I’ve been an incorrigible football addict – of the Australian Rules variety – since I was born. Well, almost, as I was brainwashed by my parents from birth into believing football was an exciting game that promised ecstasy and enjoyment beyond the boundary. Not only did the players display a physical prowess with the egg-shaped ball, but their big, bulging biceps and beautiful bodies reflected a strong commitment to competition and challenge. A great lust for life in all its handsome glory! (Were they just all brawn and no brain? Who cared when they could soar into the sky for a spekky?) Attending my first game as a mere seven-year-old, I revelled in every kick, mark, tackle and goal recorded, rejoicing in my team’s victory as if it was my own. (My identity crisis started early). I welcomed winter with wonderment, pondering a premiership in its making. Pelting rain, torrid winds and a freezing clime could not dampen my enthusiasm as I let fly with words fuelled with fiery passion. The game unleashed an aggression I had hitherto been unaware of and on Mondays at school I always nursed a croaky cough from too much strain on my vocal chords. And being female was no deterrent to my dedication as I ran onto the field after games to applaud my heroes and collect their famous autographs. My scrapbook was filled with my secret fantasy; heaps of photos carefully cut from newspapers as I lusted longingly for a liaison with just one of them. Of course, I was in my teens by then as my hormones ran rampant and bed was a haven for my illicit imaginings. (I wasn’t sure what my morals were then; did I have any?) I also devoured with delight every precious word the football scribes penned in print (they certainly had the best career in the world!), absorbing into my psyche a psychology of hard work, discipline and fighting spirit that taught me the game wasn’t over till the final siren rang.
As well as my dream of a dalliance with a footballer, I also fantasised about a future as a coach (I would make history as the first female to achieve that accolade) and at 14, I was prepared to believe it (How idealistic and naïve was I?) and surprised even myself when I returned home from a loss, angry and upset. I sat down after the Saturday night dinner when my parents went out and wrote a letter to the coach of my team, without telling anyone. What did he know, I argued with myself, when he didn’t make the right moves and the team was outplayed and outrun across the field! And they had surrendered their success at three-quarter time, looking flat and tired so they couldn’t even chase in those last, vital 30 minutes. Where was their fighting spirit? (Did they need anti-depressants?) I, of course, knew better (what an arrogant young bitch I was!) as I slammed the coach with spite and sourness, spraying him with disgust and disappointment. The shock came within a few days. He actually answered me. I couldn’t believe it and neither could my family! Within the week, a letter arrived, hand-written and two pages long, where he defended his decision-making and called me a cheeky, sarcastic young girl who should be put on my mother’s knee and spanked! He even discussed the moves I’d suggested though dismissing them as the rabid ravings of a disturbed teenager. But I was thrilled that he engaged his time in a reply, sticking the letter in my scrapbook and hoping for the day he was sacked. His comeuppance came at the end of the season when he was delisted and I felt vindicated by my victory. It was a moment to saviour as the messiah of modern football took over as captain-coach and led the team to a premiership in his fourth year at the helm. Who did I barrack for? Carlton, The Blues, whose navy blue jumper always appealed as stylish and smart and designed for success on the field. At 50-Plus, I have seen them win eight flags (who can complain?) and while the past few years have pushed my patience as I fight with frustration and reckon with a whole new regime, (and three wooden spoons!) I still love the famous old dark Blues! Suffice to say I never made it to coach! (Who was I kidding?) Now I just pitch my wits quietly from the fence, occasionally expressing a few expletives at the players under my breath. And the umpires, of course.
