An Englishman In Oz – The National Sport
There are many important rites of passage in a young man’s life; from the first time you con a nightclub bouncer into believing you’re 18 to the first time you con a girl into going out with you but the first time you con your parents into getting you a TV for your bedroom was right up there as a breakthrough moment for me. My 13 y/o self would invariably sit up each night flicking through the channels in desperate search of something sporty or raunchy or on rare occasions a raunchy sport. On one such early morning hunt I found something, it seemed to be a sport in that there was a ball, a field and two opposing teams but it was different from other sports.
The men wore impossibly short shorts, they sported impossibly bad mullets, they invariably had moustaches and for all intents and purposes it looked like a series of ongoing assaults were taking place, occasionally someone remembered about the ball. The commentators were not like the reserved slightly dour Englishmen I was used to, they were animated, colourful characters that used words like bugger, which shocked and delighted my 13 year old self in equal measures.
Eighteen years later I find myself in a city that worships the sport, Melbourne would not be Melbourne without Footy, the fabric and feel of the place changes when the season starts. Commutes to work are livened up with some friendly debate about the previous night’s game, scarves are proudly worn the morning after a big win, column inches are gobbled up by the latest controversy and young children mimic their heroes at the local oval.
When I first arrived in Australia, 6 years ago, introductions always followed the same formula. I was asked my name, where I’m from and who I barrack for – sometimes they didn’t even bother asking my name or where I’m from. After establishing what the word ‘barrack’ actually meant and with all the deliberation of choosing which socks to wear in the morning I plumped for my home suburb of St Kilda. Based on this answer I was either treated like one of the family or given a friendly spray.
After 6 years spent desperately trying to understand what it’s all about I haven’t made much progress. I have been to games, I have eaten pies with sauce and washed them down with too much beer, I own a scarf, I have tried to shout things at the referee and I even watched the Footy Show once. It still resembles a colour coordinated crime scene to me and after what feels like three hours of mud wrestling the players form a circle to sing an impossibly quaint little ditty.
After a lifelong love affair with what I am now forced to call Soccer there is a lot I like about Footy. I like that it’s a real family affair that it isn’t dominated by father and son. I like that rival fans freely to mix in the stands without feeling the need to hospitalise one another. I like the lack of police presence, in England you are often frog marched from the train station to the stadium by mounted police for your own safety and then held back after the game until it was safe to come out. Mostly though I like that the players run through a big sign made out of bin liners at the beginning of the game. People have slowly accepted that I am an AFL lost cause but Max on the other hand……………..
Do you know what’s going on? Who do you barrack for?