history has usually seen us winning the cup, I find myself reflecting back to the first of those ‘odd’ years, 2007 (the others being 2009 and 2011), the time I played a Grand Final.
The Build Up
A heavy year of touring was planned for me in 2007, so early that year I headed down to Kardinia Park for what was looking to be the last home and away game that I could attend. The Geelong vs North Melbourne game in round 5 was a typically middling effort by the cats. A comfortable win by North at our fortress that early in the season was far from ideal. The year prior we were said to have so much promise yet could only muster up a 10th position finish on the ladder. It wasn’t looking like things were improving. I was ready for another uninspiring season viewed via patchy Internet connections from the other side of the globe.
Fortunately my leaving the country was the catalyst for a complete shift by the Cats. We went on to dominate the completion with an attacking, slick brand of football that rallied against the dreary defensive tactics that had flooded the grounds like so much boring sludge. It was a great time to be a Geelong supporter. I relied on the Internet and the Setanta channel in the USA (an AFL broadcast partner on cable). However, as a Geelong man, born in Geelong and growing up in the shadow of Kardinia Park, I had been brought up with a certain penchant for dealing with disappointment at the hands of my football club. There were generations of us who had never witnessed ‘The Hoops’ win a flag. I think the term ‘drought’ is a little light… I would call it more of an ice age or a volcanic winter. 44 years. The last time Geelong had one a flag The Beatles were between releasing ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘With The Beatles’. A long fucking time!
Meanwhile, around the time of that round 5 game, some time in early May, my band Jet was asked to be a part of the Grand Final ‘entertainment’. The AFL was already using our song Bring It On Back as the theme song to the 2007 season, coupling it with a highlight package of the usual massive hangers and arsey goals from seasons past. We agreed without hesitation. With Chris and Nic being Collingwood supporters and Cam and myself Geelong, this was as they say in the USA, a ‘no brainer’.
Finals time came, and a blessing from the patron saint of scheduling (Andy Kelly and co.) meant that I was home for the entire finals campaign. We took care of North Melbourne in the first round without any of the troubles experienced earlier in the season. I was lucky enough to be friends with Cam Ling, so visiting the rooms after these games was becoming a ritual. How could this be happening? The stars were aligning. Was it an act of God? Had G. Ablett Senior. willed it? However, there was an uneasiness within the Jet camp. It transpired that Geelong and Collingwood couldn’t face off in the Grand Final. It was bound to be a sore point for someone in the band. The preliminary final against ‘the filth’ was a harrowing one. Two of my normally mild mannered friends needed to be separated after some strong words were exchanged in the heat of passion. Geelong got up by 5 points in one of the most stressful games of football I’ve ever witnessed. It was truly terrifying.
Grand Final week was surreal. We were invited to every media event, AFL function, breakfast and ceremony there was to offer. I attended every soiree with the same enthusiasm as when I was nine years old and went to a bulk frozen goods depot in Geelong because Gary Ablett Snr. was handing out icy poles. That common thread mentioned here on Presentation Night of football bringing out a child-like excitement was alive in me.
The Sound Check
The day before the Grand Final we had to head to the ground for a technical rehearsal. We all had footballs tucked under our arms as we walked out onto the MCG turf. Chris and I darted to the Punt Road end and started roosting our freshly purchased Sherrins at the goals with minimal success. After about 34 seconds of pure unadulterated joy in it’s purest form, we were set upon by the ground security staff who were vigorously waving their arms and shaking their heads as if to say “no no no no no no no no no NO”. It seems that no-one is allowed to kick a ball on the hallowed turf prior to the game. This wasn’t the only thing to go wrong that day…
For some reason, the organisers decided that due to logistical reasons we had to mime to an instrumental version of our songs with live vocals. This is something we fought hard against, but ultimately they were unable to come to an agreement in time. Things like this make you nervous as a musician. You play hundreds of live shows a year, yet you are unable to play live at the AFL Grand Final. There was nothing we could do, but surely nothing could go wrong… right? Well it did. The track dropped out. Just for a split second, but drop out it did. Luckily this was a dress rehearsal and there was time to fix any issues. Right? Wrong.
After a sleepless night of nervous energy (nothing to do with the gig) I was picked up by our driver and driven to the ground. I was wearing a blazer with a Geelong jumper underneath. Not a great look but if I was going out on the MCG on Grand Final day, I was going to be wearing my hoops. I was having some real issues with anxiety, and it was all Geelong related. My mind was on the game and a million miles away from the task at hand (however dancing around miming with a bass around my neck is hardly a ‘task’) The worst part was waiting to play huddled under the stage while all the typical fanfare/acrobatics/kids with flags was going on around the ground.
Finally it was time to play. It sounded like utter balls. The drums and bass would bounce back of the stands creating the oddest sounding mess you could ever imagine – totally out of time and an absolute cacophony. Also, that little issue of the track dropping out…you guessed it. It happened right there on the biggest TV event of the year in front of 90,000 people and do you know what? I didn’t even care. I was so worked up about the game that a little glitch and any potential embarrassment it may have caused didn’t even register. I had better things on my mind.
With some relief the gig was over. I walked towards the player’s race, but before I descended into the belly of the MCG I noticed I was walking off towards the Geelong end. I removed my jacket exposing that beautiful blue and white jumper and pumped my fists in the air. The roar I got from the Geelong faithful was incredible. For a split second I felt like a player. I did it again. The roar grew louder!! I threw in a few Teddy Whitten patented ‘stick it right up ‘em arm gestures. Wearing a Cats jumper on the MCG on Grand Final day, being cheered by thousands of Geelong fans. The nine year old at the frozen goods place would have happily cryogenically frozen himself with the dim sims, icy poles and chips if he knew what was ahead. He would have been far too impatient to wait another 18 years for this experience.
After the final siren sounded, my best friend and fellow Geelong tragic Ben Browning of Cut Copy and I embraced with tears welling in our eyes. We had done it… We had witnessed Geelong winning a flag. It seemed like a curse that would never be broken, but it was obliterated. A 119 point murdering. Everything in the world seemed good and I believed in God again…Gary Ablett Snr.