I sat high in the Southern Stand on a crisp Melbourne night. My breath was fat with residual dim sim funk, a stinky ghost, that wispy white fog floating up to flavour the atmosphere. My scarf hugged my neck and my arms hugged my me. I sat alone, feet resting on the plastic back of the empty chair in front, and I watched the game I love like a brother, like my father, like my brother. It was an honest contest. No shirking, no sulking, forty-odd bodies crashing and sometimes crumpling, but always coming back up again, and again, and again. The crowd was thin but focused, like the combatants’ breathing deep into each quarter.
I love the MCG under lights. It smells cleaner, the way the cold air stings your lungs, it makes the dream taste clearer, closer. Now I know I’m sketchy at the moment, I’m moving to the other side of the planet very soon and my heart and my head are wobbling with the best of them, still, I’m not often this frail. I frequent the football more than a grown man should, but never before has it moved me in such a way. About eight minutes into the final quarter a tackle was shrugged, the ball carrier accelerated and then snapped deftly, truly. She clenched her fists and shouted wordlessly at the crowd behind the goals and my eyes clouded and then clogged - almost.
It’s a sorry thing to say, but it's been some time since I felt proud of the place that grew me. It’s been a long year, littered with shame and slack jawed disbelief, hot anger and numb stretching apathy. There’s a bitterness that ruins my dinners and fills notepads with scratchy inarticulate moaning. Football helps. It’s often a happy hollow escape where I slurp flat beer and talk rubbish with my brother over a stolen pie. But last night at the MCG there was nothing hollow about it. I was galvanised. There was such a strong sense of pride in the women playing the game. A prickling, almost tangible static energy that coursed through the stadium. An unmistakable fuck you to anyone who says football, or anything, is a man’s game. Those women were playing tough and skilful footy. I looked up at the scoreboard, we were winning.