Sport

Collingwood’s euphoria and Carlton’s misery reminded me what I love about footy

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone love something so much,” my housemate said.

For someone who isn’t devoted to a sporting club, there must be something particularly unhinged about a person pacing the kitchen on a Sunday evening making various guttural noises and iterations of “fuck”, “Jesus” and “get him”.

There were 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, and Collingwood had just kicked a goal to bring us within 14 points of the Blues. If we won, we would make the top four. If they lost, they would miss out on the finals.

I had endured, in the space of one AFL game, joy, excitement, fear, devastation, submission, hope, more joy, anxiety, more fear, shock and elation. I had walked back and forth between my laptop and the fridge several times, opening and shutting the door, gasping “I can’t watch” followed by “what’s happening?”

There is a specific anguish to being a sports fan that is difficult to replicate in any other aspect of your personal life.

It hits you in the gut, stomach squirming, heart in your chest.

At its best, you are soaring and completely euphoric – up on your feet screaming in unison with thousands of footy devotees, hugging strangers, belting out your team song on Swan Street in a tide of black and white.

At its worst, you are crying in an Uber en route to Dan Murphys after leaving the MCG to a rival team’s song, calling your boyfriend to tell him you can’t face a grand final party and berating him for saying “you’ll be all right” for the complete, galling insensitivity of it all (29 September 2018).

Earlier on Sunday – in a game that we eventually won – I had yelled out, “I can’t go on,” and thrown my head in my hands, prompting my housemate, who at this point thought someone in my life had died, to come over and ask if I was OK.

That’s the thing about footy, and any professional sport. One team’s victory is another’s heartache.

And I did feel for Carlton, even though minutes before their loss I had said, “I can’t wait to absolutely destroy them emotionally,” as Jamie Elliot kicked a soaring goal on the wing to put the Pies in front by a point.

Yes, I did want to destroy them emotionally. There is no victory sweeter than entering the top four by ruining your arch-rival’s finals bid after trailing by four goals, in an almost perfect replication of our 1970 grand final loss. But when the siren rang and their players fell to the ground, I felt their hurt.

To love your team is to sign up for gut-wrenching loss peppered with moments of joy.

Some teams wait years for those highs. Others wait decades. Yet still the supporters turn up, week after week, knowing full well they may be signing up to spend three hours watching their team get belted before a long, miserable journey home, probably in the rain.

I have been a Collingwood supporter all my life – bar from one lapse of judgment when I threatened to switch to St Kilda due to crush on Nick Riewoldt and was told by my brother that was fine, but they would have a burning ceremony of all my Magpies gear.

The only time I’ve ever prayed was in my childhood, sitting with my family at the MCG, crossing my fingers that we’d come back from behind and emerge victorious.

I was there in 2003, when I was thrown into the air by my father as Collingwood belted into the grand final with a 44-point win against Port Adelaide.

I was there in 2010, singing Lionel Richie’s Dancing on the Ceiling all the way home from the stadium with thousands of fans celebrating my first (and only) grand final win after an initial agonising draw.

I was there, too, amid the allegations of racism, the Do Better report and the ultimate resignation of then president Eddie McGuire. I despaired at the report’s findings, as did many Pies fans, and at the lack of tangible results.

For a club under so much scrutiny on and off the field to produce what they have this season is remarkable. In many ways, it has taken attention away from Collingwood’s past mistakes.

Winning an incredible 11 of 12 past games by less than two goals will probably require long term therapy for many fans for chronic stress. But it has also brought more pleasure to supporters than we’ve experienced in years – if ever.

While there is still much work to do to improve Collingwood’s culture on and off the field, I have become proud of my club again.

I’ve been reminded of what I love about AFL – the grit of it, the desperation, the soaring highs and crushing blows a quick shot on the boundary can bring with a minute-and-a-half to go.

And for Carlton fans, I say – there’s always next year.

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