Saturday, October 13, 2007

This Sporting Life

Now I'm not a fan of sport as you know.

In fact, I'd rather spend my Sunday watching the Antiques Roadshow and then Last Of the Summer Wine because, even if Henry Sandon had undervalued a particularly nice teapot, and even if Cleggy failed to launch a rocket made from a bathtub, the combined duration would still be shorter than a football match.
But this last two weekends have been big dates in the Australian sporting calendar and I thought it only fair I celebrate this with my post-colonial cousins.


First up, the Aussie Rules (or AFL.) Grand Final which myself, Lou, her Melbourne friend Jude, Brian, Franc, Claire, Etienne and Martin all headed down to a bar in Darling Harbour to watch. Obviously, I knew next to nothing about the sport and even with an Aussie, Jude, attempting to explain the rules I was none the wiser.

So how was the game? Well, allow me a digression. Imagine this: when it used to rain at school, we would be confined to the classroom for a "wet-break" where dinner ladies would wheel out reams of blank paper and big stubby Crayola crayons in an attempt to keep us amused for an hour.

If the rain let up, the kids would be let back into the playground and the joy upon being free from the inside of the classroom would result in every child hyperactively zooming around in an impossibly tight turning circle as if just having received an intravenous injection of Kia Ora. From the air it no doubt looked like the physical representation of 2 dozen catherine wheels, spinning wildly and chaotically.

Now, if you'd chucked a ball in while you were at it, you'd have yourself an AFL game.

It's unfathomable: some people are running this way; some people are running that way; there's someone running diagonally for a bit, then back this way. Players dart over there for a while then come cow-tailing it back, then they get tackled and hare it back round and head off in other direction. What's going on?
The whole thing looks like a 22 sprint races being run simultaneously, one for each player, and each with their own unique criss-crossing start and finish point.

And this goes on for ever. 4 quarters of 30 minutes each with a 10 minute break in between means the entire game is pushing 2 and half hours. And that's a long time to be racing around like you've taken an entire packet of Pro-Plus washed down with Red Bull.

I tell you what though. I'll readily admit that even though the game appears an indecipherable hyper-steroidal free-for-all, those players are very, very physically fit. They have to be, being forced to spend two hours of legging it about like they're on fire. They run more than footballers do, and for longer. And, even though tackles are far less brutal than rugby, they run more than rugby players too.

At the end Geelong (near Melbourne) had beaten Port Adelaide by 119 points clear, the biggest ever margin in a Grand Final. Back at the hostel Alex (or Mr Tumnus) was sulking. He's as Australian as drinking Castelmaine XXXX from a billabong, and is a die-hard Port Adelaide fan and little did we know at the time, he was to be disgruntled yet further by an even bigger sporting humiliation........


The following weekend was England vs Australia and, despite everyone expecting a thrashing, we headed down to Darling Harbour again to watch the match. This time, however, the bar we had visited the previous week had turned into a meat market complete with gyrating slappers with belts for skirts. Clearly not showing the rugby then.

So we ended up in an old man's pub round the corner, together with a healthy gathering of Aussies and Poms alike. To be fair the Aussies were very gracious singing God Save The Queen as well as their own national anthem, and banter between opposing supporters was light-hearted. The only dissenting voice came from a 70-year old git who looked like he'd been kicked awake in a shop doorway, who routinely barracked the screen with chants of "Break their hands, boys" and was so obnoxious that the other Aussies in the room told him to shut up.

He later fell into conversation with two of our party, Chris (now fully recovered from the train vomitting incident) and Claire. He told them both he had a phD in Econometrics despite looking like a pin up for The Real Ale Drinkers Calendar circa 1974 with his chunky lambchop sideboards and pot belly. Clearly a bit mental.
In fact, after speaking to him for 4 minutes Claire had started surreptitiously kicking me as if to say "rescue me". Martin (from Koblenz) and I wondered how best to do this. "Perhaps I should just go over there and kiss her" he suggested. "Don't think Claire would like that" I responded "Perhaps you should go over there and kiss him".

The game was very exciting, as you no doubt know. So much so that the two German girls, Alischa and Julia, who had never seen a rugby match before, were instantly hooked. The tension built towards the end and the final victory sent the English contingent diving for their mobile phones to send text messages to friends and enemies across the world. The Aussies didn't make a fuss and slunk away quietly, until only the English were left.

I arrived back at the hostel to see Alex (Mr Tumnus), freshly-miserable from Port Adelaide's defeat the week before, being harrangued by three drunk Englishman. "Your team lost at Aussie Rules, and now your rugby team lost as well....dear oh dear oh dear" barracked Noel from Nantwich. "You didn't even score a try" countered Alex, barely containing his rage. "Doesn't matter" said Noel "You still lost". "Yeah, well stop going on about it" retorted Alex "If the Aussies won, I wouldn't have been taking the piss. At least we're modest in victory". "What?!" said everyone in unison "Are you joking? You'd have been banging on for weeks".

And, for someone who doesn't like sport, it was all rather entertaining.

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