When I was super little I used to bond with my dad over televised rugby league games, packets of Smiths Original chips and blocks of plain Cadbury chocolate. The games would go down to the wire and I’d learn about forty twenties, scrums and penalties.
Live was even better. Anzac Day Cups, getting stuck at Lidcombe Station for what would seem like hours, trains full of jerseys that poured out the Cityrail doors, down the platform and up the steps. Hotdogs that tasted way better than they had any right to. Preliminary final runs that sidestepped their way into Grand Final glory; Sunday afternoon games; then later, at uni, State of Origin and the World Cup. It was an education.
It’s good when you’re winning. Bad when you’re not. Usually you’re in a state of nervous anticipation that plays out over 80 minutes, once a week, seven months of the year. You follow the coach, the players, the strategy. Unexpected things happen: injury. Transfer. Scandal.
You bond with strangers. Whatever it was that drew you to your team when you were little – a handsome captain, a jersey in a favourite colour, synergy with your favourite animal, family tradition, your postcode – it sets you up for camaraderie.
And time does this crazy thing. When your team is being demolished, the opposition lines up superhuman plays and executes them in record time. When they’re making a comeback, it feels like they’ve much less time to effect it. When it’s close – it feels like ten minutes have passed and the halftime siren is legitimately surprising. When you’re well ahead, you have all the time in the world.
It doesn’t make good sense, that a ball game should engage your cells entirely. It helps that footballs bounce in ridiculous ways so you never quite know what’s going to happen. It helps that sportspeople can be geniuses, imparting actual magic. It helps that there’s nothing better than watching a game with your cousins, especially when it’s late in the season and you’re all on the same side.
My grandpa was a hectic St George fan, to him they were the Saints. He passed away the day before the 2010 Grand Final which we won. It was bittersweet. I wore my scarf when I did the reading at his funeral. My dad grew up bonding with his dad over rugby league games. My brother’s gonna teach his kids the same.
This is how you end up a grown woman who will ‘see how the football’s going’ and end up watching the entire game. And everything else can stop for eighty minutes, plus half time, plus injury and penalty time, and your mind switches off, and your heart switches on. And nobody really gets it, unless they get it.
Do you get it? Wanna go to the footy next weekend?