I meet my three companions outside the stadium. Two are wearing Swans red and white jackets, scarfs and caps. The third, a Geelong boy by birth, is decked in Cats colours – blue and white. We join the horde of other spectators and flow through the gates and, as luck would have it, are soon separated – two of us entered the wrong bay door. The other two are down by the seats waving frantically, and we’re soon united again.
It is a very cold night. The crowd is mostly in black – warm coats are the go – though there is still a good portion of ‘One-Eyed Red’. Scattered through are also specks of blue, notably a large band stationed behind one of the goal posts.
The siren goes, the game begins, and in 44 seconds the Swans score. A promising start, considering someone had said the Swans were going to be slaughtered. Sure enough, the Cats are soon on the board. The Cats supporters frantically wave their over sized pompoms.
The crowd does its best to encourage the players. A roar travels around the field wherever the action happens to be, like an aural Mexican wave. Unfortunately the match is happening away from us. I’m told it doesn’t matter where you sit; the game is always played on the other side of the field.
Still, that hasn’t stopped my neighbours from joining in. A middle aged woman hugs the fence, her eyes fixed on the game – Come on Sydney! Come on Sydney! Someone yells at the umpire – What game are you watching! Get a new job ‘cos you can’t do that one! An Irishman behind me is also in fine voice – C’mon, do something with it! No, not that! You’re a fookin idiot! A lady a few seats away calls back, “There’s a voice I haven’t heard for a while, we’ve missed you.” The Irishman smiles.
The aroma of satay sauce wafts on the crisp breeze. Down our row two women have just opened their take-away meals and delicately balance the oozing containers on their knees. The smell is equal parts intoxicating and nauseating.
Wait a minute – something happened. Whatever it was the Swans supporters are not happy and the whole oval breaks into uproar. Boooo! The Cats kick another goal and there’s more booing, except for our lone Cat supporter who claps understatedly.
There’s now a sense of desperation in the crowd. The woman on the fence shouts out C’mon Swannies, we know you can do it! Finally, a goal for the Swans! The crowd goes wild – banners fill the sky. The noise is deafening: Sydney! (stomp stomp) Sydney! (stomp stomp) It’s not over yet!
The Band of Blue have become noticeably still, as if they were having their school photo taken. Half-heartedly someone attempts a chant but it doesn’t take on.
But the euphoria doesn’t last long – the Cats score again, and again, and again. At the end of the first quarter the Cats have nearly a double lead on the Swans.
We go to fetch some footy grub. Out in the hallway, little kids in little jerseys punt little balls, while mums take orders for chips and mini pizzas. Pies and beers collected, we return to our seats, but I first stop to chat to a group of ladies, each wrapped in a red and white hand-made quilt. “Our mother made these,” pointing to an old duck knitting away with red wool.
The siren blasts for the beginning of the second quarter. The umpire bounces the ball and it starts all over again.