I understand that my sporting pursuits have no actual, inherent meaning or value. I know, logically, that the result of a weekend sporting event has no effect on my overall worth as a human. I am aware of these things, yet it makes no difference to my ability to handle the disappointments of loss.
I have been playing sport, predominantly cricket and football, since I was nine years old. I am now under a month away from my 36th birthday, and I have the grand total of one Under 16s representative cricket carnival win, and one T20 competition victory. I count neither of these as actual premierships, being periphery fixtures around my actual teams’ seasons.
As of August, I have added one more lost Grand Final to the list, now tallying three. There was an Under 19s football Grand Final for Old Ivanoe, after finishing on top of the ladder with just the one loss throughout the year. I managed to knock out our captain in that match by bumping his opponent so that his head flung back and collected him in the temple. It was a weird feeling watching our dominant side have no answers on the day. I recall being disappointed, but mostly just a bit stunned.
The Grand Final itself just had everything go wrong, mostly with the weather. We’d lost the toss and copped the worst of a rain affected game. I’d managed to top score, but had had to forge a rear-guard partnership with a bowling all-rounder, batting very slowly trying to get the game to go into the make-up day. The sun had been low in the sky and visibility low. I’d set myself for a big Sunday, but got out early trying to make up for the ten slow overs the night before. I was gutted after this one.
About four years earlier was worse, however, when my footy team, Upwey Tecoma reserves, had actually won. I had moved over from Croydon about seven or eight games into the season, and had played eleven games or so in a row before a slight quad strain on a road run before the last home and away game had seen me put my hand up for a rest. I’d regularly been in the best, and was actually named second best on ground in my last game, and it was only a minor injury. I felt like I should get my spot back.
Of course, I didn’t. The coach had known most of the players since they were little, his son having played with them through juniors; he was their coach. The side was dominant, winning every game for the year, and regularly thrashing teams. He could pick whatever team he wanted, it was going to win, so he chose the side he wanted, and it didn’t have me in it.
“I’m out, I’ve told them they have to pick you,” he said to me, before marching straight back out of the rooms, into his car, and off into the night.
That little ray of light was soon blackened, and I watched my side win the Premiership by about 13 goals. I turned up for the celebrations, trying to be happy, but whenever a deliriously happy victorious teammate told me that I was totally a part of it, I wanted to smash him in the head. If you ever win a Premiership and someone else has missed out, never tell them they are a part of it - never.
My little family would come down to watch, and it was cool to think that my sons may have some kind of memory of watching me play, while I still somewhat resemble the player I was. My list of injuries was pretty substantial however: neck, ribs, knee, foot, lower back and both shoulders.
I managed to only miss one game, but I was limping to the line by the finals, and the shoulder injury I sustained in the semi has still not fully recovered six weeks later (bursitis, tendinitis and a tear of the tendon for which I just had a cortisone injection). I did everything I could to get up for the Grand Final, and I did play, perhaps short of three quarters, but I was useless. I might as well not have been out there.
Our opposition, Wandin, had won the previous three flags, and were no doubt confident of reversing their loss to us a few games earlier. The weather didn’t suit us either, with the rain blanketing some of our more skilful, marking players. Our first half was dreadful, and we were a few goals down, but we came back and got right back into it in the second half.
You hate to blame the umpires, I feel bad putting it down here, as I know how it will be viewed, but it can’t be ignored. We definitely didn’t play anywhere near our best, but they were so one-sided we couldn’t quite work out what was going on. We ended up losing by a goal, with our captain having a shot after the siren that failed to make the distance.
I had intended on, win or loss, writing something of this ilk in the immediate aftermath of the game, to impart how I felt, and have it there, raw joy or sorrow, whatever the case may have been. But, post the loss, my plans were scattered. I was too damn sad. We had our wake, and I felt woeful the next day, being able to remember far too little of it for a man my age. The day after that I was back at work, trudging on as though nothing had happened.
And I know that nothing had really happened. I am aware that it is a make-believe competition that is playing for nothing of any actual worth. I know these things. I have my beautiful wife, and my lovely kids and a cute home in a beautiful part of the world. I’ve got friends and a great job and a bright future. I cherish all these things. I value them more than anything.
But bloody hell I wish we’d won that game.
Follow Greg Gibson on Twitter: @GregGibbo28