AFL? It’s not you, it’s me.

Autumn in Melbourne and another AFL season has begun —not that the game ever goes away round here. Not when the make up of some club’s “leadership group” (the players deemed least likely to snap bra straps in nightclubs, I assume) is considered worthy of a back page lead in summer.

But the early salvos of 2012 have got me wondering if this will be the year I finally fall for an AFL team after 12 years of living in Melbourne and failing to have my head turned and my pulse quickened.

Could be … but I doubt it.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no antipathy towards Aussie Rules. Despite growing up in New South Wales and remaining a fan of rugby league (a shocking revelation here, akin to revealing a penchant for strangling animals), I don’t mind Aussie Rules at all. I’ve been to numerous AFL games and seen plenty more on TV. I’ve also read much and written about the game.

Once, for a magazine story, I was even embedded with the Collingwood supporters group for an away game against Geelong. Many people, no doubt, would rather be embedded with an Australian military unit under direct attack by the Taliban, but I emerged unscathed. Sure, like all footy fundamentalists, they had a few screws loose (a sure giveaway is an adult wearing player badges on their person), but they seemed a decent bunch. And not a banjo picker among them.

So after 12 years of engagement with footy I feel I can appreciate the skill and athleticism of the players as well as the history and chemistry of the game. And while it gets suffocating at times I can paradoxically admire and even envy the fanaticism of this city’s media and fans, and the way the game is part of Melbourne’s (and Victoria’s) fabric in a way rugby league simply isn’t in Sydney.

For all that, I still don’t care who wins or loses. Not one bit.

On the surface, this is hardly a problem. There are plenty of people in Melbourne who care little for, or even loathe, the game. Like the good people of the AFL, for instance; the Anti-Football League, that is. Sure, to avoid persecution and public floggings on the cobblestones of AFL House, they must hold their covert meetings in the dark alleys and drains of the city but they are out there, make no mistake.

The thing is, on a personal level, I’ve begun to wonder if my lack of passion for Aussie Rules —Melbourne’s primary and omnipresent cultural totem— has somehow affected my sense of Melbourne as my home.

It seems ridiculous to me at times but even after 12 years in Melbourne —during which time I’ve romantically de-factoed a local woman, had two children, made friends, joined a soccer club, been ripped off by Victorian stamp duty, become a coffee snob, crashed my bicycle on tram tracks, and whinged about the weather— I would still hesitate to describe myself as a Melburnian.

Nor do I consider myself a Victorian, even though my Drivers Licence suggests otherwise. Certainly, Victoria’s off-putting and unnecessary little brother syndrome plays a small part in this. So too does the irrational and disturbing mental image conjured in my mind by the word “Victorian”; that is, a beefy, ute-driving, Big M-consuming, sleeveless guernsey-wearing bloke who’s a dead ringer for the unholy union of Barry Hall and Nathan Buckley. But, really, it’s all about the hold my formative years have had on me.

Though I may live here, though I may like living here, so many of my stories, legends, myths and kin are in and of another place.

I expect this may change as my roots here grow deeper, as my children’s stories, experiences and history become part of my own. But that will take time.

In the meantime, it seems to me the quickest way to fast track a deeper sense of belonging (for me, or any new arrival to Melbourne) would be to open my heart to the local culture and speak the local language. That is, to start supporting an AFL team, to become part of a tribe.

Not just take a passing interest, mind, but to truly take a team —and by association the game and the city— into my heart, and to ride the emotional rollercoaster that that involves.

However, leaving aside the fact that I’ve been nuts about a Sydney-based rugby league team since I was in primary school (can one really have an irrational, slightly weird love of two football teams at once, albeit in different codes?) I’m not sure you can just choose a team and expect love to follow. Any more than you can rationally choose a person to fall in love with. Especially as an adult when, by and large, you no longer believe in fairy tales.

But who knows, maybe a team will one day catch my eye and set my heart racing. As much as I doubt it, I must remain open to the possibility. It may end up being worth my while.

Comments

  1. John Harms says:

    Paul, is this an appeal for help from your inner self?

