noun 1. a person with extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal, as in religion or sports
My name is Julietta Jameson and I’m a fan of the AFL’s St Kilda Football Club. I don’t use the word “fan” lightly. That club is my highest joy and my deepest sorrow. If you cut me I’d bleed their colours red, white and black.
If a team can be a soulmate, then when I was a twinkle in my dad’s eye something in the universe decreed that The Saints and I should be bound together for my natural life, through thick and thin, in victory and loss.
Yep, I’m the woman you’ll find at backyard barbecues, by the Weber, talking 50-metre penalties with the blokes, while the other women are inside talking about… well… not footy. I’ve been banned from talking about it among certain friends. But I can comfortably say things like “forward press”, “defensive structure” and “contested possession” and actually know what I’m talking about.
I don’t just watch all of St Kilda’s games. I watch as many non-Saints matches on TV as I can, while still juggling a normal life. I lap up on-the-couch commentary shows.
For people who don’t obsessively follow sport, it can be hard to understand the mind of an AFL supporter. So here’s my attempt to explain the ride...
If I look back and try to make sense of where it all began, I see freckle-faced me, the youngest of six siblings, growing up in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I was a kid with a strong sense of estrangement for various reasons, the simplest of which having an absent father and a mother who, while loving, was busy trying to put food on the table.
Growing up, my teenage sister was mad about St Kilda. One day, when I was four years old, she tied red, white and black ribbons into my pigtails and took me to a game in the Melbourne bayside suburb of Moorabbin (the former home of The Saints). Standing among the crowd, my entire body vibrated to the drum of fans screaming in unison. Strangers admired my hair tied in their team colours; and I was awestruck as the giant “gladiators of the field” gave me autographs after the final siren. I distinctly remember that day for the sense of belonging it gave me, when elsewhere I was an outsider. It was addictive.
There’s no overstating my passion for The Saints. Ask any of my long-suffering Facebook friends or Twitter followers who put up with my compulsive updates on all things St Kilda. Ask the club themselves, who receive my “helpful” suggestions via email with the patience of an indulgent parent. I don’t love AFL for the handsome, strapping young men in short shorts (though I don’t mind that aspect at all). And I’m not a bandwagon fan who jumps off when the going gets tough – and St Kilda supporters sure know tough.
In 2010 we actually played two grand finals. I was there for both. First, we drew with Collingwood, then there was a historic replay the following week. We didn’t kick a goal in that game until Brendon Goddard scored well into the second quarter. I cheered so hard
I actually blacked out. We got annihilated. I cried for 24 hours. Well into the following week, I was still teary. In fact, I still get choked up about it now.
So, why do fans keep coming back for more? A 1998 study from the University of Utah, US, showed that during tournaments, diehard fans experience changing levels of hormonal surges in the brain, mirroring the success (or lack) of the players they’re watching.
Our joy and our pain as fans is as deep and real as if we were on that field ourselves. Maybe that’s why I love going to a footy game so much. It starts with the excitement of dressing. Others wear official merchandise, but I like to scour op shops for vintage pieces in red, white and black. My footy lippy is Revlon’s Super Lustrous, shade 720, a perfect Saints red that goes with my perfect little red beanie, purchased in a Melbourne boutique on Greville Street. I picked up an adorable red, white and black scarf in Bangkok late last year and can’t wait to debut it, come the Saints first game of the 2012 premiership season in Adelaide on April 1. (Yes, I travel interstate for football.)
The sense of expectation travelling to the stadium on public transport with all the other footy fans is thrilling. Excitement builds as I meet my Saints mates for a meal and a beer beforehand.
The club song thunders as the players run through the banner. The siren sounds. The crowd roars. A magnificent, hard-fought, courageous, skilful 80-plus minutes ensues and there is that single-focus involvement a true footy fan feels during it. It’s simply exhilarating, exasperating, heart-pounding. Then there’s the emotional high of a win, the blow of a loss. Celebrations or commiserations in the Victory Room at Etihad Stadium. The hope – up until the end of the home-and-away season – in the fact that there is always next week.
It could, of course, be as simple as the fact that I am a Victorian by birth and the stereotype says Victorians love AFL. And I know I’m not that unusual; I’ve met loads of female footy fans, and they’re not all Victorians.
Sure, there’s all that. But for me it’s the irrefutable belief that there is no greater football club on the face of the planet than the St Kilda Football Club. Our players are heroic (and I’ll doggedly say so, even though seeing last year’s off-field antics courtesy of the “St Kilda schoolgirl” interfere with their on-field glory is hard to watch). Our supporters are the best in the world. And together, we’ll keep plugging till the premiership is ours again, as it was in 1966. And then we’ll do it again the next year.
Insert any AFL lover’s team into the above statement and they’ll nod with understanding. We all love our teams with one-eyed passion. But deep down (and I’ve thought about this, a lot), I know we all have this in common, and indeed with all sports lovers: the thrill of watching amazing physical feats is in the inspiration they provide. They show us what we humans are capable of: discipline, endurance, strength, speed, loyalty and determination. Week in, week out, that’s a life-affirming set of skills to watch.
Julietta Jameson is a Victorian-born journalist who has interviewed celebrities in LA and travelled to exotic places to write travel stories. She would love to be an AFL reporter.READ MORE: FIND OUT MORE ABOUT OUR I SUPPORT WOMEN IN SPORT CAMPAIGN