(i.e. my football career).
With AFL football finals starting this week, I thought it was a good time to take stock and reflect on my six-year amateur football career. Don’t worry, it won’t take long.
I never really had a nickname at the footy club, but if I did it would probably be something like ‘The Human Lowlight Reel’. Or maybe ‘Cannon fodder’.
I couldn’t catch a cold. The three best marks I ever took happened when I accidentally caught balls I was trying to spoil. On the lead I was fantastic at running into space – the space where the ball wasn’t. My kicking wasn’t any better. If there were corners on a football field I could have kicked around them, but only if I was trying to kick straight.
So what exactly did I take from playing football? Well, clichéd as it sounds, I liked being part of a team. But the really great thing about Aussie rules is that it takes all types to play it. Fair to say there were no elite athletes getting around on my team. Short, tall, skinny, fat, fast, slow…anyone can bring something to an 18-man Aussie rules team. Some days you would line up against an Adonis and think ‘oh crap’ – before towelling him. Other weeks your opponent would be a fat, ancient Oompa Loompa who would then proceed to run all day and kick your arse. I gave up trying to guess which players would be good and which would be bad.
I was pretty good at tackling. I was a smothering specialist. One game I got five smothers. It’s no coincidence that I was good at the two things you can do when you don’t have the ball; I got plenty of practice. But my main strength was that guys didn’t kick many goals on me. For some reason I just had a knack for getting in the way at the right moment. Which is good when you play at full back. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a crook neck from watching so many goals go sailing over my head. If jumping the fence to collect the footy after a goal got you a stat, I would have been best on ground most weeks. But mostly it was midfielders kicking ‘em. By the time they got to me the deal was sealed.
After about two years of playing footy, most backmen start getting delusions of grandeur and start harbouring ambitions to go forward and kick a bag of goals. I went forward one day. I ran straight to the fullback and started manning up on him. I just didn’t have the mindset for it. Anyway, I worked out pretty quickly that I could only run in straight lines. Dead set, I had the turning circle of tanker. Not that it mattered; my vision was so narrow, I might as well have been wearing blinkers. And that means I was suited perfectly to the backline.
But that was okay. I liked playing in the mud when it rained and the smell of the grass when it was sunny. I liked the completely ridiculous changing room conversations and the hilarious lies that everyone told. The sledging was funny. I liked knowing that the spoils, tackles, smothers, knock-ons, bumps and shepherds were contributing to the team, albeit in a fairly unspectacular fashion. In some ways being bad at football made me enjoy it more. You have to work even harder just to contribute, which keeps you humble and makes you savour the teams (very few) successes all the more.