Tonight’s game is Richmond vs Geelong. Richmond enter this game as underdogs and Geelong have been on a winning streak all year. An upset for Richmond in this game will solidify their bid to become top contenders in the final eight for the final.
I’m only going to the football to please my friend and kill some time before tonight’s beats. He’s a Richmond supporter, and I also haven’t been to the football for a while now (which is my duty to attend as a colonial anglo-Australian resident). Richmond also have rabid and passionate supporters for their team, and are favourites by heart for many supporters of AFL.
We arrive at the gate and my student ID is rejected when I’m purchasing a ticket because the ID didn’t have the year 2013 stamped on it. These guys mean business, so I show him my pension card instead. I am looked at with scorn and catagorised as a drug-dealer, but I’m okay with that if I don’t have to pay over $20 to watch a bunch of meatheads kick a ball around.
We enter the stadium, and am told by my friend that we should stand behind the members stand on the ground level with a bunch of boisterous supporters known sentimentally as “The Grog Squad.”
The supporters are friendly, all of them approachable to talk with about the game. Unfortunately, I know none of the players or anything about the game, so I elect to be quiet. Our friend from America arrives, and he – like me – knows nothing of the finer points of the game, so now I have a companion within ignorance.
Richmond is slightly up on the Cats by the end of the first quarter, and spirits are high. The place where we are standing is filled with supporters from both sides, all of them screaming in bloodlust for their side. It’s quite barbaric, and there’s some kid completely losing his shit, and splitting my eardrums with his squealing. His parents actually encourage and support this, as he is barracking for his football team.
I am standing at the edge of the group drinking a bottle of cola, as I am now more than two months a teetotaler. A strange old man appears from nowhere and starts grabbing for my bottle. I bat his hand away, and he snatches it from my grasp with force, and goes to grab my arm as well. I now realise that he is a security guard, but he didn’t announce any sort of purpose and went straight for me.
I resisted him and he finally spoke.
“Mate, you have grog in that bottle and you’re intoxicated. I seen you staggering around before.”
“Oh really? I’ve been standing here the whole time, actually. Smell the bottle.”
The man goes a shade redder, either in anger or embarrassment, probably a combination of both. He grudgingly takes a sniff, and then tries again twice, vainly trying to salvage some dignity through detecting spirit fumes in my non-alcoholic cola.
“Alright, alright, but it was suspicious.”
“Actually, it’s at this point you apologise to me or I inform your boss what happened.”
He takes a step toward me, belligerent eyes glinting. “Are you threatening me?”
I stand my ground. “All these people around you are watching you now, you know you’re in the wrong. I’m not actually making a threat, I’ll be doing my civil duty to make a complaint about you.
He holds his hands up, but his eyes still shine murderously. “Okay, I apologise, but you should have given me the bottle straight away.”
“Try asking for it next time instead of snatching it.”
I made a complaint anyway because of his attempted justification of putting his hands on my person, and I’m told that although he should have asked first, he was doing his job. This sort of physical attack is what security guards are supposed to be protecting us from, but in this backwards atmosphere, they have actually become a threat themselves.
The burly head of security apologises on behalf of the rogue security guard and I am told to make a complaint online if I wanted to follow the matter up. I am told they will talk with the wayward guard after the match. Standard corporate tactics, no good will be done here and another crime has been cloaked through leading the consumer up the garden path, promising a conflict resolution but knowing that any complaint made by me online can be ignored and that I couldn’t be bothered pursuing it. Classic dishonest modern-day faceless business tactics, real responsibility is too hard and slippery to pin down.
I caught up with my friends again at the Grog Squad and we resumed watching the match. I noticed that the same martial fervour displayed by the security guard was reflected by all these thousands of people barracking for this martial game. Men bellowed, screamed and swore like they were about to get into a fight, and many of them harounged the opposing supporters raised chants. All of them acted in an openly hostile way to each other that police would usually pull people up for if exhibited in public, or may have gotten someone the sack if they done the same thing at work.
One man is screaming with spit flying out of his mouth. “YOU CUNTS! YOU CUNTS! YOU ALL PLAY LIKE SHIT, YOU FUCKING DOG CUNTS!”
The mood gets more and more evil as the game progresses and crowd favourites Richmond begin losing to the recent former premiers, The Cats. The men (and some women who seem to be more there in support of their men) get broody and I feel more and more awkward. My American friend views this as a novelty and even buys a Richmond jersey, which pleases my Richmond friend immensely, but I’m thinking “Geez, we must look like complete psychos to foreigners!”
Obviously, custom and ritual demand different laws and actions in different areas of our society, which I view as strange and possibly hypocritical. It seemed that these men are offered only one night a week in which to shift all of their anger, despair, and unbridled joy in life onto the medium of football. These men are at all other times expected to bottle up all of this rage and emotion, and act in a mild fashion within the confines of society. But they are – in fact – inarticulate boy barbarians with bodies of men and minds of children who like to drink and get overly angry at things.
With this in mind, I began viewing this as a sinister exercise on the part of sports organisers in that they harness and equate this psychological energy as cheering on a team, rather than saying what it really is. What it really is is encouraging mob mentality and anger/jubilation in exchange for lifeforce/currency, and the MCG is in fact nothing but a gigantic harvesting shed of money from the fleece of repressed and angry cattle.
When I quiz my friend as to why these people can act like angry barbarians, he replies,
“These people go to work every week, and then they have their chance to vent all that frustration once per week, and this unifies all the people. It’s great, it’s like a big psychological ward.”
This is great?! What if we didn’t have this ward?
“They’d probably be drinking at home or getting into fights in town.”
This psychological aspect of mass contained rage in sports stadiums seems designed to stop people thinking anything deeper in life from week to week outside of whether or not their team will win from one week to the next during these winter days.
Richmond end up losing, and my Richmond supporter friend falls into a deep depression that his team lost by 40-something points. He is inconsolable and very, very drunk. However, I have seen this happen with him before in terms of mood. It happened to him when he was heart-broken by a girl once. It takes us around an hour to revive his mood.
It’s sort of strange and makes me question what we hold a flame to, what we allow ourselves to fall in love with.
What is this symbology of love and dedication that we place on these external influences? The football clubs and stadiums make millions of dollars from harnessing this love, and it is an invention to harness and hold human (and mostly male) spirit itself. Why should we give our faith and passion to an external presence? it may or may not reward us in terms of success, but we still give our love willingly.
It would seem that our faith and stigma of relying on other people to sustain our emotions is relevant even in a blokey thing like football. But hey, it’s good for the game, am I right?