    I am sure you will get some advice about which life partner you might choose. But before any advice comes from the Almanac fraternity we’d probably need a little personal profile from you so we know how to match you up. Of course if you are a purist, idealist, accepting, wonderful, fun-loving, play-regarding, truth-searching soul you should just choose Geelong.

  2. Paul – I agree with the Harms viewpoint. Geelong should be the team for you. Why? Well, its not strictly a Melbourne team so you won’t feel like you’re betraying your NSW brothers and attaching to Melbourne.

    My advice is to go out and buy yourself a Geelong jumper and put it on. Leave it on for a week (except in the shower) and you will feel the tribalism grow.

  3. Paul – you are an outsider “with a penchant for strangling animals”. Collingwood is the place you will feel at home. Jumpers are half price this week. Go and pick up a discarded membership ticket outside the MCG. Free entry for a year. Could help defray the stamp duty bill.
    Now if you were thinking of moving to Perth……….

  4. Rick Kane says:

    Wow, Paul, two improbable philosophical dilemmas wrapped inside an enigma: To be or not to be and what to be? Man, good luck with that. As a devout good(ish) Samaritan, I’ll point you in the direction of your own personal Jericho (http://www.hawthornfc.com.au/Membership/tabid/4845/default.aspx).

    By the way, as a fan of the banjo I should also direct you to this site: http://www.pbs.org/arts/exhibit/give-me-the-banjo/. It is a fascinating documentary of the history of the banjo.

    Good luck

  5. John Harms says:

    I think Rick is onto something. The implication that there is something wrong with the banjo is clearly an indicator of Sydney-ness, the supreme irony being that the Swans club song includes (features?) a banjo solo.

  6. Tony Robb says:

    Paul. May I suggest that you support a club like Freo. People will take your choice often as kind of quaint and quirkie No one will get angry at you at the game as you will be deemed inconsequential and offer no threat to your typical Melbourbne based team supporter. and one day the dockers will rise and you will be a the forefront of unexpected glory
    Cheers
    TR

  7. Dave Nadel says:

    Judging by the way you deal in stereotypes and your belief (not uncommon in Sydneysiders) that you are somehow superior to your neighbours I suggest that you barrack for Carlton. According to Tony Robb, their bandwagon is now rolling and I am told that Sydney people like jumping on bandwagons.

  8. There is a quote attributed to St Ignatius Loyola “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”. I agree. I think that a person’s sense of identity is formed very early. And, let’s face it, passionately supporting a football team and riding the highs and lows is childish and that’s why you take it up and why it’s so hard to let go of . I can’t imagine an adult picking up such a midlife passion for a team, especially in another code. Dave, I don’t understand how critically questioning identity as an outsider translates to a belief in your “superiority” to your neighbours. It is about perceiving and evaluating “difference” and the long time it takes to truly integrate in a different environment to the one that shaped youth. I think it’s a bit rich to be talking about “stereotypes” given the tenor of your post. Hopefully the large chip on your shoulder is not giving you a scoliosis. John, the Swans’ team song is also ripped off from the Notre Dame fight song, and the tune and a fair slab of the lyrics. I love the banjo by the way.

  9. Richard Naco says:

    Mate,

    I’m stranded in Sydney, but would happily swap postcodes with you anytime you like.

    I won’t attempt to deflect you to my team – Geelong sells itself better than I ever could.

    If you’re looking to grow into a team, go Norths, Mebourne for the Bulldogs: all are short of numbers and need every bit of lurve that they can scrounge up.

  10. @Tony Robb, “kind of quaint and quirkie. No one will get angry at you at the game as you will be deemed inconsequential and offer no threat”.

    Are you also describing a Melbourne supporter?

  11. Richard Naco says:

    (I think he was, Shaken.)

    rofl

  12. Andrew Starkie says:

    Paul, you obviously haven’t seen a Boomer Special: gets it on the wing; gives, gets it back; baulks; turn of speed to shake off a lowly Carlton or Essendon opponent half his age; another give; get its back; now inside fifty; has a think – do I feed the leading forward or slot it through myself? The latter. Another regulation candidate for goal of the year.

