It’s an immense time of year here in Melbourne, always is. Sometimes you forget, but then September rolls around again and it comes back to you all: the hype, the excitement, the anticipation, the wonder, not to mention the parties. AFL finals series is like that. No question it’s the biggest game in town through winter, and maybe more than that. Is it a bigger sport than cricket? Not quite, not yet anyway. Cricket has it over footy because it’s the only real national sport we have. But footy is big because it is so passionately felt.
For some reason I don’t write about footy much here. I don’t know why that it is. It’s that I’m not passionate about it – fuck, I am. There are weeks I live and die on the weekends results. Not a week goes by without a keen dissection of the game in general, much discussion, and often times some bitter – though mostly good natured – banter with rival team supporters. I don’t know how many live games I’ve attended over the years – certainly in the hundreds; and I figure I know as much about the game as anyone going around. Then again, everyone in Melbourne is an expert.
So it’s finals time. My team isn’t there – next year maybe. Disappointed I might be, but not for a moment does my interest wane. If you like footy through the home and away rounds then you have to love finals footy because it is the best there is. It’s got all the skill you’ve become used to, but added into the mix is the fierce nature of the contest. It’s a mighty hard game that becomes a battle of wills as much as of skill and athleticism. The teams that win at this time of year are those most committed to win the hard ball, and to deny it to the opposition. It is about preparation and discipline, playing to instructions, and as a team; and not once taking a backward step. It’s marvellous to watch no matter who you barrack for. It may be the most spectacular sport in the world, but at this time of year it also becomes the toughest.
So it has been the last couple of weeks of finals footy. There have been some mighty battles. The best of the games have been like contests between an irresistible force and an immoveable object. Which can prevail?
Today I watched a program that reviewed one of the more famous grand finals of the last 30 years, the 1984 game between Hawthorn and Essendon. I remember it very well. Essendon is my team, and the year prior I had rolled up to the MCG with my dad to attend my very first VFL/AFL grand final. We were smashed. In 1984 we couldn’t get tickets to the game, and so I watched it with my dad at my old home in Lower Plenty. It was a great game.
I had a powerful sense of nostalgia as I watched today. I’ve probably watched this grand final from start to finish a half dozen times, and seen the iconic moments of the game replayed a hundred times or more. I know the game so well, and so returning to it today was like opening up a favourite novel you know back to front, but are happy to return to again and again because the story is so compelling.
What made this program different was the interviews with some of the great players who took part in the game from both sides. It’s always fascinating to get the insights from those who competed, and to learn of some of the back stories. I was riveted from start to finish. As the game unfolded I felt it swell in me again as it did that first time live, and as it has every time since in replay.
Things like this become a part of your story, especially when you are a kid, as I was then. You’re just a spectator, but you’ve put your faith and hope in a set of colours, a tradition you hope to be part of, and a bunch of men, young mostly, who come to personify all that hope and all those beliefs and, ultimately, all that love. You never forget them when they’ve done you proud.
It was like that as I watched, becoming emotional at the moments which are inscribed in my memories so vividly. It’s the story of me as much as it is a story of the game and those who participated in it. And my story is multiplied hundreds and thousands of times, each story different, but with the same genesis.
I remember that night rocking up to the club with my dad. We were social club members as it was then, and so gained entry inside. Funnily enough my memories of that are vague. I remember a sense of turbulent celebration, people everywhere jammed together calling out and cheering. And I remember the players there. They seemed numb with pleasure, the gods of the day justly feted by the likes of us mere mortals. Memories.