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A grudging love letter to footy from a Melbourne mum who doesn't like sport

Melbourne mum Melanie Bateson describes her emotion during a junior footy game - AFL
Melbourne mum Melanie Bateson describes her emotion during a junior footy game

Melanie Bateson is a freelance writer who lives in Melbourne's outer-eastern suburbs with her partner and three sports-mad children. She's never been shared her family's sporting passion but a 'moment' in the aftermath of a recent junior footy final helped her understand what all the fuss was about.

LET ME be clear. I don't like sport. I do not get the level of seriousness that goes down when it comes to running about the joint chasing, hitting, catching, marking, head-butting or any other action, pertaining to a ball. Round, oblong, whatever. Don't get it.  

The money spent on shows dedicated to sport confounds me. In our little family alone, we have pay TV for the sole purpose of the sports channels. 

Sure, The Groom threw in the Entertainment, Movie and Kids packages to appease chants of "But it's SUCH a waste of money!!", but the fact remains that without his confounding need for 24 hour access to AFL, ESPN, darts (I'm not even joking), etc, we wouldn't have pay TV at all. 

This manchild mountain saw the anguish on my son's face, and collected him in his arms. He cuddled him like he was his own brother. He embraced him without fear of ridicule.

A lapsed nerd myself, my feeble forays into sport have been uniformly laughable. Growing up in a small, sports-mad town, going to a secondary school where our Principal was a former AFL player (G'day Steery), I had no choice but to give it a crack. I participated in school P.E., school athletics, local netball and local basketball. It was all humiliating. 

My sport teacher was a portly lady with a natural predisposition to detesting nerds, and she appeared to take particular dislike to me. The one time she was nice to me was the day we did hurdles in sport, and I didn't fall over. Not one time. We were both shocked, obviously, and as such she forgot herself, and said "You're good at that, Clemo." We never spoke of it again, such was our confusion. 

Anywho, many years later, I married a man who cared little for literature, but could tell me things about sport that seemed quite important, yet I did not understand. It was like going to lunch with my Nana and Nunu's families. I really enjoyed being with them, and I kind of understood what they were saying, but there was a lot of nodding and smiling and not a lot of word for word comprehension. 

The little lessons we try to teach them as small children are supported and nourished when they are at the right club, with the right coaches, with the right culture.

Now we are neck deep in it. Our three children all inherited their father's passion and spatial awareness that is required for sport adoration and involvement. Our sons live and breathe AFL football, but have great passion for basketball, cricket, darts (still not kidding), etc.  

Our daughter told us when she was two that she was going to run for Australia in "The Lympics" when she was big. Judging by her pace on the basketball court, I don't doubt that. 

So. On Sunday, our eldest played in a Grand Final for his local football club. I'll save you the suspense, and tell you that they got pumped by their hard but fair rivals. Pumped. The parents at the final siren were all but silent. We did not expect to win, but we'd expected to lose in a nail-biter. It was a weird feeling. 

After the final siren, each of the teams lined up, and went one by one to each opposition player to shake hands. THIS is the stuff I like about football. And then, it happened.

My son is small for his age, kinder than most, fair of both hair and heart. He is a fierce competitor, agile, and adores being part of a team. He takes that shit very seriously. He wears his big heart on his little sleeve, and at the end of this game, it's fair to say that he was bloody shattered. Shat.Erd. 

So there he is, shaking hands, high-fiving the opposition, whatever. Then he gets to a kid he's played interleague with. A massive kid. Strong, hard, fast, and a ball magnet. This kid and my kid have a relationship that is based on respect for the way that they go about their football. And I was about to see how that translated to something that was bigger than the game. 

This manchild mountain saw the anguish on my son's face, and collected him in his arms. He cuddled him like he was his own brother. He embraced him without fear of ridicule, his sole concern for the hurt my son felt at that moment. 

My throat immediately lumped up. There was eye welling. And in a flash, I got it. Sport. Team sport. This sport. 

It wasn't all about chasing a bit of pumped up pig skin around a muddy oval. Well, it is, but it's so much more. With good coaches who like kids, love the game, and take an interest in the person behind the child, this stuff is magical. Friendship. Responsibility. Selflessness. Compassion.  

Yeah, there's handballing and kicking and marking and that gear, but in that moment, none of that was important any more. The game was over. The lessons the game taught were still there. 

So I think I'll try harder to not whinge when I take the kids to training. I'll at the very least wear sunglasses when I eyeroll during a long-winded recap of one of the kids' anecdotes of sporting heroism. 

The little lessons we try to teach them as small children are supported and nourished when they are at the right club, with the right coaches, with the right culture. 

So be fussy about where your children play sport, because as much as I'd convinced myself that none of that crap matters, I was proved so wrong on Sunday. Thank you, sport, you finally gave me something other than embarrassment.

Reproduced with kind permission from Melanie Bateson. More of her work can be found here.