Going to the footy

by Richard Naco

I love going to the footy.

Sydney on Sunday was cold, wet and miserable (as forecasted), and although my family and I prevaricated to almost the very last second, in the end the lure of the game proved too great and it was off to the SCG that we went.

I love getting to the footy early.

The SCG is a really pretty ground for footy.  We simply get General Admission tickets as the atmosphere is greater and the sight lines every bit as good as the pricier, remote seating, so getting there nice and early means we get to sit where we want rather than we can.  Yesterday’s weather meant that we opted for the sheltered fringe up the back rather than in the very front row beside the Swannies’ cheer squad as per usual, and it proved to be a fortunate option as the brief burst of seductive sunshine in the middle quarters of the game ultimately submitted to the inevitable deluge in the final stanza.

I also enjoy watching the fans arriving and sorting themselves out.  At the Hawthorn game earlier this year at the SCG, a rather impressive matron attired in the red and white would warn all approaching her that they would “be deaf by half time because [she] tends to get a bit loud”.  Stuff like that is priceless: it’s like the crunchy part of a hot chip that lifts it well above being merely a warm soggy strip of potato into something spectacular.

I love footy crowds.

Swans’ games tend to attract inordinate numbers of neutrals.  Our row yesterday started with my wife in the aisle (Swannie – as she’s born & bred here and the Cats weren’t playing), our 11yo son (started as a Catter, became a Tigga, then morphed in to a Swannie, then returned to being a Tigga when they looked like winning it in the clutch, but I think he is a Catter again this morning), yours’ truly (unrepentant Catter, although next season I’ll be a part time Giant – when the Cats are away), an older bloke from Brisbane (Catter), his daughter (Tigga), her husband (Crow), and her sister (Lion).  All in our respective club colours.  The Brisbane family were all barracking for the Tiges this time around, although they were generally pessimistic about their chances.  There were masses of mixed couples all around us, most notably a family of four immediately behind us where the father and 4yo son were in black and yellow of the southern interlopers, while the mother and even younger daughter wore the red and white of the local heroes.

And the real beauty of this scene is that although we all wore our various colours loud and proud (albeit with our son imitating a chameleon), there was no agro, no need for lines of armoured policia and security goons to separate the various teams’ supporters, no reinforced police presence on railway stations to disperse crowds of disgruntled fans (as there is for thugby leeg here), no latent aggression at all.  What makes footy – our brand of footy specifically – so infinitely appealing is that we join together as a congregation of mixed faiths, and together enjoy and exult in a spectacle of courage, daring & skill regardless of the outcome.

The generosity of your average footy fan is also heart warming.  When David Astbury popped his kneecap ridiculously early in the game at the opposite end of the ground, he was still applauded by all of the fans around us as he was stretchered off (the only good thing in the whole episode being that he was injured immediately in front of the Richmond race, so they got him inside to treatment extremely quickly).  And when Chris Newman wrapped himself into a human knot around the base of the goal post in denying Sydney a goal, his insane heroism was again acknowledged by all present.

I love footy barrackers.

The truly artistic ones combine wit and flair to render the underlying abuse palatable.  And then there are those who are just plain loud, and in their own ignorant manner, still manage to entertain.  Yesterday’s star in our part of the ground was a Tigga seated directly across the aisle from my wife who inevitably felt as though the men in green had a personal vendetta against him and his.  There was the predictable “Why don’t you bloody well kick for him as well, Umpire?”, but neither great obscenity nor wit.  Nor endurance.  The real joy of this type is that if these human foghorns get going early enough, their voice inevitably packs up by half time.  The Brisbane family and I ran a sweep on this bloke, and he didn’t utter a peep after the main break.  For the record, the Swannie at the Hawks’ game I referred to earlier also didn’t sustain the volume after the first quarter, although I do think that was as much due to Hawthorn strangling her Swannies as much as her vocal chords spasming.

