The ball spins. Players clash, then fall away all over the nation until there’s only One comp. Two coaches. Forty-four players. I’m sorry, I’ve been first emergency. It hurts like fucking hell, because you know you’re a good back story, like the trainer, or assistant coach, the umpire or peanut vendor. Like the boot studder. Bloody important! But not The story. You are a part of it, like steamers and balloons. You don’t count. There are 44 blokes, or girls. There are two coaches. There’s one victory.
On this biggest stage that rules so many lives.
“A victory for my friends is a victory for me.” I say it all the time. Mean it, believe it. But that’s still more words than “Premiership player.”
Two weeks ago I watched three ex-teammates take out the Div One flag at their new club.
Seeing them on the oval after the game, happy, surrounded, I was as jealous as all hell! Mostly, of their next 48 hours. Of the night ahead. Of how they would watch the world spin around them as they fell down drunk. Of mornings after that were really just nights that did not end. Of not changing their clothes for three days. Of footy trips that were like riding the crest of a wave.
Of having earned the sensation of being free.
I love them for it, and can only imagine what it would feel like to multiply that intensity a thousandfold, then put it on like a jacket. To be a Hawthorn player this week, or a Freo. To have this weight on you, this surge in you. To be so close, while about 16,000,000 people and all of history hold their breath.
I’ve been working on my book in Melbourne for a few days, missing the bush, ex-AFL/VFL players impossible to find as the week skitters them from here to there. Those that have played in and won the Big Dance. Those that lost. Those that never got there. Each one caught up in something bigger than themselves, no matter how long ago they were involved. The day ripples and echoes through lives.
For me it’s about football and friendships. The social event of the year. There’s not a Grand Final I don’t remember because they involve mates, and shitstir, and booze and food and a constant roar that shits all over the corporate dominated stands of the MCG, where too few people don’t really love the game, or barrack heart on sleave, or care.
For a friend who played at the highest level it involves privacy. He locks himself away to watch and lets ‘the Game’ be all.
I often wonder if he ever imagines himself out there? The what ifs? The glory and power?
My best mate, in demolition, says: “The Grand Final means, to me, a great, hard game.”
It sounds like he’s underselling the day. But he says it like the most solid of things. Like “what else is there?” and hard facts. He tells me about the times Collingwood won, then says he remembers the thing he remembers most when they lost is the sounds. Richmond, then Carlton cheers, their club songs being played time and again.
It sounds like he’s tracing scars.
Then we got out and kick until after dark and plan our assaults on Saturday.
To many mums and dads the country over the day is a chance to share something brilliant that might last a lifetime with their kids.
To ex-pats hugging their laptops and tv monitors in obscure bars around the world, it’s a chance to miss home and be there. To share and hear and smell it all over again.
All week, I’ve watched Young and Jacksons slowly block up like a sink with interstate and country purple and brown and yellow, lazily, impatiently killing time, putting their coin and time where their hearts are, to have an adventure, the time of their lives, to be a part of their team’s muscle. The roar that sends chills down player’s spines.
Hotels of all shapes and sizes, city and bush, are putting on their armour. Barbies are being prepped, babies placed in hand knitted Hawk jumpers, tucked into Freo sheets, garages are being set up, bets placed. Not that shit you see on telly, but between mates and work mates and cordial enemies. For all sorts of wages that crap all over something as flimsy and pissweak as a betting slip. Prison days are being planned, hospital wards re-organised. Faces painted, prayers being made.
For 44 players, two coaches.
Then 22 and one. For all time.
Of course I’m envious. I can only imagine the strength running through their veins right now. If only because it’s all of ours.