I’ve never really been that into sport. I played, for a time, but found that I excelled more at falling over than keeping my balance. It may well be a metaphor for life more generally. I was bowled, knocked over, walloped, thumped, stumped, struck and skittled more times than I can mention. Indeed, if these were the metrics of a champion, there’d be a statue of me outside the MCG. Granted, it wouldn’t be made bronze; more likely marshmallow or some other spongy, pliable, sugar-fuelled substance, in keeping with its subject. But match stats rarely celebrate players for the number of times they gripped their knees whilst trying to catch their breath instead of the ball. More’s the pity.
Like any kid, I tried to support a football team but, for a host of reasons, lost interest. I appreciate it’s heresy, but I failed to appreciate how important loyalty was. When I was seven, I switch allegiance from Essendon to Carlton – an act my father described as possibly the greatest betrayal to ever occur outside of wartime. There were football cards, of which I collected a grand total of about fifteen, including my personal favourite – Bruce Doull – or as he was known then, ‘The Flying Doormat’. I didn’t understand what it meant then any more than I do now, but I like it all the same.
I even went to some football matches. My father is a member of the MCC. His ritual was to pack a small travel bag – the type that travel agents used to dispense whenever you booked a major trip – and included a thermos of sweet tea and a packet of chocolate biscuits. Most commonly ‘Gaiety’. Presumably, Tim Tams were considered too extreme and Iced Vovos too fiddly, so ‘Gaiety’ it was. This was a strategic masterstroke because, my father reasoned, the food at the ground was prohibitively expensive.
But biscuits are one thing. Full-blown insanity is another matter entirely. My father didn’t simply spectate; he participated by way of advanced bellowing that might be regarded in some cultures as a declaration of war. Conceptually, these outbursts are amusing. Up close, they’re terrifying. I was horrified. The atmosphere was febrile and teetered on the precipice of chaos as fellow spectators weighed up whether to laugh it off or, alternatively, hide under their seats to avoid the spray of invective.
At a certain point, I stopped going to large sporting events. That’s not to say that I didn’t take in my fair share of junior soccer, football and basketball games. I’ve navigated draughty multi-purpose venues in a dazzling array of far-flung suburbs, all in the name of supporting a family member. But as for large-scale sporting spectacles, it’s been some decades. Until, of course, the world cup.
Meeting someone is something of a Venn-diagram experience. You overlap where you have something in common; something that can be shared and built upon. And as glorious as this common ground is, just as significant are those things where you differ.
We bonded over music. So much so that we even started writing and performing music together. But Katrina’s other great passion is football. By which, of course, I mean ‘soccer’. As someone who had come here from Dublin, the Women’s World Cup tournament presented a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the Irish national team play in Australia. And so it was that I found myself agreeing to go to Perth to see a football match between Ireland and Canada. As you do.
It was raining and cold. We arrived at the stadium to find that at least ninety percent of the spectators were there to support Ireland. The stadium was a sea of green with a few, small flecks of red. When it came time to sing the national anthems, it was somewhat even. They played the Canadian anthem first and, from the results, I couldn’t even tell you whether or not it had words. When time came for the Irish national anthem, things were a lot louder. It was sung in Irish and had the stadium had a roof, it would surely have been lifted by the sound of thousands of voices singing at full volume. That was just the beginning.
There was then the matter of football chants. It’s a subject I know nearly nothing about. It’s a subject on which Katrina could well be considered, if not an expert then, possibly, a world champion. She wasted no time in starting several chants. It soon became apparent that those at our end of the ground began to see Katrina as their leader as she led a full-throated rendition of ‘Olé, Olé, Olé’. I asked for a translation and learned that, roughly speaking, this translates into English as ‘Olé, Olé, Olé’.
The chanting was one thing. The heckling was another. The Canadian team were very good, playing a strong brand of possession football. It was easy to see why they were the reigning Olympic champions. However, they did have an unfortunate habit of collapsing to the ground and writhing around in imaginary pain whenever Ireland had momentum. This provoked calls from Katrina to ‘get them an ambulance’ and then, when the player inevitably returned to their feet having sufficiently disrupted the game, a cry of ‘it’s a miracle!’
Things have come full circle. Once, I shrank with embarrassment when my father shouted at football matches. Now, all these years later, I’m back where I started, but I no longer feel embarrassed. Instead, I accept it. All of it. Now being forced out of my comfort zone (which is, admittedly, gigantic) is something to be grateful for. And I am. Ireland lost the match but won the singing. And we were happy.