Once upon a time the Merlyn (a title, not a name), would stand on a hill beside a field and watch two opposing sides beat the crap out of each other. These clashes always resulted in death, and the victorious team would sing bawdy songs and prance around the paddock with the day’s trophies: anything from metal rings stolen from arms and fingers, and animal skin jerkins pilfered from lifeless opponents, to parading the head of the other team’s captain on the business end of a spear. Think Mel Gibson and blue face paint. You get the idea. But I digress into gore.
Forget men in tight kilts, and let your mind wander to our dear Merlyn on the grassy knoll. His job was to oversee the action and hold his staff above his head for the duration of the battle. The reason for this being that in those days of yore, the definitive primates of the time were a superstitious bunch and believed that the Merlyn had mystical powers. Standing up high for all to see, in clan colours under the tribal flags, he was a constant reminder that the gods were on their side. Any given Merlyn’s stamina in keeping his trusty wand aloft showed that he was wise and strong and able to out-Merlyn the other wizard – and probably that his penis was larger and that he had a cherry red cart in his stable as well.
This mystical fellow had to literally ‘uphold’ the army if they were to win. Soldiers would sneak sidelong glances to the hillock betwixt parry and thrust to make sure that the magic was still guiding their swords, and bloody Merlyn had better be there. Or else. The ultimate barracker. The problem was that these battles sometimes lasted for hours and even days and his arms would get a tad sore; one suspects that he may have had a stunt magician for such occasions and kept himself fresh for the victory par-tay.
Jump forward several hundred years and things haven’t changed all that much. The troops still battle it out on the paddock and encourage fans to sing and swish banners and scream till they’re hoarse. The punters still paint their faces and wear the right colours but have let weary arms fall, and in an attempt to placate the warriors have renamed upholding the battle the ‘Mexican wave’.
Sport fans are a breed apart, well actually a half breed. Those that can be seen to be normal, holding down jobs, raising families and being solid community members, don colours and become animals – and I am not talking about the other mongrel breed, the ‘sport parent’, who should be bound and muzzled (the umpire is not a poof – not that there’s anything wrong with that) – but the folk to whom the mere mention of the words guernsey, pitch and, dare I say, ball creates a simultaneous desire to yell obscenities and drink beer or, as my mate Grumpy Gutz used to say of his Victorian compatriots: drink bee-ah.
I once had an English boyfriend. A gentle man who was kind to children and old folk and a person who I have a hard time believing would harm a fly. He told me of a misspent youth in the UK as one of waiting in soccer stadium car parks for the families and older fans to go home before he and his brothers in arms would face off against their counterparts from the opposing team. He doesn’t ever recall there being a death, but there were certainly blood and bruises. He recounted, ashamedly, how he once held someone down while his mate kicked the man into unconsciousness. In the face. This was a common after game ‘sport’ among his contemporaries, all in the name of fanhood. He was a mild mannered courier by day.
Does sport turn fans into fanatics?
I like sport. I used to play sport. I can tell you what a tennis racquet looks like. I was a champion netballer until my boobs got too big and I was in danger of a broken jaw every time I shot for goal. But I have never been a huge fan of sport, unless of course by fan you mean my one big, black and white eyed, Colliwobbling, men in tight shorts ogling, Hot Pies eating love of the one true Australian game of aerial ping-pong: F-O-O-D-Y!
I am mad. I have to make sure I am distracted on Grand Final day, because no matter who is playing (God help my house if it’s Collingwood), I get a knot in my belly and my kids look on in horror and embarrassment as I scream at the tube and call the ump the most disgusting names in the bluest of Carlton blue language. It’s like a switch is turned on somewhere.
One minute I am normal (well normal for me), the next I am a total lunatic (well lunatic for me, which is pretty bad). Inexplicable.
Maybe I am the reincarnation of an ancient wizard. Does Nathan Buckley really think I have a magic wand and command over the gods? Who knows? Who cares? C’arna Mighty Mighty Hot Pies!