Many of you will know I take my football seriously. Very seriously.
I’ve barely slept a wink since hearing the Adelaide Crows have put Kurt Tippet’s contract negotiations on hold until the end of the season, I spend way too much time worrying about whether Jason Porplyzia’s dodgy shoulder is going to pop out again and I live with a life-size cardboard cut-out of our former captain Mark Ricciuto – who when draped in tinsel conveniently doubles as a Christmas tree in December.
I told you I was serious.
There certainly is a kind of religious zeal to my obsession, but whether this could be called a religion, and whether or not I would want it to be labeled that – I’m not so sure.
The question posed today is, ‘Is Football a Religion?’
Well to me it’s obvious that it isn’t, because – and no offence intended to the believers amongst us, I find religion all a bit preposterous – there may be amusing parallels between the two ‘codes’ but at the end of the day I can’t put football in a sentence with religion – because the latter has little credibility. And with finals approaching, this time of year is all about credibility.
In order for me to stamp my authority on that statement I need to first examine the word, religion. The Oxford dictionary defines it as –
“The belief in a superhuman controlling power, especially in a personal god or gods entitled to obedience and worship.”
Now, I have a real problem. There’s just no part of that definition that I can take seriously.
The bizarre notion of an omnipresent puppet master manipulating our helpless strings and watching, beady-eyed our every move? It’s terrifying. I hope he wasn’t watching last Tuesday….
We Sirens have never really got on that well with the gods. Just ask Zeus.
Oscar Wilde has a definition I can relate to:
“Religion is like a blind man looking in a black room for a black cat that isn’t there, and finding it.”
We are but a speck in the wondrous universe, a grain of sand in the desert of the cosmos. To try and explain our very existence by interpreting ancient scribblings and jibberings is a dangerous task and requires a dangerous leap of faith.
Having said that, I’m no atheist, because to me the Dawkins position, with all its aggressive certainty in what is so uncertain, seems to me like an offshoot of religion itself – we just don’t have the answers yet – but when we do I know they won’t involve a bearded man in a fetching white robe, a sacred elephant, the arc angel Gabriel or a giant all knowing all seeing …parrot.
Tonight I’m sticking to facts. I’m focusing on what is real. What I do know. What we all know.
Football is REAL.
The founding father of football is Tom Wills.
He invented the game as a way of keeping cricketers fit during the off-season.
Tom Wills, owner of a rather aggressive side part which started a few centimetres above his right ear – a pioneer of the comb over.
His story ended in tragedy. Wills killed himself by stabbing a pair of scissors through his heart.
Rumour has it he’d just come out of chairing the first Rules Committee meeting. They’d been discussing holding the ball.
It was 1859.
We don’t have footage of Christ walking on water but we do have evidence of Tony Modra.
I don’t know how many times I’ve screamed out Modra – some of the time while I was watching the footy.
We don’t know much about the Ten Commandments – despite Charlton Heston’s energetic performance.
But we do know who governs the rules of Australian football – the AFL Commission and the Laws of the Game Committee. How effectively they govern is a debate for another time.
Having said that, the deliberate out of bounds rule makes a whole lot more sense than “thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”
As I said earlier we don’t know if there’s a God.
But we do know there’s an Andrew Demetriou.
We don’t know if Hell exists, but we do have proof of the existence of the Richmond Football Club.
We don’t know if Christ turned water into wine but we do know Brenton Sanderson turned 14th into second – on the ladder.
Football is more than religion because the magic is real.
The 1997 and 1998 Premierships are real – not just a figment of a deluded fan’s imagination… and proof miracles can happen in football.
Against all odds, the Crows ran over the top of St Kilda in the ‘97 Grand Final and North Melbourne in the ‘98 – thanks to the miraculous feats of Darren Jarman.
If anyone should be beatified it should be Darren Jarman.
These two events cannot be explained by natural or scientific laws.
I was there at the MCG to watch the heroics of Jarman on those two glorious Saturday afternoons in late September.
I prefer to witness my miracles from the Ponsford Stand.
For me it’s quite simple.
Football is not a religion – it’s more than that.
It’s real and it provides a real sense of community – no one is excluded.
Supporters aren’t turned away because of their gender, sexual preference, social status or ethnicity. No-ones going to be stoned, burned, crucified, beheaded, bombed or told when they can make love – who they can make love with – how they can make love and how many times. And quite frankly with an omnipresent peeping tom watching why would you bother!
My club, for example, is a club for all South Australians.
We’re unfairly depicted by those who clutch at stereotypes (something I would never do) as chardonnay-sipping, pretentious snobs. That’s not true. I drink Shiraz.
Other clubs actively seek out the less fortunate in society and nurture them in a protected environment known as the Collingwood cheer squad.
There’s a place for everyone in Australian Rules football.
Women make up 49% of the crowd on game day, 40% of club membership and 43% of the TV audience (and they control their own bodies too).
Women are not subordinate to men… actually best I don’t dwell on that point.
My point is football provides a real sense of community. We laugh together, we cry together, we have a place to visit together, we have a routine we delight in, we marvel at the human endeavour, we embrace the euphoric highs and we comfort each other during the lows – we relish the sense of belonging to something that we understand – something tangible, something that has no secrets – something beautiful. Something really beautiful.
Of course football is not a religion – it’s more than that.