*This article was originally published on Kunci’s website, here, in June, 2013.
Footy is geographical. Footy relates to space. A space that is personal, local and national. Footy occupies the space of its consumer. One watches the game enshrouded by a crowd: swamped by the shouting of others, by the collective flow of the mass of bodies. One becomes smaller in the emptiness of a stadium’s space. Footy is also mobile: its commentary emerging from a car’s speakers as the driver flicks through radio stations finding something to amuse him or herself. The sound of footy can be turned off quickly; it is one sound amongst many.
The dramas of footy are grand-narratives: us versus them, our history versus our present, our rise and our fall. One team rises at the expense of another. A player moves from being a rookie, an unknown player with an unfamiliar name, to being the bearer of hopes of clubs with unfortunate and un-winning histories. He becomes a representative of the club upon whose aspirations he carries disproportionately. The hero has a life beyond footy – but that is beside the point to the fans. By playing for a club, he surrenders his privacy. The player is subject to the grand-narratives bestowed upon him by the media: which watches in sharp degrees of criticism and praise. A middle path, an unspectacular career, is a hard journey to forge.
A stadium sucks in its visitors and the so-called supporters. These are the people on which a club is built, funded and maintained – to a degree. Money comes from the game’s administrators and sponsors. It couldn’t be otherwise. They’re the public and constant culture of a club. The stadium is a walled environment which holds a contradictory and ambivalent relationship with that outside its walls. It’s as if particular rules apply to the behaviour of the crowd on the inside. Those who sit in the crowd demand greatness from those who wear the uniforms and become players in the club’s rise and fall. Supports though demand more than greatness: perhaps, it is beauty and the sublime. And they have to do it; to perform beneath the sublime is to show contempt to the audience, to not return the trust and hope invested in them. Those who wear the uniforms hardly play the game: they work the game: it’s a privilege to be praised and recognized publicly, but, the expectations of the fans are heavy.
The expectations on the players contrasts with their own behaviour: to act as a mass that in turns abuses, shouts and derides the players and those around oneself, all the while eating buckets of chips and swilling cheap and weak beer. Within the walls, members of the crowd denounce players, telling them that they are shit and useless. Race is recognised. To be anything other than fearless and reckless is to be gay, a poofta, a faggot. The walls of the stadium are a means for permitting a transgression of ethics and decorum. The effort to weaken this transformative power of the walls is countered by those who seek to assert the game’s singularity and difference.
The game versus its geography and context exists on numerous levels – both shaping it, reacting to it and damaging it. Footy, afterall, emerged in the broad expanses of a formless field which is now a park and a car-park. Footy shapes the urban space of a city; and the rhythms, schedules and patterns of its occupants. Footy shapes the discourses of newspapers: the titles of articles are in thick black font on newspapers that commuters read coming into the city on large, unstable and crowded trains. A stadium fills a large section of a park on the eastern periphery of the CBD. A newer stadium, more considered in its location and construction, has been built to reach another audience; to make it the stadium from which an audience can arrive equally easily from the east, west or north or south. Trains empty and fill up at its nearest station. This stadium fits in to the surrounding developments of apartment buildings and office towers. The stadium hasn’t become a part of footy folklore, it remains in the recent memory of the fans who have been coerced into calling it by its various names – names which change according to the whims of various multinational companies. The mythology and iconic-ness of the stadium remains in process: it fits too neatly into the current era of the mass commercialization of sport. Its romance and history are too easily remembered and debated.
Pedestrians fill narrow streets wearing the appropriate colours. The crowd walks a heavy and eager gait. The crowd pushes along the streets towards the open spaces of the park on which the grand stadium is found. The stadium is subject to the memories and imagination of the fans of teams: anxiety, expectation, hope writ large on the faces of the audience. The stadium turns into a site of torture and excruciating defeat or a site of conquer and glory. The stadium must be neutral and host the dreams of fans. Workers fill the stalls in its alleys; they line the stadium’s periphery, wearing bland and loose jackets. Announcements state what can and cannot be brought into the stadium. These workers make the stadium function at an immediate and practical level and they are rendered anonymous through their uniforms and prosaic, basic tasks. The stadium holds a din: the collective chatter of the crowd before it erupts in a chorus of excitement and shouting. Those fans in particular colours shout in joy – the fans in the other colours groan in disappointment. They leave homewards, along those narrow streets, muttering about what might have been or how good it will be.
