Updated: May 26
We might as well get straight to the point.
If ever there was a symbol of the Sydney/Melbourne divide it came in the shape of the left/right combination that Paul Gallen landed on a seemingly bemused Nate Miles in game one of S.O.R., 2013. Apart from wondering why Nate didn’t fall to the ground clutching his jaw, let alone only appearing mildly put out at being king hit twice, I wondered how my new found Melbourne friends would react to this.
You see, I moved to Melbourne a couple of years ago. I’ve been here before but I’ve never really appreciated the fundamental difference in thinking in our two major capitals.
We all know that sport is a metaphor for life. The way we play and celebrate our sport says a lot about where we are as a culture. The old motto ‘play up and play the game’ for instance, has taken on a very different meaning in the hands of people like Davey Warner and Josh Dugan.
When I moved to Melbourne I was struck by the city’s passion for AFL. This was hardly a ground breaking discovery. Everyone knows that AFL is king down here. Where rugby league, rugby union and football (soccer) jostle with the ever expanding AFL in the sin city, there is no jostling in Melbourne. AFL is king and everything else is incidental.
When I overheard two elegantly dressed women passionately analysing the pros and cons of their teams performance over their Monday morning lattes, I knew this place was different.
When I first arrived here I was invited to have a bit of a kick with a few guys and, thinking I needed to expand my horizons, I decided to have a crack. The fact that I hadn’t kicked any sort of a ball for over twenty years and have never, ever kicked an AFL ball didn’t deter me. I was having a sea change in Melbourne and kicking a footy around was as much part of that as fishing might be for others engaging in similar life changing experiments in warmer climes. I was immediately taken by the generosity of these guys. They didn’t seem to care if I could catch or kick even though a couple of them might have thought I was invisible when it came to passing me the ball but I couldn’t blame them. I was hopeless. Given how, well…obsessed…they are it was surprising they tolerated my ineptitude. But they did. A couple were latter day disciples hell bent on converting the heathen northerner. I started to get what happened to Paul on the way to Damascus. Their utter devotion to the game and their chosen team was (and is) admirable, if a little surprising. I mean, I was in the crowd when the NSW Waratahs played the Hurricanes for a semi final spot in the then Super 12 and the only sound you could hear was the sound of clinking wine glasses. NSW lost and everyone commented on the dryness of the charodnnay. If one of my new mates teams loses they are inconsolable.
So. A couple of years down the track and SOR is approaching. Like most people north of the border (Albury) I am a bit of a sporting butterfly when it comes to footy. I follow the Balmain (yes, Balmain) Tigers. I follow the Wallabies. I LOVE the Socceroos. I used to be passionate about our cricket team. I am have moved past flirtation into a serious relationship with the Swans.
However, SOR holds a special place in my heart. I used to religiously (just like an AFL fan) go to Blues games with a couple of mates, one who had no interest in the game but loved the theatre of it, let alone the piss up afterwards. SOR was the pinnacle of the rugby’s. Sublime skills, the best of the best, mate against mate etc etc.
Cut to 2013. I turn up for a kick with the boys proudly wearing my Blues jumper. Half of them have no idea what it is or what it represents. A few show some polite interest, a couple of others shake their heads as if I was sporting some kind of heathen apparel. I tell anyone who’ll listen what a great game it will be, how the late, great Artie Beetson clocked the “Crow”, how the Queenslanders went ape shit when the King was binned, how Michael O’Conner slotted one from the sideline in the pouring rain, how Stevie Mortimer cried. In short, I talked up Origin.
On the night of game one I made my way into the city in my Blues jersey to meet a couple of other desperados to watch the game at a virtually deserted pub in the heart of Melbourne.
All was good. The Blues were on top. The Bananabenders seemed strangely out of sorts, the pints tasted like honey. Me and the only other Tiger fan in Melbourne were cock-a-hoop.
Then there was a stink. Off the ball. Then we saw what happened. Gal king hit Nate Miles. A seemingly defenceless Nate Miles. A Nate Miles who hadn’t even put up his dukes. Not only a left but a right too. Nate just looked at him. Far from clutching his jaw he didn’t even rub it. He didn’t even blink.
I did. I held my jaw and blinked and thought how the hell am I going to explain this to my footy mates? Let alone my ten year old son. I mean Artie belted the Crow in a melee. It wasn’t anywhere near as bare faced as Gal’s effort.
A couple of days later, I turned up at footy and tried to put on a brave face.
“That’s’ Origin.” Trying to seem noncahalant.
It didn’t work. Not one of my footy mates could understand. They weren’t bemused. They were shocked. They thought it was barbaric.
“How could he do that?”
I mumbled something about Origin but even I wasn’t convinced. Those who had seen it shook their heads. The rest carried on kicking the footy as thought Origin didn’t exist.
I’ll be wearing my Blues jersey next Wednesday but I’m afraid my son won’t be watching, nor will most of Victoria.