How great we once were

Look interested.  Get involved.  Don’t blame anything on old age until you have to.  We aren’t old yet and we still love footy, so there’s no excuse not to play, or get out for a kick.


Most of us can’t remember our lives without football.  It was always there.  Our club became a part of our psyche before our memories fully developed.  Love for football was an emotion that developed before our emotions were developed.


Family, particularly fathers, are adept at brainwashing their kids.  Millions of kids had no choice.  They followed the sins of their father.  Other kids chose less traditional methods to find their team.  It hardly matters how.


Football features prominently in fond reflection of our formative years; putting on your first football jumper, going to your first game and meeting players for the first time.  Our moods reflected success or failure.  Our team were idiots when they lost.  The opposition were buggers for winning.


Junior football was played on Sunday afternoons.  Mostly it was freezing, the grounds uneven and hard in dry conditions, muddy and sodden in the wet.  The centre wicket was slick or sticky, depending on the weather.


Footy, as we learned early, is a tough, unforgiving game.  A lot of kids realised quickly that they weren’t suited.  They couldn’t get the ball or didn’t want it.  Skills and fitness were poor.


There was no point playing.  That didn’t mean those kids stopped supporting their club.  You don’t need to play to love.


Other kids kept playing as they got older, progressing to senior football, which is tougher, harder and meaner than junior football.  To play senior football was to get punched, hurt and humiliated.  Broken bones, torn muscles and ligaments were common.  Occasionally things went right and there were goals, marks and possessions.


It took courage to cross the white line.  For two hours existence was duplicitous, to the team and jumper.  Winning was great.  Losing was aggravating.  Winning premierships was amazing.


Then our careers faded.  We got injured, older, middle-aged, and slower.  We grew families.  Talking footy with mates replaced playing, which is great because men love talking footy.  Mates who talk regularly always have football as the first and most important topic.  Anything else is peripheral.


With middle age comes wisdom.  The conversation about footy is fascinating.  Men often become prophets.


Football is a fulltime hobby.  There are four or five games televised each weekend and broadcast on radio.  The networks offer programs dedicated to football, and the media is riddled with football.  There is a lot to consume.


Though we are committed, our involvement, for most of us, remains financial through club memberships or a basic, rabid lust for big games.


All of us still love our club, no matter success or failure.  The club has always been there.  It will always be there.  It must be obeyed.


We are immersed in footy, and given our age, most of us don’t play competitively anymore.  Congrats go to those who do.  That’s no slight on the rest of us, because when you’re older than forty, you’re too old to get injured.  Some of us think we’re too old to run.  Most of us don’t even have a kick anymore.


I own a few footballs, but they’re not for kicking.  My favourite is a Ross Falkner, built for 15-year-olds.  It hasn’t been kicked in a quarter of a century, so aside from a leaky bladder, it is in excellent condition.


I don’t own a Sherrin, which riles me every time I hold one in a sport store.  All I have to do is buy it, but if I buy it I have to kick it.


And that is the simple problem, and it’s a stupid problem because I love kicking a Sherrin.  The last time was back in May 2009 with a few mates.  The Sherrin belongs to Adam G.  That May day was the last time he kicked it too, which is silly because it was a great day.


The years have made us slower and we can’t kick as far, but our skills hadn’t faded.  We took marks, hit each other on the tits and kicked accurately from 40-metres out.


All involved that day have invested emotions, cash and social acceptance in football.  But we don’t play anymore.  It seems that hitting forty means we are too old.  We remember how to play, we just don’t do it.


If you own a football go get it.  Holding it will create a thousand memories and make your heart race.  You will remember how it feels to kick a Sherrin to your mate and he doesn’t have to move.  It’s exciting lining up for goal forty out, with your pride on the line and your mates as witnesses.  It feels awesome to jump and mark the Sherrin from the air above.


When you do something good your mates clap and swear.  So why don’t we do it more?


Despite being 40-odd, we summon enough energy and enthusiasm to mow lawns, walk the dog, dig in the garden or ride to work.  Surely we’re fit enough to enjoy an hour in free space with a Sherrin.


Football isn’t just for young men.


