Anzac Day is just about my favourite day of the year. Yesterday it was fine and mild. I headed off early to get myself a seat at the MCG for the big match. Bought a badge at the ground, one of the marinated chicken rolls I like so much, then settled in for the game.
As always it was very impressive, and very moving. The two teams burst through the same banner before lining up across from each other for the last post and the national anthem. Everyone stood. In the silence you could hear the flag flapping in the breeze. In the national anthem 90,000 sung along to the words everyone now knows so well.
It was a cracking game, worthy of the day. We lost, which was no great surprise, but we gave them a fright, and played with intensity and heart. I left satisfied knowing that we are the real deal, thinking that we are ahead of everyone else in the comp but Collingwood. That's a big call, but I've seen no other team this year approach the intensity and skill on show by the two teams yesterday.
Last night I watched some of the programs I had recorded earlier. I watched the pre-game show, which featured interviews and conversations with the usual experts, but unusually also featured social commentators and journalists. Anzac day is the big day in Australian culture, and yesterday was deep immersion.
I found myself greatly adffected by what I saw. Many times I found my eyes glistening with emotion. Interviews with old diggers relating their stories. Commentators putting into some kind of context. And in the background looming was the big game.
There is occasional controversy over whether a big game of football devalues the day, or commercialises it. I find the arguments specious rubbish. I'm loathe to get into discussions about what people fought and died for because it becomes trite in the expression – however, if I want to attribute any meaning to it then I would suggest these men marched off to war to preserve the lifestyle and freedoms we all so cherish. Football may seem small beer, but it is a good part of our culture and in its way representative of those hopes.
Football is not life and death (though it feels it sometimes), and it doesn't pretend to be. We fight for 4 points, and no lives are on the line. Only the very lame draw those parallels. It is who we are though, proved by a crowd yesterday of 90,000 and a TV audience of millions, including thousands of ex-servicemen. It's part of the life these great guys fought for, and a day like yesterday the perfect celebration of what they stood for.
What is also often overlooked is how a game like this has put the spotlight on the Anzac tradition. The teams, the AFL, are very respectful of the day and what it means. The hype and and aura of the game feeds into the Anzac legend, which the teams and the media pay homage to. I truly believe that this game creates awareness, and in the periphery of it educates as each year other stories are highlighted.
The other argument is whether the day should be the sole provence of Essendon and Collingwood. Not surprisingly there are many envious of the tradition and granduer of the big Anzac day clash. For me it's a no-brainer. These are the two biggest and most popular footbal clubs in Australia. Support for them is tribal and vociferous. Between them they have created this tradition around which so much has accreted. They have made Anzac day this celebration, and it is the tradition and the rivalry between these two clubs that has made it so.
To change that formula would be to diminish it. The magic is in the tradition and the clubs who have built it. It would lose the glamour and mystique if it was just another home and away match.
Footy is a good way. This is a great season so far, and the Bombers are looking good.