If I remember Melbourne, I remember footy. I remember that footy is ubiquitous and omnipresent. I remember that it defines the rhythms of the city. I remember the visuality of footy: the bold type of newspaper headlines adorned with players and clubs names. The generic footy attire and the bravado with which it is worn. “I’m going to the footy; I’m part of the team. I have had my beers, my steak. I’m going to the footy.” Going to the footy takes on a particularly assertive gait; “get out of my way, the footpath is mine and me mates.”
Footy is geographical; it makes its own space. Footy is personal, local and national. Footy occupies the space of its consumer; it’s watcher and its producer. One watches the game amongst a crowd: swamped by the shouting of others, by the collective flow of the mass of bodies. One becomes smaller in the emptiness of a stadium’s concrete and steel. This is the voluntary loneliness of the woman or man of the crowd. The fan in the crowd is muted as an individual, but, his team scores and he and thousands of others shout as one. The players channel this power; allowing those in the stadiums to vicariously live out their sense of achievement. And thus, the further the fan moves away from the stadium, the more depressed he becomes – regardless of the performance of his team. Beers at nearby pubs prolong the realisation that their achievement of the team wasn’t his.
Footy’s sounds are mobile: its commentary emerging from a car’s speakers as the driver flicks through radio stations finding something to amuse him or herself. It can be turned off quickly; it can be reduced to one sound amongst many. While watching the game in a domestic space the commentary mixes with the sounds of cooking; phone calls, socialising, family members making claims on one’s attention. An obfuscation of attention. The commentators mediate one’s enjoyment of the game; something that almost seems pure while at the game. And yet some, perhaps many, want it both ways: being present and listening to radio commentary. As if they’re checking the veracity of the commentator’s representation of events.
The dramas of footy are grand-narratives: us versus them, our history versus our present, our rise and our fall. One team rises at the expense of another. A player moves from being a rookie, an unknown player with an unfamiliar name, to being the bearer of hopes of clubs with unfortunate and un-winning histories. He becomes a representative of the club upon whose aspirations he carries disproportionately. The hero has a life beyond footy – but that is beside the point to the fans. By playing for a club, he surrenders his privacy – his claims to his self. The player is subject to the grand-narratives bestowed upon him by the media which watches in sharp degrees of criticism and praise. A middle path, an unspectacular career, is a hard journey to forge. To not become the player others expected you to become is a mass betrayal; a breaking of a promise that one never made. The fans are merciless; abuse is shameless.
A stadium sucks in its visitors and the so-called supporters. These are the people on which a club is built, funded and maintained – to a degree. The stadium is a walled environment which holds a contradictory and ambivalent relationship with that outside its walls. It’s as if particular rules apply to the behaviour of the crowd on the inside. Those who sit in the crowd demand greatness from those who wear the uniforms and become players in the club’s rise and fall. Supports though demand more than greatness: perhaps, it is beauty and the sublime. And they have to do it; to perform beneath the sublime is to show contempt to the audience, to not return the trust and hope invested in them. Those who wear the uniforms hardly play the game: they work the game: it’s a privilege to be praised and recognized publicly, but, the expectations of the fans are heavy.
The expectations on the players contrasts with their own behaviour: to act as a mass that in turns abuses, shouts and derides the players and those around oneself, all the while eating buckets of chips and swilling cheap and weak beer. Within the walls, members of the crowd denounce players, telling them that they are shit and useless. Often, race is recognised. To be anything other than fearless and reckless is to be gay, a poofta, a faggot. The walls of the stadium are a means for permitting a transgression of ethics and decorum. The effort to weaken this transformative power of the walls is countered by those who seek to assert the game’s singularity and difference. And some players increasingly say enough is enough: don’t be racist and bigoted towards me. And these are the iconic moments in which footy refuses to be separated from society.
If I remember footy, I can’t separate it from the real and imagined space of Melbourne: with its grounds, its acts of play in suburban parks, the tension of a game at its first bounce, the singular abuse from an angry fan, the united cheers of the victorious team’s supporters. The fans of clubs draw a line in the cityscape as they come from their suburban homes into the city’s centre and spill out of train stations and exit tram doors. This sporting geography has its own soundscape made up of the commentary, the radios, the chatter on public transport. The stadiums in which footy is worked by professionals, the parks in which suburban footy is played by rank amateurs; these are the sources of endless dreams, longing and memories.