It’s as dark as night on Wednesday morning in Sydney. A roof has fallen in on the main street. Trees are falling out of the ground on the nature strips; they lie wrapped on the footpaths in SES tape. At home, everything is wet: floorboards, shoes, bed sheets, washing. Even the cat feels damp. There’s a sort of steamy glumness to the city.
Last weekend’s Under 14 Division 2 cricket semi was washed out. A few diligent families stood under the awning at Beaman Park on Saturday morning and watched the puddles fill. I turned to the team manager and whispered: ‘It’s not a good sign when you come to the cricket in your gumboots.’ Two delusional coaches stood head to head out in the centre under their umbrellas. We could only assume they were deliberating as to whether we’d get any play in. While the players themselves, shoes off and pants rolled, were frolicking in the drowned outfields with the team’s border collie, Banjo. We were home making chicken stock by 9am. And there won’t be any more cricket.
I haven’t given more than a glance to footy in the off season except to partake in the women’s game. With Dad away on a five week working stint in the USA, the Cygnet and I watched the first ever Women’s AFL match together. We parked devout on that first February Friday with dinner on our knees. We even watched the pre-show. And when the women of Carlton and Collingwood ran up the stairs at Ikon Park and headed for a banner, I cried unannounced tears. For the players – these women – for the moment they were a part of, what it must have meant to them, for the support they were receiving, for the public rituals of the game they were suddenly a part of, for the joy that accompanied their entrance, for the sheer visibility of women doing what they love, with capacity.
We watched the first quarter eagerly. How did they move the ball, how hard did they bump? How well did they know each other? We giggled at the careful treading of commentary, tripping on the odd well-known: ‘Look at D’Arcy. She’s sticking to her man.’ We started to follow a name or two. Hoped for Moana, whooped at Darcy V. And perhaps what was best of all was this – within two quarters, the Cygnet was prone with his book and I was pottering through Friday tidy, the game our background noise. It’s just how we watch all end-of-week footy if our Swans aren’t on the park. Nothing could have been more normal than the girls on a Friday night.
By Saturday in late February, the Cygnet and I came in from trapeze and the sort of conditioning session these girls probably go through. He needed carbs. We settled into the second half of the Dogs v Collingwood. Mo had kicked a goal. Collingwood were up. We watched, we ate. He read. And half way through the last quarter he piped up:
‘It’s hard isn’t it?’
‘What is?’ I asked.
We watched a few moments more as Collingwood forced stoppages midfield.
‘It is, isn’t it? It’s more raw than the men’s game.’
‘I guess they all have day jobs too,’ the Cygnet added.
‘Yup. These girls don’t train full time.’
The Bulldogs moved the ball off a chance but it broke down at half forward.
‘It’s rougher than the men’s game,’ he finished.
‘Is it really?’ I asked. ‘Or do we just perceive that it’s rougher because they are women and we don’t get to see women being publically physical like this.’
‘No,’ said the Cygnet. I completely misjudged him. ‘I mean rough as in not so pristine. Not so slick. It’s rougher and so it’s fun to watch. I can imagine playing that way.’
The women’s game brought weeks of these kinds of subtleties. Weeks of chat about low scores and equal opportunities. Games of semantics with my Cygnet: AFLW versus WAFL – ‘Shouldn’t the men’s game then be AFLM, Mum?’ Weeks of wondering about all the historical ways women have been positioned in versions of non-existence, taught and diligently learnt uncertainty and self limitation. Weeks of conversations with a 12 year old boy who has just started high school and is creeping towards young adulthood, about what it takes to hone skills, about the amount of support and belief you need, how slow that build can be, how success can be measured by myriad markers.
And now we’re back to the blokes. Full circle. Maybe this season will feel a little different for the pre that has ceded it.
The Swans were at Circular Quay yesterday morning, metres from my workplace. But I don’t work Tuesdays. And I’m kind of glad. I’m like the groom this week who doesn’t want to see his bride until the big day. Not even keen to look at the list. I know the fire-starters Heeney and Rohan will be missing but I hear there are kids already pencilled on the starting line. And we’ll have our new Captain K and our triple pronged vices, our inked in Callum and our inked up Buddy, married and fit. And that’ll do til Saturday.
It’s supposed to rain and storm up to and into game day. There will be umbrellas alongside the beers at our feet. The concrete of the O’Reilly risks to be mossy. But we’ll make our way and start all over again. It’s autumn and Port are coming to play.