‘Balancing Acts: Women in Sport’ book launch speech – ‘My Favourite Moment in Sport’

As part of the Melbourne launch of the book, Balancing Acts: Women in Sport, at Readings on Friday night, I was honoured to be invited along with four other of the book’s contributors to share a story relating to the theme, ‘My favourite moment in sport’ to celebrate the book as well all of our general love of sports.

 

This is the piece I read aloud at the event about my favourite moment.

 

 

When people ask if I like football I correct them and say, ‘I love football.’

 

It’s not so much an exercise in my exerting my football fan-ness over somebody else’s – but there probably is a little bit of that. It’s mostly because, if I actually take the time to think about the exact wording of that question, ‘Do you like football?’ – I think the answer is ‘no.’

 

I don’t ‘like’ it.

 

Fans talk about the magical feeling football gives them. How they feel included and a part of something big and how exciting it is to watch their favourite players perform amazing feats of athleticism, and I get all that. But when I think about how I’m feeling when I sit down to watch a West Coast game, whether it be live in a stadium or at home on television. I’m sick.

 

I’m nervous, anxious. My fists are clenched.

 

True relief never comes. Only fleeting moments of it when a goal is scored and I can take a breath, but it’s never enough. Another one must be scored, and another. Even if we’re demolishing a team, it’s still not enough. We should have done more. Beat them by more.

 

A win is also fleeting. The joy is momentary as the mind quickly shifts to the next game. I’m always left wanting more, never completely satisfied, always filled with anxiety.

 

How can I ‘like’ something that makes me feel so fundamentally awful most of the time?

 

Academic Matthew Klugman says, ‘There’s something about Aussie Rules footy that is too much, that drives people to the edge of sanity. It produces suffering and joy, and an insatiable hunger for more.’

 

It’s what I imagine it’s like to love a rebellious child or a dog who bites you. They can cause you pain and can be difficult to handle but their behaviour is never enough to ever stop loving them.

 

With this in mind, when I think about what my favourite moment in sport is, I think about how much these feelings cloud my fan experiences and connection to the game of Australian Rules.

 

I reminisce West Coast’s 2006 Grand Final win, which I watched as an eighteen-year-old, Year Twelve student on a tiny box TV in my bedroom in Mildura. I remember the raw explosion of joy I felt at the final siren when we won by a single point. I giggle to myself when I think of the time I was cavalier enough as a university undergrad, to pretend to be a journalist to sneak into Ben Cousins’ retirement press conference at the Richmond Football Club, snagging a seat next to Caroline Wilson and getting my picture in the paper.

 

I recall moments from my professional career, working in sports marketing for the Western Bulldogs in 2016 when they won their prolific flag and getting to do things like drink beer out of the Premiership cup.

 

All of these moments are special, but they are not my favourite. When I reflect on them, I think that yes, seeing my team win a flag was wonderful, sneaking into that press conference and seeing Ben up close was thrilling and working for the Dogs when they clawed their way to a flag after a 62-year drought was rewarding, but these moments don’t hold enough for me.

 

I want to see another West Coast premiership, I want more experiences as an insider, more access to my favourite players. More, more, more. To me, that’s the essential experience of what being a fan is – always wanting more. Demanding more.

 

I don’t know if I’ll ever be satisfied as a football fan but I don’t care. I’m too in love to care.

 

 

 

When I disclose the information that I am a West Coast Eagles supporter people ask me if I’m from Perth.

 

When I reply, ‘no, I’m from country Victoria.’, I get a quizzical look and the common follow up question, ‘How did that happen?’, as if my football supporting situation is a rare anomaly, a glitch in the Matrix.

 

And I guess it is.

 

I came to follow West Coast in a ridiculous way and I always feel silly telling the story.

 

My father is a Richmond supporter. I used to preface that as, ‘a long suffering’ Richmond supporter, but he’s doing OK now.

 

He tried to get me to follow Richmond but, as a toddler, my favourite word was, ‘No.’

 

I also had a vague awareness that the Tigers were rubbish.

 

It got to a point where he told me I needed to have a team, everyone had a football team, and if I was not going to follow Richmond, I had to just pick another Victorian team.

 

I picked West Coast.

 

I did not like being told what to do. I still don’t.

