Before Round 1: “The billion shards of light…”

“You put your mind to something. Just deciding to do it gets you halfway there. Daring to try…”
Tim Winton, Breath


Little Jimmy there tucks the footy under his arm. He must be eight years old. Maybe nine. Look at him. Off he goes, remnants of the knock-off school bell still ringing in the air. He runs. Running, he drops his backpack on hot asphalt, bounces the footy and kicks long to the oval. Today Jimmy again wears his Tigers jumper. It’s week 6 of term. Jimmy has worn that jumper for every day of six weeks.

And look at Ezgi. She’s not tall. But she has the bug. Footy has her.
“Yep, Mum signed me up to the Lions. I’ve got training tomorrow. Do you wanna play, too?”
Footy chats with mates. Grade six girls sharing the oval with boys.
“Yeah, cool. I’ll ask Dad.”

Late March in Melbourne is a wonderful time of year. We feel the first of those cool, crisp mornings; mornings which burn off to clear and sunny days. That baking heat, that mysterious, sometimes steaming heat of summer is behind us. It’s footy season.

(At least, that’s how it is in the deep south. In Darwin and the Tiwi Islands meanwhile, where footy is played throughout the tropical wet, eight Grand Finals scheduled for the weekend were suspended due to the uninvited arrival of Tropical Cyclone Marcus. Those eight Grand Finals still need to be played (maybe Wednesday, maybe Saturday. They’re sorting it out)).

Back in the south, notwithstanding a crackerjack AFLW season, there exists a sense of ocean wave building, swelling, cresting.

This week gatherings are organised (“How many tickets should I get? Are you a member?”) Tickets are purchased (“Send me your bank details”). Plans enacted (“Howabout I go to the footy Friday night? I’ll sit with the kids Saturday night.”)

Sparring kicks off (“Nice pre-season form from your mob. Start booking your September holidays.” “Mate I’m happy to use your frequent flyer points.”). Tipping competitions are rolled out (“I haven’t a clue.”).

New haircuts, numbers, players, looks; all thrown up.

footy season begins
all the teams
freshly tattooed
-Haiku Bob

Footy, our magical Australian game of chance and skill, the great release from workaday pressures, has long outgrown its pastime status. At AFL level, that is. For the AFL is not Australian football. And Australian football is not the AFL (despite many kids insisting that they “play AFL.”)

At AFL level, there is a lot about which to be curious. Tax-free status, decision-making governance, and long term strategy priorities to name a few. Also the propaganda arm known as AFL Media. And Tasmania, China and India, AFLX, AFLW, club songs, tribunal processes, drugs policy processes, scheduling, fixturing, the false ideal of seeking to create such a thing as match day experience, the reserves competition, broadcasting rights, internal culture, separation of responsibilities for custodianship of the game from consumer-driven business models, reliance on poker machine revenue and increasing the diversity of employees are all worthy topics for investigation. Amongst others.


It’s how I fill the time when nothing’s happening, thinking too much, flirting with melancholy
Tim Winton, Breath


And yet, here it comes. Here comes that wave of anticipation. It approaches, builds.

Australian football is not the AFL. Australian football is children across the country, looking forward to their seasons. Talking with mates. Parents talking to parents. “What do you reckon?”
Australian football is kids at training. Signing up. Boys and girls in the market for new boots (“not those ones, Dad”), new mouthguards (“Ouch”). Parents acting as coaches, as team managers. Setting up yet-another WhatsApp group.

In the week of AFL Round 1, we are all young again. We are all the Under 12 recruit; goosebumps and butterflies and a racing heart. We chase the spinning oval ball. All year we will chase that spinning ball. Some days it will skew off to the side; some days it will sit up for us. But on we run and we run, cavort and be free. Anything and everything before us.

On Jimmy runs; dancing with the ball. Out here he is hopeful, ever hopeful.
On Ezgi dances. This will be her ball; her goal. She wonders, she wonders.
On we all go, under our wide Australian sky. For this is our game. Our year. It might just be our year.


… How the wave drew me forward and I sprang to my feet, skating with the wind of momentum in my ears. I leant across the wall of upstanding water and the board came with me as though it was part of my body and mind. The blur of spray. The billion shards of light…
Tim Winton, Breath


About David Wilson

David Wilson is a writer, editor, flood forecaster and former school teacher. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He shares the care of two daughters and a dog, Pip. He finds playing the guitar a little tricky, but seems to have found a kindred instrument with the ukulele. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. Yvette Wroby says

    A collection of your writing is building…more please! Looking forward to more footy too.

  2. Kasey Symons says

    Great stuff ER. Love the inserts of Tim Winton, beautiful.

  3. The feeling of gliding down a freshly mowed wing, after that spinning ball has sat up with the wind rushing past your ears is so similar to getting onto the perfect wave in a perfect set. Now I want to read Tim Winton’s latest, kick the footy and go for a paddle!

    Fantastic writing once more David, I eagerly await the next one.

  4. Grand themes ER. I reckon this is my 56th season of ‘going to the footy’ from starting as a 7yo with my grandparents in Adelaide in 1962. So many other life interests now. Disinterest, cynicism and hype abound. Can I be bothered……………..? BUT – come Sunday I will shake off my worldly chains, and put on my 7yo’s disbelief and wonder. “Carn Eagles”. “Baaaaaaaallll”. “You mongrel……….”.
    Even if I don’t believe a word of what I yell, I’ll be 7yo again for 3 hours. And that is a thing of beauty and wonder.

  5. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Am so ready for it this year ER. So ready.
    Some years you repel the wave, some you invite its crashing potential with every cell in your body.
    Cheer cheer.

  6. E.regnans says

    Thanks all.
    May your (our?) inner children long be free.
    Run, run, run.

  7. Well played, e.r.
    Former North Melbourne premiership player Ian Fairley once told me that, generally speaking, players are at their peak of fitness leading into Round 1. For after Round 1, the season becomes a constant niggle/ injury management process.

  8. bring back the torp says

    Great work ER!

    Other emotion/observations about the start of the footy season :-

    . for junior teams, noting who has had a big growth spurt
    . smelling the freshly mowed grass in pre-season training
    . smell of linament on limbs
    . checking out the new players at training/practice matches, to judge whether they are good, quirks in their game etc.

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