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Love: The Ultimate Game-Changer

November 13, 2016

First appeared as ‘Love Is a Footy Field’ in The Big Issue #520, September 2016


I’ve always hated sport. As a bookish, clumsy child I dreaded PE lessons, which always involved me stuffing up and being mocked or yelled at by my classmates. At home, the only sport on telly was cricket, which my father followed. Its soothing commentary and lulls of gentle background noise formed a benign backdrop to long, lazy summer afternoons. This did not diminish my terror of being forced to play cricket at school; like all sports, it was a theatre of cruelty where my inadequacies were displayed before all my peers while I squirmed in humiliation.

During adolescence, I somehow picked up the sour-grapes attitude popular among arty intellectuals, that all sport is stupid and anyone who follows sport is stupid. This comforting snobbery carried me through my twenties and well into my thirties. It was easier to maintain in my home town of Sydney than in famously football-mad Melbourne, where I now live and where nearly all my brainy, bohemian friends follow AFL. Then I moved in with my boyfriend – now husband – whom I regarded as pretty much perfect in all respects but one. Yep, you guessed it.

Soccer – sorry, football – is his main passion, but he also enjoys AFL and cricket, and will watch tennis if nothing else is on. As you can imagine, this required a fair bit of adjustment on my part. At first, I couldn’t resist making snide comments during whatever match my husband was trying to enjoy, despite the hurt I could see this caused him. I used to watch his reaction when his team scored a goal with the bemused look Billy Crystal gave Meg Ryan during the fake-orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally. When the ball hits the back of the net he leaps to his feet, arms windmilling wildly, crying “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

I had an insight into this behaviour one night in 2010, when Megan Washington won two ARIA awards (bear with me here). I love Megan Washington: her incredible songwriting talent, her unique voice, her fabulous personal style, her self-deprecating humour. Watching the awards ceremony, where she performed an amazing song-and-dance routine atop a piano, I felt an odd sense of pride and ownership; I was one of the fans who’d bought her album and helped put her on that stage. As the Best Breakthrough Artist nominees’ names were announced, I sat on the edge of my seat, my fingers crossed. And when Washington won, I threw myself backwards onto the couch, legs madly cycling in the air, crying, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

Whether your heroes are musical or sporting, moments like this are a chance to identify with the achievements of people whose careers you follow and admire. This emotion is most powerful in a group context; I now understand that the feeling my husband gets cheering his team with other supporters at a match is the same feeling I get from singing along with Washington and fellow fans at a gig.

Since this mellowing in my attitude, life at home has become more harmonious. I no longer feel the need to roll my eyes when my husband switches to sport on TV, although I will occasionally make snoring noises if it goes on too long. I still post amusing anti-sport memes and videos on my Facebook page. But for the most part, I’ve accepted that sport is now a part of my world.

The night the Socceroos won the Asian Cup against South Korea, I watched the game at a pub with my husband and a big group of friends. I was there more for the nachos than the match, but as it went on I grew more and more involved. It was a close game, and the tension in the room was infectious. When Australia scored its first goal, the pub crowd erupted in joy: cheering, leaping to their feet, hugging each other, high-fiving. Throughout the action replays, I wasn’t watching the screen. I was watching my husband’s beaming face.

When you love someone, what’s important to them becomes important to you. I used to regard his soccer fandom as a regrettable flaw, the admission fee for living with a kind, smart, funny man who cooks, reads and dances (not all at the same time). But now I realise his delight in sport is part of the package, a vital facet of the enthusiastic, positive person I adore. I doubt I’ll ever enjoy sport for its own sake, but I’ll never stop enjoying his enjoyment.


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