by NICOLE HAYES
I’ll confess that I love AFL.
I love the feel of a Sherrin in my hands, the smell of liniment and mud on a wintry afternoon, and the adrenaline hit that follows that first bounce — and the last one, too, if my beloved Hawks are winning.
So I’m biased. I’ll state that right upfront.
But in the months since my novel about a teenage girl obsessed with footy was published, it’s become clear to me that not everyone feels the same way. In fact, a lot of people — women, especially — feel quite the opposite. Which is a little surprising because footy is easily the most watchable of all the football codes, especially for women. And I’m not just talking about the shorts — though what’s not to love about those butt-hugging, thigh-accentuating, teensy-weensy scraps of cloth?
Wait. Where was I?
Oh right. Five reasons why thinking women should watch the AFL Grand Final:
1. The speccy. First made famous by a bloke called Cazaly, who, apparently, spent a lot of time “up there”, the speccy is probably the most acrobatic and exciting aspect of any football highlights reel. Watching a six-foot-plus bloke leap onto the shoulders of another six-foot-plus bloke, stay there long enough to catch an oval-shaped ball and then land, ideally but rarely, on his feet — without breaking anything — defies both logic and gravity, and also, if you ask me, common sense. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get a rush every time I see one.
Verdict: A favourite with the aerodynamics and biomechanics professionals amongst us.
2. The boundary line goal. Kicking goals is hard. Firstly, you have to drive the ball a really long way — with your foot. Plus, there’s an opponent standing in front of you, waving his arms and shouting insults about you and your loved ones and/or warnings about chewing gum on your boot, which would be disconcerting even without the sixty-thousand-plus people in the stands shrieking for your blood, awaiting the outcome.
Throw in the fact that the space you have to slot the ball through shrinks the further away you are, shrinking again if you’re almost parallel to it, then you start to get a sense of just how difficult the boundary line goal is.
That the kick of choice from this position is named after a yellow tropical fruit is just a distraction from the high degree of difficulty. The boundary goal offers the toughest angle and is the longest shot on the menu, and hardly anyone pulls it off successfully. Which is why we love Buddy Franklin.
Verdict: A winner for physicists, psychologists, and fruit lovers alike.
3. The hip and shoulder. Despite the apparent thuggery of the “hip and shoulder” — the act of bumping your opponent sideways using your, you guessed it, hip and shoulder, with the aim of knocking him out of the contest for the ball — the beauty of the hip and shoulder is its precision.
For a start, you can’t make contact with your opponent’s back. Or head. Or legs. Also, you have to be within five metres of the ball or else you’ll give away a free kick. All of this must be gauged and executed on the run. The strategising and risk involved in pursuing this oldest of footy tricks requires excellent balance, physical strength, and a head for maths. That, or be really sure the umpire isn’t looking.
Verdict: If you have a head for geometry, logistics, or crime, this one’s for you.
4. Holding the ball. Is there any other sporting code that elicits the cry of an actual identifiable word — both accusation and plea — the second it’s believed to have occurred? Not the inarticulate roar of the spectacular goal, or the resounding howl of the undeserved fifty-metre penalty.
When a player is thought to have held on to the ball for too long, or disposed of it incorrectly, the entire opposing crowd shouts “Ball!” in a singular, coherent cry. Feel the stadium rumble and revel in the improbable coordination of all those voices uttering that singular syllable at exactly the same time. Note that “Ball!” is also screamed out wildly and unrecognisably by the crowd at various points during the game without anything like this level of unity. Still. It’s impressive when they get it together.
Verdict: For project managers, choir masters and herders of cats.
5. The Contenders. Newbies Fremantle Dockers are playing my beloved (ancient) Hawks in what will be a highly skilled, no-holds-barred fight to the end.
Hawthorn lost to Sydney in last year’s Grand Final and is still aching in all the wrong spots and, though it grieves me to say this, Saturday might be our last chance to see Buddy in the Brown and Gold.
And while this is Freo’s first ever grand final in their 19-year existence, for veteran captain Matthew Pavlich this could be his last chance. Oh, and for the first time in 101 years, brothers will be pitted against each other. What’s not to love?
Have I convinced you yet? No? OK, then, yes the shorts. Actually it’s the whole package. Your typical heterosexual thinking woman is, after all, not dead inside, and there’s no escaping the sheer beauty of the well-oiled, muscled wall of flesh that is your typical AFL player. For proof, here’s this. And this.
But, mostly, this.
Verdict: For straight women with a pulse.
So this September 28, come 2.30pm, instead of lamenting the loss of intelligent conversation, the silence of the ordinarily vibrant Melbourne city, and the temptation of the empty Chadstone shopping centre carpark, marvel at the precision of the boundary line kick, revel in the eloquence of the hip and shoulder, and prepare your voices for that sonorous cry of “Ball!”
And if none of that works, there’s always those hot bodies.
Nicole Hayes is the author of The Whole of My World, a novel set in 1980s Melbourne about a teenage girl obsessed with footy. She teaches Creative Writing at University of Melbourne and Phoenix Park Neighbourhood House, and tweets at @nichmelbourne. To find out more, visit her website: www.nicolehayesauthor.com.
And in other sport news this week…
– Twenty-two-year-old Aussie Sally Fitzgibbons won the Roxy Pro France surfing competition this week, narrowly defeating fellow Australian Tyler Wright to take out the event’s first perfect 10. Fitzgibbons also holds three of the highest wave scores of the event. “I’m so stoked, it’s been a long road this year and I wanted to finish strong,” she said.
– Seventeen-year-old cricket player Holly Ferling has been selected for the Sport Australia Hall of Fame Scholarship and Mentoring Program for 2014. The fast bowler plays for the Southern Stars
and is the first cricket player to receive the scholarship, valued at over $10,000.
– Tickets are now on sale for two football games the Westfield Matildas will play against the Chinese Women’s National Team in November. You can buy tickets here.
– The head coach of the Westfield Young Matildas, Spencer Prior, named a 22-player squad for the upcoming AFC U-19 Women’s Championship, held in Nanjing, China PR from 11 to 20 October 2013.
– We’d love to tell you that a girl was involved in the America’s Cup yachting win this week, but… there wasn’t. Yacht racing is one of the most male-dominated sports still out there. Hopefully, in years to come, that sees a change.