This year, I’m coming out of the closet. This is hard for me to admit, so I’m sitting down, and I hope you are, too:
I like watching ‘The Sports’. The thrill of potential victory. The roar of the crowds. The friendly competitive banter. The wearing of ill-fitting supporter clothing. The joy when your team of choice does something good, the bitter taste of defeat. The entire experience is, frankly, exhilarating.
I’ve always been a “joiner”. I love being part of a team. And the beauty of being a part of the team that supports the team, is that it requires no special skills. Anyone can do it. And, they can do it with beer. Perfect.
My love of the sports was rekindled by my daughter’s enthusiasm. It started with the NRL, her grandfather’s viewing sport of choice. Then, the AFL, thanks to the generosity of the GWS Giants (free tickets are always welcome with a family of five). Finally, the A League, which makes sense really, us being a family of tragic soccer players. The kid loves nothing more than donning the colours of her team of choice, and joining the hordes for a rousing day of supporting. It’s pretty cute, and as the most enthusiastic adult sports supporter in the household, it was only natural that I would be the one to share the journey with her.
There is so much to enjoy about the sports. When a bunch of random people decide to unite to watch another bunch of people do things with balls, there is potential for real magic to happen.
And most of the time, it does. There was the time a supporter from the opposing side took the time to stop and comfort my daughter when she was overwhelmed by the screaming crowd at a local derby, for example. Or the time the man in front of my family turned and complimented me for teaching my children not to ‘boo’ the opposition. Or the lady who sat down and carefully explained the rules to us at an NRL game – I kinda knew them already, but her efforts were much appreciated.
Sometimes though, magic doesn’t happen. Because, sometimes, people are arseholes.
Take, for example, the time we took advantage of a family ticket, to watch the St George Dragons take on the Cronulla Sharks in the NRL. My daughter actually likes both teams, however the Dragons are her number one, and she was pretty excited to go to such a hyped up game.
A few minutes before the end of the game, long after it became apparent that the mighty Dragons were not going to emerge triumphant, we decided to beat the crowds and leave a little early. As I struggled, with three kids, a pram, and everything else that goes with children in public, a very drunk man dressed from head to toe in Sharks supporter gear staggered towards us. As the sea of blue laughed and jeered at a family of Dragons supporters leaving the ground early, this man leaned down, stared my seven year old daughter in the face, and screamed “Fuck the DRAGONS!!!!”
Fuck the Dragons. In a little girl’s face.His actions didn’t go down particularly well with the majority of the crowd, who responded by quickly dragging him away. I am the kind of person who sees red when you hurt someone I love, so I briefly considered hunting the prick down, and repeatedly punching him in the dick until he begged for mercy, however sanity prevailed and I decided to care for my devastated small person instead. She was OK in the end, thanks to some very kind supporters from both teams, who befriended her on the bus ride back to the station, however the incident will forever remain in my memory as the worst supportering moment I have ever encountered.
There was the time a guy in a beer line told me that “he would never root me”, because I supported the wrong team. This was our only interaction while in the line. To my knowledge, I had not done anything to give him the impression that I wanted to root him- I was just there, doing my “waiting to buy overpriced VB in plastic cups” thing. And the time that the lady in the seat next to me loudly told whoever she was chatting on the phone to that she hated it when she had to sit next to someone from the “other side”, giving me a pointed filthy so that I understood that I was the other sider she was referring to. And of course, there is the booing.
The booing of Adam Goodes at AFL games. The booing of referees who are doing their job. The booing of opposition’s coaches. At the most recent Sydney FC v Western Sydney Wanderers local derby, the booing of the Wanderers goalkeeper – a recent transfer from Sydney FC, his defection appeared to be mortally offensive to the majority of the sky blue supporters. The booing in general, honestly.
Don’t get me wrong, the positive experiences and interactions my kids have had at the sports far outweigh the negative. The majority of supporters are pretty awesome people, who smile at cute kids in supporter gear, and go out of their way to be inclusive and welcoming, regardless of team alliances. Unfortunately it is often those few negative experiences that stay in your mind. The few bad eggs that ruin the sports for everyone else.
As a parent of children who play sport, and a person who plays sport herself, I spend a lot of time teaching my kids to be good sports. To win with pride, and lose with pride. I praise and reward their good sportsmanship. I encourage them to respect the opposition. To thank the referees for doing their job. I remind them regularly that it is OK to lose. Because they will lose, plenty of times, so I want them to be the kind of resilient people who are OK with it.
When random strangers abuse my kid for supporting the wrong team, or boo us as we leave because the colours on our clothing indicate that we supported the team that lost, it makes my job of teaching my kids these things that little bit harder. You show them that losing a game of ball sports is something to be ashamed of. You show that that winning is more important than behaving. You show them that the other team are a pack of arseholes. Three things that are not true.
So, don’t be a dick. Don’t be the person who boos. Don’t be the drunk fuck knuckle that harasses small children and terrifies families. You can celebrate your team without denigrating the opposition. In my experience, it’s more fun for everyone that way.