    Come over to the Roos!

    The banjo is my favourite instrument. To listen to. Couldn’t play anything to save my life. Rick, will check out that doco on pbs, world’s best radio station. Being a Sunday, I have it on now: gospel, followed by Ska, followed by Soul. Beautiful.

  13. I’ve always thought the Saints would be a good fit for Sydneysider myself. Of course that depends on the NRL team you support. Please let us know how you arrive at a club and your reasoning.

    The information below regarding this issue may help Paul. An attempt at correlating rough equivalence. (Completely made up on the spot with no real thought other than that bracketed).

    Collingwood = Manly (Silvertails of their respective codes)
    Bulldogs (AFL) = Wests (Pre Tigers) (See themselves as battlers, more likely to resort to ‘presence’ than talent)
    Cronulla = Saints (Party teams that have never quite delivered to their potential)
    Penrith = Geelong (Slightly removed from the main picture geographically)
    Essendon = Canterbury (Both teams had lots of brothers playing together)
    St George = Swans (Red and White)
    Brisbane = Brisbane (I’m not really going to over think this)
    Melbourne (AFL) = Rabbitohs (Lots of classy types supporting them, but not much to brag about at the moment)
    Adelaide = Easts (Chardonnay set)
    Port = Balmain (Working class, with a healthy chip on shoulders)
    Fremantle = North Queensland (Second teams for everybody, not much really expected, although an exciting ride at times)
    West Coast = Canberra (Geographically removed with some success followed by big lows and, ahem, some ‘cultural’ issues, WC – drugs/Canberra – dogs)
    North Melbourne = Gold Coast Titans (Semi-permsanently on the brink)
    Parramatta = Hawthorn (Sustained success in the 70s, a bit arrogant, although Parra are struggling more than the Hawks at the present)
    Carlton = Melbourne Storm (Creative accountants at both clubs)
    Warriors = GWS (Both start up teams in flung far regions)
    Newcastle = Richmond (The last two, around the mark, without being serious challengers despite pre-season hype every year)

  14. Dave Nadel says:

    Not bad Gus, but you have Collingwood and Melbourne mixed up.Despite the amount of money Eddie may have raised for the club Collingwood are not silvertails. If they were, people would not make stale jokes about teeth. Collingwood, the suburb, has always been a poor battlers’ suburb like South Sydney’s Redfern and like Redfern, even when the inner suburbs became trendy and gentrified had too many strikes against it too be able to gentrify as effectively as its neighbours. Collingwood is a financially strong club but even the millionaires who supported it, like John Wren last century and Eddie McGuire today, were self made men from working class backgrounds and dodgy practises (although Eddie’s behaviour is perfectly legal) Neither have ever been accepted by the establishment wealth that supports Melbourne Football Club or Manly Rugby League Club.

    The fact that Manly Silvertails have done well in the last few decades and Melbourne’s glory ended nearly fifty years ago doesn’t change the fact that they represent the same class. I am not a huge Rugby League fan but to the extent that I am I have always supported South Sydney Rabbitohs because they always seemed a Collingwood sort of club.

  15. Rick Kane says:

    Dave, don’t you mean “jokes about stale teeth”? Boom and boom.

    JTH, great pick up – Sydney’s theme song has a banjo. Pissed meself!

    AS, PBS referred to is American TV station. Banjo doco narrated by Steve Martin and title comes from a Mark Twain essay. You’ll love it. Great win for your boys tonight.

    Cheers

  16. Richard Naco says:

    Now that Western Suburbs Magpies have been absorbed by Balmain Tigers (the “Wests” in their name being almost patronising), the tying of Collingwood to South Sydney is spot on.

    As are the St Kilda to Cronulla-Sutherland metaphor (I live just inland of Cronulla).

    But Geelong are a better match to Canberra. Both are one team towns where the footy team is very much a part of their home city’s vision (having lived in Canberra myself).

    West Coast square away with Newcastle much better, and on grounds that could prove litigious should I spell them out to any degree.

