By Peter Zitterschlager
I can recall the incident vividly. It was the 1990 grand final and I was watching the mayhem feverishly at a BBQ. In the midst of a titanic passage, Terry Daniher cleaned up Gavin Brown and all hell broke loose. Like a just opened can of wildly shaken fizzy drink, a verbal barrage sprayed out of me. It contained obscenities, profanities, atrocities – blasphemies so appalling it would have made Gordon Ramsey wilt. Having then leapt out of my chair, I found myself hunched before the T.V.. My nose just inches away from the screen, I egged on the 36 player, mega-melee that ensued. My teeth gnashed, my mouth frothed and reptilian scales morphed on my skin. I was like a wild animal with a nasty case of rabies – boring into the punch-on crystallizing wondrously before me. The longer it went, the more berserk I became. “Kill the @$%&,” I seethed; “@$%& the @$%&,” I bayed. Soothingly, a whole weeks worth of job dissatisfaction oozed from me. It was purging and cleansing and healing. It was revitalizing and restorative and fortifying. It was everything you want out of football, damn it. And crazily enough, it wasn’t even a game involving my team (I go for Footscray.) In the end, the umpires regained control and I returned to my seat. It was then that the real drama started:
“I’m going home,” whined one of the girlfriends, dismayed by my behavior.
I looked around, and to my horror. I noticed a number of ashen-faced expressions around the room. What the @$%&, I thought. These were friends of friends and people not really into footy – theatergoer types who only watch the occasional game. You know (as I’m sure I thought at the time): pains in the arses.
For the rest of the afternoon, I watched this great grand final as though there was a 2000-pound elephant in the room. The girlfriend had gone home and her theatergoer boyfriend followed in tow. Everyone looked at me as though I’d ruined their day. Ha, that’s a laugh, I thought. I ruined their day! Chastised like, I thereon minded my p’s and q’s, checked my inner nut and basically kowtowed to the expectations of polite society. It was a @$%&ing drag. (And damn it, I swore I’d never forgive them for it.)
Not reading the writing on the wall, I attended further grand final BBQ’s over the next few years. Alas, they always turned out pretty much like this. There would always be your lame-arsed peripheral type who stymied you from cutting loose. They usually spent more time socializing than watching, and if things ever got rabid, they’d recoil in horror. I grew to greatly resent them. Because of their genteel natures, I had to watch grand finals like I was stuck at my Aunt’s; because of their prissiness, football was now morphing into tennis (and this on the most important day of the year!). I decided that enough was enough.
About 15 years ago, I started to turn down BBQ invitations. It put a few noses out of joint, but what the hell. When I explained that I preferred to watch grand finals alone, they looked at me strangely. I guessed that they thought it was rather pathetic to want to watch a match by yourself. Be that as it may, it’s what I wanted. “It’s a lifestyle choice,” I told them good-humouredly at the time.
By now watching grand finals on my own, I was able to immerse myself in their sacredness. I didn’t have the distraction of mates blabbering on about mate blabbering things; I didn’t have the annoyance of friends of friends getting between me and my inner nut. It was football without mosquitoes.
Indeed, watching on my own has proved to be an exercise in indulgence: it’s like being a chocoholic with a pack of Tim Tam’s. I have the radio going, the T.V. going and the sports section of all three newspapers out in front of me. I’m incubated in a world of all things football. I’m Charlie in Wonka’s chocolate factory; I’m Caligula at a Roman Orgy (or at least I think I am?)
It’s football with extra lashings of cream; it’s footy stuffed in a feedbag wrapped around your face. It’s 24/7, it’s double servings, it’s unadulterated and high in saturated fats. It’s everything that grand final day should be and anything less now just won’t do. (And it doesn’t!)
In short, I can’t tell you how much I love it, but I’ll try: I love it, I lieb it, I have it down as one of my all time favorite things. Moreover, there’s no argument that could be made that could sway my perspective. I’ve proved it scientifically.
On occasion, I have since erred and watched grand finals with mates. As it was just pals, we were able to go nutty, so a good time was had by all. All the same, I later wished that I’d gone at it alone. I found that there was too much mucking around and that their jocularity was out of place. Laugh riots that my mates are, their company is best appreciated in home and away matches. In this environment, their camaraderie is central and the game is the backdrop. There’s a balance. In September, however, their quips and wisecracks get in the way. Again, laugh riot that they are, they are miscast as grand final companions. It’s like having the Marx brothers in a Ridley Scott film. I mean, punch lines are great, but not around Aliens.
I later ran into the girlfriend of the theatergoer all those years back. I subsequently apologized to her and explained that I had really forgotten myself. She accepted the apology and that was that. Reflectively, I will be thinking of her this grand final day. I’ll have her on my mind every time I leap from the couch or swing from the rafters. Indeed, I’ll have her in my consciousness every time I scream at the screen. And when I smash the remote, or hurl a cushion or swear to dismember an umpire, I’ll be sure to eke her a reminiscence. It might be overly deferential I know, but heck, that’s just the kind of guy I am. All the same, I won’t forget that she had me in a straightjacket back then; I won’t forget that she didn’t get football and had me in a padded cell. I can forgive, but I won’t forget. But that’s another matter.