Sunday, March 24, 2013

Football


I want to make clear at the start that I am writing this post after my team had a comfortable 35 point win. If you don't know anything about Australian rules football, it was the equivalent of a soccer match that a team wins 3-1 after going down 1-0 early. If you don't know anything about soccer either I could probably come up with analogues in half a dozen other sports, but "comfortable win" says enough. Back to the point:  these are the reflections on a good week.

Tonight (Friday) was the opening night of the 2013 AFL season and the team I support, Essendon, was in the first game of the round with the opening bounce at 8:30pm. At around 6pm, shortly after leaving work, I started getting the beginning of a headache, a tightness at the base of the skull that I get when I'm tense. I ordered some pizza as is tradition on a Friday night and took a a couple of paracetamol for my headache while I waited for dinner to show up. The pizza arrived and I ate it watching the match preview. Almost nobody missing from the best 22, we have the team we want out there and playing. Everywhere I look at the opposition's team I see problems: that guy's too fast, that guy's too tall, we can cover one of those three but not all of them. How on earth are we going to win this, on the road against a team that last year finished nine places above us on the ladder, and second overall? Am I in for another year of potential turned to mediocrity, another year of weekends tainted by a team that can't be consistent? Consistently good would be best but even consistently bad is tolerable; watching and knowing it's going to be a loss is no big deal, it's having to watch and knowing you can win but dreading you won't that causes elevated blood pressure. Half an hour before the game started the indigestion kicked in and got worse the closer the start time got. I had just about decided that I needed to do something about it when the siren sounded, so it would have to wait until quarter time.

Quarter time rolled around and I started crunching chewable antacid like candy. We had been destroyed in the first few minutes and just started to claw back by the time the quarter time siren sounded, 13 points down but it could be worse. By half time we were 14 points up, a huge turnaround and the commentators were nattering on with their usual jocular indifference about how Essendon were in the driver's seat and should win it from here. I know all about "should win it from here", it rhymes with "shock loss" and "couldn't handle the pressure". "Should win it from here" is the starter pistol for the hundred metre collapse-in-a-screaming-heap. "Should win it from here" is how every football fan's nightmares begin. I munched some more antacids, trying to ignore the burning in the back of my throat and tightness in my forehead. Essendon played well and were 20-odd points up for much of the rest of the game, but every time Adelaide kicked a goal or intercepted a kick that little voice reminded me how quick a turnaround can be, catalogued every time we'd lost from a winning position in the last decade. Playing well is a platform for disappointment.

With under a minute remaining in the game Watson kicked a goal and there was no possible chance of losing, not even for a pessimist like me. For the second time in the course of the game I let out an inarticulate shout and thumped the arm of the couch with an almost painfully tightly curled fist. I can't even remember what the first shout was for, a bad free kick perhaps? An excellent tackle? Who knows, I just remember worrying I might have knocked my drink over. To the impartial observer that moment of victory had come probably twenty minutes earlier, and the commentators wondered aloud why the players were celebrating so exuberantly when the game was already won. I could feel the tension drain out of my shoulders and neck. Not the tension of work and deadlines but solely the tension of watching a misshapen leather ball get kicked around by people I'd never meet in a city I've never been to. Despite what people say, football is not a way to forget about your worries and your cares. Football for me is a place for where for a few hours a week the only thing that matters is the most inconsequential thing in the world, and the suggestion that I could find it enjoyable makes no sense at all.

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