Well here I am. I’ve arisen. Sun’s shining and I feel like sneezing. Seems spring’s here.
And I’m feeling OK.
5 days earlier… not so good.
It was just a game. One that seemingly fate had brought to the two teams on show.
My team Canning City had played our hearts out against the odds this year. We had ‘surprised’ everyone by beating ‘better’ sides all along the way. And we had found ourselves there on the last day, a catchup game that I should have missed through suspension. But the heavens had opened on the ground 2 Saturdays earlier making the surface unplayable and delaying the game to this midweek epic to conclude the season.
Wanneroo had flown well under the radar all year. They had had a poor start and people probably just assumed it was another bridesmaid year for them. The boys in red had finished in the top 3 for over 6 seasons but never quite got to the top of the pile.
But here we were on a Wednesday night, Canning needing a win and Wanneroo, just a draw – About to finish a script that no dramatic genius could have written better.
The prize? A humble West Australian Football League 1st Division Title.
We knew what we had to do. Be brave, go after it. This would not be a game decided by penalty shoot out
We went into half time 2-0 up. Anyone who knows the game knows that it is the most dangerous scoreline in football.
Wanneroo finished the game 3-2 winners, and champions.
I will not dwell on the details. I cannot.
We watched them celebrate and I felt my soul flee, below the tiniest rock in the darkest cavern of my being.
And I stayed there. For days.
Almost a full week later I started sifting through the wreckage and I found treasure.
At the start of the season I came back to my old club, the club that I grew at. The grass below my feet was the same grass that I knew as a nervous little 7 year old when my dad took me down for my first ever game. Canning is in my blood, always will be.
Upon returning I resumed some friendships, and made a score more. I learnt about a bunch of lads who decided that a common cause was worth more than a pay packet. And got to know what it was like to witness real character.
I shared the pain and the hurt with these friends on the last day. A disappointment so deep it is impossible to put into words. And we carried each other. Each of us took a load. We shared it around so that it was just that minuscule lighter. Just that tiniest bit easier to shoulder.
My mate Sammy missed the game. He was left on the bench after starting nearly every game this year. The decision was tactical. The explanation, pointless. His heart was broken. Had it not been for Sammy missing out, I would not have played. It was me who took his place. I’ll never forget the sacrifice, the look on his face, the bravery and sheer strength of spirit that it took for him to watch on that day.
Our captain Steve gave me the arm band for the game. I have never been so angry and so touched at the same time. I have never been a successful captain in the few games I’ve led. We were both playing our final game. What right or reason did he have to give me the arm band, to place that cross on me? I remember the words of my father…
‘Rory, you are a not leader. You are too easily influenced. You get through on personality and being well liked. Being a leader is something you must work on.’
That night I realised what a true leader was. Someone who empowers others. Someone who humbles himself in front of those he leads. Someone who is selfless above all else. Steve showed me that and gave me the opportunity to be that person for a day. And walking out with that armband, to the cheers and deafening support at the front of our brave and admirable group…Well that was hands down one of the proudest and most memorable moments of my life.
My mate Duncan said a speech. He’s never been a big talker. He’s never been a centre of attention kind of guy. He’s not like that. He had always let his feet do the talking for him. He can’t play any more. He had to do something different, be someone different, to give us that little bit extra. He went through the whole team. He went through 15 guys. He said what each and every one of them meant to their face. He probably thinks it was for nothing now. But I think it was one of his greatest ever moments.
My mate Paul played on one leg. Two weeks earlier he tore his MCL. Nothing would keep him down though. He just strapped the thing up. He just got on with it. If there is one thing that I admire, it’s toughness. That’s toughness. That’s rare. No complaints. No wincing or show of pain. Just toughness. Just guts, determination and a desire to win that is unmatchable.
My mate Mick played his best ever year. He made a commitment to himself to be the fittest he could be. He made a commitment to be the best he could be. He said it in front of all of us one night, he put himself out there. Then he defied every stereotype that people placed above him as just being a workhorse. He scored 7 goals and was our best and most creative player this season. His was one of the best seasons I’ve ever seen anyone play.
My mate Ollie drove all the way from work in Esperance 9 hours away to make it there. Just to be there to support us…
The Canning City supporters and committee were unbelievable in their commitment and support. The atmosphere was electric, thick, intoxicating and loud.
And the devastation upon that final whistle was so complete, that I needed to be in that dark place, under a little rock for the next 4 days, inches away from tears.
A couple times people offered me kind thoughts, and told me… it’s just a game.
But that is something I don’t accept.
Football has been 2 nights and 1 full day a week for 28 years. My mind was on it for twice that time.
Football is commitment, hard work, dedication.
Football is about limits and knowing how to push past them.
Football is about sacrifice, about the hurt of watching on.
Football is about leadership, example, humility.
Football is about change, adapting, finding a way to count.
Football is about toughness, having the desire, to play through the pain.
Football is about changing peoples perceptions.
Football is about distances and the will to cover them.
Football is about mountains, the prize at the distant summit.
Football is about climbing and climbing, only to realise your not going to make it. And even then, never giving up.
Football is about hopes, heartache and every now and again, unexplainable happiness.
Football is about the character you build through the failure that you’ve known.
Football is about memories that will never leave you.
Football is about circles, songs, arms on shoulders.
Football is about friendship.
Football is for life.
And for me…
There are not many things I have ever been more certain of.
Football never has, never can and never, ever will be…
Just a game.