Now is one of those rare times when everything seems possible. A time of hope. A time of promise. A time so many of us have yearned for. We’ve counted down the months, weeks, days and hours. Now footy is finally back. The new year has begun and somehow all the angst and agony that footy brings seems forgotten, at least for a moment. Right now the season stretches out invitingly. Right now the possibility of a premiership victory seems tantalisingly close.
For many fans this is their favourite time of the year. The culmination of months of anticipation. When the umpire holds the ball up for the first bounce the excitement is intense. “I love that moment”, one fan told me, “it feels like anything could happen, anything is possible, and the collective energy is great, far greater than the sum of the parts”.
Tales of wonderfully talented draftees, emerging stars and best-ever pre-season’s have brought expectations to a fever-pitch. Think Ben Cousins, Chris Judd, Daniel Rich, Steele Sidebottom, John Anthony, Scott Gumbleton, and Ryan Griffen.
But though hopes, and the expectations they fuel, bring great pleasure, they also set the scene for further suffering, as Pandora found out so long ago. For hope intoxicates us with the sense that the promised time is at hand, the moment of redemption is near. And it is this sense of what should occur that leads to the great frustration, anguish and sometimes even trauma which footy fans experience when the season almost invariably follows the wrong path and ends in some kind of defeat.
Why then do we come back over and over again? Why then does a strange new hope arise with each season that this year will be different, that the time of suffering has past, that the premiership is close? Why, in other words, do we set the scene for what is likely to be further heartache and suffering?
Perhaps it’s the thrill of the chase and the promise of such great ecstasy at the end of it. No doubt the players have their role too, taking us to the limit with their skills, determination and courage as they lay their bodies on the line for our club. But it’s also about those moments of almost unbearable, yet addictive, tension which footy so often provides us with. Those moments when the game comes down the wire, and it seems for a time that nothing else matters.
For the next five months - hopefully six - our lives will be governed by the comforting weekly cycle of our club battling 15 others for the right to hold the premiership cup aloft. But this will be no easy time. For Aussie Rules footy frequently drives fans to the edge. To the edge of sanity. To the edge of reason. To what often feels like the edge of life. It produces great suffering and joy, and an almost insatiable hunger for more. It’s evident in the roar of the crowd, the thunders of triumph, the cries of distress, and the howls of frustration. In the continual cycle of pleas, curses and cheers. In the bodies that ride the game with the players, fists clenching, legs trembling, guts churning, eyes that sometimes long to look away but cannot. And it’s the return of this gripping drama - with all its glory and heartbreak - that we gather to celebrate yet again at grounds around the country.
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