Wednesday, September 16, 2009
A few weeks ago I wrote about the rollercoaster ride I have had supporting the Roosters. It was fun recounting the build up to the 02 premiership and a little less fun remembering the 7 years of disappointment that followed. Sharing my story was therapeutic, and the best thing to come from it was to read the responses. I don’t mean the ‘Roosters deserve all the crap they get’ stuff (I’m used to that by now), but the fans from all different teams detailing their own stories of supporting their team through the harsh reality of losing. I could relate to my fellow Rooster fans. I took inspiration from the steely Dogs fans who struggled through 2008. I felt for fans of teams like Cronulla, Parramatta, Souths and St George who are long overdue for a premiership (well, maybe Souths can wait a little longer).
So although I had promised myself that I wouldn’t go through with the stress of attending another match this year, I was inspired by the other fans to get out to the final match against the Cowboys. It was also Fitzy’s last match so I felt obliged, beyond any desire of avoiding the Spoon, to see off this great clubman. I cancelled a shift at work and then asked my brothers and my Dad if they wanted to come. However, they had long abandoned the thought of more pain, adopting a see no evil, feel no evil mentality.
I scolded them not being true fans and it was becoming apparent that, after almost 10 years of seriously attending matches, I would be going to my first game alone. I thought of calling one of my friends to come with and make a fun afternoon out of it, but they were both busy*. Instead I decided to make it like a lonely pilgrimage - proving myself as a fan (I know, just a touch melodramatic). So after a 40 minute train ride and a short walk from Central I arrived at the Football Stadium. I had come to terms with the horror season and was there to show the team, and myself, that I still believed.
Although we could still overtake Cronulla on the ladder, I didn’t even feel we deserved it and doubted that a team with Jonathon Thurston would lose to us. I had no expectations of winning, which was a liberating mindset. Usually I would be full of unwarranted confidence or nervous excitement. But the game kicked off and the small crowd of around 10,000 had such an energy that the team responded. It rivalled the noise and emotion of the 34,000 at the Tigers-Eels blockbuster I was at two weeks earlier. Despite my earlier Zen state of not needing or wanting victory, I had been sucked in. I wanted it more than ever.
We raced out to a 16-0 lead on the back of strong defence and some decent attack – two things we lacked all season. However, the calling card of the 2009 campaign was our inability to play 80 minutes, and after playing 35 minutes of decent football we crumbled and Thurston pounced. It started with a try before halftime and then a two more quick ones after the break. We stayed in it for a while but I, and the other fans at the game, could see the writing on the wall. We crumbled with 10 minutes to go, losing 32-16.
Sitting through that final 10 minutes was tough but I had never left a game early and this was no exception. Especially since I was there for Fitzy first and foremost. It was an emotional send off to a legend. A sad way to farewell his service – another loss and the Spoon to boot. I thought about the terrible referee display. But instead of blaming the refs again I decided to take the view that the team should be able to bounce back from poor decisions. We shouldn't finish the match focusing on negatives. Focus on the positives and the chance to improve. That what the best teams do. And after 80 minutes we weren’t the best team. After 26 rounds we were the worst.
In spite of all the disappointments of the day and the season I had a bittersweet feeling. I could understand the bitter, but why the sweet? I guess I felt liberated that I had witnessed the worst possible scenario. This was as bad as it gets. It’s still hard to explain but I now feel closer to the club, and not in the unhealthy, obsessed way. I have experienced the highs earlier this decade and now I know the true lows. We’d gone through it together and in the end, as George Harrison says, “All Things Must Pass.” I got that Zen mindset back.
Now I am all for learning from all aspects from life, and sport and RL has never been short of an inspiration to me. It displays fighting spirit, pushing physical boundaries and the use of instincts and tactics, but I never expected to find such a refreshing flavour in spoon fed humble pie.
So here I am soaking up the action of one of the best finals series I have witnessed, glad to be a fan of Easts and of the Greatest Game of All.
*Joke provided courtesy of Lee Sullivan © Sullivan Jokes 2004