The thing about football

I love the start of a new football season. More than anything it brings hope. Hope our team will win it all, hope they’ll improve on last year or just hope they won’t be as terrible as deep down we think they might be.

I grew up in Melbourne which is widely acknowledged as the home of Australian Rules football. There are competitions elsewhere and two teams in each of Adelaide, Perth, Sydney and Brisbane (yes I’ve included the Gold Coast in there, it’s close enough) but Melbourne is the home of the game. In Melbourne people don’t just watch and like football, they love it and they feel it. I’m the same way.

As a kid footy was everything. Standing in the crowd surrounded by tens of thousands of people as passionate as I was brought a unique sense of belonging. All of these strangers and I were united by the love of our club specifically and the game generally. Going to the footy was also different for me because as a kid I didn’t have a lot to do with men apart from teachers and sports coaches. It amazed me that grown men would happily talk to me, as an equal, about the game. My thoughts were important to them. They listened, agreed sometimes and were happy to correct me when they thought I was wrong although they never talked down to me. Whether men, women or other kids I also felt like I had wonderful new friends for the three hours there in the crowd.

I went to as many games as I could and when I couldn’t go I was glued to the radio. I’d often lock myself away in my bedroom and listen to ABC radio 774. I’d not only listen to the game being broadcast but try to keep up with all the others through around the ground score updates.

Whether at the ground or listening to the radio, for three or four hours a week footy was all that I had to think about. No matter what was going on at home or school, it all seemed to disappear when the footy was on.

While living in what would in Melbourne be called non-football states I drifted away from the game for a few years. With TV and radio coverage often hard to come by, my passion for the game seemed to fade. However, after settling down (still in a non-football state), over the last few years I’ve rediscovered my passion for it. I watch, read and listen to as much as I can. I even watch as many shows about footy as I can and thanks to the wonders of the interwebs and podcasts I also listen to as much as I can. The next best thing to watching and listening to footy is watching and listening to blokes talk about footy.

Not everybody understands this. Fairly early on in my relationship with my Pretty Lady she knew I liked footy but not being a fan herself she didn’t quite understand the depth of feeling I have for my team. One night after watching them lose a final from what was, for all intents and purposes, an unbeatable position I sat and stared at the ground for a few minutes then we made the short walk to her place. As she opened the front door I stood outside and told her I wanted to be alone. We said our goodbyes and I went home to be sad.

Now there are only four more sleeps until my team kicks off their season. As always, I’m hoping for great things and barring a couple of catastrophes it should be a pretty successful year. Regardless of what happens I’ll spend every moment I can watching them at the ground or on TV and for three hours a week whatever is going on in the rest of my life and the world will wait.

That said, here are my (not so fearless) predictions for 2012:

Top 8 (alphabetical order) – Adelaide, Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Geelong, Hawthorn, Sydney, West Coast

Premiers – Hawthorn

Brownlow medal – Gary Ablett

Coleman Medal – Buddy Franklin

Wooden spoon – GWS

Whoever you support, I hope you get as much joy out of the season as I will.