One of the few places left to be yourself is at a football game

Over the past two years I’ve had the chance to attend an AFL match every second week (or thereabouts) between April and August.

During that time I’ve managed to play witness to pretty much every human emotion on the books: anger, joy, frustration, elation, sadness, doubt, and a host more.

Many of these emotions I don’t get to see much anymore, particuarly in such proximity to one another. After childhood the emotional range required of most white, middleclass males is depressingly narrow.

Our workplaces have become shrines to a hindu-like mild mannered-ness, a polite wreck of diplomacy, political correctness and passivity. Out of work (which for many of us also equates to online) networks like Facebook and Twitter reduce our social relationships to a set of socially acceptable preset responses; like, favourite, heart, insert pithy comment here.

We have become increasingly good at acting in our own skin, eskewing agency for broader societal acceptance. But at the footy, things are different. In the colosseum, expressing emotions (the entire spectrum) is not only accepted, but celebrated.

Psychologists suggest that identification with a sporting team can be important to a person’s sense of self, with the impact of exploits undertaken on-field have similar weight off field:

“As a fan, you will feel actual joy or actual pain in relation to events that really don’t affect your life at all. It matters, deeply, and yet it doesn’t matter at all. It’s heartbreak with training wheels. The opportunity to experience and survive it is something to be valued, not lamented.”

The connection we feel to our geography and to others increases when following a local team. And this connection is only heightened in the pressence of thousands of others; all clad in similar colours, all screaming the same names, all caught in the same emotional tornado. It’s true that a football stadium is greater than the sum of its parts. For many it provides a kind of meaning of life moment, and for some, a transcendent experience.

Next time you go to a sporting game, turn from the sport happening on-field and watch the crowd for a moment. There you will see the hints of why everyone is really there: the windening of the eyes, wiping of the lips, a damp hand passed across the back of the neck. You will see hate and fear, apprehension, loathing. You will see grown men reduced to tears. You will see the strange distortion of joy chased down by disappoinment. In two and a bit short hours you will see more humanity than most people experience in a lifetime.

It’s amazing to consider that all of the mechanisms that bring about this emotional A-bomb are entirely of our own making. With our rules, our colours, and our scoring systems, we have created spectacle for our own consumption.

And to what end? That we will sit in the rain to watch a sport few of us have participated in since high school, suggests there is more at stake than just premiership points. Sniff past the heatrub and you’ll catch a whiff of a more primal desire for emotional acceptance.

When your team wins, you win. When they lose, you feel it no less. And yet, soon after, the result is shelved to memory and you move on knowing that the following season arrives soon and with it, the promise of a second chance, a new suite of emotions to act out, and this time the result will be different.

You hope.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *