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It's Saturday morning as I write this, just before midday. I have an egg boiling on the stove which I'll curry shortly and stick into a roll for my lunch. It's dim outside, and wet. It rains even as I speak, a steady pattering on the roof that is comforting when indoors, though not so much out. It is what we used to think of as being typical footy weather – wintry, wet days when we would journey out to the suburban grounds the game was played on then and watch the players perform on a variety of surfaces, from slippery ice-rinks to the puddles and bog of Moorabbin. Those days are gone, and even the weather that was once so normal is now odd. And there are places they under a roof, as they will today at Docklands.
Not so the MCG, where I'll be today. It's a big game, the last round of the regular season and the last before the finals begin next week. My team, Essendon, play Hawthorn, last years premiers, in a game weighted with meaning. Not only do these teams have a bitter rivalry going back to the mid-eighties when they swapped titles (the Lakers/Celtic of the AFL), the winner of today's game will play again next week with a chance to play on the last day of September. The loser bows out, always next year.
For me a couple of hours before the first bounce I feel something very familiar. I have experienced this hundreds of times in my life, the anticipation, the expectation, the countdown to the siren blowing with all sorts of things going through my head. Today it is slightly more fraught than most because so much more rides on the result, but all in all I am pretty calm. There is nothing I can do but cheer on the team. I may get l;oud at the footy sometimes, and it's pretty common to share a few words with opposition supporters, but by and large I am a very focussed and unflustered follower of the team.
Today I am going with an English girl foir just a second game of footy. Arriving here she had been told she should barrack for the Saints, not surprising considering the largest concentration of English backpackers live in St Kilda. She went to her first game a few weeks ago to watch St Kilda take on Essendon. She found as that exciting game progressed that she was instinctively following the underdogs Bombers against the unbeaten Saints. That was a great and exciting game, a perfect introduction to AFL, and on that day a brave and daring Essendon team inflicted on the Saints their first loss of the year (decided after the siren). And so she was set, an Esendon supporter.
This will be her second game. I'll take her into the MCC members where I sit and look to instruct her in the finer points of the game, but I dare say there will be moments when I get carried away in the action. And I must remember to bite my tongue for a change.
It should be a great game. The weather will suit our opponents more, but I have a lot of faith in my team. In two years they will be the champion team every other wants to beat. For now that is a little while away, they are young and inconsistent but capable on their day of beating any team in the land. That is what I'm counting on.
Soon then I'll eat my roll and then climb into the jacket I normally take with me skiing. I'll board a tram, meet with my English lass and then together we'll enter the modern Colosseum that is the MCG, and watch the action unfold…
We win, well I'll be there again next week and will happily enjoy an ale or two after the game today. If we lose, well, the ale won't taste so sweet, but there is always next year after all.