The Grand Final and me …

Leunig's beautiful "Street Football"

I’m a sporting numpty. I don’t know my Warnes from my Williamses; my Cadels from my Kewells. If you asked me to name a single Rugby Union player I’d be hard pressed. My dad has spent numerous weekends trying to teach me about cricket. To me it looks simple: Man throws ball, Man hits ball with wooden paddle, other Men try and catch ball, Man who hit ball and other Man who is also holding a paddle for some reason since he isn’t hitting ball run up and down a rectangle until ball comes back. I thought I had it down. But no. There are googlies and LBWs and silly mid thingies and even DUCKS involved! How had I not noticed the DUCKS amidst all of that?

Dad despairs of me. Mum does too because, like cricket, I never “got” tennis (which she loves). Apart from when Agassi was playing. Because he was a spunk. And all I know about soccer is that there used to be a player called Robbie Fowler. I know this because Sporty Spice liked him.

Maybe my disinterest in sport is down to the fact I was always quite awful at it. My mum never lets me forget the Grade Seven swimming carnival when she (a teacher at my school) was mortified because I had to be rescued from the pool during the backstroke. I was swimming around in circles. Because I wasn’t looking where I was going. Because I didn’t want to get water in my eyes.

Indeed the only sport I was ever good at was running. Because, really, you can’t stuff up running in a straight line (although, one might argue, the same could be said for swimming backstroke …).

So, after telling you all of that, one might wonder why I’m now about to watch the AFL Grand Final.

The answer: not the guys in short shorts. They don’t particularly interest me. I had a huge disagreement with my dad during our trip to Melbourne about how boring footballers are these days. They are just gym-chiselled, oily-looking machines with no personality (feel free to argue with me here). I miss the Jason Dunstalls and Johnny Plattens and Dermies and Dippers of the world – beefy (or, in Platten’s case, scrawny) dudes for whom footy wasn’t their whole life; who just played it on the weekend and went off to normal jobs during the week. I’ll never forget hearing that Daniel Chick worked in a bedding shop during the week.

And yes, Rache, we all remember Matthew Liptak was a doctor!

Footy players used to have a bit of personality and a larrikin spirit and I think so much has been lost with the huge salaries that mean the players are now footballing robots who don’t drink all season and then go mental once the season’s over. They look boring to me, these new boys in short shorts. I’m not a gym junkie kind of girl. My first boyfriend spent more time with his arms around a barbell than he did with his arms around me and it put me off huge muscles for life.

This new, skilfully-played, polished until it’s squeaky game is much less interesting to me than the one played during the 80’s, when I first became obsessed with footy (it was Steven Kernahan’s fault. He was my third crush, after David Bowie and Tim Curry. Dad was more worried about the fact I loved a Carlton player than he was about the fact I crushed on men in makeup). Yes, the players are supremely talented. But, really, I’m longing for a bit of biff.

I know. I’m a pacifist vegetarian. I should not long for biff but … ooohhh! I just spotted some players having a “fracas” on the ground! No! No, Mr Geelong player, don’t pull them apart! Things were just getting interesting!

Anyway, where was I?

So it’s not the shorts. It’s not, particularly, the game itself (although it is the one sport I understand fully – go figure) that means I love watching a game of footy. So what is it?

Nostalgia, I guess. Nostalgia for those days watching footy with my dad when I was a kid, cheering on Dermie and Dipper while Dad had a stubbie of Boag’s Draught and I ate Salt and Vinegar Samboys. Thrilling in sharing cheers of “Go Hawkies” with my beloved father; feeling like it was something we shared.

Nostalgia, also, for a time a bit later when my close circle of friends and I were all footy-maniacs – when I was in love with Daniel Harford and my friend Rache changed her allegiances to become a Crows supporter solely because Modra was a spunk; when she sent me Valentines Day cards from Shane Crawford and I sent her cards back from the aforementioned Dr Liptak; when we’d hold Brownlow dinners dressed up in our best frocks and when we had a surprise Geelong-themed party for my friend Mellie (my non-footy-fan Shel even learned the words to the theme song especially for the occasion).

That’s why I’m going for the Cats today. Because Mellie goes for the Cats. If the Crows were playing I’d go for them for Rache. If the Swans were playing, in support of my mate Chlo, I’d be cheering for the red and the white.

If the Hawkies were playing I’d probably be hiding behind the couch right now because, like my dad, my heart can’t handle watching the Hawks play crucial games.

I also love days when it feels like we’re all in this together. Most of Australia is watching this game right now. I know Rache and Mel and Chlo will be watching it up on the North West Coast. My parents-in-law are watching in in Ulverstone. My dad will be watching it in Hobart. My mum might even be watching it. Even though she hates football even she gets into the spirit today. All over Australia – and even maybe overseas – we’re all watching these boys in short shorts kicking a strangely-shaped ball around. It’s a game where ethnic minorities play with white Australians and where indigenous Aussies are perhaps the best players of all (after all, they did invent the game, didn’t they?).

In the parks near my house, fathers and sons will be kicking plastic balls around at half time.

It might just be a sport and I might be a sporting numpty but I love this day. To everyone else out there who loves this day, for whatever reason …


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