Saturday, 1 October 2011

Soaking up the atmosphere.

On a wintry grand final day, with no particular plans, I ended up watching the game with a friend who lives nearby.  Just the two of us the couch, drinking cups of tea and talking incessantly about the game and the commentary. I even took my knitting. I know a little bit about Australian Rules football, having been surrounded by it since I came to Melbourne.  Next to my friend, I looked like an expert.  We amused ourselves fantasising about our own anti-football commentary show.

I was raised in a rugby union household and only got turned onto Aussie Rules when I moved to Melbourne.  Joining the footy tipping competition was a good way to get into the centre of the culture.  I rapidly learned how to talk about footy in a way that sounded like I knew what I was talking about.  "It's good for footy" with a big smile and confidence worked as well as "It's bad for football" with a sage shake of the head.

The football culture is so strong here that grown men are willing to sing their club song with the merest prompt.  In a country where singing is not often considered to be masculine this is remarkable.  And the songs are so twee and charming you can't help but smile when you hear them.  The best thing of all is hearing your own club's song played in victory at the end of a game, especially when it's recognised to be the best song of all.

The grand final harks back to battles on an ancient Roman scale, where men put their bodies on the line and look grief stricken and disbelieving if they do not succeed.  The spectacle is mounted in the greatest arena, the MCG, and today, even in freezing, wet conditions, almost 100,000 fans turned out to watch the game at the ground.  I picked up the newspaper and read the sports section - something I rarely do.  Of course it's fish and chips wrapping now, with its wrong predictions; columns about why the Pies will win seem ill-conceived and laughable in hindsight.  Of course the other columns, the newspaper providing balanced coverage.

I am struck by the lack of verbs in the headlines:  "Grand final pleasure and pain", "Sure Things and Mystery Men", "The blessing and the curse", "Secrets of Mick's success".  As markers to stories about action they are oddly static and flat.  As a student of journalism at university, we were always taught that good headlines have verbs - they have to make the story live.  We did a unit on sports writing and I thought I would rather die.  "Avoid cliche" we were instructed.  How can this be done, when you are essentially writing about the same thing time after time?  Just the key moments happen in a different order with different names attached.  I couldn't bear it.  This was an exciting game of footy with a lot on the line for both coaches - one coaching his final game, the other at his first grand final... Empires are built or fail today...there's a lot at stake....drew first blood...scrappy flowing footy...bloody umpires.

You get the picture.

That's why the idea of my friend and I as anti-sports commentators is so appealing.  Our main commentary involved vocal empathy with players as they hit the ground.  Sharp intakes of breath, groans and grimaces accompanied by shouts of "ouch" filled the repertoire.  Inane chatter about the need for Geelong to try harder, commentary about Dane Swan's two full sleeves of tattoos and how much it would have hurt when Cameron Ling's nose went into the back of another player's head almost had us sounding professional.  We thought so.

It was the discussion about how to tell the difference between the two teams that would have given us away.  How do you spot the difference when one team is dressed in navy blue and white and the other is in black and white?  You look at the direction of the stripes of course.  And don't neglect the fact that one team was in white shorts and the other in black.  Who chose white shorts as the colour for a football team?  Certainly not the mothers who have to wash them.  It also became easier to spot the difference when Cameron Ling's jumper added some red from his bleeding nose.

And where was the bloke who'd been in a hyperbaric chamber all week?  Did he bring it?  How was his knee? What is a hyperbaric chamber anyway?  And how about that other bloke's groin?

Then we heard one of the real commentators say "at this stage of the game it's a long way down for the big men".  It's the same distance it was at the beginning of the game.  They can't have shrunk.  I would think getting back up again might pose the greater difficulty.  If I went down and was lying at the bottom of a pile of men who are mostly 200cm tall (or more) and had just hit my head on the ground, I'd be inclined to just ask them to let me have a little lie down for a few minutes.  Not for long. Just a little lie down.  Until next year when all the teams start from scratch again and all the hope and promise of a new season makes it possible for last year's loser to be this year's winner.

2012 will be the year of the Tigers.


  1. this entire weekend of football madness i had hoped would pass me by... World Cup, AFL and today the NRL... i'm avoiding facebook as every 2nd post is a photo a running update or prediction! Good post - enjoy the rest of your weekend! D

  2. Sorry to add to the madness! I would not have predicted that I would write about it, but we had such a ball pretending to know what we were talking about! I'm now a football free zone. (Although there was some good eye candy yesterday!)