Wednesday, August 12, 2009
I’ll preface this by letting you all know that I’m an Eastern Suburbs Roosters fan. For the international subscribers (all one of you), the Roosters are a Rugby League team who are currently coming last in the premiership with 4 rounds to go. That means we are on target to win our first wooden spoon in 43 years, the first in my lifetime. And for a fan these are the times that really test you. Stick by the team in the good times and the bad. That’s what a true fan does.
Now when I say fan I mean it. Not some casual fan who might catch them playing on TV a few times a year. I am a member who possesses ample amounts of merchandise and memorabilia. I read about the team and discuss them and the game online daily. I go to the games and cheer in the hope that my extra support will get them over the line. I share a mutual disdain towards other teams (Souths) based on history, geography and 100 year traditions. My loyalty to players correlates with their loyalty to the team. When they win it brightens up my day, and when they lose…well let’s just say I’m getting better at dealing with this one.
But this is what has got me thinking. Not that we have become the joke of the league and the definition of suck. Not that we were predicting top 4 finishes before the season began and that my favourite player-turned hero, coach and saviour has been sacked in reaction to the shit performance of the team. No, what has me most intrigued is my own evolution as a fan; my attitude and expectations, and my reactions to the constant losing.
It all started back in 2000. I was 13 and had always been a Rooster after inheriting the curse from my father. Before then I was still invested in their fortunes but, as I matured (or at least as I grew older) in my teens, my fandom progressed to newer, deeper levels. In that year I went to ten games including the Grand Final against the Brisbane Broncos in a chance to win for the first time since 1975. The saying that ‘you have to lose a grand final to win one’ is no truer than for the fan. The Roosters had shot their wad the week before and were simply outclassed by Brisbane. But as a young fan, I too wasn’t ready and had unleashed my own proverbial load (a common theme of puberty really), and was not ready to appreciate the spoils of a premiership.
But now I was hooked. Now I wanted that premiership. I knew how sweet it was going to feel. I would cherish it like it were a divine gift, and two years of avid supporting later we got the chance. We crushed the New Zealand Warriors in 2002 in a streak of 12 straight wins that included later claiming the World Club title against English champions St Helens.
The era of the Roosters had begun and I was in the midst of a team regularly touted as the benchmark. Despised by jealous fans of the opposition, and with arch rivals Souths battling out wooden spoon disputes all was good. All was great! Like a drug addict chasing a GF win as sweet as that first hit, I went out supporting my team more than ever. I possessed such assuredness of my team that even when we looked destined to lose the match I wouldn’t flinch. I believed in them and almost every time we would come good. Although Souths were suffering there were other rivalries. An old foe in Penrith faced us in the 2003 Grand Final and the rivalry with Canterbury was at its bitter most boiling point in the 2004 Grand Final.
But these glory years are when I learnt the fate of the sports fan. Unlike in the movies, sport is reality and there is no script and no guaranteed happy ending. I learnt that being a sports fan was gambling. Not with money, but with my own emotional state of mind. Against all the expert predictions, Penrith pulled off one of the great Grand Final wins. And in my hero Brad Fittler’s final match ever Canterbury came back from 6-13 down to win the 2004 final 16-13. That’s right. We made 4 GF in 5 years and won once. This was hard to take. To make the situations worse I had just taken up the teenage pastime of binge drinking (my first drunken experience was the night of the 2003 GF, highlighted by crying, punching the ground and vomiting on Hamish). To date these are still two of the worst days of my life. I was distraught and lost. I spent the majority of the 2005 off season daydreaming of a mythical pass in the final minutes that Fittler receives and runs under the posts to score and win the GF.
But these tough times are always made easier by the good times. In 2005 the Roosters went on to claim the trophy. And again in 2006! Boy was I happy!
Oh wait. Didn’t I say this wasn’t a movie? Oh that’s right, there aren’t guaranteed happy endings. We didn’t win in 2005 or 2006. In fact, we didn’t even make the finals. We actually didn’t make the finals again until last year when we finished fourth only to lose both attempts to progress towards GF glory. And now we are the whipping boys of teams and fans alike who still have that 2009 title to dream about. Now I, and many other keyboard experts, predict the Roosters are going to face a 2010 that very much represents 2009. I am as confident that we will lose now as I was that we would win in 2004. I believe in our ability to snatch defeat while on the brink of victory.
But like I said earlier, these are the times that truly test a fan. And I’m sorry to say that I am failing the test. This year I only went to five games in the first ten rounds and we lost them all and since then I have only dared venture out to see Manly v Parramatta, preferring the neutral perspective to the more intense and stressful Roosters encounters. Rugby League and the Roosters were my Sun, but now I look to other exploits like other sports, music and those cleverly scripted movies to help me enjoy life to the fullest.
They say that a key to happiness is to let go of your sports team. And as I have instinctively withdrawn a notable chunk of my emotional investment in a desperate move to salvage my own sanity, I wonder how much I will prosper when we finally do get that 13th premiership. I wonder whether the happiness I do derive from that victory will be as sweet as it could have been if I remained true to my investments in the face of this grand final crisis…
Go the Chooks!
- Eden (while listening to Who’s Next – The Who)
I dedicate this to the great football club of the Eastern Suburbs and to the fans who have stayed at the game cheering. I promise you I will be back next year full of hope, but I will always remember that you were stronger than me.