There are competitions all over Australia created for the middle-aged, played under modified rules designed to reduce the risk of injury.


Real football, real jumpers, real grounds…


Sounds exciting, right?  It is, but don’t let the negativity kill that excitement.  Every time I drive past a football ground I go through a raft of emotions:


As the ground approaches I figure I should make a comeback, maybe play a few games in the reserves.  I’m fit enough and probably good enough to make up the numbers.  Thoughts of the halcyon days when I kicked goals or played well arise.  Those thoughts change as I’m adjacent to the ground.  I remember getting kicked and punched, elbowed, head-butted and punched in the dick.  I remember the quiet games, missing crucial goals or dropping easy marks.  When I’m past the football ground, I keep driving, knowing a comeback to senior football wouldn’t be romantic.  I wouldn’t kick ten goals in the grand final and couldn’t keep pace with the 20-year-olds.  The further behind the ground gets, the less I think about it.


Most 40-year-olds probably go through the same thought process when they drive by a ground.  That’s natural, footy is a hard game.  It isn’t for the ill prepared.  You’ve got to be mentally right to put on the jumper, and while many of us can remember how that felt, it’s been years since we’ve done it.


That’s no excuse not to do it now.


Want to play a game of football?  Want to have a kick?  It doesn’t matter how old you are or the last time you had a kick.  It doesn’t matter what your skills are like.  Get out and do it.  You won’t be playing against 20-year-olds.


For those who prefer an official competition, the AFL Masters is worth checking out.  The rules are modified to prevent injury and the games are played in great spirit.


If you’re not prepared to commit to a season of competitive footy, get a few mates together and invade the local oval.  Go for a kick.  Take the kids if they’re old enough.  Show them the old man hasn’t lost his ability and teach them how to play.


Footy gives us so much pleasure.  You can’t deny yourself pleasure.  Age is irrelevant.


When was the last time you had a kick???  I bet most of us haven’t done it for years.


And I am guilty.


Are you guilty too…


About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. Matt/Ironmike,
    Last time I had a kick was yesterday down at Williamstown, with my 20 year old son. My 54 year old legs are still up for a session of kick-to-kick. Indeed ,Almanackers of the western suburbs, and beyond, are always welcome to come along to The Sherrin At The Fearon, 9.30 Sunday mornings, Fearon Reserve, Osborne St, Williamstown. (Home ground of the Willi CYs.) There’s only half-a-dozen of us but we have a bit of fun: torpedoes, drop-kicks, shots for goal, even something resembling circle work. Our record for consecutive marks is 112, about three years back. Cheers.

  2. Matt
    One of my sons was getting ready for footy training last week. His two older brothers suggested that all four of us go down early and have a kick before training.
    It had been a while since I’d had a kick-to-kick session with the boys, and I loved it.

    There are not too many better sights in Williamstown than seeing your group kicking the footy around the Fearon on a Sunday morning.

  3. Iron Mike

    A really passionate and evocative read, well done.

    I get out for a kick most weekends with my 12 year old as part of both bonding with him but also helping his footy development with extra training sessions. We do handball drills and sprints as well as kick to kick but taking pot shots and snaps and kicking from impossible angles is always a feature. We are boys after all.

    He’s also lucky to have a mum who is willing to have a kick and can get it from point a to b reasonably well, so there are a few Sunday morning walks in the park with a Sherrin..

    It was nice when he and I did a distance kicking competition the other day and he watched one of my kicks sail over his head. He’s bloody good but I still have him for distance, for now.

    I can’t emphasis enough how good having a kick is and fully support your comments. There’s something very theraputic, like walking the dog or mowing the lawn, about just playing kick to kick.

    Keep it up, great read


  4. “Every time I drive past a football ground I go through a raft of emotions”

    I can so identify with that and the following paragraph Matt. I regret finishing my competitive footy in my mid 20’s but then I think of my last proper game when I copped a jumper full of busted ribs and twisted my knee at the same time.

    I know it’s not too late to take up Super Fools but I also know the price to pay might be not being able to kick around with my boy as he grows up. Still love an active session of kick-to-kick but competitvely I’m resigned to gumby grade basketball for now.

    Great read.

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