Some people pick a team so they can answer the question, “Who do you barrack for?” Others watch their team on the TV when they happen to catch it, some buy memberships and pop along to watch every now and then, and the passion of others goes well beyond that. The variety of supporters and manner of supporting is virtually endless.
If it did have an ending, however, I think it would probably resemble classic Seinfeld character David Puddy, dressed in his team’s colours with his face painted like a devil, banging on the glass of an ice hockey rink. One way or other, you gotta support your team.
In this day and age, with the narrowing of the sporting horizons via the various technological wonders available in every home, many people follow a multitude of sports, and thus support many teams. There are sports in the USA such as baseball and American football, as well as professional basketball and college basketball. Soccer, of course, is played everywhere and a person can pick a team to follow in a great many countries and leagues.
The idea of having a footy team, a cricket team, a rugby league team, a rugby union team, an A League soccer team, an NBL team, an NBA team, an NFL team, an MLB team, a Premier League soccer team, a Bundesliga soccer team (and whatever other soccer competitions there are), and a quidditch team to follow is all just a little exhausting. I’m not sure how people find the emotional energy to follow a team that plays on the other side of the world in a competition they can never see in the flesh, but they do. They definitely do.
As I said, I don’t, and I’m happy with that. The two sports I follow provide more than enough ups and downs for me to feel fulfilled with my lot following sport. I apologise in advance to any reference to Richmond or the Australian Cricket Team as “we”, as I find it almost impossible to separate myself from the teams I support. This is particularly true in regards to my footy team, as I am a paid up member, and feel very much a part of whatever successes or failures “we” have.
After Round 4 of the AFL season this year, with my team having both won and lost two games, I wrote what, with hindsight, is the monumentally stupid article My Footy Team Sucks. We had played so badly against Melbourne that week, and I was wounded and embarrassed and not at all surprised by what my team had dished up. I vented.
I made a lot of statements about why things had gone wrong, when my intention had been to discuss how sport can make you feel. Two weeks after that loss, we had not recorded another win and I was looking like the most right bloke going around. Eleven games after that, Richmond has only lost two more games, and sit in sixth position on the ladder.
Despite this, only one week ago I was absolutely filthy at the team. We had our best opportunity to make a charge for the top four for a very long time, and we stuffed it. I knew that there was no way we could beat Hawthorn in Round 18, so the Round 17 clash with Fremantle was key to our reaching that important top four finish. We should’ve won. We were far the better team, yet we stuffed it in a manner that exposed a frailty that had previously been the great problem at the club.
I was so cheesed off at that loss because I knew how important that particular game was. How could we make top four letting opportunities like that slip? The thought of watching the next week as Hawthorn tore us to shreds and rubbed in the previous week’s slip was a little too much for me. Sure enough, I sat in stunned glee as my team dismantled the seemingly indomitable Hawks. How things change across the course of a season. How things change from one week to the next.
My team has been through many many lows, and I’ve expressed them through this format before and don’t need to again, but I feel comfortable saying that I know what it is like to follow a team that is genuinely rubbish. I know what it’s like to ask if the people in charge have the foggiest idea what they were doing. There were times where it turned out, over the fullness of time, that in fact they did not. For me, at the moment, it seems that they actually do.
For The Ox, he was asking that question and getting that horrible feeling that the answer was no. He was wondering whether the decision to pay a former coach, Paul Roos, a great deal of money to come out of coaching retirement and fix things up at his club, was the right move. He was feeling that the style of play that Roos was instructing his young players to play was not allowing those players to express their ability fully.
He was bloody worried about another false dawn. My club has had many of these, and Melbourne has a growing and concerning list of them. For me, it was refreshing to hear someone within the AFL media ranks speak openly and honestly as a frustrated, concerned fan. Someone who was just bloody sick of watching his team play crap footy, when he just wanted to watch them kicking goals.
He spoke from the heart and opened himself up to the wrath of the footy gods. Yep, Melbourne knocked off the much more fancied Collingwood this weekend. As soon as I heard that I thought of The Ox and knew exactly how he felt. He’d laugh at himself for sure, wondering why he couldn’t just keep it all bottled in for one more week, instead of spilling his guts and be revealed as a passionate, ill-considered fool.
That’s what you are as a fan: a passionate, ill-considered fool. You can’t reason through all the issues at play, as you don’t know all the facts at play, and you are too emotionally connected to the results. It is very difficult for most of us to partake of reasoned debate, because you just care so damned much. If you think something may be true, you feel it definitely is true. Your head gives you a thought, and your heart twists, turns, mashes and bashes it into something that burns and churns and suffocates your brain’s ability to think clearly.
In the legal system, those directly affected by a crime are not given the opportunity to decide on the outcome of that crime’s case. This is because people do not make good decisions when they are emotionally strained. When they feel personally impacted by something, the handbrake comes off and the ability to make rash decisions is increased. People do things they normally would not.
In the Ashes series currently being played, the Australian team of eleven players would have had about fifteen changes over the three Tests played so far if the decision-making was left up to the fans. The first Test was a shocker for Australia with both bat and ball, with my team losing by 169 runs. Two players were changed for the second Test, and the side turned things around, winning by 405 runs. Everything seemed great, and the side was left unchanged, the result of which was an eight wicket loss on Day 3.
How does any of that make sense? As a supporter, it is hair ringingly ridiculous that the results between two teams in a series can swing so dramatically. People across the country have lost any faith in the captain, Michael Clarke, with even his more loyal supporters feeling like his time at Test level is coming to a close. Mitchell Starc, who took five wickets in the first innings of the first Test, and was part of the dominant team that won the second Test, is in the gun for a poor performance in the third Test, despite it being predominantly a batting issue that cost Australia the win.
This is not to say that Starc’s poor bowling should not come under scrutiny, but just that the people scrutinising will hopefully be less emotionally impacted by the result than those doing the calling from the outer. The Ashes is, after all, not just about sporting pride, but national pride. We get very silly indeed when our cricket team doesn’t do so well.
I look at my two boys, aged seven and almost three, and I watch them kicking their Tigers footies around and imagining themselves playing with Deledio, Riewoldt, Cotchin and Rance. I see Richard watching me get up and down out of my seat as I yell at Bachar Houli not to kick it to Kane Lambert right before he kicks it to Kane Lambert and I yell “No, no, no, NOOOOO!!!!” at my TV. I see him watching me and I wonder what his time following sport will bring him.
Hopefully it’s exhilarating, heart thumping, trying, desperate, and incredibly worthwhile. Hopefully he’s a little more relaxed than I can be. Hopefully it doesn’t involve him being an adult in face paint. Whatever way he goes about it, there’s one thing for sure: he’s gotta support the team.