The religion of football

Religion comes in many forms – Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism – and then there is football. September is finals time for Australian Rules Football (AFL) and it is at this time of the year that this religion comes into its own, for it is a time all football fans celebrate the essence of togetherness, the discipline that football teaches.

AFL is followed by more fans than any other sport in Australia. It is the primary game we play in winter, and was originally derived by cricketers who wanted to play a sport that would keep them fit in the off-season. The people flocked to the game and it became the greatest of all spectator sports.

It attracted young men with a future that seemed all but lost before football came to town

Yet what type of spectator did this new-found game attract? It was the kind of game that gave young men a chance to pick themselves up from the ashes of unemployment and wealthy businessmen the ability to provide those young men with a future that seemed all but lost before football came to town.

It gave ordinary folk the chance to come to the game, sit in the pricey seats or stand in the standing-room only area, paying little to mix with those from a different background.

And there’s the rub.

AFL is a game that does not recognise colour or creed

AFL is a game, even today, especially today, that does not recognise colour or creed. It does not care whether you are black, brown, yellow or white. It has no concern whether you come from the rough  end of the sticks or the wealthy suburbs.

And neither do the spectators. With standing room a thing of the past, there is nothing left (other than the corporate boxes) to divide the rich from the poor. There is as much of a chance that the man or woman, adult or child, sitting next to you could be your best friend as they could a perfect stranger or an enemy in business, They may come from the other part of town, or a different town altogether. They could as well be a merchant banker as they could a carpenter, a retailer or a teacher. The child sitting in front of you could as well be educated in the public school system as he could the most toffee-nosed private school in suburban Melbourne.

These players have names like Christian Petracca, Travis Varcoe, Lin Jong, Mason Cox and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti. They come from many and varied backgrounds, like the spectators watching their every move

Looking out to the field, the 100,000 fans see the players, running up and down, kicking and chasing, hand-passing and following, marking and celebrating a goal. These players have names like Christian Petracca, Travis Varcoe, Lin Jong, Mason Cox and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti. They come from many and varied backgrounds, like the spectators watching their every move.

Petracca’s heritage is Italian, Varcoe Indigenous Australian, Jong is part Taiwanese, part Timorese, Cox comes from the Unites States and McDonald-Tipungwuti is a Tiwi Islander. Yet they are all footballers, accepted and celebrated for their talent, ability and prowess.

The fans ring out a cheer. Their fanaticism for their team is exhilarating

The fans ring out a cheer. Their fanaticism for their team is exhilarating. They are what makes the game great. Instances abound of a full house of fans, standing, to respect a minutes silence for the fallen on ANZAC Day. Or for the national anthem. No-one kneels at the stadium that is the AFL.

Togetherness, understanding, tolerance, sportsmanship

Togetherness, understanding, tolerance, sportsmanship. This is what we worship in September.

May it always be thus.

 

NB: Go to AFL.com.au for more information on the beauty that is Australian Rules Football

Finals football at the ‘G’

The ‘G’. The ground that draws a crowd.

This is the time of the year when everyone’s attention turns to football – in Australia at least. In the US they broadcast the game we love and created at 3am when you are all in  bed sound asleep but there are a few of you I know who are ardent followers of our great game.

Australian Rules Football (AFL) started as a sideshow, for cricketers to play in the off-season to keep themselves fit for the summer. The game sprouted from its fledgling beginnings in and around the suburbs of Melbourne, our second largest city, and home of ‘Aussie Rules’.

To begin with there were two sides, one from Melbourne itself and another from a nearby town called Geelong. In those early days there was one thing that surprised more than anything else – the game’s popularity.

That was 1859.

This weekend, over 91,000 people turned out to watch those two clubs (Melbourne and Geelong) fight out a tough elimination final. The night before, over 91,000 people attended the other elimination final. The first time in the history of the game that over 90,000 people had attended finals matches back to back.

You have to experience the game to understand it and even then it’s best to throw the rule book away and simply watch the game that is the definition of entertainment with the pleasure and excitement it engenders in us all.

In the US, the Superbowl is played at various stadiums around the country. In Australia we play the Grand Final, as we call it, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) – note the connection to cricket here, each and every year.

Superbowl XIV attracted 103,985 people to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the highest ever attended Superbowl. The 1970 AFL/VFL Grand Final between Collingwood and Carlton holds the record for any sporting event in terms of crowd attendance held anywhere in Australia. Today, the ground holds an official capacity of 100,024, so it’s unlikely this record will ever be broken.

The game was played between two of the ‘heavy-hitters in AFL history and at half-time it saw Collingwood ahead by 42 points. Game over.

Not so fast.

Carlton came back to win by 10 points. As explained by Wikipedia

Late in the last quarter, with Carlton leading by less than a goal, Alex Jesaulenko snatched the ball on the half forward line and sent a left foot kick bouncing towards goal. With no one guarding the goals, the ball bounced through for a goal, sealing the game for Carlton, [who] completed a recovery, to triumph by 10 points, 17.9 (111) to 14.17 (101).

That day, the MCG attracted 121,696 banner-waving, crowd-pleasing, cheering fans.

The ground has only ever seen one event surpass this in terms of crowd attendance and that was for a 1959 evangelical tour by the late Billy Graham when more than 130,000 people turned out to listen to the crowd-pleasing evangelist . One fellow, quoted by the ABC, in an article on ABC.net.au who was there that day, says;

I felt God speaking to me

So it took God himself to surpass a record that will never be broken. Go figure!

To experience the excitement of the last four minutes of that game, go to YouTube

And to finish, I must include my own experiences at AFL Grand Finals, having been twice, the most recent attendance being in 2010, on 25th September, when I was one of the 100,016 people that saw Collingwood and St.Kilda play out…

a draw!

A week later I was in hospital when the two teams went round again for a replay of the Grand Final to finally try and split them apart. And split them apart they did, with Collingwood victorious on a day when I was only semi-conscious.

Ahh, what a great game it is. I hope you get to experience it some day and enjoy a spectacle that is beyond words.

Wild days

Oh but for those wild days

Where the yardarm greets the sun

I could abate the little bird

And be the only one

 

Who stands upon a portal

And sings upon a rock

Who nestles in the silent night

Walking to the expanse of the dock

 

Why jump; one thinks and ponders

Why not; one thinks again

Happenstance sits over yonder

But serendipity, she sends

 

A message – in a bottle –

Coming from the heart

Entice the ‘castle’, built on sandy coast

And thought of, like a cart

 

That travails in her journey

To and from her homestead land

Ending bi-coastal adventures

That reflect a supple hand

 

That leads to ebbs and flows

In the ocean they call life

A choice of vice or virtue

In the afternoon’s delight

 

Does light shine upon you

Or does darkness build a hole

Where innocence is lost

And guilt, from pride, will take its toll

 

If we mislay our innocence

And find our fault-line again

Will uncertainty be censured

And life’s hypothesis be sent

 

To a man who sits, enraptured

Reading knowledge, cast as thought

And understands the notion

That wisdom can’t be bought

 

Yet on the ‘castle’ stands a King

Looking out upon the stone

Where the man sits viewing sunsets

From what he terms his ‘throne’

 

And throughout the night he ponders

And wonders at the world

His smile – captivated –

His life is now  unfurled.