In every game of footy, from the loftiest stage to the suburban scrap heaps, there is one constant. An unsung hero, always willing to put his body on the line and give 110 percent. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am talking about the humble football.
While the topic may appear trivial, the relationships that footy fans develop with their balls are deep and meaningful.
A great ball is taken everywhere, a selfless, constantly giving companion forever marked with thick black texta and left to roll around in the boot of your car. It is mourned upon its passing, be it kicked down a drain or death from sheer exhaustion.
The childhood memory of my cherished footy with the Michael Bolt autograph being stuck up a Norfolk Pine at North Wollongong beach still haunts me to this very day, and I can only hope that whoever found it after it finally blew down gave it half the attention I did.
Our balls also have names. Names like Steeden, Gilbert and Sherrin. We will refer to them by these names, as if they were people. But let’s face it, if you were marooned on a desert island somewhere in the pacific, you’d much rather be stuck with one of these than the dork from Sleepless in Seattle.
Sure, like anything in this mixed up, money driven world, our balls have changed over the years. You can now go down to ‘Sloppy Sam’s Sports Superstore’ and be confronted with the great wall of balls. There you can pick up a glow in the dark Gilbert. A hot pink, water-proof Sherrin. Maybe even an advanced release of the 2014 FIFA World Cup ball, complete with artificial intelligence that has the potential to become self-aware and begin tweeting halfway through a header.
One ball that has just recently caught my eye is the limited edition ‘Heritage’ NRL Steeden being used for one of this weekend’s matches. Behold!
A thing of beauty, yes? Although no doubt made of synthetic material, my foot feels sore just looking at its mud brown and off white pretend leather awesomeness. One can just imagine the Rabbitohs and Tigers players taking one look at the thing and deciding to start the game with a kicking duel, or building a little sandcastle to toe-poke a conversion from in front.
Now while rugby league, save for Toyota Cup, has these days opted for the more generic white Steeden across the game, not too long ago you used to be able to tell what you were watching just by looking at the ball.
At any one time you might expect to see a stripy ball being used for the pre-season, a fluorescent yellow ball being booted around for origin, the mustard yellow getting a run week in week out and the crisp white Puma being tossed along the backline at Wembley.
Of course, the rules here were meant to be broken, and like all quality utilities, the balls would be happy to take one for the team and swap positions with one another wherever they saw fit.
Occasionally there was controversy too, with Gilbert’s Super League and 2000 World Cup ‘Fatso’ balls both getting in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
However, at the end of the day they were no doubt loved by someone on their own accord, with a ball’s eager to please nature making it a hit across all generations and creeds.
So here’s to the NRL for giving the old brown bomber a run, and here’s to balls in general. For without them, sport would stop being a game, and become just an opportunity to see who can exercise the fastest.
No wonder they call it ‘having a ball’.
So, anyone else got a ‘ball tale’ to tell?