So a couple Saturdays ago I went to the footy.
It was a big match. West Coast Eagles verses Collingwood Magpies. The Eagles had to win to have a chance of making the top four and give themselves a real crack at making the grand final. I was meeting my great mate and brother in law Anthony at Patterson stadium just before kickoff but had arranged to meet some of my other friends before the game at the Subiaco hotel.
I rocked up to the Subi’ early and got myself a beer. I took my pint of Stella out the back. Then I fell into an old familiar situation. It’s the one where you’re at the pub by yourself waiting for someone but in the meantime looking like a complete loner and loser. I lit up a cigarette (not exactly helping the loser look) and took some real interest in the pot plant next to me. After a while I realised that the large umbrella that I was standing under was holding in the smoke and generally dutching out the entire four square metres of space around me and beyond. Abashed and conscious of the copious hostile stares that I was receiving from the diners in the garden around me, I put the cigarette out half finished and checked an imaginary message on my phone.
Mercifully two mates from football walked up. Bozza and Jimbo. Both very talented players with Inglewood United. I had played for four years with Bozza at Inglewood and a year with Jimbo at Swan. They were looking pretty sharp in their fitted shirts, slick haircuts and generally cool style. I was under-dressed in my jeans, Eagles shirt and Karimoor fleecy jumper – the only jumper I had clean and more suited to climbing a mountain than watching the footy. I couldn’t help but feel a slight twinge of jealousy. Jimbo was at the beginning of his playing career with all the ability in the world and Bozza was in his late twenties, at his peak. I was 33, over the hill and wearing a crap jumper to suit.
We talked about football and about the Eagles chances of beating the Magpies before we moved on to the topic of Eagles fans. Lately we had been given a bad rap in the press because of an incident at our last home game. It was against Geelong and one of their players Tom Hawkins had been knocked out. Apparently a small pocket of fans had booed the umpires and told them to get him off the pitch which resulted in the Geelong coach branding us as the worst fans in the AFL at the post match press conference. Having discussed the topic subjectively we established that it was utter rubbish and you get your idiots wherever you go. Anyway everyone knows that the Collingwood fans are the worst in the AFL.
Mid conversation we were interrupted by a young, good looking girl who started talking to Jimbo. She was laughing at her mate at the bar who was trying to chat up some guy. Apparently she’d been out the game a while and her pick up line of “excuse me but do I know you?” was not making any breakthroughs. She returned to where we were standing and her half embarrassed smile was wiped away in realisation of her two new and far comelier targets in Bozza and Jimbo. I rolled my eyes and went to the bar for a top up.
With the pub filling up I returned to find my spot was closed over.
I morphed back into Captain Awkward. The fifth member of a social group whose optimum dynamic was clearly four. I was nudging and shuffling around for a spot to call my own but was corralled back into a lonely corner between turned backs by the heaving mass. So I just stood there looking at Bozza’s back with an interested look on my face.
For three full minutes I felt like a stalker caught in a police spotlight. My blue jumper now felt like it was fluoro orange, with the word “lonely” painted on it for all to see. I could almost hear the thoughts of the people around me. What’s that guy doing? He’s obviously not from around here. Look at his jumper. Who’s he smiling at? Is he all there? Is he bothering those people?
Once again, to my absolute relief, I was saved by the long awaited arrival of Rob, Paul and Julio. We hadn’t caught up in ages and I’d never been happier to see them. We stood around and had a good old laugh and the spot light was off me.
Bazza and Jimmy wound up their conversation with the girls, said see you later and headed out of the pub towards the stadium for the game.
Julio and I followed shortly after telling Rob and Paul we would meet them back at the pub afterwards.
As we got to the stadium I met Anthony as Julio headed off to his seats in another section of the ground.
Anthony is my sister Kelly’s husband and a fantastic bloke. He a six 6ft 7″ Ralph Macchio look alike who had an illustrious basketball career in the WA State Basketball League. He is a teacher and an exceptional businessman. But most importantly he loves a beer and shares the same slightly vulgar and sometimes over the top sense of humour as me.
We went up to our seats. The match siren hailed the first quarter bounce down. And then it started.
I can’t describe the change that comes over you at the footy, but it’s quite infectious. Right from the word go we were at it.
Two of Anthony’s main targets were Chris Dawes and Travis Cloke.
“What are ya gonna do with this one ‘Choke!'”
“Dawes ya pussy… attack the footy ya big girl!” This was Anthony’s secret weapon. He had read a book about a year behind the scenes with Collingwood and apparently, Dawes was called a big girl several times by ex coach Mick Malthouse.
He was also getting stuck into Scott Pendlebury.
“Pendlebury you bloody cherry picker! (After questioning Anthony I learnt that cherry picker meant a person who lets others put their body on the line only for them to receive the pass and take off with the cheap possessions).
I decided it was time to step up to the plate.
One of the umpires awarded a free kick and I yelled at the top of my voice.
“Are you serious!!!!?”…….
Everyone in my vicinity turned around to look at me and I realised the free kick was actually awarded in our favour.
I said the first thing that came to my mind. An aggressive and scolding “Good!”
This got a few laughs which broke the tension and at the same time, fuelled my confidence.
I pitched in with more incredibly witty insults directed at Collingwood livewires Dale ‘Daisy’ Thomas and Alan Didak.
“Oh! Daisy you actually playing are ya? Haven’t seen you all day!” Never mind that it was only the first quarter.
“Hey Didak, I see they designed your jumper to match your supporters smiles!” ( This I felt, was my funniest comment of the day) I got a few chuckles.
I then singled out Dane Swan. Last year’s Brownlow medallist had just comeback from a two week club suspension for staying out late and drinking the night before training.
“Hey ‘Swanny’ have another beer! It’ll help you forget how shit you’re playing!” More chuckles.
At this point I was on a role. I decided to let out the ‘Excalibur’ of footy insults.
“Travis cloak is it? …..More like Travis Coke!”….
Still chuckling to myself where I stood, I looked around for my supporters in the crowd.
Is it possible to silence an entire stand with a bad joke? I think I may have been the first one to achieve it.
All I got was blank stares, offended frown’s and….. crickets. I turned to Anthony my staunchest supporter but he just shook his head slightly and looked away. I looked over to the right and I’m sure an elderly couple were talking about me. Apparently I had gone to far. I’m not sure why my suggestion that the player was a drug addict was so poorly received. But it was. I’ll keep that in mind for next time.
Luckily a couple seconds later there was a poor umpiring decision and the crowd boooed as one. I joined in (a little over-zealously) and managed to blend back into the mob, my sins forgotten.
We were now focused back on our prime target. From everywhere others were contributing to the cause.
An old guy 2 seats back from us pitched in with a steady “kill these bums!” every three or four minutes.
“Piss off back where you belong ya mugs came a cry from the front”.
“Tarrant! You suck so badly you’ll be back playing for the Dockers soon!”
And my personal favourite from a guy wearing radio headphones behind me, a loud and passionately delivered “knee him in the back!”
We were relentless. The high fives flowed and the insults flew. With each cautious piece of abuse, I won back favour with the crowd.
That’s the great thing about the footy. Everyone’s funny when the jokes are directed at a common enemy. So what if you let out a few fizzers? You’re only ever as funny as your last joke.
We ended up winning the game by 49 points. We didn’t even have to be critical of our own players. No one played bad enough to deserve it.
And the best thing about the game? I had finally found somewhere that I didn’t feel out of place in my tardy jumper.