General Footy Writing: Song of the Zealot

By Anson Cameron

In the photo I am shouting. My mouth wide and my nose hooking down and an eyebrow arched, creasing my forehead. My temples are clotted with vein and my face is red. My body wracked with a weird voltage. I am shouting the one word capable of telling this story. I am shouting the word ‘yes’. Or, more accurately, ‘YEEEESSSS’. Ten-seconds long and irrefutable and mindless.

You can only really scream like this when your zealotry is camouflaged in the risen lunacy of a mass of other fans. Out in the open, in a solo performance, no sane man or woman could stand and deliver this.

The photo was taken at the 2007 Grand Final. Late in the first quarter Jimmy Bartel slotted a left foot snap and I knew we’d won. As soon as the ball went through I was out there beyond the rational into joy. At that moment it meant everything. But what led to that moment to allow it to mean so much?

The thousand losses, I suppose. The innumerable near misses. The stars that shone before their hamstrings went. The long-held fear that victory would elude us always.

Barracking for a football team is hereditary, as a rule. You usually get it from the male parent. For a long time I thought barracking for Geelong a genetic defect, some chromosomal abnormality like Klinefelter’s Syndrome. Something my Dad gave me to be borne and suffered through, something to toughen me up. It was as if Dad had named me Sue.

We sat side-by-side at the 1989, 1992 and 1994 Grand Finals and they were something to be borne. The sort of days that can turn you as stone-faced and fatalistic as a farmer. Then he died in May ’95, and as I sat at the MCG watching the Blues poleaxe the Cats in the Grand Final that year I was almost relieved. It wouldn’t have been justice for us to miss out by those few months. Too Burke and Wills.

In some clinical, rational part of my brain I know the Cats aren’t inherently a better group of men than any other football team. Nothing sets them apart as more worthy humans than, say, the God-awful Hawks. I know the world won’t be improved by the Cats beating the Hawks. But it’s only a truth I know. It’s not a truth I can feel. I feel the other truth: that the Cats are different, better, fairer, chosen. In the folklore of every people is the implication that they are chosen.

You could analyse this belief. You could open it up to see what it’s made of the same way you cut open a rat to see what makes it work. But, like the rat, it will die in the process. And after you’ve analysed the mystical beauty of the Cats, what’s next? What passion are you going to deconstruct then? Are you going to analyse love? Maybe my wife is no better than other women. Maybe love is just another form of barracking. Maybe my mother isn’t a better mother than other mothers. You shake your head at these possibilities. No. The wife is peerless. The mother is how they all should be. The Cats are chosen.

I suppose it’s as simple as committing to something. A woman, a cause, a team … it lays you bare for ecstasy or tragedy. You might get one and you might get the other. But if you want ecstasy you have to commit, walk the wire, open yourself to ruination.

You commit to a woman and you probably land on your feet one-in-three times. The AFL is a meaner environment. You commit to a team today and you can really only expect to land on your feet one year in sixteen. And the AFL, those bastards, are adding teams willy nilly, lengthening your odds. Victory, then, becomes a thrice-a-lifetime event. How many orgasms do you think you will have in your life? How many wonderful journeys will you take? How many people will you love? How many really good dogs will you own? The AFL has decreed you will have three moments of ultimate football glory. You better scream.

Some might deny the poignancy of a Cat win. Some might say it doesn’t matter a whit. That great events and fierce currents surround us and we ought to focus on these.  But the heart is addicted to romance, and I know this: in fifty years the histories will tell of Howard and Rudd, of 9-11 and greenhouse, but the people will reminisce about Franklin and Ablett.

Yes.

Comments

  1. Stainless says:

    Anson

    Wow!

    Let me be the first to acknowledge a superb piece of writing. I doubt if anyone has summed up better than this what it means to follow a team with all your heart and all your passion. So irrational but so right.

    However, I so hope you’re wrong about the three moments of ultimate glory. I listened to every minute of the 1973 Grand Final on the radio and was there in 1974 and 1980. Does this mean all my screaming was done – at age 16??

  2. Anson, wonderful. Another emancipated Cat. I had never witnessed (live) Cat’s win from the 1967 GF as a 13 year old living in Tasmania. In about twenty games over 40 years I had never sung the song. I carried my handbag to Melb on the early Friday flight, to the Parade, to bed that night, to the breakfast next day and to the “G”. I didn’t yell yes after Bartel kicked his goal, but after Stevie J kicked the opener of the second quarter I stood and waved my hand bag for the rest of the day. I left my hand bag (blue and white ribbons attached) as it was no longer required and ventured to see the players at the boundary then catch a train to Geelong. I am a much more mellow Cat supporter these days. It appears I am not alone. Phantom.

  3. Anson, just wanted to say your Launch speech was magnificent. I’m not sure I can recall having heard a better speech, ever! Thanks for making it a great night. Gigs. (He of the “Stealing Picasso = Pies slain. Go Cats!” anagram.

  4. Anson – fabulous launch speech last night at the Clyde Hotel. I left feeling like a complete football tragic and borderline lunatic – which I suspect is what you were trying to achieve.

    JTH and Daff – well launched. In years to come there might be Beijing or Cape Town Almanac launches. Who knows!

  5. Steve Fahey says:

    I concur with Gigs and Dips. A cracking night, and an unbelievably toe-poking good launch speech by Anson. So good that at one stage my partner was so tickled that she spurted her mouthful of red wine all over our highly unimpressed thirteen year-old daughter. Other than that incident my daughter thoroughly enjoyed the speech and made multiple new learnings, some of which I had previously anticipated wouldn’t come her way for several years to come !!

    Many thanks to Paul and John for their work on the book. May it sell like the proverbial hot cakes. Many thanks to everyone involved with last night.

  6. Great speech the other night Anson, i had no idea half the time what you were on about but it was still the funniest thing i’ve heard.

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