Even the bad ones can make for an ultimately satisfying experience.  When we saw the Cats play the Hawks in 2010 (when Buddy put the last kick of the game out on the full), a group of four unkempt, unwashed members of Geoff’s army in their forties (going on sixties) spent the game getting smashed on the half strength beer and making primary school level smutty jokes about the Cats’ nickname.  Even the Hawthorn families surrounding them were visibly uncomfortable, and when the final siren heralded another Hoops’ triumph, every Catter within coo-ee stood as one and unloaded on these blokes.  It was such sheer poetry that even those long suffering Hawk families bearing them in their midst as a cat does a ring worm applauded.

It was a Swannie with a limited repertoire who was responsible for transforming my beloved in to a Catter.  Soon after her conversion to our game (Cats v Hawks at the MCG in 2009 – the Bartel 1 point win), we went to see Sydney front The Pivot at Homebush, with her feeling compelled to wear the strawberries & cream strip of her home town.  For three quarters of that game, a Swannee harridan seated immediately behind her spent the entire game screeching (no hyperbole) “Go Swannees” directly in to my wife’s right ear, accompanied by showers of spittle.  The only breaks in this endless chorus would occur when she would whinge to her 20+ year old son about our then 9yo’s waving of his Cats’ flag after Geelong goals.  At three quarter time, the love of my life grabbed our lad and moved to vacant seats on the other side of me, and still clad in red and white, cheer-cheered the blue and the white onward to victory.  As the final siren heralded the victory of the invader, she turned to direct her version of “We Are Geelong” to her personal irritant, but that Swannie (and son) had long fled the scene.

I love the spectacle of footy.

Yesterday’s game should have been won and dusted by three quarter time.  Key Swans – Goodes & Reid especially –  missed absolute sitters, and much of the good work being done in the midfield was rendered futile by sloppy foot skills at the cutting edge of the ground.  It was all seduction and no dénouement.  The Tigers hung in there somehow, even though their ball distribution skills were driving the black and yellow faithful nuts.  (One should never laugh at suffering, but it was impossibly hilarious watching the Tiggas squirm as their team time and time again would unload hospital handballs, usually at the bootlaces of their big blokes.)  Yet in the midst of all this dross, there were some simply exquisite moments.  Rhyce Shaw’s repeated charges up the middle of the ground, Sam Reid’s superlative pack marking (forgetting about his wayward finishing), and that wonderful Mark of the Year contender of Jack Riewoldt over Ted Richards were each and all breath taking.

I love the drama of footy.

For three quarters Sydney had reigned supreme, yet their abysmal shooting for goal had allowed Richmond to take its occasional chances and hang around like a bad smell.  Come the final quarter, and Richmond were somehow still within six behinds, so the black and yellow army went in to raptures as Dustin Martin first goaled to tie up the game, then put a sitter through for a behind from straight in front to put Richmond in front for the first time in the game.  Sydney immediately exploded – bang bang bang – three goals, all arising from tentative defensive lapses by the Tigers, saw them resume what appeared to be an unassailable lead.  Then the heavens opened, and those caught sitting in the uncovered areas streamed away from a contest apparently now decided.  Sydney looked totally dominant.

“Should we go now and beat the crowds?”, my son of many colours enquired (I suspect that he was channelling his mother, as she was looking on).

“No”, I replied, “anything can happen.  Three straight kicks and Richmond wins.”  The Brisbane family laughed as one.

The SCG lights came on as the evening gloom descended.  Then Richmond stormed back like a tsunami in the rain.  The ball was trapped inside their forward lines for the last ten to fifteen minutes of play as their midfield generated wave after wave of attacks, and what started out as an act of infinite pride intensified as the flickering light of an upset seemed to flair like phosphorous in the darkness.   The nexus of the game was reached when the deficit was reduced to two straight goals deep in to time on in that glorious final act, and a wasted Swans’ outfit was powerless to prevent Richmond from engineering the last three shots on goal for the game.

Behind. Behind. Out on the full.

Sydney won by 10.

I love going to the footy!

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