  17. Richard Naco says:

    … and the real beauty of living in Melbourne is that you can basically follow any team you like, and still get to go to around 1/3 of their games (against the ten Victorian teams).

    The Swans have a very active and enthusiastic supporter group (The Bloods) tying them in to their South Melbourne days, so that would probably be a great way to meet up with other Emerald City ex pats.

    (I lose out, by comparison, by dint of there being far less Geelong ex pats living in Sydney!)

  18. Skip of Skipton says:

    Great to have your input, Paul. I was the same as you(in reverse). Manly? Souths? Parra? Wests and Tommy Raudonikis? Etc etc. I don’t barrack for any NRL team. I can’t, I’d be a phony if I did, but I love the sport. Go the Storm!

  19. Paul

    I implore you, I beseech you … don’t, don’t, don’t choose my Bulldogs. They’ll only break your heart

  20. Andrew Else says:

    One man who plays the banjo quite well is Billy Connolly. Being a proud Scot, he would no doubt appreciate North Melbourne’s theme song, played to the tune of ‘A Wee Deoch an Doris’ – a traditional Scottish ditty which implores their guest to have one more whiskey for the road. Surely a wonderful reason to break into song.

    Also relevant to you is the fact that The Roos dabbled in Sydney home games, and that their latest interstate venture allows you to spend a weekend in the Apple Isle now and then. A welcome break for any Victorian.

    Another benefit is the Roos’ penchant for Sunday afternoon timeslots. As a rugby league fan, you’re used to Sunday footy. Plus, you’ve got young kids so you’re probably tied up with Saturday junior sport.

    And let’s not forget that their greatest player is W Carey, whose off-field record has drawn comparisons with the lofty heights of rugby league players.

    Throw in the fact that the Roos are on the up and that you’re able to jump on the bandwagon in true Sydney style, and there really is no other option.

  21. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Paul, may I suggest that you barrack for the team that trains geographically closest to you then you will feel some kind of attachment, and you can go and watch training, take the kids etc . or otherwise I would choose the team that has the colours of your rugby team, or just put the names of all the teams in a hat and have a lucky dip!

  22. Miles Wilks says:

    Maybe pick a team that has had your favourite NSW player in their team? Do you know that over 125,000 people play footy in the state of NSW now? There are some people who actually like Australian football in the Australian state of NSW believe it or not !

    You could choose Geelong if you like the contested marks of the Finley boy – Tom Hawkins.
    You could choose Sydney if you like the guts of Pennant Hills’s Kieran Jack to get the ball otu of packs or you could choose Hawthorn ifTemora’s own Luke Breust is your type of goal kicker. etc I suggest picking a team based on the NSW players you like.

  23. Paul Connolly says:

    Thanks for all the good and entertaining advice… and who knew a throwaway line about banjos would generate such discussion… (For the record, Dave, the banjo line was intended to dismiss, not perpetuate, the stereotype that Collingwood supporters appear to have been lifted out of the movie Deliverance. I’m sure you have all your own teeth.)

    I also didn’t realise Sydneysiders had a reputation for being bandwagoners. Is that a Swans thing? Good crowds when they’re going well, crappy ones when they’re not?

    In terms of my position,I suppose to avoid jumping on any bandwagon I must avoid teams that have had recent success or appear to be on the rise (that eliminates Geelong, Hawthorn, Collingwood and Carlton among others).

    To avoid the tag I couldn’t get more rock bottom than GWS or Melbourne. God knows they need the love.

    Then again, I live in Brunswick. Carlton would be the closest team geographically —I jog around Princes Park with the mutt— though spiritually, perhaps, Brisbane is closest since I used to live up the road from Brunswick St, Fitzroy. After the team moved, mind you.

    Then again, I’m from Wollongong (not Sydney) which has much in common with Geelong…

    Then again, I follow St George Illawarra Dragons, who play in red and white. And I used to live in Sydney. And I already have a red and white scarf.

    Then again, I’ve never been to WA so perhaps a team from there would like my support…

    Then again, I love Coopers Pale Ale, and Coopers is made in South Australia…

    I’ve got a lot to think about…

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