Half-hearted escape into the unbearable lightness of footy

YES, I am from Melbourne. But no, I’m not into the footy. How about I stand still while the rest of you skin me alive with broken glass?

But I do have a team. Actually a few years back I changed from North Melbourne to Essendon. Informing my family I’d defected felt as if I’d admitted to an attraction to dog food. The response was supportive in a “sure, we’ll stand by your decisions no matter how ethically barren, socially corrosive and fundamentally wrong it is and what an appalling example you’re setting for the children” kind of way. I’m not into footy enough to care about the cultural transgression of changing teams. But into it enough to bother. I don’t get it either.

I do feel left out at times. I envy people’s passion and the rapture of their pilgrimages to their sporting meccas. Occasionally the sight of the fans in their regalia frothing with excitement at train stations urges me to rug up and rock up to the MCG to give it one more try. I feel like an eight-year-old watching grown-ups drink beer and having that occasional sip to find out if I still don’t like the taste, assuming eventually I’ll be like everyone else and I will.

I went to the footy a bit when I was young. Mostly as a St John Ambulance Brigade cadet (don’t ask, long story involving capes) and working in the canteens serving chips and pies and being dared to drink the hot-dog water. Rarely did I have the experience of the duffle coat smeared with sauce, flat Coke, pie as hot as lava on the outside with a block of ice in the middle. But it was never really me.

It’s not because I don’t have a team I really love but because I don’t have a team I really hate that I’m not into footy. I don’t get the premise that if you barrack for Carlton, you have to hate Essendon, if you barrack for Essendon, you have to hate Carlton, and if you barrack for either, you have to hate Collingwood, as everyone else does. And not just the team but the Collingwood supporters. Sitting in the St Kilda section at the MCG last Sunday, I was shocked by the jokes. What do you call a 30-year-old woman in a Collingwood jumper? Nanna. (Meanwhile, my son was sniggering that Collingwood had a Sidebottom, Goldsack and Dick in their team.) But look on the bright side Pie supporters, at least you don’t barrack for Adelaide. As everyone knows – including me who only found out last Sunday – they’re worse. It appears it’s not enough to win, the real joy is watching the other team lose. The more you hate the losers, the sweeter the victory. What’s with people’s “second” and “third” teams? A mate explained, “It’s like your family. Sure they irritate you at times and you check out other families thinking, ‘Ooooh they look nice’, but you’d never leave your own. Only a mongrel would do that.”

My seven-year-old and I found ourselves embedded with the St Kilda supporters on Sunday. In the first five minutes, the guy behind had called Collingwood players weak pricks, yellow turds, dumb faggots, a pack of girls, bloody wogs, the umpire a white maggot, and the supporters filthy bastards.

Someone suggested he “tone it down a bit. Women and children.” After one look at my son and me, someone said, “He’s all right, keeping spirit in the game.” It appears there’s a caveat: “I’m only racist/sexist/bigoted at the footy.” Well that’s OK, then. No harm done.

Two women in their 60s who looked like they’d washed thousands of footy jumpers between them commentated on the game in minute detail: the tactics, the game plan, the form, the stats. With analytical skills like that, they’d have no trouble deconstructing politics, religion or public policy. I wondered if they did.

I’m not into the footy but I do get it. That shoulder-to-shoulder not eye-to-eye thing. The talking but not communicating. Instead of the posturing egos, bumping psyches and deep-festering grudges that grow between family members like coral, people can get to spew their poison, massage their prejudices and release their frustrations as they hurl abuse at the players, not at each other. Existential crises are diverted by escaping into the unbearable lightness of footy.

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