Melbourne-based writer and journalist. Purveyor of finally crafted radio plays. A Muppet of a man.
I think it’s safe to say that sport and I rarely see eye to eye. Growing up, my family often sat on the side of a hill covered in red and blue vestige cheering for the local football team, the Newcastle Knights. I seemed to be more interested in sodoku and Footrot Flat comic books. One year during the grand final, when the Knights would have their triumphant victory, I could be found in my bedroom watching Star Trek. The older I got, the more obvious it was to my ever vigilant parents that sports and I would never destined to be, and to this day I can still hear their hearts breaking.
Being an Australian, this puts me at a bit of a disadvantage. The general population breathes sport, so already we have no common ground. I’m risking being an outcast. When friends talk about football, I can only nod and smile blankly. I dare not say anything at the risk of confusing myself and others – with two different games of football in the same country, can you blame me? Any social interaction is fraught with danger, and journeying to the water cooler has become a practice of stealth lest I be talked to. I’m fast in danger of suffering dehydration.
To make it potentially clearer to those outside my country, Australia has two species of football, NRL and AFL. The former is what I was unwillingly exposed to the most during my childhood, and can best be described as a fight with a ball. The second, AFL, was a completely unknown beast to me. But in moving myself to Melbourne, I quickly realised that I should maybe try and embrace their state religion.
And so it was that I braved the crowds and went out to my first game of football. I’ll be the first to admit that I could have been better prepared. Armed with a free ticket and adequate protection against the cold, my football companions were my sports sheltered fiancé and two girls from Seattle. My one lifeline who knew the game had to bail out due to work commitments… I was alone.
My first minor victory came when I found out that I’d actually heard of one of the players – he was recently involved in a scandal that no one should care about, in which he cheated on his wife with a model, took a photo, etc. Insert tabloid drama here. From that point on, the word ‘Bingle’ (in honour of the model) was used casually as a verb to describe the play. For example, I could bingle the ball to you, as you bingle across the field. Much amusement (potentially only to myself) was evident during the course of the game.
My next moment of enlightenment came when one of the Seattle girls described the game as basketball with a lot more kicking involved. Suddenly the game made a lot more sense to me. Sure, there’s kicking and jumping to the point where I’m pretty sure the player’s mothers had been overly friendly with a kangaroo at some point during conception. But there’s also bouncing. There’s also penalties. There’s also… ok, I’ll admit it, I’m as lost with basketball (perhaps even moreso) as I am with football.
But I am, if nothing else, an Australian. If I wanted to be honest about seeing an AFL game, I needed to participate with an open mind. So I cheered at the right parts (for both teams, for good measure). I ate a meat pie and drank some beer (even if it wasn’t tastefully imported). I patiently waited for a Mexican wave (which never came – they’ve been banned, apparently, because someone once threw a pie).
While my parents might be disappointed that my brush with the sacred game hasn’t made me a complete convert, I can at least appreciate that other people might appreciate it. I mightn’t have understood the rules, but I can now say that I have been to ‘a game’, and proudly cross that item off my Bucket List. I might not have comprehended the scoring, but I can safely say that the Melbourne Demons thoroughly bingled the Brisbane Lions. And yes, it might be true that if a ball came my way, my instinct would be to duck and cover… but come the morning, I won’t be avoiding the water cooler any longer.