Last night I went to the Gabba for the Brisbane-Carlton match. I don't live far from the ground, so it was the usual routine for a Saturday night game. Get ready around six. Lions jacket to keep warm on a cool Brisbane autumn evening, membership card on the lanyard around the neck. Then a fifteen minute walk - off down Stanley Street past the pizza place and the Thai restaurant, round into Wellington Road where the primary school sits in the shadow of the Stadium, then finally into Vulture Street and down to Gate Four. Five bucks for a Footy Record, then up the stairs to section seventy-seven.
|The Gabba, 25 May 2013|
There were twenty-odd thousand at the game, but I don't really talk to anyone at the game. I'm introverted like that. Alone in the crowd, I watch the game, enjoy the atmosphere, then go home. A simple pleasure for a couple of hours.
It wasn't a particularly good game. Scrappy, I think was the adjective used by one of the commentators on the ABC this morning. Brisbane lost, as they have done more often than not over the past few seasons. I was disappointed, but not terribly so. That's because of all the other teams in the AFL, when Carlton comes to play, it is a little different and I don't mind so much if Carlton wins.
I grew up watching the VFL on television. Back in the late seventies and early eighties, we only had two television stations in the Wide Bay region of Queensland. Of course we had the ABC; the other station was Sunshine Television. Sunshine was affiliated with Channel 7, and that meant the VFL on a Saturday afternoon. Incongruous in a state and region which had rugby league in the blood, and where the southern pastime was derided as "aerial ping-pong". But to my eye, on our new colour TV, the VFL was much more attractive than watching the dour struggles of the Brisbane rugby league over on the other channel - fast moving, colourful, and I suppose a little more exotic and far away.
Back then, Carlton was my team. There was no team in Queensland, and in the early eighties Carlton was good, which meant that they were often on the television. There was one game broadcast in Queensland, not like today when there are free-to-air options, and entire channels on pay TV dedicated to the AFL. If you wanted to see your team regularly, then you followed one of the teams who regularly appeared. So it was no surprise that the few people I knew who followed the VFL through those days - those who were not expats who brought their tribal affiliation with them - followed the big four; Hawthorn, Essendon, Collingwood and Carlton. I chose Carlton. I don't know why. There was probably some reason that made sense to my eleven-year-old self.
In the late eighties, along came Brisbane. They were terrible, but they were in Queensland. They were only a couple hours' drive away, not at the other end of the country. Not that I would ever go; Dad was not interested in sport of any sort, and there was too much to do on the farm. And so the switch was made. Through good and bad, I've followed the Bears and then the Lions. I now live close enough to go to all the matches, and I have had a membership since I've been able to afford it. When the Lions lose, I usually move quickly off with the rest of the members in section seventy-seven; down the stairs and out onto Vulture Street.
Not last night. Practically alone in the lower part of section seventy-seven, I stood and watched the Carlton players at the far end of the ground go to greet their fans. I softly sang along with the Carlton song as it played over the stadium PA. Then I pulled on my Lions jacket, turned and headed for Gate 4.