The Day God Fixed the Football

Yes. This is a true story. It comes with an apology to anyone who was heartbroken by Carlton’s loss to Essendon in the 1993 AFL Grand Final. Although strictly speaking it wasn’t really my fault – Gill Briggs had something to do with it as well.

Carlton Football Club

Suicide is a lie. I know that now, but there was a time, like there is for so many of us, when it felt like not just the best option, but the only option. I was nineteen. Stuff had gone wrong. Stuff had gone very wrong for a lot of years, but nineteen was the year that the weight of all that wrongness rested on me baldly for the first time, like some enormous grey and hoary bird that had hovered since childhood and suddenly came to roost on my shoulder. You know what it’s like.

Suicide is a lie, but when you’re nineteen no-just-turned-twenty, when you’re forced to leave behind the only thing you’ve ever wanted, when you’re facing a future uncertain of anything but the pain and the hopelessness you now have to carry, the idea of Out compared to another 60 years of nothing, seems pretty sweet. Each day went on through that year, and each day was bad. And then it was September.

Now, if you’re not Australian you may not know what September really means, and if you’re not from one of the southern states in Australia you may not have that same visceral reaction that I do when people talk about the Carlton Football Team. And if you didn’t live already through the 1986 Grand Final, where the Hawthorn whipped the pants off of Carlton and we all screamed and dressed in brown and gold to celebrate, and if you didn’t live through the 1987 Grand Final where we battled it out again and lost to those awful Blues, and if you didn’t watch Hawthorn win the 1988 final, or 1989 or ’91 and all the Hawthorn-Carlton games in between, if you weren’t there you might not get how we knew because we knew that no matter what awful things happened to us in life Hawthorn were Kings, and, equally, strongly, we knew because we knew that Stinking Carlton deserved all the filth we could heap on them That’s just How It Was.

So in 1993, the year that weighted bird of years of pain came to rest on my shoulders there two things in life left that I knew for certain: There was a God in Heaven, and I hated the Carlton Football Club.

It wasn’t a Hawthorn final that year, so I wouldn’t have bothered watching the game at all if it wasn’t for the fact that I was away at a Youth camp that weekend, and that was what everyone was doing. I’d brought my sketch pad and some pencils and had planned on doing some drawing to fill in time until dinner. I didn’t know it was a Carlton game, and I didn’t know how awful that would make me feel, the idea that by the end of the day that giant weighted bird I carried might well be wearing a Carlton Premiers jumper.

I’m nothing if not honest, and in 1993 honest was all I knew how to be. So when I said that thing to God that I did that day I meant it. It was my one true prayer of help from a lost and desperately hurting soul.

I told God, very quietly, maybe even in my head, that if Carlton won the Grand Final that day I was going to kill myself. Maybe not that day, maybe not even that week, but that would be my exit light. That would be all the excuse I needed to one day walk off into the never-never and stay there until the hurt went away. I didn’t even care if God heard me. Nothing mattered any more that day but my pain and my hatred of the Carlton Football Club. Nothing mattered pretty soon except that game.

The game was against Essendon, and Essendon kicked the first goal. I didn’t take much notice. They kicked the second as well, and then the third, so by the time Carlton got possession of the ball the score was Essendon all the way, and still Carlton could only manage a behind for a measly point, and then it was a goal to Essendon again. Not too far into the first quarter Essendon had tripled Carlton’s score, and it stayed that way for the second as well. There would be no catching up, that much was obvious. Whatever happened for them out there on the field that day, the Carlton Football Club had somehow forgotten how to play.

I don’t need to tell you that Essendon won by a mile, that the end was a given even at the beginning. I don’t need to tell you that the last quarter of the game was so boring, so one-sided that most of the others left the room to go do something more interesting. I don’t need to tell you that I watched that game to the very end, the very final siren and then some, right through the medal presentation, right through to where the captain and coach of Essendon hoisted that cup high with a mighty cheer of victory.

I will tell you though that I saw the face of God that day, the wordless expression of love, of care, of I Heard You Megan and YOU WILL STAY.

I don’t know why that game. I don’t know why me. Why I was saved, and so many precious little ones aren’t found in time, or don’t have their “fleeces” answered; maybe because I was silly enough to be honest with the Creator of football and of football fields.*

There won’t ever be answers to that, and perhaps “why” is the wrong question.

