A Portrait of the Supporter as a Young Woman

“Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”
– James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


Little Jenny leaves her rudimentary home of ten summers and walks with her mum to the train station. They each wear the colours of their team. The colours that attract such scorn at school; an eye-rolling, aggression-fuelled reaction that has ensured that Little Jenny has never worn to school the $99 club jumper given to her as a most extravagant, most out-of-character present, more than once. Why did people mock her for wearing this jumper? This very morning, ahead of a trip to a big league game itself, and despite her mother’s entreaty, Little Jenny has again resisted wearing the jumper, by now marginally too small, though she deigns to wear her fluffy woollen hand-knitted club-coloured scarf. Fluffy is good. Her granny had knitted that scarf. Her own granny could perform the magic of knitting. One sparkling afternoon, her granny had sat alongside Little Jenny and revealed to her the ancient ways. And now Jenny could knit. Sort of. There was no such club-coloured scarf as evidence, but there did exist a crooked shapeless patch of yellowed wool, intended as a scarf for her teddy bear, that bore testament to her spluttering progress with the needles. Growing magic.


Over time Little Jenny notices her mother and notices the fluctuating emotions of her mother and understands that this club and its fortunes are inextricably linked with her own. And Little Jenny knows this to be a dubious thing. Why should the result of a footy game determine her own fate?


And so Little Jenny grows to both resent and love this thing called a footy club. Though it doesn’t seem to be a club, really; not like her netball club, nor her own cubby club at school. Membership is bestowed according only to finance; not to character, nor to talent, nor to personality. She in part loves it, and yet she feels that this footy club is not really in her own blood; not inside her; she cannot see it as something worthy of her undying attention; not like swimming nor making movies on the iPad. Swimming has become a joy, a secret playground of possibility; the pool a place of transformation, of private hope, of private fun. People at the pool were as extras in a movie; even those rare ones with speaking parts had little or no influence on her own story. For Little Jenny likes to make her own story. In the pool, on the iPad, in her games of boundless imagination. But Little Jenny cannot influence this giant footy club. That is somebody else’s story.


The act of being as a spectator is itself an interesting thing. Little Jenny wonders why anyone would pay so much money simply to watch other people do things. Why not do things themselves? she thinks.


She remains ambivalent about this cold, windswept stadium destination, these seats that she knows from experience to be hard and sometimes wet and always a very long way from the field of play. But to be here with her mum, her mother, is lovely. She would go even to the dentist if it meant more time spent with her mum.


Little Jenny recognises that her mum carries on preposterously about the team. She regularly swears at the TV, though there is very little chance of anyone on the TV ever hearing her. Or maybe that’s why she does it. It is hard to know. Certainly, she is louder at home than she is at the game, where a quiet ferocity takes hold.


The train station is big and empty and in the wind it is cold. Little Jenny holds her mum’s hand. Plastic wrappers flit like skittering birds along the fence line. Only people with a valid ticket can stand on this side of the metal fence, thinks Little Jenny. If you do not have the right ticket, the right piece of plastic, you are not allowed to be here. Little Jenny knows that to also be the case at the footy and at the movies and at the museum. Tickets could be bought to anywhere if you had enough money. Little Jenny knows about the importance of money. Money is the reason for lots of things. Like for her early mornings and sometimes for her late nights. And for their broken car.


Little Jenny watches the plastic bags and thinks of birds. She thinks of flying into the sky, through the fluid of the atmosphere, like the fluid of the swimming pool. If she could fly through the atmosphere, there would be no need to buy tickets. She would be able to fly anywhere. She would fly.




Around them people are squashed into seats. Bags, hats, coats and food abound. Lots of soldiers and army stuff happens. Though what this has to do with a footy game is anyone’s guess. Probably it is like school; teaching something.


Everyone stands up. Everyone sits down. There’s a bit of shouting.


By the second quarter, Little Jenny’s attention is not on the game. The game goes on and on and on. As always, nothing much ever really happens. Or, more accurately, very similar things happen over and over again. Men kick the ball to other men. They run around, play keepings off. And kick goals. Or miss. That’s about it. And it goes for so long. Even longer than big lunch play at school.


Near the end, it’s getting dark and certainly colder. People are leaving. Some are standing and yelling at the players. Little Jenny notices that many people are upset with the coach. Three men nearby take it in turns to issue a stream of hateful, repulsive, powerful commentary into ears unfortunate enough to hear.

Little Jenny’s mum is caught out. She has been a disciple, but she is losing her faith in the face of mounting evidence. “Jeez, Jen, maybe they’re right. Maybe he just can’t coach.”




Journeying home, the train platform is alive with nervous energy. For people wearing Little Jenny’s shared colours, sadness and disappointment mix with anger and frustration. Men, groups of men, yell solutions, argue solutions to this everlasting, repeating, strangely guaranteed conundrum of a footy club that has lost another game. Punctuated by swearing and voluminous roars, these speeches further divide the throng.

“He’s got to go! He should resign!!”

“Nah, the coach is alright! Sack the players!!”

“It’s time for President to walk. It’s a dictatorship!”

“Lining their own pockets! Jobs for the boys!”


People shuffle, stare at their feet. An old man on the train platform catches Little Jenny’s eye and simply shrugs his shoulders.




Little Jenny can’t help but listen to the mob.  She feels safe holding her mum’s hand. But Little Jenny feels also that these people, absolute in their convictions, are scary in their certainty. Their passion is alight but their words make no sense. What if the coach was sacked? What would that do? Would anything change? Maybe the team would win. But maybe the team would win anyway. What was the right answer?