 

I liked their colours. Their first year in the competition was my birth year. They won two flags when I was young. Then Ben Cousins came along and I never looked back.

 

My poor dad never got his Tiger child. My brother chose Essendon thanks to a pushy uncle. And after going to an Essendon v Bulldogs game on a family trip to Melbourne when the Doggies won, my little sister jumped on board Footscray, finding it funny that our brother’s team had lost.

 

When I moved to Melbourne over ten years ago, I made friends with people who had grown up in the city in football families who all followed the same team. They went to the footy each weekend together as their own little team. I felt a little bad that I had denied my dear dad this experience of having a united football family.

 

I felt like I had taken something away from him.

 

If I were to ever have children, I always imagine them as West Coast supporters. I shudder to think they could choose another team. That they could potentially betray me like I did my dad.

 

 

My professional background has been in AFL administration for the past eight years. I have worked at the league’s head office as well for some clubs. When Richmond decided last year that they were not going to be the Tigers of old anymore and rsvp’d to September’s biggest party, I knew I had to get my dad there and called in some long overdue favours.

 

I worked on the day – just a basic role that was for a few hours pre-match and allowed me access into the game. The best job in the world to have on that one day in September.

 

Once I finished up and made my way inside the ‘G, I situated myself close to my father’s seat. I watched him watching the game from a distance, not wanting to get in his way or distract him from experiencing the game as a true fan.

 

My father is a reserved man. He’s full of love but keeps his emotions in check in public. I have been to many Richmond matches with him before and he would only quietly clap a goal or quietly mutter an insult under his breath or quietly groan whenever the ball was in Tyrone Vickery’s hands. He never sang the song out loud.

 

I watched him as the Tigers began to kick away and with every goal he stood up from his seat with his arms stretched to the sky in jubilation. He high-fived the people around him, strangers now entwined together by the magic of football. He cheered and clapped emphatically and emotionally like I’ve never seen and I wanted to cry. He was so happy. I was so happy. I was so happy that he was so happy.

 

I waited at the end of the bay as the final siren approached, keeping track of the remaining time on twitter. As soon as it sounded and the MCG erupted in cheers, I bolted down the steps to his seat and I wrapped my arms around him.

 

He hugged me harder than I can remember him ever embracing me.

 

‘I never thought I’d see this.’ He cried into my shoulder.

 

I never thought I’d see this.

 

Sometimes the best thing about a party is giving the gift and seeing the person’s face when they open it. Even though the present isn’t yours and you’re not getting anything in return, the feeling of making someone else happy warms you up in a rare way.

 

Being able to give that moment to my dad is my favourite moment in sport.

 

As much as I wish it were West Coast up on the dais that day, my captain and my coach hoisting the cup. That moment with my dad was not just my favourite moment in sport but one of the purest, most beautiful moments of my life.

 

My football anxiety wasn’t there. I was not worried about my team’s efforts, I wasn’t demanding more and more and left unsatisfied. It was a perfect moment and it was enough.

 

I finally tipped the cosmic football scales back into balance. I may have discarded Richmond all those years ago but I got you into the Grand Final, Dad. We’re even.

 

And I’m not going to like it when my Eagles destroy your Tigers next weekend, I’m going to love it!

 

Balancing Acts: Women in Sport is out now through Brow Books and is in all good bookshops.

 

 

About Kasey Symons

Kasey Symons is the Women's Football Editor here at The Footy Almanac. She is also a PhD Candidate at Victoria University where her research is focused on gendered issues in sports cultures (primarily AFL) at a fan level. Kasey is a born and raised Victorian who barracks for the West Coast Eagles and yes, she knows that is weird.

Comments

  1. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Wonderful Kasey. So true about not liking footy when you are watching your team. People often ask why I’m such a Collingwood critic. It’s because following them makes me anxious, sometimes angry and often unsatisfied as the joy is indeed so fleeting and short-lived. It’s probably the same reason I keep following them ,too.
    Loved the part about how much it meant seeing your dad, happy. This is a gem of a piece.

  2. wonderful piece

  3. Jan Courtin says:

    Lovely story, Kasey

  4. Kasey Symons says:

    Thanks so much all :)

  5. Yvette Wroby says:

    Wonderful Kasey. Pure writing and pure passion. Hugs. Book is great.

