Victorians (those from the State of) tend to like – Australian Rules Football – which is our eccentric own code that developed in Melbourne in the 1850s. Not all of us follow the game, but a huge number. We have tribal loyalties to football teams and play-act those passions out every weekend – with mock hatred for the opposition and the like. Some take it further than that and enter states that border on mental disease. But most don’t and they understand perspective – that it is just a game, a distraction in our lives. I follow the – Melbourne Football Club (MFC) – the Demons, the Dees, the Red and the Blue, which is the oldest club in the game having been founded in 1858. Tomorrow is a very big day for supporters of the Melbourne Football Club (MFC) because our team is finally in a Grand Final and has the chance to break the longest premiership drought in the history of the competition.
The last time the MFC – the mighty Demons – won the Grand Final was in 1964 – 57 years ago. I was a young boy.
The team has made the final game only twice since then – 1988 thrashed by Hawthorn and 2000 thrashed by Essendon – and has generally been one of the worst performing teams in the league – unreliable, vulnerable to huge losses, financial crises, merger bids and all the rest of it.
This year, we have been among the two best teams, and they are now head-to-head tomorrow evening in the decider. I actually also like the competitors – Western Bulldogs or Footscray as I still call them.
The idea of supporting a football team from a young age through little thick and lots of thin is an interesting one that I have given thought to over the years.
Why would anyone be loyal to such a crisis-ridden and shocking team for all their lives when the highs are few and the lows often, and, very low?
I have never answered it.
It just is.
The red and the blue of the Melbourne Football Club is part of me and I know it is irrational and thus makes no sense.
Not all things have to make sense.
Someone once asked me why I go to all the games in Melbourne each year, mostly played at the best stadium in the world – the Melbourne Cricket Ground – and endure the consistent losses the MFC has historically recorded.
My reply was that:
There is an aesthetic in the struggle …
That is what makes sense to me – watching an organisation try to work its way to the top in a complex environment while kicking a bit of leather around the place.
Most of my professional life has been spend ‘in my head’ – thinking, analysing, writing – a largely solitary endeavour. Going to the ‘G’ and clapping and cheering is a visceral element, a sharp contrast to my normal day.
I like that aspect of the game.
As a supporter I also often get looks from other members at the game when I clap the opposition for doing something skilful.
That is the other element I like – the skill and athleticism of the players who leap and kick and tackle beyond conception some times.
There are lots of things I dislike about the way the game has gone – the slavish concession to corporatisation, the way the gambling companies have captured the league, the stupid music they play at games to rev up the crowd – as if we need any revving up, the stupid bomb explosions and other noises between goals.
The space between goals used to be a time of repose – to reflect. Now it is a time to shield the ears.
But there are other things I like about the Melbourne Football Club.
Early on it broke the link with sports clubs that gave it revenue through gambling (poker machines etc), which was enlightened and admirable.
They were the pioneers of the development of the women’s football competition (with the Western Bulldogs incidentally), which has given young girls a pathway into football for the first time – a fabulous social change.
They also do a lot of excellent work in remote indigenous communities in the Northern Territory and some of our best players have been indigenous.
Historically, the national AFL competition was just the Victorian Football League with 12 suburban teams based in the city of Melbourne (with 1 of them in the regional Victorian town of Geelong).
That meant some teams represented working class suburbs and others represented suburbs higher up on the socio-economic scale through to the wealthy suburbs like Toorak and South Yarra.
My attachment to the MFC in this context is a bit odd because historically its members have come from the elite of Melbourne – the old money, the privileged private school families, the influential networks, the wealthy suburbs.
Why would a boy from a working class, housing commission suburb who attended a state school and whose father was on the minimum wage start supporting that team?
Good question. Ask my father but then I doubt he could have explained it anyway – and he is long gone.
Given my left-leanings, I always also liked the working class teams – Footscray, South Melbourne, North Melbourne, St Kilda, and Fitzroy – but that wasn’t consistent because I hated Collingwood and Richmond.
Most AFL fans though hate Collingwood and Richmond – that is just the thing to do.
But it was the Demons that I followed and became a member early on and have been loyal ever since.
I was an MFC fan amidst a sea of private school boys and girls, with their dads sipping wine at games and dressed in suits and ties.
The link with the elite was largely through the link between the Melbourne Cricket Club and the MFC. The latter was formally part of the former until 1980, whence the MFC became a separate entity and things started changing.
Social shifts also occurred in the suburban map with gentrification altering the profile of the traditional industrial suburbs and making it hard to define any space as ‘working class’ anymore although the elite strongholds in the ‘leafy’ suburbs remain.
The changing demographics also makes it hard to define the working class and non-working class football teams.
The way the national draft occurs now means that team recruit from the same pool rather than, historically, being confined to certain defined regions.
So the Bulldogs, for example, which used to be a team of tough plumbers and manual workers, now has more players who went to privileged private school than tomorrow’s opponents, the MFC.
This article (September 22, 2021) – At the traditionally blue-collar Bulldogs, private school is in – talks about these shifting social patterns.
Tomorrow is bitter-sweet, irrespective of the outcome of the game, because for only the second time in history, the Grand Final will be played outside of Melbourne, outside of Victoria because of Covid.
Perth in Western Australia will host the game between two Melbourne-based clubs – MFC and the Bulldogs.
They are able to have big crowds there (60,000 tomorrow night) because the State government adopted a zero-Covid approach and have succeeded in keeping the virus out of the state.
Stupid NSW (conservative government) thought they could beat the virus by allowing everyone to be mobile. They failed and then it spread south to Victoria again and so no footy has been possible there.
For MFC members like me this is a really disappointing thing because we have waited so long to be in such a game and due to lockdown restrictions etc we will have to be watching it on TV in our own homes unable to even get together.
But that is a first-world type problem I know.
Fortunately, I was able to give the guaranteed seat I get at the game as a long-standing MFC member to a friend who lives in Perth so he and his family can enjoy the game.
He is a St Kilda supporter (who are out of the race now) and he has promised to wear red and blue clothing to the game and channel me.
That is a good thing.
So unless you want to talk footy tomorrow don’t ring me – I will be in front of the TV hoping that we break the 57-year drought.
My usual text messaging MFC member mates will probably be in action as we agonise over the progress of the game.
Given we haven’t been able to get to the games much in Melbourne over the last two seasons because of the lockdowns and bans of crowds, this SMS communication has had to suffice.
And, of course, no-one will see me clap when Marcus Bontempelli does something crazy special as he most nearly always does. He is a Western Bulldogs star player! Today, I am building up my hatred for the Bullies (-:
Their colours are Red, White and Blue whereas the Dees are Red and Blue. The White obviously represents surrender!
Anyway, our house has been prepared – we have repurposed a picture in our living room to be our little shrine for the week.
And we are just waiting for the bounce of the ball and the mighty roar as the game starts. That roar will be virtual tomorrow night.