Truth is I’ll never forget the 1993 AFL Grand Final. Truth is I will tell stories, hard ones and ugly ones and made-up ones and true, because one day one of my stories just might be the Game That Carlton Lost, for someone. One day my story just might remind someone else that life, painful though it is, is worth the living.

*Two years later, 1995, was a Carlton Grand Final as well. I told God again, in the manner of small children who like to test out their parents, that if Carlton won I’d kill myself. He laughed at me. It was a massive Carlton victory, but I didn’t care much more than to kick the door and have a cup of tea. I’d already had my answer.




The hour I first believed – a football post

And now for something completely different…

It’s September, getting towards – dareIsayit – LATE September (I’m sorry people, just speaking the truth here), and I’m feeling it in the atmosphere already: the change, the lightness of mornings, the promise of sun, the battle-lines suddenly drawn again for another year. The tension, and the rivalry of stripes and colours among people who would otherwise be friends. Shops even, decorated in flaccid balloons and fly-specked streamers displaying loyalties, or divided loyalties. Even now Kmart has a Collingwood manequin on display.

I’m not the religious sort. I’m the football equivalent of a Christmas-and-Easter believer, but I’m married to a diehard, and therefore I’m married to the Collingwood Football Club as well. That’s how things go. They’re called the Magpies – often shortened to the Pies, and supporters (of which there are many, and only of the fundamentalist diehard variety) are known utter the phrase “Carn the Pies!” in their sleep* My husband still talks about the Great Grand Final of 1990, and has the boxed set DVD collection of the Great Draw and Subsequent Victory Including Alternate Commentary from 2010. Pies fans are like that.

I don’t care, not really, but I can’t help but love the atmosphere. You can’t help but want to be with people so passionate, want to be caught up in their tears, in their pain, in their white-knuckled eyes-tight-shut enthusiasm and their wild elation. There are no other words for late September. Passion is contagious, even if, like me, you’re not a true Believer.

I read this poem yesterday, from a famous Australian poet (with thanks to Annette Young who inspired me to find it). Bruce Dawes sums it up well:

Life Cycle, by Bruce Dawe. For Big Jim Phelan

When children are born in Victoria
they are wrapped in club-colours, laid in beribboned cots,
having already begaun a lifetime’s barracking.
Carn, they cry, Carn … feebly at first
while paretns playfully tussle with them
for possession of a rusk: Ah, he’s a little Tiger! (And they are …)
Hoisted shoulder-high at their first League game
they are like innocent monsters who have been years swimming
towards the daylight’s roaring empyream
Until, now, hearts shrapnelled with rapture,
they break surface and are forever lost,
their minds rippling out like streamers
In the pure flood of sound, they are scarfed with light, a voice
like the voice of God booms from the stands
Ooohh you bludger and the covenant is sealed.
Hot pies and potato-crisps they will eat,
they will forswear the Demons, cling to the Saints
and behold their team going up the ladder into Heaven,
And the tides of life will be the tides of the home-team’s fortunes
– the reckless proposal after the one-point win,
the wedding and honeymoon after the grand-final …
They will not grow old as those from the more northern States grow old,
for them it will always be three-quarter-time
with the scores level and the wind advantage in the final term,
That pattern persisting, like a race-memory, through the welter of seasons,
enabling old-timers by boundary fences to dream of resurgent lions
and centaur-figures from the past to replenish continually the present,
So that mythology may be perpetually renewed
and Chicken Smallhorn return like the maize-god
in a thousand shapes, the dancers changing
But the dance forever the same – the elderly still
loyally crying Carn … Carn … (if feebly) unto the very end,
having seen in the six-foot recruit from Eaglehawk their hope of salvation

It’s September, month of passion. Let’s Believe, all of us, because believing is fun, even when we do need to suspend our disbelief. Let’s belong, if only for a week or two, because it belonging to something bigger than you is a joy all of it’s own. Let’s all laugh and shout, and care, and mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those crazy people who are laughing until the tears run down their faces. I know that in October we’ll forget, and by December we’ll be caught up again in the culture of Me-and-My-Life, but for now it’s September. Getting onto Late September.

Let’s believe. Image

*”Carn”, for my non-Australian readers, means something along the lines of “Tally Ho Gentlemen!”, or “Come, let us Rouse This Madness To Action!”.

Also, Demons are the Melbourne team. Saints are the St Kilda team. In case you were worried…