A day at the footy

For many years I would go to the footy almost every week, from when I was just a child with my dad, and later, by myself mostly, for a stretch of 25 years or so as an adult. I go less these days because I live further away and because other things have come into my life, but I still try to get to 4-5 games a year, and I rarely watching on the TV when I’m not there.

I went again yesterday. It was the first time I’d been to a game since 2019. Last year was a wash-out because of Covid, which is a pity because it broke the run of about 38 years in which I’d been to at least one game. But anyway, back again, and it was good to be there.

There’s a routine and ritual to these occasions. For about 10 years, I lived within walking distance of the MCG, which was our home ground at the time. If it was a Saturday arvo game, I’d often cook up a batch of soup in the morning and have a bowl with some crusty bread before heading out. I’d walk along the banks of the Yarra, listening to the footy preview through my earbuds to the radio. It was about a half-hour walk, and as I got close, I’d see the gathering crowd streaming toward the ground and cars with scarves hanging out the windowing that way.

I’d buy my footy Record and would think about stopping at one of the food caravans to pick up a bite to eat before entering the ground, though I’d that more often on the way out (there was a spicy chicken roll I was always partial too; otherwise there were always the jam donuts, piping hot). Inside the ground, I’d go to my reserved seat and say hello to the people I’d got to know from sitting in the same spot every fortnight.

It was different yesterday but recognisably related. I got on the local train with about another 20 footy supporters decked out in some recognisable club regalia – for some very odd reason, every one of them supported the same team as me, though they may not have known it. I wore my lucky jocks and a pair of red and black footy socks for anyone sufficiently keen-eyed to spot them,

The train filled as we drew neither until it was standing room only, and then disgorged 95% of the passengers at Richmond station. The exits were choked as hundreds of footy lovers got out at once. Once outside the station, the road was closed off, and the usual teenage kids were selling the footy Record. I always buy one and am one of those anal types who record every goal and mark down the score at every interval. I’ll reference the crowd number too and scribble the length of the quarters. I’ve been doing it since I was a boy, and you don’t unlearn that.

Remarkably, the Record is still $5, though you can’t buy it with cash anymore. I joined the crowd, fighting against it sometimes as I circled the ground to the members’ far side. Inside the ground, there was the accustomed hum of an expectant crowd. It’s the sort of thing you forget until you experience it again.

Because of Covid, we now have allocated seats, which is great in my view. I hate that the MCC is walk up and people save seats by draping scarves and clothing over, though they’re not supposed to. An allocated seat is fairer, and I hope it stays that way even when restrictions are eased.

I sat next to a Carlton family. Almost typically, they were of Italian stock. The mum sat next to me, an anxious type who would clutch at herself when things got tight or went wrong. The other side was a bunch of girls and a single guy, all about 20, half for each club. I was the killer in between, all by himself.

For most of the game, you probably wouldn’t have guessed which team I barracked for. I watch with grim concentration, rarely getting caught up in the emotion of it. At the start of most quarters, I might growl a guttural Carn the Bombers as the siren sounds, and occasionally I’ll abuse an umpire – Ray Chamberlain was on yesterday, so plenty of scope for that. Late in games, I might rise in my seat wielding a triumphant fist or add my voice to the condemnation ringing around the ground.

No one ever gives me any shit at the ground. I suspect I’m forbidding. I’m hard at it, but I’m reasonable, too. I got talking to the Carlton mother and helped her climb into her seat. Other times I’ll get into a routine of banter, which is one of the joys of attending games in person. I always stay to the end, regardless of the result, because I refuse to be cowed.

So I did yesterday, though we lost a close one. It was an entertaining match and, though we lost to a hated rival, I enjoyed the day immensely. It felt like old-fashioned footy, and we could easily have won it – and probably would have but for the mistakes we made, and Ray. But that’s footy. I’m very encouraged by the direction we’re heading in.

The mood is always different after the game. On the way in, everyone is expectant and focused on what might unfold. There’s a tension that keeps everyone to themselves. After the game, the tension releases. The game is done, the result known, and we’re either celebrating or licking our wounds. On the train, the mood is a lot looser. People laugh. Banter is exchanged, most of it good-natured. We settle back into life. There’s always next week.

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