In 1999, after the war (the war between Newscorp and the Australian Rugby League)the South Sydney Rabbitohs were excluded from the premier Rugby League competition in the world by the new administrators of the game. I will never forget seeing the reaction of the fans to that monumental decision. It was as though a family member had been murdered. One image is indelibly printed on my mind: that of a Rabbitohs fan, dressed in full club colours and regalia, as though he had raided the supporters shop before being filmed, facing the camera and crying, blubbering over the demise of his beloved footy team. I could not believe all the snot and hot tears. This was a staggering manifestation of an illogical yet undeniable emotional attachment.
In 1979, aged 11, I fled the living room of a family member in horror and disgust as my team, the Canterbury Bulldogs, crashed to an insurmountable 17-0 deficit at half time of that year's Grand Final against the St.George Dragons. In the 1994 season decider, I spent more time in the toilet than in front of the television as the Bulldogs fumbled and bumbled their way to a shellacking at the hands of the Canberra Raiders. I have been nervous before matches and exhausted after them. I have paced the floor, groaned and complained, lambasted the opposition, the referees, and my own players. I have punched the air in triumph and punched pillows in anguish. I have experienced the thrill of victory, and the devastation of loss. For 32 years I have been riding the rollercoaster, following my team through the highs and the lows. From Premiership glory to the ignominy of the Wooden Spoon.
When I watch the Bulldogs play, I fall into another dimension. I escape the real world to live, albeit temporarily, in a fantasy universe where a sporting contest has eternal significance. The thrill is addictive, the tension is electric, the pain is real. I lose myself in the epic battle in which superb athletes brutally collide with each other as they struggle for supremacy.
This year, 2011, the Canterbury Bulldogs are embarrassing me with their onfield performances. Not only losing but playing poorly. They are a shadow of a football team, a spiritless gaggle of brightly uniformed geese. Nevertheless they will remain my team. I won't dump them, I won't walk way. I am committed. They are a habit I cannot break. As much a part of me as my job and my church, and all the other interests I have in life.
Having said that, you will never find me shedding tears over them. I will never plummet into a pit of depression because of what they do, or don't do. It took some time, but I have learned a little perspective. I love the joyride I get to take every footy season courtesy of my team. For eighty minutes, the suffering is contained and focused, the emotion is raw, there is only the battle. There are cheers and boos ans sometimes too personal abuse. There are winners and losers, and people get hurt, but no one dies, and when it's over...it's over but only until next week, or next season. Being a fan of a football team can be heartbreaking but that's life.I love it.
When you invest yourself in something, or someone, you should expect to suffer. To live and to love is to feel pain, and in a way that makes most of us just a little bit masochistic, doesn't it?