I headed off to the footy last night with my eldest nephew, a Carlton supporter. Of course the big game was his team versus my team, much despised rivals. Fortunately my team won.
We arrived late. I’d had to attend something at the shop which ran over time. I sped through the suburbs on the way to the ground, and ultimately parked in the grounds. The game was about 5 minutes in when we entered the stadium proper. The ground was lit up, the stands 2/3’s full, and an undercurrent of sound surged sometimes into a full throated roar before settling back into a background hum.
Normally I’m in the members, but not this time. It’s been years since I’ve been general admission at the MCG. Not surprisingly we couldn’t find a seat at ground level, and as we began to circle the ground we were cut off by the AFL members area. The only way was up.
We ended up on the top level peering steeply down on the field below. The last time I sat up there was the 2000 Grand Final I think. That was a good day.
The seats were filled all around us, an even distribution of opposing supporters. Used to watching the game from up close and near to ground level this was a different experience. Sitting in the members close to the fence you can hear the clash of bodies, and the sound of foot on ball. It’s a visceral, immediate experience.
There’s none of that from high above. In it’s place though is something else. I was fascinated to watch the movement of players, to see emerge patterns and structure less obvious when down below, and impossible to see on TV. From above the game appears more than just a dynamic contest of bodies. You see the tactics at play, the intelligence that defines game style and structure. And in this case I saw the great superiority of one team over another.
Essendon, my team, were dominant all night – they won by 81 points against their most hated rival (my 15 year old nephew was shattered). We clearly have the superior talent across the field, though undermanned, but equally clearly that was only part of the story. The rest of it was discipline and coaching.
What was impressive was the transition between attack and defence. So well drilled are the players that they know instinctively where to go and what to do when one becomes the other (unlike Carlton, who were a rabble). They looked like pieces on a chessboard moving into position.
It was a good win by what I think is a top 4 side. We’ll go close this year.
Driving home I listened to the radio wrap-up of the game while my nephew sat mute in the passenger seat. I couldn’t help but recall my own childhood, and the hundreds of times I would sit there beside my father on the way home from the footy listening to Captain and the Major on 3KZ, or else Harry Beitzel and Tommy Lahiff on 3AW, and occasionally the imperious Doug Bigelow on 3LO. Thirty years on I’m in the drivers seat in a world much changed, my nephew in the seat once mine. Memories.