Remembering Games Past, Victoria Park, Collingwood Country
A masculine monotone emits from the dashboard. The rise and fall follows a regular pattern. The radio show begins with a mix of commentary highlights. These highlights don’t always equate with great moments in footy: these highlights exemplify the skill of the commentators in articulating moments of disappointment, excitement, demoralisation. The commentator’s role is to capture the excitement and disappointment of a game: it sublime-ness yet also the acts of thanatos: those moments in which a player, supposedly a being whom may perform beauty, relinquishes his role and acts in a manner either indifferent to his team’s wishes or to his own interest. Footy is physical; it’s pleasures, eros, come from the playing and the watching of it. The commentator, though, serves as a poet, not describing too much: providing only a vehicle through which the listener may imagine the sublime-ness of the players, as performers. The radio show’s introductory mix of commentary, enhanced by a beat and the essential sounds of the game – a siren and cheering – seeks to create the carnivalesque aspect of footy. Yet, when at the game itself, its complexity, the busy-ness of the crowd, disavows enhancement.
The game is old and reflects older traditions than that of rapidly changing popular culture and subtle radio mixes. The demands of the fan at the game and that of the listener in a car or at home diverge. The commentator is a mediator: he provides a literary and poetic narrative of a game, played out in masculinist and absolutist terms. Players are shattered by defeat; emboldened and glorified by victory. The commentator plays a role of adding nuances, providing context, referring to history and questioning authorities who make bold and definitive statements about the game. A game of footy requires commentary; and this is part of footy’s soundscape at a distance. A soundscape that brings the outdoor and public into an enclosed and private space. It’s a kind of virtual comunitas: out there, there are the members of the public I sympathise with. The radio is the vehicle for such a fragile moment of sharing and imagining commonality.
Footy is edited and cut up into short clips on You Tube. These show the tastes and critiques of pseudonymous commentators and unknown fans. Clips emphasise the hardness of footy: tackling, bumping, occasional punches of varying degrees of intensity and abrasiveness. Clips are given soundtracks of intense rock songs: as if this music further intensifies the hardness and essence of the game. The clips are of varying degrees of professionalism, many made using Windows Movie Maker, some are drawn from videos of games from the 70s and 80s. A search for ‘Nicky Winmar, 1992, Victoria Park’ takes the user to the highlights of the game as presented by a neat and prim presenter of a highlights show of the main broadcaster. There is footage of goals, marks and tackles, but, there is no footage of the incident after the game that marks a new moment in confronting popular racism as perpetrated throughout sporting events. Perhaps no footage of the incident itself. You Tube as a repository of profile and amateur moving images can prove problematic in the footy mediascape.
Other forms of digital media show the range of experts and pundits available to consumers of footy discourses. The experts are many. Expertise arrives through the courage of holding strong positions of analysis. One columnist writes predictions late in the week and then writes summaries of where and how his predictions went wrong or were proven accurate. Another columnist writes profiles and detailed stories of intrigue about particular incidents. Yet journalist writes searing investigations into the management of the game. Another journalist combines the style of oral commentary with the slower form of writing. The sound of his voice echoes clearly across the written page. Some journalists write on the coverage of the game itself – quoting those who provide peculiar, humorous or offensive yet popular opinions on footy. This mediascape is open and diverse: a strong back and forth between journalists and columnists, a lot of insults flung between users.
Footy is lived through the everyday life of its participants and observers. In this city – Melbourne – It’s difficult to be neutral, indifferent and remain unaffected by it. Footy is everyday life through its everyday-ness: appearance in daily newspapers and geographical ubiquity. Conversations open with quick critiques of what happened in a game, invitations are extended for socialising before, after or at the game. Footy’s life extends beyond the boundary line, beyond the stadium, beyond the coaches, beyond the training venues and gyms and seeps into the geography of a city – with all of its rubbish, newspaper headlines, conversations, websites and soundscapes. Footy-ness becomes its own city.
Hello, Richmond, hello footy.