AFL love

western bulldog heart

So, I fell out of love with football when I was 8 years old.

Back then, football was a Saturday afternoon thing. We parked our car on the boundary-line and I would watch my dad play across the hilly grounds of the outer eastern suburbs. Watching was a loose word. Really, I climbed willow trees and hung out near the canteen, begging punters for dim-sims or smarties. I barracked for my dad. I barracked for his team. They were simple days when shorts were very short and smoking at half time was the norm. Weekends lasted forever and for half of mine, we called dibs on who would beep the car-horn for the next goal.

When I was 8, another kid from my school asked me who I barracked for. I was sitting on my school bag, lining up for the start of class. In my hands, I held my show-and-tell – a Mr Fussy candle. I answered that I barracked for my dad and that he played for Seville. The kid punched me in my arm and told me that I was stupid and that I didn’t follow a real team. 5 minutes later, his wayward football was kicked into my hands where it smashed my candle apart.

I was heart broken on so many levels.

Not trusting my parents about who I should barrack for, I asked my Pa. He proudly told me I was of Collingwood blood. I, with my sisters, accepted the team. I promptly asked for a black duffle coat.

My mum never let me get number 30 on my back. She thought it was a phase. That I would grow out of Peter Moore.
I never did.
I remember I liked the toggled buttons.

So even though I still have all my own teeth and even though I don’t know who my current team captain is, when people ask me who I barrack for, I say Collingwood. So they don’t punch me in the arm or break my heart by smashing whatever it is I hold in my hands. But I don’t watch any games, I can’t stand football media and I begged my wingman to play soccer.

To me, football finals are a legitimate excuse to drink beer before noon and really, the only game I pay any attention to all involves the national anthem to precede it and half-time entertainment.

We watched a football game on the telly yesterday. Along with seemingly the rest of the state. And even though we all follow different teams – we all seemed to barrack for the home side. The build up of Brownlows, breakfasts and parades meant somehow we were pulled on the underdog bandwagon. For some, it was the first time in a life-time that their team had made a grand final. For us, it was the first time in a life-time that we owned a telly so we could watch it. Even though we’re not really a footy family, my smalls filled our home with coloured streamers and hot dogs. When the final siren sounded to the underdogs’ tears of dream realisation, we hugged each other and embraced their tears as our own.

Now even though we haven’t owned a telly in over 10 years, I’ve seen enough fourth quarters to know the post-match drill. The men in buttoned suits hold microphones to boys in sweaty shorts. Winners back-slap and talk about “the club” and losers hang their heads and hit the showers unheard. And I know that it’s not PC to talk about differentiating the two – but in reality, that’s life.

Because sometimes you will be on the winning side and sometimes, you will loose.

Today, football players are not only coached on how to run fast and kick goals, but these days they are trained on how to speak to the microphone held by the suit. Sentence structures revolve around the “football club” and everything spoken is de-individualised and termed as about the collective “group”. Grown men are still referred to as “the boys” and lifetimes are delineated into either the last 7 days or the next 7 ones coming 7.

Unless it’s the grand final, where the elusive timeline ends in the moment.

Now as I said, I’ve seen enough fourth quarter shenanigans to last me a lifetime. And I’m not really in love with too many aspects of the game. So yesterday after the final siren, I hit the kitchen to fire up more hotdogs and burgers to feed my tribe. I missed the suits talking to the boys. I missed the group accolades mixed in with the hung heads of sorrow. I missed the auskickers placing medallions around their hero’s necks. Small folk with their own dreams of being the boys and girls who talk to men in suits and of living in a timeline revolving around the 14 days of a collective group.

But I managed to pull my head out of the oven to see the final medal presented as part of the winning group. It was taken off from the broad shoulders of a man and placed onto the heart of one of his boys. A boy who even though injury had stolen his own childhood dream, he had fronted up every 7 days wearing the team tracksuit. Only to sit on the bench and watch the dreams of his “club” come true. It made me see that football speak and football culture when truly lived can be used as a platform for hope.
And that there is such potent power in kindness when you are brave enough to give your own dream away.

Especially if it gives someone a chance to touch their dream too.

Think hip owners, standing balance and metta meditation.

Sometimes it takes the smallest act of heart to remind you of what can be received when you deeply believe. And it can be hard to realise this as it often takes you moving through all the passages created by others to forge the path that works for you. It means stepping up and taking the reins. To be what you want rather than what you’ve been told to be.

It means sometimes taking your childhood dream off you own shoulders. Just so you can place it onto the heart of a just-as-deserving other.

Next year, we might become a football family. Now that we have a telly and now that we’ve discovered the fun of running through a banner to cheer a favoured side. And now that I can see past all the words that the politically correct media use to say nothing while being asked to say something, I can let myself enjoy watching the intricacies of a real game again. Because your actions can speak so much louder than your words. Because your team can be anyone and anything that you want it to be.

I asked my wingman this morning what his favourite part of the Grand Final day was. Was it the running through the banner? Was it the multiple hot-dogs in his belly? He looked at me square as only he can when he talks to my heart.

“I liked it when the coach gave his medal away to the man who hurt his leg.”

“Me too,” I answered, and somehow fell a little in love with football again.


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