AFL Grand Final: It’s a great game that can bring tears on a neutral supporter

By Sam Duncan

Generally if Essendon isn’t playing I don’t really care who wins.  I love watching footy – I love observing the match-ups, the contests, the tactics and the play.  I love observing the raw, unbridled emotions of the fans.  I love how much Australia’s very own game means to Australians.  You only had to be at the MCG on Saturday to see that football, in some special, unique, undefined way, is so much more than just a game.

But I’ve never really felt nervous for any team that wasn’t wearing black with a red sash.  I didn’t feel at all happy for Brisbane when they won their first flag for they had marched to victory by demoralising my team and taking greatness from our grasp.  I was happy for Sydney to break their 72-year premiership drought in 2005, but I bemoaned the fact that they chose to play a style of footy that won them a premiership by kicking just eight goals on a sunny Saturday in September.  And I was there in 2007 when Geelong won their first flag since 1963.  I was happy for them, but not emotionally involved.

Yet, this September I’ve been caught up in the romance that footy can sometimes deliver.  Footy can do that.  Sometimes football can give people a glimmer of hope, a touch of justice and a certain sense of satisfaction that can’t be felt anywhere else in their life.  Sometimes it offers a stage where we can witness a special moment in time where, for a particular moment, nothing else matters.  It’s a moment of pure encapsulation where your whole existence is caught up in watching eighteen men fight with all their might for a red leather football.  How else can you explain men and women of all ages reduced to tears after a game of football?

At the Preliminary Final between St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs I was stuck feeling sorry for the team who was losing.  Or, more particularly, I was feeling sorry for their supporters.  The Saints were the best team of the 2009 home-and-away season.  They lost only two games – one by two points and the other by five.  Their supporters are traditionally very hesitant to let themselves believe that they will win.  I’ve seen this in the eyes of my mother, who hopes and prays, but never truly expects to experience the joy of premiership success.

The Saints won their way into the Grand Final by defeating the Western Bulldogs – a team from Footscray who represent Melbourne’s “battlers”.  The Doggies were brilliant.  It would be doing St Kilda an injustice to say that the Dogs should have won, but they certainly could have.  In a remarkable contest, the most amazing part of the night for me came after the final siren.  The Bulldogs fans, who have been emotionally battered, bashed and bruised through so many years of failure, had again endured a heartbreaking loss.  And yet they marched forward with stoic and emphatic resistance.  They handled defeat with a grace and sense of sportsmanship that made me feel as though they deserved a little more.  I’m sure they were heartbroken; it’s just that they’d been heartbroken before.  I looked at one old man, who had many more years behind him than he did in front, stand and gaze at an empty MCG in the aftermath of their loss.  Tears welled in his eyes and although I barrack for Essendon, for a small moment I felt like crying, too.

History will tell you that Saturday’s Grand Final was one of the best ever played.  It was ferocious, tough and rugged.  It was a cauldron of strength and intensity where the weak were exposed.  Geelong is a great team.  In fact, they are one of the greatest teams of all time.  They are the type of team that win without explanation.  They don’t need to explain how they do it, because when the game finished and people were left to dissect how they did it, the answer is simple: they won because they are a great team.  Their supporters know this and they love them for it.

Yet, when a great Grand Final is played, for the losing team the heartache lingers.  St Kilda did everything right this year.  They finished on top, they barely had an injury all year, they played a wonderful grand final and they lost.  Once again I observed their fans.  In most unSt Kilda-like’ fashion, many of them had allowed themselves to believe that they could win.  Some even probably felt as though they would.  When they thought of the possibility of winning, they would have dreamt of the ecstasy and adulation that might meet them when the final siren sounded – the joy, the happiness and the tears. And when they didn’t, they looked as though they’d lost it all.  Footy had absorbed their being and nothing else mattered.  After 43 years of trying, this appeared to be their best chance.  And they lost.

I’d had a strange feeling about the game for the whole day.  Perhaps I just wanted my mother to feel the joy of victory like I have in the past.  After waiting 43 years, perhaps I thought football would provide the justice and the romance that life sometimes can’t.  But it didn’t.  When I saw Mum after the game she looked at me and my father and tried to tell us what she was thinking.  But she stumbled at her very first word and started to cry.  And, although I barrack for Essendon, I wanted to cry too.

Generally if Essendon isn’t playing I don’t really care who wins.  I love watching footy – I love observing the match ups, the contests, the tactics and the play.  I love observing the raw, unbridled emotions of the fans.  I love how much Australia’s very own game means to Australians.  You only had to be at the MCG on Saturday to see that football, in some special, unique, undefined way, is so much more than just a game.

