Sunday, March 21, 2010

Footy allegiances

I used to boast of being the world’s only raving Trotskyist footy fanatic. And by ‘raving’ I don’t mean ranting, although no doubt there have been times when I’ve frothed at the mouth.

I still encounter surprise around the Left, and the electronic music scene, when I display my love of footy. It’s part of me. I grew up in the southern beach suburbs of Adelaide, and Dad would take my brother and I from Saturday sport to his parents’ in Glenelg for lunch – then we’d walk down to the Bay Oval and get in for free in the second half. At three quarter time we’d run out onto the ground and try to dob bananas from the boundary line with all the other kids, or converge on the home team’s huddle to gee the boys up and hear the coach give one last spray.

But I inherited my team from the other side of town: Norwood, where Mum’s grandfather had been a parish priest. When the Redlegs made the finals, she’d drive us across town to watch weeknight training and get the players’ autographs. I wore Gary McIntosh’s no. 14 on my back, and one year he winked at me across the boundary fence.

Macca was the last great Norwood player not to pay VFL/AFL. He was too loyal, and didn’t fancy the big smoke of Melbourne. Once, when a North Melbourne recruiter came knocking, he jumped out a side window of his own house to escape. And when a young Stuart Dew was threatening to win the 1997 prelim final for Centrals, Macca belted him a few times to make sure we made the Grannie.

So Macca didn’t play in that historic match, the last SANFL game that really mattered to me. Even then I had missed the whole season, my first at Melbourne Uni, but I took the overnight train back to Adelaide to see the Legs smash Port Adelaide. Afterwards we joined thousands of fans back at the Parade to celebrate.

Earlier that week, the victory parade for the Crows’ first premiership attracted 100,000 people. It was a new era all right. I love the AFL but, when your team of birth isn’t even in the competition, it’s hard to adjust. More than a decade later, I still don’t have a team I can really call my own.

Melbourne was my VFL team of choice growing up. They shared Norwood’s red and blue colours, and made the finals for the first time for ages in 1987 – the year they could have won the flag if Jim Stynes hadn’t run across Gary Buckenara’s mark in the dying seconds. That tragedy made a Demon fan of me, but when I moved to Melbourne I found it hard to love the club. Despite what David Bridie and Martin Flanagan might say, it’s the old money team and it always will be. Its struggle doesn’t grab me, and what fans it does have usually repel me.

When I watch the Crows play a big game in Melbourne, I can channel the ‘statriotic’ fervour of the old State of Origin games. Outside the Docklands before the Hawthorn final a few years back was like being out on Rundle Street: familiar faces everywhere, all folk who have made the move to Melbourne. There’s a certain clannishness I enjoy over here, but dislike back home. Maybe it’s just that in Melbourne we’re the underdogs – which brings me to my other team (three out of sixteen ain’t bad, hey?).

I lived in Footscray from 2004-2006, and loved it out west. My housemate worked for Slater & Gordon (Peter Gordon is a big Footscray man) and at Trades Hall it’s mostly split between Collingwood and the Doggies. My fondness for the Doggies has cemented by my girlfriend Avalon’s budding fanaticism, and I go to matches occasionally with Kevin Davis, the retired printers union official who volunteers at the New International Bookshop.

There are big hopes for the Doggies this year, and if they win the flag it would mean a lot to a lot of people who mean a lot to me – not to mention most of the western suburbs. There’s a story there that appeals to me. Plus there’s some great young South Aussies: Adam Cooney, who went to Blackwood High with my stepsister, and Ryan Griffen, whom Avalon says has nice arms. And there’s Bob Murphy who wrote No War on his bicep, and Aker, and now Barry Hall to balance out all the young pretty boys.

So I tried on a Doggies jumper at the Salvos over summer, and found it fitted quite nicely. I might never be a ‘real’ one-eyed AFL supporter, but I’m happy to settle for that.

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