Round 15 – Essendon v Melbourne: Christmas in July

 

Of all the things I’ve endured as an Essendon supporter over the last two and a half years, last Wednesday, as I sat down to do my footy tips for Round 15, I endured my darkest day. I tipped Melbourne to beat my Bombers. Reality hit me right between the eyes – Melbourne were favourites to beat us. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this hurt so much, but maybe it’s because despite the off field drama of the last couple of years, we’ve done enough on field to give rise to hope. Enough to let that off field mess stay quiet in the background for a few hours each weekend. Sadly, as this season has gone on, those couple of hours on the weekend feel like they’ve meshed with the off field despair. Our problems have been laid bare.

So I tipped Melbourne last Wednesday, knowing that I still had a couple of days to change my mind. My mind swirled and by Friday I let heart take over head and I changed my tip to the Bombers. It wasn’t that I was confident, it was just that, morally, I couldn’t tip Melbourne to beat us. The concept felt absurd.

Game day arrived and I knew I wouldn’t be watching the whole game, for it was on the same day as ‘Surprise Saturday’, a relatively new tradition amongst a couple of friends where we take turns in organising a surprise day for the group. It was my turn, and I had opted for Christmas in July. So the game was going to have to fit in around my frantic attempts to transform my house into a festive wonderland without anyone finding out, even my wife.

Surprise Saturday started at 2.00pm. The Essendon versus Melbourne game started at 1.40pm. So at about 1.38pm I had a moment to sit and watch the pre-match on TV. The players were milling around a seemingly empty and definitely cold MCG, putting the finishing touches on their warm ups. The TV then flashed a small graphic showing the result of the last five games between the two teams. Essendon had won only one of them. It was true, Melbourne had been something of a bogey side for us in recent times, even when we were supposedly travelling well and them not so much. At the moment of truth, as the players began to take their places, I decided to change my tip back to Melbourne. I launched across the couch to reach my phone, and flicked across the screens to find my footy tips app. A siren sounded at the MCG. That’s just the precursory siren I said to myself, there’s still time. I got through, clicked on Melbourne, and hurriedly clicked ‘submit tips’. The screen refreshed. Was it accepted? No, I’d just missed out. I was with the Bombers, whether I liked it or not.

I spent the early minutes of the game questioning my loyalty. Perhaps this was karma for showing no faith? Although that’s hardly fair either, faith has kept me on board this far, surely that counts for something. Early exchanges between the sides seemed tentative, like the start of a boxing match, the two combatants dancing around, offering the occasional exploratory jab but mainly just assessing their opponent and warming into the contest.

Surprise Saturday began, and my focus on the football was gone. I sent my wife and friends off to warm café, a deliberate curve ball to give me time to set up the house but also give them time to speculate, and build the suspense. In the previous four incarnations of Surprise Saturday, the group had never been split up in such a fashion. It was a bold move, yet entirely necessary. As they headed off for wine and hot chips by the fire, I raced, with 16-month-old son in tow, to my parents’ house where I would trade my aforementioned son for a Christmas tree and boxes of decorations. The trade also involved a Christmas pudding and bon bons, veritable contraband at this time of year. In the last few weeks mum had been like an enthusiastic counterfeit watch dealer. During our covert phone conversations (no text message or email trail could be created) she’d spruik her wares, ‘you want some mulled wine?’, ‘I’ve got Christmas serviettes, you want serviettes?’

Trade completed, I rushed back home, turned on the TV and started decorating. I had just under an hour before the café goers got back. The football see-sawed, and without the time to properly observe it, the game was distracting me, making me nervous. So I did something probably more blasphemous than tipping Melbourne to beat your team… I turned the TV sound down and put some Christmas carols on the stereo.

As Bublé opened with It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas, calm spread through me like a general anaesthetic. It was a joyous moment. Even normally frustrating tasks like untangling Christmas lights seemed less stressful. I stole occasional glances at the TV and it seemed the game was continuing its early see-saw pattern. To be honest, how would I actually know, I was just getting snippets of the contest while I ran around the house setting tables, pinning lollies to small trees, wrestling with tinsel, and putting presents under the tree. But what I was seeing I was liking. Joe Daniher seemed to be putting his imprint on the game. I kept looking up to see him taking marks and kicking goals.

 

Ged McMahon's living room  with his Christmas in July preparations are in full swing

Ged McMahon’s living room with his Christmas in July preparations are in full swing

 

I love the way Joey celebrates each of his goals. There’s a genuine youthful enthusiasm written all over his face as he bounces around and embraces his teammates. Unlike the showy and seemingly staged celebrations of some other players, there should be more of it. I don’t want to bash metaphors over your head, but considering some Essendon fans see Joey as the messiah, and I was preparing a Christmas surprise, maybe this game was the birth of Joey Daniher ­– goal kicking giant for the mighty red and black. Maybe.

Time remains in the game but time is running out for me. Mum and dad arrive to drop off my son. That was not a bad trade in retrospect – I get all the contraband and also get to keep my son. Merry Christmas. As soon as my parents leave, the café goers return. The timing was like a Tony Modra leap – perfect.

The café goers are suitably surprised which is good. Unsurprisingly, surprise is a key ingredient to Surprise Saturday. They open their presents, colourful Christmas jumpers for all, and then it’s tactfully suggested that the carols get turned down and the TV turned up for the last quarter. To continue the earlier boxing analogy, the final quarter is less about exploratory jabs and more about desperate attempts to score as many points as possible before the final bell. Wild swings are thrown by both teams. One of my guests is a Dees supporter. After one Demons goal she rises from the couch and does a little excited dance. It looks more like an ‘I’m busting to go to the toilet’ dance to me, but I’ll allow it. After all, it’s Christmas.

It’s a mad frantic scramble. It’s stressful. So stressful, in fact, that a part of me yearns for some more Bublé. With three minutes remaining, we lead by just three points. It’s anyone’s game. But then it happens… Joey takes a mark, goes back and kicks the goal. It’s his fifth straight for the game and it’s the sealer. I know his dad’s name is Tony and his mum’s name is Joanne, but right at that moment I was willing to put on a ridiculous coat, ride a camel for days through inhospitable terrain, and lay a gift of frankincense at the foot of baby Joey’s manger. I don’t even know what frankincense is but I’d find out just for him. And I’d pay extra for gift wrapping too.

We got the win, and the festive spirit continued into the night. My present, although not wrapped under the tree, was the correct tip that deep down I knew I didn’t deserve.

 

About Ged McMahon

Ged McMahon has been a Bombers fan for as long as he can remember. With a Grandpa who grew up just a spiralling torpedo punt from Windy Hill he didn’t have much choice. When his junior football career resulted in almost as many possessions as games he eventually had to bite the bullet and give up his dream of captaining the Bombers to a Premiership. So his weekly footy fix became confined to the stands. He yearns for the next Premiership.

Comments

  1. Pamela Sherpa says:

    I laughed when I read this Ged. How times have changed . Surprise Saturday – what a classic . The AFL should be worried that there are alternatives to football! I travelled down from NSW to go to the game . Although I expected it to be a pretty ordinary game (which it was) I had been excited for weeks about going to the MCG for a game of footy on a a Saturday afternoon. I had a great time catching up with relatives and friends and how ironic, that despite such a poor standard game the end result was exciting.

  2. Sue McMahon says:

    What a wonderful story Ged. I enjoyed being the counterfeit watch dealer. Love Sal

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