A writers festival on the New South Wales central coast is probably the closest you can come to watching the AFL Grand Final in a vacuum. There were expat bars in every country in the world displaying more interest than the entire city of Newcastle. The only venue even playing it was the RSL, with the sound down in favour of horse races.
Fortunate to be bunked with the only other Cat fan in town, we eventually ran back to our accommodation in time for the bounce, and at least had one kindred soul to share the shouting. We met the festival’s Saturday night swelling with joy, and no place to direct it. Whenever Geir mentioned football to someone, the response was, “I have to pee.”
In Melbourne, you can feel the Grand Final in the air. The build-up lasts all week. Not just the media glut, but a kind of nervous energy. Scarves sprouting out of cars like some strange acrylic rash. Spring air crackling like power lines, leaves hustling up the cold streets.
It’s that ubiquity that makes the anti-fans apoplectic. Grand Final week is when they most shrilly voice their fierce disdain of our gladiatorial obsession and mouth-breathing tendencies. Seeing so many people enjoying themselves in a way you can’t comprehend must be like going to an ice-cream convention after your tongue was shot off in the war.
You can’t explain the love of sport, just as other devotees can’t explain Nureyev or heavy metal or crossbow hunting. It either speaks to you or it never will. Perhaps you’re born into it. I was certainly born into supporting Geelong. Dad did, and I thought he was the greatest human on earth. Not much has changed.