My daughters are both happy this morning. I wonder if it would be considered an act of cruelty were I to encourage them to become football fans? As a fan of the Adelaide Crows, today I am in pain. It’s not the first time, it won’t be the last. My daughters do not know this pain yet, and while I look forward to the time when we sit as a family and watch the footy, part of me wants to spare them the despair all football fans know.
There is nothing worse than your team losing a final. Except if your team loses after leading by a large amount after the first quarter. The only thing worse than that is if your team loses after regaining the lead in the last quarter. Except if your team loses after regaining the lead again in the last minute. And the only thing worse than that is if your team loses after giving away a free kick with 20 seconds left to play allowing the opponent to kick the winning goal.
Today Crows’ fans are thus feeling the worst pain possible to any football fan. Well, I guess it would be worse if it had been a preliminary final, or (God spare us) a Grand Final. But for Crows’ fans today that is small consolation. No day will ever be worse; nothing will ever take away the pain.
The greatest film about being a football fan is Fever Pitch. The adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel is actually better than the book (and please, for the love of God don’t watch the American version which converted a football fan into a baseball fan). In the film, Colin Firth plays mad Arsenal fan, Paul, who when reacting after a particularly unexpected and horrific loss screams at his girlfriend (and non-football fan) when she suggests “It’s only a game”:
DON'T SAY THAT! Please! That is the worst, most stupid thing anyone could say! Cause it quite clearly isn't "only a game." I mean if it was do you honestly think I'd care this much?
Says it all really. Of course it is only a game; and yet last night after the match I wanted to cry. I couldn't though, because I was in shock. I couldn’t believe we had blown a 5 goal lead – gone from looking like world beaters, to suddenly being unable to hand pass to a team mate 5 metres away. Throughout the third quarter it got so bad I had to switch off the TV and went to just listening to the match on the radio stream on the net, in the vain hope that this act might change things.
Football (and sport in general) does this to fans. If my sitting on the toilet during the entire match would mean the Crows would win, even though it meant I wouldn’t actually see it, I would do it in a heartbeat. During summers when I was young and my favourite player, Greg Chappell, was batting in a test match, I would make myself sit in the same position every time he faced a ball during his innings – as though my doing something different might somehow alter the universe in just the slightest amount that would then mean Chappell would edge the next delivery to the wicket keeper. Call it the sportsfan’s chaos theory – you don’t want to do anything that might be the equivalent of a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil causing a tsunami in Japan.
The stupid thing about it all is that I don’t even like watching football. Well of course I do like it – heck I love it; I long for the start of every season, we got Foxtel purely so we could see every Crows' game. But I don’t think I can ever recall actually enjoying watching the Crows play a match. I don’t look forward to watching them – beforehand I am full of nerves and prophecies of doom mixed with specks of hope and “whatifs”. During the match, I am never confident, never able to relax, never able to savour the moment. OK, I lie – I did enjoy the last couple of games by the Crows against Essendon and Carlton, but only because we flogged both of them. Even in those games I was only really able to relax and enjoy myself once the Crows were 10 goals up with a quarter to play (and even then… they get the first couple, we go off the boil… it couldn't happen could it???).
And yet… and yet (sigh)…. I know I would never miss a game – I organise my life around the Crows’ matches, and a good weekend can be gauged by whether they won or lost. It’s stupid; however, I know I won’t be able to change things. I am doomed. I will, for the rest of my life, be destined to be addicted to the drug of a Crows’ win.
But geez, the depression from a hard loss is viscerally hard. And it is what separates the occasional fan from the true believer. It’s why Collingwood fans still bristle when talking about the 1979 Grand Final; it’s why Geelong fans don’t find much consolation in having been in perhaps one of the best Grand Finals of all time in 1989. It’s why North Melbourne fans try to have a collective amnesia about the 1998 Grand Final and instead recall only 1996 and 1999.
Losing isn’t so bad – it’s losing when you think you should have won that really hurts. That inability to compute the fact that even though you were the better side you lost, and that the better team didn’t win… and yet of course you know deep down that’s a lie; the best team always wins, you just can’t bring yourself to think that and so you force those thoughts back down inside. And in this instance I can’t even blame the umpire – the free kick was there (why Rutten? Why??). I can however harbour hatred at Channel 10’s standard Collingwood-biased commentary and production (do we really need to see shot after shot of the reprobate Collingwood fans giving players the finger? We know Pies’ fan can’t count past one, but do we really need photographic proof of that shown every other minute?).
The only good thing about losing in a non-Grand Final is that Crows' fans will be able to gain some healing should Geelong beat Collingwood next week – because schadenfreude is the footy fans most helpful emotion – losing isn’t so bad, so long as your nemesis is then defeated as well. Should Collingwood go on and win the flag, Crows' fans will forever be stuck thinking that had we held on for that last 20 seconds it could have been us. It’s why Bulldogs fans break out in shivers at the memory of 1997.
So while I probably won’t watch next week’s game – It would hurt too much – I will be able to enjoy the Grand Final the following week so long as Collingwood is not there, and I can say to myself, oh well, the Cats would have beaten us anyway… it doesn’t matter.
And yet it does matter. It will for a long time. And it’s why I can’t wait for next year’s season, and why I will again sit down, ready to put my emotions on the line every weekend, hating every minute, but doing so because of the utter feeling of pure bliss after each win.
But please God, make sure Collingwood loses against Geelong.