For the true believers

I don’t want to go over the top, but Saturday night at the MCG was one of the greatest sporting occasions of my life. I say sporting – and it was a game of footy – but it went far beyond that. It was a night of raw, redemptive emotion. For Essendon supporters this was the first time in 4 years we could go to the footy with a full squad and all the horrors of the supplements saga finally behind us. This was our time finally, and as a collective – club, players, supporters – we rose to it.

It started with the march to the G, all the diehards joining together at Fed Square before marching to the ground behind our colours, banners flying. Then the game itself. There were 78,000 in attendance and I reckon 65,000 were Essendon supporters. The roar when the players took the field was one of the loudest I’ve heard. It sent chills up the spine.

No surprise that the players were roused by that and they started like a rocket. They got the first goal a couple of minutes in and I had tears in my eyes. Emotion was always going to be a powerful motivator, but it fades. We got the early lead before the old pros at Hawthorn exerted their experience and come half time had the lead, and looking likely to go on with it. Midway through the 3rd Hawthorn led by a little over 2 goals, and though tight the narrative seemed predictable: brave Essendon would challenge, but run out of legs, and Hawthorn would power away. It didn’t happen like that.

Instead it was Essendon that flicked the switch. Pace and dare and creativity told and it was my team that ran all over the top of the seasoned pros. They never looked likely to lose from about 40 minutes out. They controlled the ball and were playing dynamic football. They believed, and the belief surged them forward, again and again. In the end it was a comfortable 25 point win. It was a great game though.

Of course once the final siren went the floodgates opened. The stadium was awash with unashamed emotion. In the stands, and across the land, Essendon supporters embraced and cheered and shed a tear. On the field players fell to their knees, before gathering themselves to circuit the field giving thanks to the supporters who have stayed so true.

It might seem strange, but it’s the supporters I feel so happy for. I’m one of them, but I divorce myself from that as I see the sheer joy on other’s faces, when I read of their unstinting support, when I see that even after all the stress and trauma we have record membership numbers. I’ve said before, that while the whole supplements saga was an evil thing the good that has come from it is that it has bound us true believers together.

As a sporting fan you tend to take your support for granted. It’s something you inherited from your folks, like religion, or acquired somewhere along the way. You support blindly, thoughtlessly, because that is what you do. You roar for the colours and belt out the club song and know the history backwards. You are part of a tribe.

It’s different now to be an Essendon supporter because each of us have had to question that. It was challenged by the events of the last 4 years, and for the first time cast into doubt. Each of us have had to ask what it means to barrack for this club? What does it mean to us? What do we feel? What do we think? It’s like a devout man finding doubt abruptly in his heart and having to find a way back to faith. We have been tested, and those of us who remain have come through the fire to a new understanding of what our devotion means. It is a living thing in all of us because we have had to breathe life into it. For those who cheered and hollered on Saturday night it was a kind of vindication of that faith. We are the true believers, and this is our reward.

Occasions such as this are unforgettable. There’s a sense of shared euphoria. On the street and on the train on the way home people high five and sing the song and share the joy. There’s a sense of brotherhood and goodwill. We share a common love and there’s no stopping us from celebrating it.

It’s hard to come down after such occasions. I had no thought for sleep and wanted to consume all I could of the game, Saturday night and Sunday and even this morning. I can’t get enough.

Just quietly, we may actually have a handy team too. Go Bombers!


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