Sometimes we all need a reminder about why we love footy.
For some people, they may need this gentle nudge weekly. Over the weekend, at AFL level, many Hawthorn, St Kilda and Essendon supporters may have felt the need to stop loving footy, or question the relationship they have with the game.
Elsewhere, Richmond supporters may have fallen back in love, or continued with their stated desire to see other people for the rest of 2012, regardless of how the unpredictable temptress lures us back.
I had an experience yesterday that made me remember why I love footy. Not loving a match, not a team, not a player associated with footy.
But the game itself.
I am lucky to have loved a woman for over 17 years of marriage and through our courtship, and as much as I tell her everyday, sometimes it is great when you still get that jolt that reminds you just how lucky you are, or that you love something so much that you’ve known for so long.
Now, it would be wrong to compare feeling that with a sport, but that’s what I got yesterday.
I’ll admit that it came from a win, and you tend to look at things with rosier glasses after collecting the four points. But enough things happened yesterday to make me feel that regardless of the outcome, I’m loving footy.
So this isn’t ‘sing when you’re winning’ or fair weather supporting. It isn’t short term memory after a poor season or the roller coaster emotions that go with walking on air one week to cooking your membership card in the microwave the next.
No, this is being reminded what a great game, sport and set of experiences footy is, the people involved in it, the impact it has, the role it plays, and just how lucky some of us are to be involved.
As readers may know, I have been an Under 12 coach this year, with little scoreboard success. Yesterday was the final round of the season, with any result not shifting us from the wooden spoon.
But we had set ourselves for this final match weeks ago. Our opponent, the proud and well led Fitzroy team (more of the role they played in my rekindling later) had represented our nadir in mid-season when they smashed us in a game that still sends shivers down the spines of our families.
It wasn’t the score, as we’ve had worse losses, but the manner in which we competed which was unbelievably disappointing. We were beaten by a team that wanted to play more than us, let alone wanted to win more than we did.
So, 5 weeks, out, knowing that in 2 of the last 4 games we would play the top two sides and last year’s Grand Finalists and be doing it tough, we have been preparing to finish the season on a winning note.
Over the year, our players (and I) had witnessed much that made us possibly question our love of footy. Readers may recall a piece I recently wrote sharing the behaviour of a goal umpire, in which our players were exposed to how much football means to some people and what that does to their moral compass.
They’ve been sledged with appalling language by other 12 year olds, heard comments over the fence that were violent and upsetting and looked up at the scoreboard to see completely one sided results occur before their eyes, seemingly powerless to stop it.
But what they saw yesterday was a fitting end to the season.
It wasn’t the scoreboard, although the win made it better. It was the entire match, the spirit, behaviour and atmosphere that told us all, young and old, that we are lucky to be part of a game like this.
Maybe it’s because the Fitzroy team wear such a famous, bold, strong and stunning jumper. Maybe it’s because the ghosts of past Royboy legends still lurk around their home ground. Maybe the true essence of the game have been instilled in these young men by their President, a fellow Almanacker, who made a point of tracking me down before the game for a chat. Maybe they have had their own family values reinforced by their coach, who whilst I have only met briefly after our games, impresses tremendously as a leader and guide of young men, with a true love of the game and what it stands for.
On a sunny morning, with the 2 goal wind favouring the scoreboard and changing rooms end, with two teams with nothing to play for but pride, yesterday saw the hardest fought and fairest game I have ever seen of junior football. Despite crashing bodies, desperate tackles, long goals from speculative attempts taken by the wind, missed shots into the teeth of the breeze and frantic parents and coaches yelling all morning, the game was played in the true competitive spirit. Hard, fair, decent, tough, everything we’d expect but not always see.
Our opponents had families there in all the Lions gear, scarves and jumpers, bringing back wonderful memories for those like me who remember Superboot, Irwin, Wilson, Barwick and Conlan at the Junction Oval on a Saturday.
To say the result meant nothing insults the participants. To hear our song being sung with gusto puts paid to the phrase ‘dead rubber’. To see the dignity with which our opponents saw through their hurt at finishing the season with a loss to look us in the eye and mean ever word of their congratulations, shows you there’s hope for footy.
In 90 minutes, we saw everything good about footy.
The Olympics at present are full of angst over finishing anywhere but first. Teams do what they can to lose or manipulate results and change their performance to make life easier for themselves. Supporters at all levels of the game get aggressive from the cheap seats.
I hadn’t fallen out of love with footy. I stopped loving some matches and some sides.
But it took a group of 12 year olds, playing in Hawthorn and Fitzroy jumpers, to jolt me from my malaise and look across the couch at a familiar face and realise, gee I’m lucky to have this in my life.