This evening, you’ll find me on the couch, a maroon and gold scarf draped around my shoulders, a cold can of beer in one hand. I’ll have rushed back from work and, via the fridge, come straight into the spare room, where the teev is. I’ll be watching football, and I’ve been looking forward to it for months.
Professional sport the world over came to a grinding halt along with everything else a few months ago, but rugby league, the ‘working man’s game’, will be the first top-flight sporting code to restart during this pandemic, and people who’d never before deigned to watch this particular code of football, will at least now be paying attention to how it all pans out.
During the game’s hiatus, I’ve been living in the past, delving into the catalogue of ‘Classic Matches’ that NRL.com have been posting online, scanning the list and picking off old games that have fallen in my team’s favour. I’ll watch these matches late at night, like it’s a guilty pleasure, with the sound turned low, revelling in victories past, when live sport was something you took for granted, and it looked like it’d never end.
Round Two of the rugby league season, the final round before it all got called off back in late March, was played in empty stadiums. Watching from afar, you could hear the hollow knock of bone on bone, the thumping and grunting, the swearing and whatnot. You could almost hear the sweat fall and smell the turf as it got churned under cleated foot. It wasn’t the same though, without the roar, without the pulsating background noise that confirms that people, a lot of people, are living and dying with every pass of the ball, with every kick and tackle.
Watching these old games has been somewhat of a tonic for that, seeing and hearing crowds barrack for their team, sledge the opposition, shout and yell and go hoarse, spill beer on the hill and queue in long lines to piss at half time. Get a pie and another beer on the way back to the seat.
It won’t be like that tonight, still vast empty stadiums, and this is, truthfully, regrettably, how it should be and how it should stay. The NRL’s call for socially distanced crowds by July 1 is a ludicrous suggestion, the absurdity of it (and, indeed, the arrogance), almost undoing all the good work they’ve managed to achieve thus far in restarting the game at all.
At this stage though, away from the backroom brawls and all that’s gone on in order to get a game back on a field, this is what it’s about – the game is back. If you think too closely on it, it’s quite a ridiculous notion, one of grown men running about after a ball in order to score more than the other team and therefor justify high salaries and a certain celebrity status among the general public.
But the notion of professional sport is an extremely important one within society and the barracking for a team is a quintessential part of humanity, no matter the perceived silliness of whichever sport you’re talking about.
For me, it’s about rushing back from work and grabbing a can, sitting on the couch and throwing my arms up in frustration, or jumping from my seat in a moment of excitement. It’s about boring my wife witless with details on how it’ll possibly play out, of texting with likeminded mates on which team is likely the most prepared after the break.
It’s about the fervour and passion that abounds when one invests time and energy, as a supporter, into a group of people, no matter what they’re like off the field, because it’s about The Team and The Game.
So you’ll find me on the couch this evening, a maroon and gold scarf draped around my shoulders, a cold can of beer in one hand. At this point, I’m not sure if I’ll have a broad grin spread across my face or if my brow will be furrowed in vicarious frustration. Regardless, I’ll be watching football and I’ve been looking forward to it for months.