So last night I was at the Gabba here in Brisbane checking out the home town Lions take on the Carlton Blues, a team from Melbourne (most Aussie Rules or AFL teams are) which some of you may be familiar with as Cork’s Setanta O’hAilpin played for the latter when he first made his move to Australia (he can now be found playing for the expansion team the Greater Western Sydney Giants).
I’ve always enjoyed watching AFL even when I lived back home and the hour long magazine show that used to be on TG4 (is it still on by the way?) or when I lived in the Caribbean and bizarrely it used to be on the ‘international’ ESPN channel first thing on a Friday morning before I would go to work! However, living in Australia there really only are two codes that people nail their colours to the mast for; Rugby League or AFL and at the moment, the latter seems to be in the ascendancy. The former is very big in New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland (QLD) with one team serving all of Victoria (Melbourne Storm), one serving Canberra and one serving all of New Zealand. Outside of this limited geographical reach their is little or no interest in league.
AFL on the other hand is EVERYWHERE. It even has its very own dedicated channel, Fox Footy (ah Rupert, you always know what the people really want, you bastard) and teams in every state (the ACT and Northern Territory are not states by the way folks) and where it does not have a team it will have a game there (Hawthorne Hawks play in Tasmania on occasion even if they are a Melbourne team, while on Anzac day a game was played in Canberra). It is the biggest sport in Victoria (Melbourne has 9 teams), Southern Australia (Adelaide has 2 teams) and Western Australia (Perth has two teams), while in the Northern Territory it is the only sport going, ditto Tasmania though neither area has a team.
In many ways, it has become my life, not in an awful way (I have other interests folks, I’m not some football hermit though my alias perhaps suggests otherwise) but my friends (boys and girls) and I go to every Lions home game in the Gabba without fail. For me, it is me at my happiest in Australia; I am with my best friends, cheering on a team that’s playing a sport that I love, and the team itself is one that when it is good it can play some exquisite football, but when it is bad I want to pull my hair out. Last night was Round 9 in the 2013 season and this round is known as the ‘Indigenous Round’, recognising Indigenous Australian talent and the communities here, the First Australians. It is part of the anti-racism drive here and unfortunately it is something that hasn’t gone away. The most potent symbol for many in trying to rid AFL of racism and celebrate diversity is that of Nicky Winmar being racially abused whilst playing for St Kilda in their 1993 game against the Collingwood Magpies (the Pies). In a game that the Saints won by 22 points, after Nicky received abuse from the crowd AND the Pies’ cheerleaders, in an act of defiance, an act of sheer bravado and righteous pride he raised his top and in front of his racist, knuckle dragging detractors, he pointed at his skin, the victor in more ways than one. I love the picture’s simplicity, there’s really nothing more I should say or can be said. It (racism) hasn’t gone away quite yet as on Friday night the excellent Adam Goodes was abused by a 13 year old Pies fan as the Sydney Swans hockeyed the Pies at the MCG. Pies President Eddie Maguire went straight to meet Adam after the game and apologised for and on behalf of the club and confirmed that the Pies would not tolerate that kind of rubbish, however, one racial incident is always one too many.
That said, last night’s game was played in great spirits and was a clash of the titans like event. The Lions at the moment have a number of Irish guys playing for them too, they being Pearce Hanley of Mayo and Niall McKeever of Antrim, so I have a tenuous reason to support the Lions! No, the reality is that I support them because I have seen them the most, I live in Brisbane and while I did like the Pies before I came here (they wear black and white stripes and played great football, that was enough for me) I have grown to love the Lions. Last night they lost to Carlton by 13 points after coming back in the 2nd quarter when they were over 30 points behind and went into the break in the lead. The team decided to put my friends and I through the usual meat grinder of emotions, where we experienced insane highs and some frustrating, rum and beer fueled lows.
I turned to my best friend, an Indigenous Australian I’ve known from my time in London and said ‘damn you for getting me into the Lions, they’re going to age me horribly and I’m already a Tottenham fan, I don’t think I can take much more of this!‘ Of course, I was lying, I can take much more of it, because I love this team and I support them now and I enjoy the feeling of being alive and supporting something with others. I would love to say that the reason we were at the game last night was because it was Indigenous round and it was an important matter for her (my friend), but that would not be the whole truth. It was an important game for her and yes, she went to show her support for the Indigenous round and Indigenous Australians in the AFL and everywhere else, but then again, we always go to see the Lions play, we just couldn’t miss this round.
What I enjoy is coming into work on Monday morning, having my coffee and complaining with everyone else about how such and such is not giving an honest shift and pretending that we know what the solution is, if only they could see. I look forward to going to the Gabba with my mates and seeing them in the Chalk Hotel for a a few where we dream the dream that maybe, just maybe, the Lions will play the way we know they can and should every week and we will have the chance to celebrate (I have celebrated at a few!).
We will of course be going to the game this Friday night. We will go to the Chalk after work and have a few and then make our way over with the 20,000 or so others and we will cheer on the Lions, curse them and whomever they play, we always do so why break the habit of a lifetime so far? So, who will they play this Friday? Why, the Pies of course 🙂 This should be fun…