But I’ve never really felt nervous for any team that wasn’t wearing all black with a red sash.  I didn’t feel at all happy for Brisbane when they won their first flag for they had marched to victory by demoralising my team and taking greatness from our grasp.  I was happy for Sydney to break their 72 year premiership drought in 2005, but I bemoaned the fact that they chose to play a style of footy that won them a premiership by kicking just eight goals on a sunny Saturday in September.  And I was there in 2007 when Geelong won their first flag since 1963.  I was happy for them, but not emotionally involved.

Yet, this September I’ve been caught up in the romance that footy can sometimes deliver.  Footy can do that.  Sometimes football can give people a glimmer of hope, a touch of justice and a certain sense of satisfaction that can’t be felt anywhere else in their life.  Sometimes it offers a stage where we can witness a special moment in time where, for a particular moment, nothing else matters.  It’s a moment of pure encapsulation where your whole existence is caught up in watching eighteen men fight with all their might for a red, leather football.  How else can you explain men and women of all ages reduced to tears after a game of football?

At the Preliminary Final between St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs I was stuck feeling sorry for the team who was losing.  Or, more particularly, I was feeling sorry for their supporters.  The Saints were the best team of the 2009 home and away season.  They lost only two games – one by a two points and the other by five.  Their supporters are traditionally very hesitant to let themselves believe that they will win.  I’ve seen this in the eyes of my mother, who hopes and prays, but never truly expects to experience the joy of premiership success.

The Saints won their way into the Grand Final by defeating the Western Bulldogs – a team from Footscray who represent Melbourne’s ‘battlers.’  The Doggies were brilliant.  It would be serving St Kilda an injustice to say that the Dogs should have won, but they certainly could have.  In a remarkable contest, the most amazing part of the night for me came after the final siren.  The Bulldogs fans, who have been emotionally battered, bashed and bruised through so many years of failure had again endured a heart breaking loss.  And yet they marched forward with stoic and emphatic resistance.  They handled defeat with a grace and sense of sportsmanship that made me feel as though they deserved a little more.  I’m sure they were heartbroken; it’s just that they’d been heartbroken before.  I looked at one old man, who had many more years behind him than he did in front, stand and gaze at an empty MCG in the aftermath of their loss.  Tears welled in his eyes and although I barrack for Essendon, for a small moment in time I felt like crying, too.

About Sam Duncan

My name is Sam Duncan, a very passionte, slightly one eyed and mostly optimistic Essendon supporter. Originally from Yarrawonga, the home of the mighty Pigeons, I moved to Melbourne to go to Swinburne Universtiy in 2002. Feeling right at home as a uni student, I stayed for a long, long time, completing an undergraduate degree in media and communications, an Honours and Masters degree in the same field, and finally, a PhD in sport, media and cultural studies. I'm the author of 'Rolling with the Punches: Tales of an Aussie Traveller', lecturer in the Bachelor of Sports Media at Holmesglen and boundary rider for AFL Live. I love footy. I love Essendon. Go Bombers!

Comments

  1. Adrian Vitez says:

    Great read Sam.

    Sometimes a 100 point loss is more humane. Both results could have so easily and justifiably gone the other way. It shows how cruel football can be.

    Tell your Mum to stay positive. If they stay on track, I think that one of these clubs will finally have history on its side next season.

  2. Stainless says:

    Sam – As a fellow neutral spectator, I totally agree that this game got me in emotionally.

    About 20 minutes into the last quarter with scores level, it suddenly hit me that in ten minutes time one of these brave sides would be crumpled on the ground, cruelly and undeservingly defeated. It had been such an engrossing contest and so closely fought that this simply didn’t seem right.

    A draw would have been a fair and, at that point, highly realistic outcome, but my immediate reaction was that it would be altogether too much to expect that these teams could back up for a replay.

    When the siren did sound, amidst the surrounding pandemonium, I sat silent for a full five minutes simply absorbing what a remarkable spectacle I had witnessed and trying to comprehend that after all the twists and turns, there was so clearly a winner and a loser.

    I suppose it was a little more stunning that it was the Saints lying devastated whilst Geelong were whooping it up, given that St Kilda had led most of the day and, when challenged, had responded so well. But had the result been reversed, my reaction would probably have been the same. Put simply, on rare days like this, both teams deserve to win.

    I have deliberately avoided the usual post-mortems about who won and why. After a game like this it seems churlish to pick on individuals or incidents that may have won or lost the game. In my view, both clubs and every player grew in stature for having participated in a game for the ages. All concerned deserve only the highest admiration from those of us privileged to have been there.

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