Aussie Rules football: a metaphor for life
Our national game, Australian Rules Football, cuts across all divides of class, income, ethnicity, gender, religion, race and sexual preference.
Hence contributors to my recent collection of 37 original essays, ‘Heartfelt Moments in Australian Rules Football’, range from devout atheists like myself, Dick Whitaker and Barry Dickins to believing Christians such as Geraldine Doogue, John Birt and Cardinal George Pell , who writes about his decision whether to become a priest, or to train and play with Richmond.
The reality is that not only unbelievers, but also clerics of all persuasions often highlight Aussie Rules.
Hence the retired Roman Catholic Archbishop of Perth, Barry Hickey, regularly told this story:
“An AFL umpire died and found himself at the Pearly Gates. When he related what he had done on Earth, the Saint replied: ‘Well we can skip Purgatory, you’ve done enough as a football umpire, but is there anything weighing on your conscience that you need to admit before we consider letting you in?’ And the umpire said: ‘There was this match, Collingwood versus St Kilda, Magpies ahead by three points, and the St Kilda full-forward went for a mark right in front of goal. The sun was in my eyes and I couldn’t be sure whether he made it or not, but I gave him the mark and he scored and St Kilda won.’ ‘Think nothing of it, my son, come right in’. ‘Oh thank you, thank you Saint Peter’ said the umpire. ‘I’m not Saint Peter’ replied the saint, ‘I’m Saint Kilda'”.
Talking of the Mighty Magpies, my late father Bill (“Long Tom”) Fitzgerald who played over 100 games for Collingwood Seconds, but never for the firsts, would regularly recount on my birthday, Christmas Day, a story about the Richmond great, Jack Dyer. Dad explained that Dyer, who was commonly known as “Captain Blood”, often said: “Whenever I have a nightmare it’s never in colour , it’s always black and white. Collingwood!”
On a more earthy note, one of my favourite footballing tales concerns a 20-year old from the country who was about to play his first senior game. When the coach took him aside and said, “I might have to pull you off at three quarter time”, the lad responded, “Golly, where I come from we usually only get oranges!”
Hmm. Humour’s a funny business. My publisher Anthony Cappello and my wife Lyndal Moor Fitzgerald think that this story is extremely amusing, whereas my friend Gerard Henderson, who in ‘Heartfelt Moments’ writes about Essendon’s star full-forward, John Coleman, considered it a tad too rude to crack a mention!
Following Collingwood for a lifetime has taught me that Aussie Rules football is a metaphor for life and that, to take one crucial example, the game is never lost until it’s lost.
Being, and remaining, a dyed-in-the-wool barracker is a sign and test of character, just as switching teams seems to me a symbol of a loss of loyalty, faith and heart.
Changing clubs for which to barrack merely because of a team’s consistently poor performance is something that no true supporter would ever entertain.
Indeed it is a sign of true fandom never to let any number of losses interfere with or dilute a passionate and unrelenting support for a person’s chosen (or in my case inherited) club or team.
The fact is that because it is Aussie Rules football we are dealing with in ‘Heartfelt Moments’ a number of contributors explore, directly or indirectly, what it means to be an Australian, and/or what are key Australian characteristics and personally traits.
A number of essays also uncover how, over the decades, AFL has developed, often for the good, but sometimes not, in terms of its treatment of Indigenous players and its dealings with women.
Being a lifelong supporter of a club, any club involves a lot of downs and ups. At the very least, to be a true supporter means never giving up or relinquishing ones team.
But it means even more than that.
Ultimately it is the downs that enable supporters to show their true colours and the depth of their personal attachment and commitment to each club. Thus, as Roger Kahn wrote, in his case about the Brooklyn Dodgers: “You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat.”
How true is that?
Professor Ross Fitzgerald is the author of 39 books, including his memoir ‘My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey’ and the co-authored political/sexual satire, ‘Going Out Backwards: A Grafton Everest Adventure’.
The Canberra Times, March 5, 2016