As a child, my parents would take my brother on trips to Adelaide every second Christmas. My mother grew up near Glenelg, home of the Glenelg Tigers, and thus she supported Richmond when she and my father moved to Melbourne in the very late 70s. Her brother in law, my Uncle Michael, had photos of Glenelg footballers in his pool-room that fronted out onto the pool. I remember him as a partying, drinking type. And then he had an epileptic fit while up a ladder: a brain injury followed. He became someone different. Or, not: rather, a different side of his character was revealed. Michael talked slowly and wisely. Warmly. Now, in one way, he reminds me the character Chancy The Gardner in the film Being There, played by Peter Sellers. The road trips to Adelaide were boring and my brother and I found Adelaide boring too. We’d be asking ‘are we there yet?’, probably some thirty minutes after having left Melbourne’s western suburbs. But the slowness of the city was countered by the more intense occasion of seeing cousins and friends. On the one hand Adelaide itself was boring, but being there was more familiar than being in Melbourne.
Surahno picked me up from the village of Tosari near Mt.Bromo in East Java. The day before I had done a preparatory 40minute run before doing the 10km race on Sunday 7th September. I was wearing an Arema football shirt: navy blue with a broad yellow stripe down the middle, adorned with sponsors’ logos. Occasionally, locals would shout back ‘Arema!’ at me as I ran mid-tempo past. Wearing the shirt was part method of ingratiating myself with the locals and also part of my slow effort at collecting Indonesian football paraphernalia. I ran with a 27year old man from Jakarta, now living in Probolinggo. His name is Zapata: after a Mexican footballer of the 1970s. He’s been sent to peripheral Probolinggo by the bank he works for and was able to make the two hour motorcycle journey to Tosari for the Bromo Marathon event of which included a 10km, 21km, 42km. He looked like a runner: light frame, little fat. I asked him which event he was doing; ‘the full marathon’, he replied. ‘I haven’t done one before, but I thought, what the heck, I’ll do the full.’ I asked him about his training: ‘I run once a week.’ Yikes, me thought. Once a week! The last time I checked, running a marathon adequately requires training of four times a week (minimum) for three to four months. The course would be steep; perhaps I should have told him to reconsider his choice.
While waiting for the shuttle bus from Wonokitri – the starting point for the following day’s races – I met a couple from England. One was a Liverpool supporter, the other a Crystal Palace supporter. I told them that in terms of EPL, I was relatively biased towards Liverpool, but, was considering switching to Crystal Palace, after their brilliant performance last season and Mille Jedinak’s stoic captaincy. The male of the couple told me that the EPL was too soft now; too much diving. I told him, ‘so rare to meet a Liverpool supporter actually from Liverpool’. I wondered how he must feel seeing 100,000 Jakartans or Melbournians bellowing You’ll Never Walk Alone out before a Liverpool exhibition match. Loyalty, fandom is indeed something learned and practiced. Hmmm: perhaps just a little like doing a marathon – one has to work hard at it to become legitimate and accepted by others within the fraternity. On the same bus I spoke briefly with a guy from Singapore – he had come to East Java just for the race. I asked him which event he was doing. Like Zapata, he was doing the full marathon. Like Zapata he had done no training. The female of the couple, the Crystal Place supporter was doing the half. Training? ‘I haven’t done any training. I don’t think training in [very flat] Solo can prepare one for running in [very hilly] Bromo.’ Hmmm. I mentioned I was doing the 10km: this was flat out unheroic for them. I told them: ‘I don’t want to suffer’. But this was only part of the story: running in such mountainous terrain would always involve a degree of suffering. I’d just prefer it to be limited to 10km rather than 21km or 42km.
Surahno drove us towards Surabaya. We stopped for lunch in Pasuruan: the town from which some folks who were staying at my home-stay had come from the night before. It was stinking hot and I still hadn’t showered after finishing my race. The restaurant was open and airy. Surahno, full of some 15 years experience as a driver, mainly throughout Java and Bali, gave his quick assessment of the restaurant. ‘It won’t last five years. It’s too expensive. People drive quickly along this stretch of road. None of the locals will stop by here. This is aiming at middle-class to upper-middle class. The restaurant should target middle-class and below. Then there will be sufficient turnover. First they’ll be holding back on buying fresh produce, then they’ll cut staff, then they won’t keep up with the maintenance. And then it will close.’ Nonetheless, the food we were eating was fresh and the restaurant was clean. I bought several plates of vegetables and finished with a coffee + condensed milk: a drink I’d been avoiding for some time. We sped towards Surabaya along the toll road and I put on my headphones as the condensed milk caused some minor consternation in my stomach. I listened to Talking Heads’ Remain in Light and Emmylou Harris’s Hard Bargain. My legs were aching and I stank. But I was full and satisfied with my race.
Throughout the journey downwards from Tosari to Surabaya, the Tiges were playing out their final. I had told myself to watch the game only after it had been completed: I didn’t want to get interrupted updates of the game. After seeing family, and then doing some daily tasks, I sat down in the lobby of The Dharma hotel in the Dharmahusada suburb of Surabaya. I sat on a flat bench of a couch while the staff chattered away. I had my headphones on. While waiting for the first quarter to load, I wrote some emails and avoided Real Footy, Twitter, Richmond FC.com and AFL.com. Every game is a tragedy, I tell myself before each game. If it is not a tragedy for my team, it is a tragedy for the other team. Dreams and hopes are smashed within two hours. And then of course, the players console themselves and do it all again the following week. Our team got smashed in the first quarter; the rest is irrelevant. Port played perfectly. Our beloved Tiges, were just playing at being there. Dusty bumped off the ball by one of the lightest men in the competition; Bachar bounces the ball backwards: the horror, the horror, the horror. But no: let’s not hold it against our Tiges. It was not to be. Nathan Foley, come back for more; play with your vigor, show us all your resilience. This cannot be your one and only final.
Win, lose, whatever