I wrote this in 2000, as Sydney prepared to host the Olympics. Not surprisingly, it got a big response. But not in the way you’d expect. Most of the people who wrote to me agreed. One letter even began, “Dear Jane, I think I love you.”
The names of the players have changed since then, but not the fever that grips the nation for most of the year. As for me, I remain immune. From 2008 to 2019, I lived around the corner from the MCG and never once stepped inside.
How about you? Are you a footy ignoramus?
If you are at this moment in the grip of Olympic or footy fever, do not read this story. This story is for the rest of us – those who have managed to remain immune, despite a recent epidemic of the former and a lifetime exposure to the latter.
Just as some people never get sick, despite epidemics of flu, there are some people who manage to avoid catching sporting enthusiasm. Personally, I have never had a cold sore either, and I am beginning to think it’s related.
While the rest of Australia was literally carrying a torch for the Sydney Olympics, I remained invulnerable. “Light him a match”, I quipped when a friend moaned that her son had missed out on seeing the torch.
In fact, watching the radiant torchbearers and their disciples leaping through the suburbs was a disconcerting reminder of the thong scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. In that scene, Brian loses a thong, which is then seized upon by the mob and turned into an object of worship. Unable to follow the Messiah, the mob follows the thong instead.
Sacrilegious as it may seem, I am not the only one who remains unafflicted by this delirium. A quick search on the Internet reveals the Sydney-based Anti-Olympics Alliance, which includes among its associates a group called PISSOFF or People Ingeniously Subverting the Sydney Olympic Farce. The Alliance, and other groups from South Africa, Nagano in Japan, and Turin in Italy all oppose the Olympics on financial and environmental grounds.
But my feeling is not so much antagonism as ennui. While I acknowledge the skill of those competing, it is but a passing acceptance of someone else’s obsession. I do not share it, and I would never consider watching it for free on television, let alone paying for it.
Nor would I pay to watch a football match. In fact, I’m not sure I’d bother even if someone offered to pay me. To me, bombers are missiles that kill and blues are what you get when your lover walks out.
But there is certain disbelief, even arrogance, among footy fans when I confess that I have never even been to a game. Like some heterosexual men who think that one night with them will convert a gay woman, footy fans all believe that one game will convert me.
My friend Diane is no different. “I would love to take you to a game and see how you react,” she says. But my biggest fear is that I wouldn’t. What if, like watching it on TV, I am left cold? It would be like watching everyone else have an orgasm.
“I had a school friend like that once, “ Diane says. “When we used to go to watch the football, she’d stand and watch us.”
Like Diane’s friend. I am not fascinated by sport, but I am fascinated by everyone else’s obsession with it.
Another sports-immune friend (is there any other sort?) explains why a few of us remain mysteriously uninfected. “We’re tribal defectives and we’re unable to participate in vicarious war games,” she says.
On reflection, she adds: “The only thing about the Olympics that would interest me is that athletes in the original Olympics played naked – all those gorgeous young men, naked.”
But for me, it is tedious enough to watch one ball bouncing around, let alone anything else.
Part of the problem stems from ignorance. Not having been raised in a footy afflicted family, I know nothing about it. “What do they actually have to do?” I ask Diane.
“They kick a goal or a behind,” she says. A behind? I am incredulous. No wonder they’re always being reported. I knew footy was a rough game but this was ridiculous.
Diane can’t decide whether to get impatient or hysterical. There is only one logical explanation for such ignorance, she exclaims: “I think you just have to be brought up with it. I wouldn’t be interested in it at all, if my father hadn’t been.”
She quotes a Bruce Dawe poem that begins, “When children are born in Victoria they are wrapped in club colors.” The poem goes on to say that the first feeble word of these children is “C’arn”. Diane confesses that her first word, thanks to the encouragement of her Richmond-supporting father was “Tiger”.
“One of the most comfortable things for me in my whole life is to lapse into completely neutral conversation about football with my father,” she says. “It’s the kind of communication that doesn’t have much emotional communication, but underneath it has a lot, because I know the language.”
And there’s the rub. They say for a child to be bilingual, it needs both languages to be spoken at home. But while everyone else was learning sport as a second language, I was missing out. I guess that’s why I’m the only one left wondering why, if Jeff Farmer is 175cm tall, how on earth he manages to play in a pocket.