5. One day in September
Picture this: a lone young footballer walks slowly across the centre of the ground. His arms hang loose. You can’t see his face because he is walking away from where you sit in the stands. If you could you would see that he is upset. A popular song plays loudly over the sound system. The words “Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?” by the Foo fighters emphasize his defeat. Scattered across the ground his team mates sit or squat where the final siren found them. Heads in hands, they too feel this defeat heavily. Meanwhile the jubilant victors leap about hugging one another soaking up the glory and applause from the spectators.
This Grand Final was a close low-scoring game that could have gone either way. A real contest between two well matched teams of enthusiastic, athletic young men. Jeremy personally did not have a great match. At one defining moment he was lining up for a set shot for goal. He was about 50 metres out and on an angle. He missed and I later asked him whether he was distracted by the helicopter hovering just above the stadium, or the sight of himself on the big screen directly in his line of sight. He said he had been unaware of these things and he missed the goal because he did not kick the ball straight.
These scenes are etched in my memory because I was privileged to be there as a parent of a player – Jeremy. As I sat there watching him standing alone at the centre of the MCG I could feel his disappointment, but I also felt such enormous pride. He had conducted himself so well as a leader of this team. He had done everything he possibly could in his pursuit towards a career in football. He had helped to bring his team to this game on this important day.
Football is a game and the very nature of it means there are always winners and losers. His team were amazing. There is no disgrace in this loss. Before his team left the ground they assembled at the boundary before their small group of supporters and applauded us. How noble they were in defeat.
This game was not important by comparison to the main events scheduled for the MCG for that one special day in September. It was AFL Grand Final Day and despite the fact that two interstate teams were playing off for the Premiership Cup, the stadium was now full.
The pre-game entertainment began with some sky divers dropping in, expertly pulling up for a walk landing. Various singers performed: Delta Goodrem; the current batch of Australian Idol contestants; Dame Edna; Michael Buble tried to sing through a haze of fireworks smoke and an audience chanting for their teams. Some jets flew by and performed aerobatics. The Cup was delivered by helicopter.
The crowd was ecstatic by this stage. They wanted to see their teams play football. The atmosphere was amazing – words easily written that fail to convey the actual feeling when you are immersed in such an event. The game was close with the lead changing often in the final minutes.
We were emotionally detached from the outcome of the main game and exhausted after two great games of football, the excellent pre-game entertainment, and the excitement of the day. We left and met at the club rooms to commiserate, celebrate, and bid farewell to this group of parents, players and team staff. The players hugged, and drank alcoholic drinks, and hugged some more. We didn’t see Jeremy for three days after that as the commiserating and celebrating continued. We finally breathed a sigh of relief knowing that our involvement and commitment was over. There was just one more event to attend; the Club Presentation Night later that week. Then we are needed no more. Free to get our own lives back. If only I could remember what that was.
Once again Jeremy does not play in a real match this weekend. His league has a break whilst some interstate teams play off. He played in a practice game to gain back some match fitness. He tells us that he had at least ten possessions in the first quarter. He played on the forward flank changing onto the ball. He kicked two goals and reports that he is feeling very fit. Meanwhile his AFL team plays in another State.
We have heard some whispers of changes to his AFL team. Some of the older players are failing to regain their previous form after repeated injuries. Jeremy may get elevated to the main list. He may yet make his AFL debut before the end of this season. I feel excited and worried by this prospect.
This week there was a photo of Jeremy and some other players from his team in a major newspaper of that State. There are six players in the photo. They are at training and are all kneeling, obviously stretching. They all have their heads turned looking at something out of view that is making them all smile broadly. It is a photo that their mothers and fans would appreciate. The caption identified them all but mistook Jeremy for another player who is not in the photo. He is still very much unknown.
Like addicts trying to kick a habit we are craving for football action, so this weekend we go to watch a match locally where many of the players, who were in that special Grand Final team with Jeremy last year, will are playing. But it is not the same. Many of them are out with injuries and Jeremy is not there so our emotional involvement is indifferent. At the first sign of rain we head for home.