by Sean Gorman
I began a conversation with my seven year old son two years ago. That conversation continued yesterday when he played in one of the little league games as part of the half time action at the MCG on ANZAC day.
It was the way the conversation started when he was five that I had to stop and take a moment to digest what he had said. What it meant. By that age he had been talking for some time. The questions he asked were rather philosophical: “Where does history go when it stops”? “Does Santa live with the Easter Bunny”? “Is f*** a bad word”? Fairly typical for a five year old trying to negotiate the world through language and the confusion and realities it creates. But on this occasion the conversation he instigated had no words at all.
It occurred on a Sunday morning in our tiny front yard in Brunswick. I had whipper-snipped the lawn into a scruffy short back and sides when he suggested he put on his footy boots and we have a kick. I nodded and he ran inside emerging with his Freo jumper with the number 33 on it. He announced that he was Jeffrey Farmer and I was Jeffrey’s dad. I tried to garner some enthusiasm as in previous kick-to-kicks Jeffrey had become frustrated quickly with his inability to execute a passable punt. They would either slew off the side of his boot or fly through the air like a wounded duck.
Jeffrey’s strategy for dealing with his disappointment to my frustration in the past was to retire to the ease of the lounge and watch a DVD. I changed my strategy for dealing with this. I tried to crack a few jokes and make it fun rather than do what my father did with me and go down the gruff old school “hold the ball with both hands, lace out” routine.
As we stood there on that crisp Sunday morning we were nothing more than a father and son about to do what happens and has happened in millions of Australian households for over a hundred years. Jeffrey picked up his little synthetic Sherrin. I expected his usual pre-kick gait that resembled a three-second Riverdance jig complete with tongue poking out the corner of his mouth. But this time he did something different. He just looked at his foot, dropped it onto his left, lent back and allowed the momentum of his action and the movement of his body to synchronize. As the ball left his boot time literally stood still as the flight of that rubbery spheroid was a perfect, direct drop punt. I did not have to move or think. There was no sound, no world around us. We existed in a space where the flight of a ball was the only thing and it was about to connect us in a very special way. As the ball came towards me I simply put my hands out and placed my thumbs gently inward to retard its progress. Like all wonderful things, I wish it could have just gone for just one second longer as I was not prepared for it. The beauty and poignancy of his statement was like many of the best things in life, even life itself, too fleeting.
I cannot speak for Jeffrey but as soon as the ball’s flight was complete the Great Southern Stand in my mind erupted. I danced like a fool. I jumped like I was in a Toyota ad. I reckon in that moment Jeffrey saw in my eye what my father must have seen in his years ago: a reflection of themselves. It is in that moment a statement is made. A silent articulation but one that speaks about the potential for further engagement and connection. Hence a conversation begins and it is through the actual discussion of football and its many associated themes and issues that a sense of identity and community can be made.
Football always begins with something other than just a siren and a whistle. It is predicated on an idea, a suggestion, a question, a statement. It is the catalyst of the conversation around the photocopier, the bragging on the tram, the pre-game analysis in the paper. As for Jeffrey he has talked about football a great deal in his short life. And he will continue to do so. Playing in the Auskick game he had three kicks, one on the run and two free kicks. He will always be able to say he played on the MCG in the ANZAC Day game. The girl he is keen on may not believe him or the bloke he is having a bit of banter with might say “Bullshit!” But he will be speaking the truth. But in the meantime he will at some stage simply say “can we go and have a kick now?” And the conversation will begin again.