This is Lili's OLD WEBSITE! Go to for the shiny, better, more up-to-date, awesome version.

30 March 2007

More than a game

So last year I read this book which made me determined to learn to like football*.

I had, I realised, been going about it completely the wrong way. I saw it like this:

Football = Louts + violence + beer + pies = boring.

I should have been looking at it like this:

Football = fascinating socio-historical practice + hot men in little shorts touching each other + beer + pies = not-boring.

Why fascinating? I'm glad you asked.

In 1830-something, a kid called Tom Wills was playing a kicking-balls-around game with some local Aboriginal kids, near Ararat in regional Victoria. Part of this game involved seeing who could jump the highest to catch the ball.

When he was 14, Tom was sent to Rugby in England. His ex-convict father didn't want him to grow up with the 'stain'. When Tom came back, age 21, he became one of Victoria's top cricketers.

The problem with cricket though, is it's a summer game. And all the cricketers were getting fat over winter. In 1858, Tom wrote a letter to a local sports rag asking if anyone would be interested in playing a game of football. That game was played in Richmond, and the following week, Tom umpired the first Australian rules match between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar, on the land that is now the MCG.

Tom became one of Australia's top footballers, until he had to move to Queensland to help his dad look after their enormous property.

One day, after droving cattle around the place, Tom returned to the homestead to discover his family and all the other workers slaughtered by local Aboriginals (thought to be revenge for something nasty that happened).

Tom returned to Melbourne and married. But he couldn't reconcile his fond memories of playing with Aboriginal kids as a child, and the brutal violence that he had witnessed to his family. He became an alcoholic. One morning, when he was only 44, his wife came in with his breakfast. He asked her to pass him the scissors, and as she did so, she knew exactly what would happen. Tom Wills stabbed himself in the heart with the scissors, and died.

That's why I think football is interesting. Also, that it is such a democratic game. Audiences have always been 50/50 men/women, from day one. It's also attracted people from all socio-economic backgrounds. Ooh, and (slightly ironically) it's done amazing things for relations between the Aboriginal community and the rest of us land-stealers. Michael Long, anyone?

The point of this rather long story is this: I went to the footy last night**.

It was not a great game. St Kilda beat Melbourne by an embarrassing number of points, and frankly neither side were particularly impressive. However, the meat pies were still hot, the men were still wearing little shorts and touching each other, and the night air was crisp.

I will return. I may even buy a scarf.

*That's Aussie Rules football, or AFL, in case any non-Victorians are wondering.
**When I mentioned this to my manager yesterday afternoon, he did the kind of double-take I haven't seen since the D-Generation. 'You?' he said. 'Going to the football?' Then he laughed.


Christopher Miles said...

"It was not a great game. St Kilda beat Melbourne by an embarrassing number of points..."

...cruelly dashing my hopes for a Demon victory to open the season.

Glad you were there to experience some live footy action; given the result, I'm glad I wasn't.

Justine Larbalestier said...

Cricket's still better, but.

Fabulous origins story. I want the novel version. You must write it.

Adam said...

So do you have a team, ms. lili?

lili said...

Good question, Adam.

I did a lot of research, knocked out the obvious (anything interstate- because I'm doing this to be a better Victorian; collingwood; geelong; carlton; st kilda- wrong side of the river), was sad that there was no more fitzroy...

and came up with two possibles: Melbourne and Richmond.

Fretty much all my friends barrack for Melbourne, so that is Good, as we can go to games together and get excited. But EVERYONE goes for Melbourne.

Richmond has the best song, and aren't as obnoxious as Collingwood supporters, and are on the right side of the river. But it just doesn't have the history that Melbourne does.

So at the moment, I'm supporting Melbourne, with a soft spot for Richmond.

Adam said...

ah, richmond. my grade 3 team. only because i changed schools and wanted to make friends with jason sims.

no shame in richmond.

from what i remember, they have some amazing 90-year-old ladies in their support crew, with the loudest, foulest mouths on any barrackers in the league.

Mind you this was more than ten years ago, so they're probably all dead now.

If you want some Richmond history, have a bit of a rummage and see what you can come up with about Jack "Captain Blood" Dyer or Kevin "Hungry" Bartlett.

Richmond Football Club said...

Very good explanation. Especially the beers and the pies.

AFL said...

You have truly captured the magic of footy in your net of eloquence.

Training said...

I think it truly will make you a better Victorian.

Speak Out said...

Not just a better Victorian but a better Australian.