  6. Peter_B says:

    Wonderful Kasey. We like someone or something because…. We love despite……….
    My dad is a similarly reserved man. 50 years later I have the strongest memory of walking down the hill on the 6th hole at Yorketown golf course and him putting his arm around my shoulder. We walked together in silence for a hundred metres or so. Feeling the warmth of the sun and the warmth of this unexpected expression of acceptance; of caring; of love.
    We were lucky enough to play golf together a few weeks ago in the Adelaide Hills with my brother. Dad is 86 and still playing twice a week in a cart. I always feel that warmth and acceptance again on a golf course. Its what we live for.

  7. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    Hi Kasey. Good to see the zeitgeist has some interesting new space for women and sport. Bravo! Your story about your Dad is superb.

    Longer term readers of this site will know that I endured some of what your father endured. When I was pregnant with my Cygnet, I knitted him red and white boots and bought a soft Swan for his bed. In the early days, a midwife told me to sing the baby the same song every night as you put them down, a kind of cue for sleep. In my exhaustion, I tried to think of a song I could face every night – ‘Cheer, cheer’ came to mind. Every night that small soul drifted into the sub and un conscious to the sounds of the ‘odds being great or be small’ to the sounds of ‘the Swans going in to win overall.’ My Cygnet had his first birthday party on the day the Swans won the 2005 premiership. An enormous day in our house. When they made the 2006 GF, we decided to go. The Cygnet was 2 and headed to the MCG in a ‘kit’ a friend had hand-appliqued – the Swans logo on a white long sleeved T. The next morning, at a friend’s brekky table, we were leafing through the papers with the solace of morning coffee. He stood on a stool in front of the table. ‘Mama?’ he asked. ‘Who are the yellow and blue ones?’ (He was a rather loquacious little beast) ‘They’re the Eagles darling,’ I replied. ‘But we go for the Swans. We don’t go for them.’ A beat’s silence was followed by, ‘I do!’ We will never know if he understood victory at that tender age. If the collision of the blue and yellow cast a spell on him. If it was an early expression of individuality. We were half proud, half sad. But it went on for four long years. Until he slipped into the red and white jersey of the Newtown Swans Under 6s. At 13, he’s not that keen for footy at all anymore. But he’s a Swans supporter nonetheless. Tips them every week without hesitation.

    On the like/love conundrum … I feel blessed to have sat for many years behind an incredible woman named Gwen. Gwen has followed the Swans in Sydney since 1982. She is as passionate as they come but she lives her passion with a unique and profound equilibrium. She rarely ever berates (Sam Reid has copped it and boy it was a shock!). She is a supporter by gentle encouragement and anticipation rather than gruff disappointment. Win or loss she is with the team in the same way and awaits the next game with interest. Observing her for many years has taught me about joining the love and like experiences of watching my team, about the profundity of the long term that is not so beholden to high highs and low lows. Which is not to say that I do not feel disappointment or frustration in spades or that I do not give full voice to joy and pride. But I am much less possessed by the kinds of wrenching anxiety you describe. Especially in the stands behind my lighthouse Gwen. It’s a beautiful way to watch footy. Maybe that’s what your Dad tapped into by necessity. And what a shining release the premiership must have been.

    Cheer cheer.

  8. Kasey Symons says:

    Thanks Peter, what a beautiful moment with your dad. These are indeed the moments we cherish.

    MdH – thank you for lovely words ad for sharing those stories, though I’m sad to see the Eagles’ hold on your son was short lived! Gwen sounds like an incredible woman, if could learn to enjoy the game like her I think I would be a much happier supporter! Thanks again xoxo

  9. Luke Reynolds says:

    That’s a superb piece Kasey.
    Enjoyed having the visual of you watching your Dad at a short distance in the Grand Final.
    I have invested hundreds of hours (under the guise of “spending quality time!”) ensuring my young children also follow my team. Working well so far, but can’t take these things for granted!

  10. Kasey Symons says:

    Thanks very much Luke :)
    I hope your kids stay true – and it’s definitely quality time!

  11. DBalassone says:

    Thanks for this, Kasey. Beautiful piece. I could see it all clearly.

  12. Kasey Symons says:

    Cheers DB :)

  13. Exceptional capturing and great read Kasey xx congrats xx Julie J

  14. Kasey Symons says:

    Thank you Julie xo
    lots of love xx

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