For those of you reading this from overseas, give up now. None of it will make any sense to you.
Not many people know that I’m a Collingwood supporter. The truth is, even if they knew, they wouldn’t care. Or if they cared, it would only confirm their bad opinion of me.
It’s a fact universally understood (at least within Australia) that Collingwood is a despicable football club and that their supporters are all low-life scum. Even many football commentators don’t try to hide their sadness or bitterness when the side is doing well, or their pleasure when the side is being beaten or challenged on the field.
I don’t know why this is. I do know, though, that it has nothing do with the supposed specially vile quality of Collingwood or its fans. In fact, given that the mental age of most vocal football fans seems to be about half that of room temperature at any time, it’s probably got a lot to do with the outlook of many eight-year-olds. It also has to do with most people’s need for a hate object.
I’m not saying that Collingwood’s fans are universally charming; I just don’t think they’re universally appalling. As for the side itself, it’s been playing an exciting, attacking, disciplined style of football for several seasons; its players are rarely reported for rough play; it’s been in the finals for years on end (and won the premiership in 2010); and last year one of its players won the competition’s best-and-fairest award.
Objectively, Collingwood represents a lot of what is best about Australian Rules football. Subjectively, it shows a lot of what is worst about it. Every Pies-hater seems to harbour a race-memory of some piece of dreadful behaviour by a Pies fan twenty years ago, and to have no knowledge of similar behaviour by fans of other clubs — or even their own.
Being a Magpies man, through thick and through thin, means putting up with a lot. If you’ve been a fan long enough, you not only know that you’ve been hated forever, but you remember many lost grand finals, and you come to every new season hoping for the best but fearing the worst. It’s a heavy existential burden to deal with, not unlike supporting the Australian Labor Party (but that’s another story).
It occurred to me, musing about all of the above, that those few football supporters who have a half-open mind and who chance on this blog might be interested to know how a Collingwood supporter looks at football when his side isn’t playing. It might offer an insight into a closed world — or it might reveal surprising similarities to your own.
So these are my viewing or listening rules:
When an interstate side is playing a Victorian side, always support the Victorian side (with the possible exception of Carlton).
When two interstate sides are playing each other, don’t watch or listen.
Always support the sides playing Carlton and Essendon.
When Carlton is playing Essendon, support Essendon.
Always support the better side, except when that side is Carlton, Essendon, or Richmond.
Never support Richmond, except in the case of rule #3.
Always support Geelong.
Don’t expect week-to-week consistency from the umpires.
Don’t expect to understand any of the TV commercials; you’re the wrong demographic for them.
Whoever wins, the AFL is manipulating the competition to suit its corporate agenda.
To an uninvolved observer, this may seem an over-elaborate or perhaps even irrational framework of support and hostility, but to me it’s internally consistent and deals with the world as it is. I could provide footnotes, incorporating historical justifications (some of which go back 40 years or more), but what’s the point? You either understand this weltanshauung, or you don’t.
I even have strong suspicions that many non-Collingwood or anti-Collingwood fans have a similar belief system, in which only some details are different. It’s a great comfort to always know what to think and how to feel, week in and week out, as an endless series of games between sides you have no interest in occupy the weekends.
If you have any other leisure time, you can always read books. But that, as we know, requires intense concentration and an open mind. And that’s not so easy to commit to.