Jason Heatley enjoyed a brief, but action-filled AFL career in the late 90s. He played 63 games – almost all of them with St Kilda – and topped the Saints goalkicking twice, including in their grand final year of 1997.
It’s easy to get carried away in football. If a story is on the front page of the newspaper, if it leads the nightly news or takes up hours of talkback radio, most likely it is an ugly story. A scandal of some description. Sex. Drugs. Alcohol. Violence.
Aside from the Brownlow Medal and the grand final, it is the scandals that are given much more airplay and paper inches than the game itself.
Or it is someone being critical about game style. Too soft. Too many stoppages. Too defensive. Then, in the off season, when there is nothing else to occupy our minds, these stories gain more legs than they need.
No games on the weekend to capture our attention.
But it is the game itself that we love. The sense of anticipation right before the bounce of the ball at the beginning of a game. The tense feeling when the clock ticks up to 25 or 26 minutes and your team are up by a point. The roar in the outer when someone takes a screamer in the goal square.
These are the just a small number of things we love about football.
Whether you barrack for a club with a long and steep history, or one of the clubs started in the last couple of decades, you carry a passion for the club. We bleed the colours of the jumper that we admire.
That’s why we will sit on a plastic chair on a wet, windy freezing night at the MCG just to share our passion with fellow supporters. To ride every bump, groan at every turnover, cheer with every mark, jump with every goal and scream at every poor decision.
The atmosphere gives us so much. Tens of thousands of fans walking to the colosseum to cheer on their gladiators. The noise outside the ground, everyone previewing what they are about to witness.
Or dissecting the match the night before. The hot pie, the cold beer in the plastic cup. The corny slogan on the banner. The fact someone always says “yeah, sing it now, that’s the only time you’ll hear your song today” when each teams theme song plays as the teams run out.
The footy record and radio in your ear to follow what your watching. Football is full of tradition, not just on the field, but the rituals we carry out off field while following our team.
Then there are the players.
The ones that can do things that make you smile. That make you sit back in your chair and say wow. The players that leave you thinking, gee I wish he played for us. Like when Buddy Franklin scoops the ball up at half forward, arcs toward the boundary line, kicks off his left foot, even though it’s the traditionally wrong side for a left footer, and bangs one through from 55.
Or when Chris Judd splits a pack in half leaving 10 teammates and opponents in his wake, bounces and goals. Or Dustin Martin when he gives a “don’t argue” and snaps a goal.
Every team has players that you pay to go and watch, or sit down and watch a game on telly just to see them do what they do best. The mercurial like Alan Didak kicks an impossible goal from the boundary.
The tough like when Jonathon Brown smashes a pack. The courageous like when Nick Riewoldt runs with the flight of the ball and marks running straight into a pack. The breathtaking like Cyril Rioli with his one handed pick up at full pace.
The roar when Jack Riewoldt flies for mark of the year every week.
Franklin, Judd, Didak, Brown, the Riewoldt’s and Rioli are among the most watchable players in the competition, there is no doubt. Add into that list Gary Ablett, Kurt Tippet, Joel Selwood, Barry Hall, Liam Jurrah and more.
These players, some are genuine superstars of the game; some are young emerging players and half the thrill of watching them is seeing them develop.
We are so lucky to have such a performance to go and see every week. Such diversity in teams, players and fans. The nail biters and the upsets. The blockbuster matches that promise so much and the matches that hold little promise in the build up, but then deliver in bucketloads. Football is more than a sport to so many people. It is why millions of people attend matches each year and other sports play to empty stadiums.
It is a passion. A love.