Little Jenny thinks of last year’s premiers and wonders why it is that the premiers won the flag last year. They could have lost easily enough in the Preliminary final. A couple of free kicks in the earlier final might have changed things. But the premiers had some luck, took some chances, and rode an enormous wave of belief. That was the popular story.


This wave of belief was so enormous that a whole story had been written about it. Still stories were being written and re-written. Maybe history itself was being re-written. It was easy to imagine this wave afterwards as a real physical presence; rising, swelling, cresting.


Little Jenny wonders where do waves start? She wonders whether other people have also wondered about that.


“Anyway,” Little Jenny says aloud to herself, “not everyone can win.”


With those words, an elderly, hunched woman leans into Little Jenny on the reasonably packed train platform.


“That’s right deary, not everyone can win,” she says. “But the very least that anybody needs in this life is hope. Without hope, there is nothing. And for the first time in nearly 20 years, I stand here bereft of hope.”


Little Jenny nods and looks up to the sky. Would this old lady die here on the train platform? Little Jenny hoped not. She supposed that that was a form of hope.


“Hope, like everything else, must come from within,” says this old train platform sage. “But,” she continues, with a wink, “an external nudge can help.”




On the evening breeze, plastic bags dart this way and that, against the thickening clouds. There will soon be rain. Anyone can see it. Anyone here lucky enough to be holding the correct ticket can see it. There will soon be a torrential storm.


Little Jenny reaches for her scarf; pulls it tighter. She thinks of the stale bread that will be dinner tonight, of tomorrow morning’s lineup of empty stubbies.


The train arrives. People needlessly jostle one another to board. And Little Jenny, herded along amid the giant adults, thinks of ordinary balls of coloured wool. She thinks of ordinary knitting needles, of her grandmother’s ordinary hands. She knows that from ordinary components, can arise things of beauty, things of magic. Indeed she, herself, had learned some magic. So yes, the particular magician was important. But not critical. Maybe a magician was merely a provider of external nudges.




Any storm brings renewal; possibility. Tonight there will be water in the streets. And with it, a re-birth of hope. And of belief.


Somewhere, a wave starts.




“The object of the artist is the creation of the beautiful. What the beautiful is is another question.”
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


About David Wilson

Hit for a towering 6 by Mike Gatting at the Banyule Cricket Club, December 2002, theatrically attempting to reproduce the SK Warne delivery. The ball is yet to land. @e_regnans


  1. Thanks E, great writing.

  2. E.regnans says:

    Thank you, mikeD.

  3. Earl O'Neill says:

    Seriously good work, Swampy. Beautiful cinematic feel about it, Glendyn Ivin to direct.

  4. Frank Taylor says:

    Fabulous Tall Man – fabulous.

  5. E.regnans says:

    Thanks very much Earl, Frank.

  6. A nice tone, e.r. Very nice.

    And it is true, of course:
    Without hope, what is there?

  7. E.regnans says:

    Very kind, Smokie.

  8. E.r. – you capture the joy and absurdity of spectating, and do so in a way which honours your chosen muse. Jenny’s observations are mighty fine. I’d like to hear more of Jenny as the season unfolds.

  9. Wow. Wonderful writing. Made me want to cry at times. Lovely. Hope indeed.

  10. Yvette Wroby says:

    Thanks David . Beautiful. We have to seek our inner Jenny and seek some inner peace, footy results or not

  11. Rod Oaten says:

    A wonderful bit of writing, reminds me of taking my son to the footy many years ago. Tell us more as the season unfolds.

  12. A work of art.

  13. Absolutely superb,OBP

  14. E.regnans says:

    Thank you everybody.
    This was a very enjoyable piece to write.
    With many applications, perhaps.
    Thanks again for your encouraging words.

  15. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    Oh … wonderful wonderful Mountain Ash.
    Jenny’s questions seem like the relevant questions compared to the artificial wave of questions that get pumped out each week.
    I watched Amelie last night with the Cygnet (who is learning the theme on piano and French) while … knitting! French and fostered in a very particular style but there is something about Amelie’s inner questions and observations and intentions that remind me a bit of Jenny. And their importance accumulated in me with each row stitched. Magic indeed!
    I’d like to take Jenny to the footy.

  16. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Super stuff ER,
    Jenny is no ordinary thinker. I often wonder if I’ve explained the theatre of emotions adequately to my daughter when it comes to footy barracking. We get fired up, call for heads to roll, but really how much does it impact on our daily lives? Footy is a conduit to be impulsive, to dream to hurt, to hope to get lost in a drama that you can walk away from when it suits.
    You always get me thinking big fella. Kudos

  17. E.regnans says:

    Thanks Mathilde & thanks Phil.
    Mathilde – I think sometimes you do take Jenny with you to the footy. I must see Amelie again.
    Phil – no doubt footy is many things to many people. And that’s as it should be.
    We’re mass-fed the “thoughts” of the certain again today, at the completion of another round.
    As will happen next week, and the week after.
    I wonder if a wave started?

  18. Peter Fuller says:

    I’ve only just caught up with this lovely piece, David. Thank you for it. Jenny seems to have a sound grasp of reality unlike those of us cursed to be fanatical supporters. We expose our emotional stability to the feckless young men who happen to be the current standard bearers for our colours. Its colours they are fine, or so we think.
    As ever your writing is a model of perception

  19. Luke Reynolds says:

    Wonderful writing Dave. Your pieces always make me think. Much to consider in this.
    Well done.
    Keep them coming.

  20. E.regnans says:

    Thank you Peter (feckless!).
    And thank you Luke.
    On we go.

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