In the heartland, the hot and dreary suburbs where the faithful worship, in fibro shacks on overgrown plots and brick veneer two-bedders fronting onto rumbling through-roads, this is where the pain is felt most keen.
The pain of two torturous years in which respite has been rare, with little to celebrate and even less to laud, the slow and steady demise of a behemoth writ large before our very eyes as the Brisbane of old has become the Brisbane as we see it now, this New Normal becoming so almost with warning which, when one stops to think, makes it even harder to bear.
And yet, as we numbly stumble towards the end of an interminably long summer, virus-ravaged and sodden underfoot as it was, it’s not without some semblance of Hope, that perhaps the ship can be righted and turned and, perhaps, sent shooting back in the other direction. At this time of year, as the humidity stubbornly sticks around like a housefly on raw meat, as trial matches are played and the Football becomes part of the Now conversation, as opposed to the Then or the Soon, there’s that Hope.
It also sticks around like the flies on meat, and in these early stages, one can only pray the meat doesn’t turn bad – because if so, then even the flies will depart and we’ll be left once again, with this New Normal; you want the Hope to remain, because the alternative isn’t pretty, and anyone who says otherwise is a fool.
And so we found ourselves last weekend then, wrapped in hope along with various lashings of maroon and gold, perched upon the couch as Brisbane ran out against an equally appalling side in the Cowboys, and for the first fifteen minutes, it seemed the Hope was paying off – an opening salvo in which heart and soul was poured into the game, quick thinking and deft movement abounding, a try inside five minutes or so, Brisbane as it was, rather than as it is.
However, this wasn’t to last. The New Normal was to where it then reverted, a litany of dropped ball and defensive blunders queering the deal for a team so loved and, more recently, so lamented.
The fact this was a trial match means little in the heat of battle – by its very nature, a game like this was never going to be stable, and yet all too familiar were the breaks in concentration, the drops, the misreads, the lack of communication. Marquee signings weren’t present, others were out under virus protocols, some were playing for their positions and so threw too much caution to the proverbial wind – all this aside, this was a team playing as it had done, not as it wanted and needed to. Not as the faithful wanted and needed it to.
For along with the hope, even more prevalent at the moment after two years of football most foul, is the expectation, and it’s been weighing heavily on all and sundry these long and hot months gone; new signings and promising youngsters promoted to the top ranks, a team which on paper, now, looks destined to compete, like there’s a spark there, a spark which will surely ignite, lifting Brisbane from the doldrums that have been its wallowing ground these years gone.
And so this expectation was there before a ball was kicked last Saturday evening – the lineup, announced as is custom the previous Tuesday, looking like some sort of solid unit capable of Taking Care of Business, and yet, as the minutes ticked by with an alarming rapidity, this same team which On Paper had seemed so formidable, folded like paper same and those of us still left (either at the ground or on the couch), slugged harder at whatever it was we had in our cups and told ourselves, with mounting volume (mounting, like the bitter taste in our collective mouths), that this was just a Trial, and so the result should not, under any circumstance, be read as gospel.
And yet it’s hard to read. To watch. To ingest and then ignore; something that’s happened and so move on with your life. For indeed, a trial game, but yet more of the same. The hope and the expectation, the whistle and the kick-off, the catch and the attacking defence, the first set and the kick on the fifth – how did the team go, either in attack or defence, how was the intensity of the tackling, how was the intent to move the ball?
Do they want it, or do they not want it?
It’s only a Game. But it’s real and alive and, in These Times, it Matters. There’s an expectation.
To those on the field, in the stands, on the couch. Slugging from their cups and whipping their own thighs (with rage or elation?). The slap of hand on the skin of your own leg reminding you of, perhaps, the inherent brutality of this Game, the thwack and slap of bone on bone and sweaty meat, the falling rain and rising humidity and when they stop moving, for but a few seconds as a scrum packs or a captain challenges, the steam rises from heads as grass-flecked warriors take a breath and turn their attention to the Next Play.
It’s just a Game.
And so it was just a trial, hardly the season proper, and indeed merely a game but out in the heartland, the hot and dreary suburbs where the faithful worship, the expectation is real. More real than it’s been in some time, rendering this result then as more of the same: not Good Enough. Hope is one thing, but expectation is another, and as it sits currently, it’s heavy and awkward and needs to be addressed, lovingly taken off our collective hands, caressed and fawned over and turned into a harsh and brilliant reality.
For this, we can only hope.