It was late on the Friday night and a friend asked if I wanted to catch up for a drink and watch the footy the next day. “Sure,” I said, “but it will have to be after the Port game.” It would be our very last for the year, a year that held such high expectations and then delivered on next to none of them. I had been so worked up about this season, almost fizzing with excitement, and devastated that it would be unlikely I’d see the year out thanks to a pending overseas trip.
I didn’t end up watching the game on Saturday afternoon, instead I enjoyed it old school style by listening to the call on the radio. Fremantle were ‘resting’ players ahead of their finals campaign and Port had little to play for aside from pride. My friend reckoned we’d get up by more than 40 points, I wasn’t so sure. This is Port Adelaide version 2015 I reminded him.
But we did get up and got up well – 69 points in the end. Not that it matters. There’s no finals for us this year. What a bitter pill to swallow.
That said, despite all the heartbreak and disappointment, there have been more than a few highlights. Two wins over Hawthorn. My first trip to Adelaide Oval, especially given it was ANZAC Day and the incredible spectacle that brought. The emergence of brilliant young talent like Brendon Ah Chee and Sam Gray. The continued leadership of Travis Boak. Port reaching 60,000 members and surpassing the Crows for the first time. Chad. The friendships that I’ve continued to build around football. This blog.
Not everything about 2015 has been a total write-off.
I’ll watch this weekend’s games from the comfort of my lounge room and next week’s at my parents’ house in NSW. I’ll be barracking my hardest for the interstate teams as usual and if the Swans can’t get up then I’d love to see Fremantle win it. Finals aren’t quite as fun when you’re not in them but this year has been such an enigma, I’m excited that almost anything could happen.
After seeing this photo of Fremantle’s Matt De Boer during the game against Sydney last weekend I realised one thing: there is clearly nowhere near enough jumper ripping in footy these days. Bring it on, I say.
When I was younger I was an absolute footy tragic. I would live, breathe and bleed for my team each week without fail. I kept scrapbooks of meticulously cut out newspaper articles and I recorded games on copious amounts of VHS tapes so I could watch them over and over (and over) again.
Then I grew up and calmed down – slightly. I was still as heavily invested in my team but the format changed. I bought club memberships and I travelled around the country watching games. When I resigned from my job at The Canberra Times my colleagues got me a Port Adelaide jumper as a farewell gift. DVDs replaced the tapes.
Between about 2009 and mid 2013 I lost my way. Port Adelaide were generally doing terribly and I’m ashamed to say I barely maintained any interest in their fortunes. I went to a token few rugby union games here in Melbourne. The only rugby league news I ever got was from my brother’s Facebook statuses. I’ve never given a shit about soccer. Instead I just filled up my life with other stuff, only engaging with sport on the rarest of occasions. For someone whose life had been utterly filled by it for so long this was something new.
And now I’m back. Totally, utterly and completely back. To AFL anyway.
It started at the end of 2013 when Port made the finals and I went to see both of them at the MCG. I remember at the start of that season when the Power won a heap of games and were sitting close to first, screenshotting the ladder and circling Port and Hawthorn’s positions then sending it to my Hawks mad mate. “Me. You. Suck it”, I scrawled on there. I could never quite believe it though – it felt surreal to be anything close to successful again. So when those finals rolled around I went and it felt like a novelty in some ways, especially when we won the one against Collingwood. At that point I reckon it was the first Port game I’d been to in nearly four years. The second one I went to with my best friend, a Cats fan, and we nearly did them – our last quarter we ran out of steam and Geelong went into a prelim.
Last year felt good but there was still some distance between me and footy. I was scared that 2013 was going to be a blip, that I’d be lured into false hopes and cruelly let down again. Only it didn’t quite pan out that way and despite my reticence I found myself sitting at the MCG again in September. I hadn’t been to any games through the year but I’d kept a much closer eye on things and I could sense my blood starting to fizz again with the love of football. A friend took me as her plus one to a corporate event and I reckon I drank four nervous glasses of champagne in quick succession when we arrived. As a Bombers fan she had a soft spot for Wanganeen so was prepared to back us in against the Hawks and even wore a Port scarf for me (I repaid the favour by giving her my vintage one from when Gav actually still played).
Three points that day. Three fucking points. That’s what kept us out of a grand final. But I knew, I just knew, that footy and I were back together so the long wait until the 2015 season started began.
It’s a cruel thing to have to wait until the second last game of the first round to see your team play. I’ve monitored the club countdowns on social media and felt the excitement starting to build. Everyone has such high expectations for Port Adelaide this year, it’s almost impossible not to get swept up in the excitement and romance of it all. I am a club member again, something I felt they deserved from me.
All day today I have felt the nerves and excitement starting to build. Because I don’t have Foxtel I went to a local hotel to watch it and as I sat down with my beer and chicken parma, I remembered: “this is what it’s like.” That feeling of butterflies in your stomach. Wanting to vomit. Your heart beating at triple time. Hands shaking when they lift the glass for every sip.
“I just can’t do this again,” I thought.
I’d forgotten what a complete emotional investment football is so much of the time. How you have to learn to live with that churning in your gut for hours on game day. My right hand fingernails digging into my left hand knuckles for two-and-a-half hours every weekend until they are red raw. The exhilaration and the pain and the disappointment and the jubilation and the satisfaction. I’d forgotten all of it until I was actually back there in that moment again.
Fremantle had us by seven points tonight but I maintain it was a game we lost rather than one they won. Our decision making was poor and our kicking was terrible at times, which took the pressure off and let them into the game. (Jasper’s fucking play on bounce. Jesus.) Paddy didn’t look as good as I expected and we missed Lobbe in the ruck I thought. On the plus side, I reckon Polec, Trengove and Gray really stood out and our tackling overall was ferocious. It’s always disappointing to lead at every change and then get done in the end however I know that losing the first game of the season doesn’t mean it’s all over. We have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and get ready to take on Sydney next week.
Which means it looks like I am doing this again after all. Wish me luck.