But I can reminiscence about a reality (dreams can come true!) of a fuck with a footballer who of course, will remain nameless. A massive, mount of a man with all the tenacity and cool of a colourful character, I met him in a bar (way back then footballers drank and even smoked) as he was a friend of a guy I worked with. We talked about everything else other than football (he was interested in politics as well as having fun) and as one thing leads to another, I invited him home for a late night coffee. The rest is history as we ended up in bed where I poured over his physicality and hard, strong body that lived up to the lust of my personal reverie. I was no longer a teen and aged twentysomething, but I relished my good fortune. And he did have a brain too, intelligent and nice to converse with, where we hacked over some football highlights and indulged in inspiring dialogue. And it wasn’t just a one night stand. We became friends of a kind, where he supplied me with finals tickets and one night, he surpassed all my expectations by inviting me to dinner with a few other footballers of the team which had just won the flag. To say I was in seventh heaven is an understatement; I went to the hairdresser and made myself gorgeous and sat with a few of my other heroes at the dinner. It was a night to remember; (I’ll know I’ve got Alzhemiers when I forget that), and although I was initially nervous, my anxiety soon dissipated as we talked and laughed and shared the memories. Now, three decades and a half later, I can still reflect on that night as footballers make headlines for all the wrong reasons and the scribes write more salacious stories about their sexual indiscretions. But back then, life was more private without the paparazzi and I could enjoy their company as they proved themselves mere mortals who seemed just like the rest of us. Hard to reconcile the excitement of their exploits on the field as we sat and celebrated sedately at dinner. It was an occasion of great joy and now, as I watch the young boys struggle and strain in the competition, my heart beats with every bounce. It is a new era; a difficult time in some ways for a team that prided itself on success, but I’m still there encouraging them and willing them to win. It doesn’t always turn out that way, but as I confront the recollections of my younger years, I embrace the game with the same vocal enthusiasm I always entertained. I love football, and revel in the opportunity to watch other teams perform at their peak, too. Football has endowed me with a fighting spirit as a femmosexual and enriched my life with lessons learned from the field that I can apply off the field for the years ahead.
It also delivered another sort of date with my father; enhancing a relationship that was often fraught and fractured at other times. During adolescence, I accompanied my father to the football along with a cousin and his two boys. There was always the game to talk about, argue about and dissect, offering me an insight into my father’s psyche I otherwise would never have known. He was not adept at communication about the issues which riddled my teenage years, sex was a taboo we just never discussed and politics was something else again when he would fire off conservative maxims that only infuriated me.(Too right-wing for my more radical beliefs!) But with the football, there was an intimate empathy I found precious as he taught me to smile and say thank you as I pushed my way through the crowded throngs of people to stand behind the fence. He and my cousin stood a way back with other taller adults, while we children forced our way to the front where we could watch the game without peering over heads and shoulders. Even as he aged and stopped attending games, I would talk to him about his beloved Blues on parental visits and we continued to share a love of the game that remained until he passed away. As Germaine Greer wrote about a ‘Daddy’ she hardly knew, I felt the same about my father too- it was another time when fathers weren’t that involved with child rearing. However, the emotional rapport I experienced talking footy with my father is still one of my most cherished memories. For that, football will always be special. It’s also been a great intro for conversation with the males I worked with in later years. Football was our common focus, sharing gossip time about the weekend’s games in between work and hailing our heroes as more than men. (Were they really superhuman aka demigods?) It also helped overcome a shyness I often felt, imbuing me with a confidence that otherwise was lacking. It was a way of making friendships and forging a bond with the boys I needed. It allowed me to develop good relationships with other men and women I met at the football as the best leveller I knew. Wherever you come from and whatever you do, loving football breaks down all barriers, establishing a status as equals. Carlton supporters; through the good times and the bad, stand together as one. As do all football followers who despite the changes to the rules and style of the game, remain loyal to the code. (Big Brother might be watching through a camera lens, but the players still punish one another with punches!) Despite the occasional violation of violence, we love its intensity, the sheer physicality and power of brute strength and artistic skills with the crazy ball that can defy even the miracle men with its bounce. Moreover, the magic of their moving bodies as they twist and turn is a testament to their creativity, transcending the game to more than just a contest over a piece of leather. It can be almost balletic as they manipulate the ball. Sometimes, it’s not pretty, it’s not even interesting but downright depressing when your team is demolished, but as the cliché has it, there’s always next week. And you live in hope of Something Better. A philosophy for life that I’ve sometimes borrowed when the going gets tough.
And Carlton’s theme song still resounds within me: the team that never lets you down, which reminds me to work hard and tirelessly for what I believe in.(maybe the players need to listen more intently to these words!) Moreover, its motto: mens sana in corpore sano : healthy in mind, healthy in body, (I knew the dead language of my school days Latin would favour me one day)) still threads its way through the tapestry of my life (not sure I live up to that, however) as I trek to the game every week and still fantasise about footballers and no longer care that I’m old enough to be their grandmother! The friends I’ve made in the crowd make up for that! As well as the game that still ignites my passion and gives me a high, albeit naturally! (Who needs drugs?) Roll on the next flag!