Sunday, May 27, 2012

A psephy aside: #SoO and my internal contradictions

The State of Origin...and the hope for a Kantian society

This is a post about football. It is specifically about that code of football followed mainly in Queensland and New South Wales, rugby league.  You might choose to divert to another post now, or you might like to hang around as I wrestle with the internal contradiction that is my football following…

It is, of course, State of Origin time in Queensland and New South Wales, and Victoria apparently. I really don’t get that bit. Now, #SoO on Twitter is a fascinating experience. It’s quite polarising actually. There are tweeps who love it, tweeps who hate it and I cop it in double doses because I like rugby league and follow Manly Warringah, the Sea Eagles. (Note to AFL fans who’ve come this far, that’s the equivalent of being a Collingwood supporter.) I’m moved to pen a note about football because my friendly tweeples and regular compelling bloggers, Susan Hetherington and Sally Piracha both posted their very readable comments on the sport. I actually agreed with their sentiments but still like my football. Thus this is a post from the sidelines from someone who wrestles with this internal contradiction, at this time of year, on a daily basis.

You see, I grew up on Sydney’s northern beaches: Harbord, South Curl Curl, in the shadows of the goalposts of Brookvale Oval. Note that the ‘northern beaches’ are quite distinct from the ‘North Shore’. North Shore people were wealthier and preferred rugby union, a different code, and not to be confused with Manly supporters. Yes, Manly was nicknamed the ‘silvertails’ in the 1970s, by then Western Suburbs coach Roy Masters, just to get a bit of spite going in the games, especially against the ‘fibros. Class war as false consciousness really, it was just footy for the rest of us. (For those interested, I can recommend the Paul Oliver documentary The Fibros and the Silvertails c. 2007/8)

Growing up with three brothers and two male cousins, three-a-side backyard footy (and cricket in summer) was obligatory. Since I was the oldest in the group, I was always captain and pretended to be Graham Eadie, star fullback for Manly and Australia in the 1970-80s. From about the age of nine I had every expectation I would one day play for the Kangaroos—then I learned about things ‘girls can’t do’. Saturday arvos were always about going to Brookie Oval for the home games, cheering and booing (the other team), quite cathartic at the end of a tough (school) week. The other games, I would sit and watch on telly with my Nan. Yep, that makes me third-gen Manly supporter. I collected the footy cards that came with two sticks of pink gum…swapping cards at Harbord Public School was always a novelty as we treasured our Eadie, Fulton and Krilich cards and wondered what to do with the other teams’ players.

There was something there about ‘community’ too, and the great sense one gets from that. I recall the Manly Corso festooned in maroon and white in 1972 and 1973 as we headed towards premiership glory. It was the semi-professional era; players were paid, but nothing like the enormous sums they earn today. They were part of the community with their regular jobs with footy on the weekend—every thing had its place, and there was a time and place for everything.

My win-win jumper
In 1980, at the time of the inaugural State of Origin game (originally intended as a one-off ‘experiment’) we’d been living in Queensland for seven years. After watching the Queensland rep team getting thrashed for many years, a decision was made to allow Sydney-based Queensland players represent Queensland. It was a great idea. As it happened, early on a number of Manly players got to play for Queensland, and since the colours for both teams were the same (maroon and white) I was comfortable with that. I’ve mostly followed Queensland for that reason—sometimes I’ve opted for the team with more Manly players, but overall, I just have a greater affinity for the passion with which the Queensland side play. I wear what I call my ‘win-win’ jumper, a 1957 replica—if Queensland wins, then I’m wearing the right colours; if NSW wins, well, I’m wearing my birthright—the perfect politician’s jumper in fact. In the end though, I just hope for a good game of footy, all round.

I love my footy, but I’m not a fanatic. As a footy old-timer, I have lamented the hyper-professionalisation of the sport and the elevation of young, immature men to demi-god untouchable status over the years. And herein lies my internal contradiction and where I share my points of agreement with my fellow bloggers @snoozen and @SalPiracha. There is a degree of ‘nastiness’ which comes with football these days, a lot of unnecessary aggression between those who follow and those who don’t. It has gone well beyond the friendly banter which passed for rivalry in years past. So much money now is at stake that, yes, dare I say it, the huge sums of money have changed the character of the game. It is characteristic of other aspects of our society where aggression has become the norm as we lose that sense of the collective good and strike out for personal aggrandisement. I’d like to see the players receive less money in their playing years (perhaps put in a trust until retirement) and have them also work—just to keep things in perspective.

I hang on to my footy, and my test cricket for that matter (though that too, is at times sorely tested), because I hold to a nostalgia of times past…perhaps. When football teams sought out American football clubs as their financial models (yes, you John Ribot and the emergent Brisbane Broncos c. 1987) I started to doubt my reasons for following. When SuperLeague and Mr R Murdoch came along and ripped our game apart, I really wondered if I could follow a confected franchise of Central Coast Sea Beagles…actually, I couldn’t and was lost to the game for a couple of seasons.

My friends and colleagues do find my fandom at odds with everything else I do. I checked the football score during interval at a symphony orchestra concert recently, much to the chagrin of my fellow classical music aficionados. Geraldine Doogue once declared on her program that AFL had a greater following of intellectuals than rugby league…I kinda took offence at that. I’m no intellectual by any means, but people with university degrees can surely enjoy their footy too. Indeed, one of my ‘books I must write before I die’ is in fact an exploration of notions of trust and loyalty in football—a Kantian exploration of the 13-a-side game…State of Origin, if we reflect on it briefly, emerged out of a sense of addressing a little bit of unfairness on the football field. 

So I agree with Susan and Sally. It doesn’t bother me one bit that most people couldn’t give a toss about #SoO. I will defend to the death (well, figuratively speaking) people’s right to dislike football, as well as people’s right to enjoy it for what it can be. I won’t however tolerate an unnecessary and mean aggression over a simple bloody game—it reflects poorly on our society at large, and it’s not the sort of society I want to leave behind.

As I complete this post, Manly have just gone down to Penrith 22-4. Bummer. But there’s always next week, we fans stick through the good times, the bad times and the somewhat unexpected. #GoManly #GoMaroons. 

And if you're not already following @snoozen and @SalPiracha, then I recommend you do. They are good members of my 'blogs to be read' list.