I go to the Footy
August 28, 2006 - It’s taken me several years to come to grips with rugby. Most of the subtle nuances of the game escape me. I never had a rugby-playing boyfriend, so I never needed to feign an interest in the game. My own sons played hockey in the winter (and I never really mastered that, either).
In recent years, however, I’ve attended my fair share of rugby games with The Spouse, mainly from the comfort of corporate boxes and have gradually picked up a very elementary knowledge of the game. Mostly I’m still pretty hopeless at recognising an infringement – apart from an obvious spear tackle – but I’ve grown better at faking it.
Since arriving in Melbourne I’ve had to learn new tricks – Aussie Rules Football. I am gradually picking it up. It’s a fast and furious game with lots of action and high scores and with the aid of a radio commentary in my ear, I’m learning the jargon.
Of course, The Spouse and the sons have their favourite teams. I’ve had trouble deciding. But I realise I know a bit more about the game than I did a year ago when I watched my first game.
We were invited to the Richmond Football Club’s official president’s function at the weekend. Fortuitously, this happens to be The Spouse’s favourite team so I’ve seen them play a few games though no one asked any questions that exposed the lack of depth in my footy knowledge. I know more about the injured. I listen to the weekly organ recitals about the broken limbs, painful blows, hamstring malfunctions, joint self-destructs with genuine maternal sympathy. While I mightn’t know the team’s exact place on the table, I know all about Nathan’s leg.
Anyway, fortified by an entree of tiny meatballs, and a very nice steak with potatoes and olives, I was ready for the match when the club CEO Steven Wright asked us if we would like to see the team doing their pre-match warm-up. Definitely! After a brisk trot through the bowels of the MCG stadium we came to the club’s players’ area.
We were ushered in behind a rope. Across the room there were a number of young men in suits, sitting on a bench – the team’s wounded. The foot, the knee, the leg, the clavicle, the hamstring - and Nathan, of course. According to the club’s website, the current sidelined count is 10, most of them out for the season. It’s certainly a bruising game.
But we were here to see the fit. They burst through the door and threw themselves into the business of getting those footy muscles warmed up. The first thing that struck me was how slight some of them appeared to be. None of those huge meaty thighs you see packing down in a rugby scrum. No, these boys were trim and taut with nicely defined arm muscles but some had comparatively slim calves. In fact the sort of calves that have my elder son working out at the gym…
Warming up is probably the most important part of the match and the lads were soon running up and down the room, passing footballs, practising their jostling. It was high speed, intensive and disciplined and enough to exhaust most of us watching. And this was a mere prelude to a couple of hours’ play. During a game, according to research done by Dawson et al* in 2004, players can average anywhere between 13.4 and 17kms during a match, depending on which position they play in. And forwards and backs can do 30 sprints in a match. No wonder they’re not carrying any excess weight!
It was time for the battle against Essendon to begin. The team lined up at the ramp ready to go onto the field. There was a last minute psychological rev up and then they were off to do the business.
Well, it was a game of four quarters, each quite different. At half-time there were scones with jam and cream, little pies, cakes and coffee. Of course, the pies went first. A great way to enjoy a game.
Our score was up then down and finally up again – and climbing. The final result was 20 9 (129) to 16 17 (113).
With the win, the Richmond Tigers completed a clean sweep of their traditional big rivals Carlton, Collingwood and Essendon - a feat the club has not accomplished since 1931, Steven Wright told us. I’m glad we saw history being made.
I think I’ve finally decided – Richmond will be my team. Besides, they play in the same colours as my Kiwi rugby team, the Hurricanes.