Bonding and Brownlows

Words by: Kiera Eardley
Art by: Jake Porter

Footy. It’s warm beer sloshing around a plastic cup. Direct sunlight blinding you in the grandstand on a Saturday afternoon. The roar of an unbridled crowd prickling with nervous energy as the ball is bounced.

It’s 36 players running around an oval, chasing a coloured ball while 70,000 people scream like they’ve bet the house on the result. And I love it. In all its frenetic glory, AFL is closer to religion for me than any church will ever be.

I have memories of footy from my earliest years. Dad started me young, dragging his first-born to Carlton games as soon as I could walk. And I’m glad he did, because when I think of footy, I think of Dad. I remember being too little to see the players from my seat, so I learnt the rules of the rolling crowd by copying him, yelling when he yelled, and cheering when he cheered. I remember holding his hand as we walked across the MCG footbridge after another loss, my navy flag dragging limply by my side, and asking if we were ever going to win a game.

I remember watching my first game after getting glasses in primary school, and his amusement at my revelation that the players actually wore numbers on their backs. I am so grateful for his patience in answering my endless questions (sorry Dad) about changing rules and unjust free kicks, because now the game feels like my own, and I feel like I belong to it.

The electricity of this belonging was perhaps strongest at the inaugural AFL Women’s game in 2017. Sitting next to Dad, I teared up watching the girls run out onto the ground to the same song the boys had for years. The stadium was full at Princes Park, and posters everywhere exclaimed ‘YOU WITNESSED HISTORY.’ And it felt like it. It made me proud that, despite also having two sons, Dad’s only daughter is the one who is as diehard as he. The footy is our thing, and nothing has made us closer.

While we’ve watched every game from the couch in lockdown, there’s so much that I miss. The weekend ritual of heading to a game can bring a gleam of excitement and uncanny comfort to an otherwise dreary week. It’s a multifaceted tradition beginning with a train ride into Richmond, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with people who’ll be your sworn enemies in under an hour. Then there’s the obligatory hot pie that’s impossible to eat without scorching your tongue or spilling sauce down your scarf. Combine this with a plastic cup of overpriced Carlton Draught and the drunk guy five rows down prematurely singing your team song, and it’s all utterly perfect. I miss that familiar routine, of cheering along with a sea of navy blue. It’s just not the same on television.

But still, the game has given us some magic this year. Watching Bryce Gibbs being chaired off in his last game by his former teammates made me smile. I relished our frantic celebrations when Jack Newnes kicked a miracle heart-stopping goal after the siren to win the game for Carlton. And more than anything, I loved seeing Kade Simpson with his signature long sleeves kick a running goal in pouring rain from fifty metres out in his 342nd and final game. That’s what footy is about: the moments that make you feel something. It’s why it became so popular during the Great Depression. Communities came together each weekend to rally behind their team, despite the chaos of their private lives. Throughout lockdown, we’ve had that same glimmer of hope on-screen each week. Even without the raucous crowd, with pies from the oven instead of a Four’N Twenty wrapper, it’s still footy and it’s still brilliant. But I can’t wait to be back at the ‘G.

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