A Footy Newcomer’s Story: Discovering a Surprise Interest in AFL Footy

If four years ago someone had told me that I would soon have a passionate interest in AFL football I would have given them a very puzzled look and raised eyebrow. They would have probably been met with the same look had they suggested any sporting code for that matter. You see, growing up on farms near the regional town of Narrabri in New South Wales’s north west, I was not what you’d call a sporty kid. Sure, I would occasionally watch a game of something and like it, but sport was never something I had any great enthusiasm for. In that part of the world the dominant code is Rugby League, something I certainly never saw the appeal in.

 

So, in 2016 when I decided to move to Melbourne both to study and live, my uncle Sam (who writes for the Almanac as ‘Stainless’) suggested that “If you’re going to live here you’ve got to get along to the footy at some point”. Knowing how strong an interest Sam had in it, I decided I should try it at least once. This would by no means be my first experience with AFL as I had watched a handful of games in the past on television while on holiday down in Melbourne, all grand finals (2006, 2008 and 2010), but I still had barely any understanding of the game beyond a lot of kicking and jumping. Once I’d committed to going to a game Sam made the strong suggestion that it shouldn’t be a Richmond game. Though a fiercely loyal and long-time Tigers supporter, he thought it not a good idea for my first at-ground experience of footy to be one where his emotional investment was at high levels, especially given where the Tigers were at in 2016. We decided instead to go to a game between two of the then strongest looking teams in the comp, and Hawthorn v Sydney in Round 9 looked to be an ideal choice.

 

Sam hadn’t expected my first game to garner much of a response beyond “Yeah, interesting”, but how wrong and surprised he would be. Prior to the game I made sure to do research on the competition, the game’s history, and each team’s unique story and I came to develop a sudden enthusiasm. Then came the game itself, where my uncle had anticipated me taking sides with the Swans due to my New South Wales heritage, but to his surprise I ended up siding with Hawthorn that night. In my research I had come to umm and arr over which team I’d eventually support; one of my cousins suggested the best method for a newcomer picking a team was to “go with whoever you like the colours, song, and location of the most”. Sydney, Hawthorn, St Kilda and Richmond ended up on the shortlist but ultimately at the time it seemed Hawthorn were the most promising of those, and one I’d soon see. Though on the night the Hawks ultimately proved unsuccessful I ended up coming away from the game amazed at how much I enjoyed it. Though I had watched a bit in the past, AFL completely sucked me in with its pace, unpredictability, dynamics, excitement and all-round high entertainment value. As unexpected as it was, my interest soon stuck.

 

As I continued to follow footy my focus stayed primarily on Hawthorn’s efforts, but I would soon begin contemplating other possibilities before fully cementing my team alignment. Being that the main football followers of my Melbourne based family (my uncle Sam and his two sons Tom and Bill) were fiercely loyal Richmond supporters, their cause became greatly sympathetic to me. I remember thinking of how long and hard the team they followed had suffered, how amazing it would be when success finally came, and how much I wanted to be a part of if it when it did. The flames of this feeling were further fanned when I came across the up until then unseen (by me) highlights of Richmond’s win over Sydney in Round 8, where Sam Lloyd won the game with a goal after the siren. Then came my first Richmond game, Round 17 against Essendon, where I found the enthusiasm of the song-singing at game’s end to be a lot more inspiring than at any other game I had experienced up until then (though unsurprising in hindsight considering Richmond’s song). I also recall that game had me wanting the Tigers to get the win more strongly than nearly every other game I’d watched prior. Slowly but ever more surely, I felt that the Tigers were the team I wanted to see win more than the rest.

 

The log that finally broke the camel’s back came when 2016’s finals rolled around. All things considered I thought it’d at least be worth seeing how Hawthorn went given that prospects seemed hopeful, and then came the very end of the qualifying final against Geelong. Isaac Smith marking inside 50, the final siren sounding, a goal to win the game and here I was thinking “It’s the Sam Lloyd moment all over again. Come on, come on, come on!” and then he went and missed. With that my mind was pretty much made up. “This team’s greatness came and went before I got here and now the bandwagon has crashed”. Displeasing as it was that night a part of me was pleased that I hadn’t fully committed to this team and now had no cause to side with any other than the one I knew I had wanted for a significant while, Richmond. Though I was greatly aware that the Tigers (at that time) represented a stark contrast to the bandwagon, seeming like far more of a Pain Train I still managed to see the appeal. My logic was that an expectation of defeat makes losses more bearable and wins a lot sweeter, as opposed to a bandwagon where the expectation of winning makes losses more gutting and wins that bit more lackluster.

 

Needless to say, this mindset would ultimately pay off in the most unexpectedly pleasing and spectacular of ways the following year, but the recounting of my memories of those events is a whole other chapter.

 

 

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About Ben Kirkby

Ben moved to Melbourne at the start of 2016 from country NSW. Shortly after declaring his intent to live in Melbourne permanently, his uncle Sam suggested "If you're going to live here you've got to get along to the footy at some point". After seeing his first football match (Hawthorn vs Sydney, round 9 2016) Ben's interest in AFL took off in a way highly unexpected by both himself and his extended family. Ben's team alignment was uncertain for a time, seeing an interest taken primarily toward Hawthorn during much of the 2016 season, but during the finals series he declared his intent to follow the way of his cousins and uncle and become a Richmond Supporter, primarily on the grounds of them being the team he most wanted to see win, among a long list of other reasons. Needless to say the following year saw him very happy with his choice.

Comments

  1. Footy will do that to you Ben.

  2. PS I enjoyed your piece. Although I was a little concerned when you were considering Hawthorn.

  3. John Butler says

    Ben, my family wasn’t interested in footy. And I grew up in the heart of Moorabbin, surrounded by Sainters.

    So naturally I barracked for Carlton.

    Blame Jezza. :)

  4. I, too, am glad it wasn’t Hawthorn! Enjoy!

  5. roger lowrey says

    Ben,

    Loved the article. Like JTH I was worried you were going to end up with the cashed up Haileybury bogans at Hawthorn but you steadied well.

    Like many Cats fans I barrack for two teams each week – Geelong and whoever plays Hawthorn.

    Write more Stainless Minimus. I read regularly.

    RDL

  6. Stainless says

    Can I just state for the record that there were no threats of violence, physical or mental, involved in bringing my nephew across from the dark side!

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