It’s a Saturday morning and I’m sitting at my desk.
Saturdays usually bring the promise of time with friends, footy, perhaps a few beers at the pub while watching footy. There’s none of that today. I’ve been working from home for over a month now. I haven’t seen my friends, and I haven’t visited my partner. I think about how much footy shapes my life, how much it represents a time and a place for me, and for so many others. My life growing up in this area, and the autumn and winter of each year (spring if we’re lucky). Just not this year.
One of my earliest memories is Dad taking me for a walk around my northwestern suburb that went quiet on the sunny Grand Final day of early September 2000. Saturday afternoons here usually mean couples, mums and daughters in activewear strolling and catching up on the week. Instead, I remember Essendon posters adorning the windows of most houses in the street that held people huddled around TVs.
The hush that falls over Melbourne for those couple of hours is legendary. My old co-workers at the library will valiantly put their hands up to work on the last Saturday in September after everyone else N/A’d it three months ago. They reckon it’s the one day of the year that Highpoint is dead quiet. Apparently once the library closes, it’s good for getting those tedious necessities like bra shopping out of the way. Highpoint is pretty quiet now anyway.
I don’t really come from a football family. That’s why I’m very confused by the tiny 2000 long-sleeved guernsey that hangs in my wardrobe. I can never actually recall wearing it while it fit me. I guess you have to have a team – you live there, so that’s your team.
I’ve surprisingly been enjoying the old classics that Channel 7 play on a Friday night – well, much more than I did the eerie echo of round one this year anyway. I didn’t think I could sit through a game where I knew the result already, but watching old games in isolation seems to erase the context of the weeks before and after. The wins are enjoyable in and of themselves. You don’t get much more pure than that.
Round 16, 2001 was on last week. I knew the famed comeback win, I feel warm and fuzzy inside thinking about it, but I’d never actually watched it. I was mesmerised – James Hird really was that good. Jason Johnson’s huge running goal. Caracella, Lloyd with the nine goals. People looked and dressed so differently 20 years ago! What I miss the most though is how the MCG looks – a day game in the middle of winter, weak sunshine shining through and the grass green. People out enjoying themselves.
It gets me thinking about how entwined footy has become for me with my home the last few years. Waiting for a bus at Essendon station on a Saturday afternoon to take me to some trendy food truck event and I hear the siren sound in the distance at Windy Hill. My limbs itch to hightail it to the game rather than go out and socialise.
It’s better though when the socialising is the football. Milling around St Rose with one of my best mates waiting for coffee and pretending we haven’t spotted AFL players. Shivering on the wooden seats and using the VFLW as a backdrop to a catch-up. My heart soaring when I see the pictures painted by local students inside Windy Hill. Sneaking out before the VFL begins to grab brunch. We’re pretty pictures of womanly stereotypes.
The train home after a decimating win against St Kilda, eyelids fluttering on a Friday night after work. A boy is pointing a tiny laser at commuters while waxing lyrical to his grandpa about Joey’s big mark. After I show them a picture of the mark that I’ve scrolled past on Twitter, the three of us gleefully compare notes on the game. I rest my weary head on the train window, leaving the man to describe to his grandson what John Coleman was like to watch.
There’s nothing better than hopping off the train at your team’s station after a win. I let the crowd of people carry me floating down the underpass, knowing that most of us are feeling the same thing. I remember scowling in 2017 when I stood on the platform on game day and realised I was surrounded by close to an equal number of Bombers and Bulldogs fans.
I didn’t spend nearly as much time watching football last season. And it’s only now that I realise how much I’ll miss cuddling up in the cold at the 'G, keeping warm by unconsciously shaking my legs and vocalising my frustrations. Letting those moments at the game dictate my thoughts, my daydreams, my conversations for the next week.
I know winter and home just won’t be the same this year. We’ll all wait it out together, and it’ll feel that much sweeter when we’re back at the MCG. In the meantime, you can find me on the couch watching old wins with a bowl of pudding.
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