This morning I dropped our eldest boy at kindergarten wearing an Adelaide Crows football top. It wasn’t meant to be like this. They’re having a football-dress-up last day and we had discussed teams and what he might like to wear. I had said I would make him a little Richmond jumper with a black top, some yellow fabric, and pins, needle and thread.
In the sewing, I had hoped he might come to understand.
We visited an op shop, looking for a black top and found instead a Carlton guernsey. It was the right size. He wanted it. I was in an ethical bind.
I told him it was too expensive. I told him the colours wouldn’t suit his complexion. I negotiated as best I could. I said we’d visit another op shop looking for a black top, and if none were to be had we’d return for the Carlton outfit.
Never has a grown man been in such dire need of a size 4 black top.
We didn’t find a black top, but chanced instead on an Adelaide Crows Auskick garment. It cost two dollars, which I thought was probably two dollars too much. Now he wanted this top. This was to be his team for the footy dress-up day. There was no persuading him otherwise.
So our boy, for this day at least, went to kindergarten as a little crow. I told him all about the coach being sacked, and what a surprise it was, but he didn’t seem to mind. He liked the colours. And sometimes, at his age, that is all that matters.
Two weeks ago, when Richmond played Port Adelaide, I had a piece published in the op-ed pages of the Sunday Age on this vexed topic. For TTBB readers, here is a full copy of what I wrote:
“When children are born in Victoria they are wrapped in club-colours, laid in beribboned cots, having already begun a lifetime’s barracking.”
Fitzroy-born poet, Bruce Dawe, seasoned at a time when inner-suburban grounds were like churches, in the opening line of Life Cycle begins the narrative arc of the football follower. Our fate, for many, comes pegged already to a ladder. We’re born into allegiance. Our ancestry has a song. Barracking is our birthright.
It’s a peculiar Melbourne inheritance, steeped in a city divided long ago among twelve clubs, each representing a suburb, a recruiting zone, a mentality, a sense of belonging. Love is blind, but for all born on the flats of Collingwood, it could also only be black and white.
Seven weeks ago, I took our eldest child, a four-year-old boy, to his first game of football and faced a philosophical dilemma. What is it to raise a child? As a father, I want to impart values of trust, respect and fairness. But is it reasonable to also give them a team? Should they know how to spell Riewoldt? Is it ethical to make them barrack for Richmond?
Our first game together was Port Adelaide versus my team, the Tigers. On a Sunday, I dressed our son in yellow and black and we caught a train – crossing the Yarra, rounding the broken clock on the silo, the blistered paint on the ‘Rosella’ sign – and it felt a Melbourne rite of passage. His bag was packed with snacks and colouring pencils. Mine was filled with hope and pride.
“I want to see them kick goals and I want your team to win,” he had said, over breakfast. “Dad, do you want your team to win?”
But at the game, I had no clear answers for his inquiries; I couldn’t resolve whether it’s enough for him to simply follow his father’s choices. This social responsibility could determine a lifetime of happiness. Resilience is a current catchcry in child-raising, but with my team back then in twelfth spot on the ladder and with uncertain prospects, it seemed hardly fair to crush his spirit before it’s yet fully formed.
“Carn, they cry, Carn,” wrote Dawe in his revered verse about Melbourne’s dual fealties of family and football. “Parents playfully tussle with them for possession of a rusk: Ah, he’s a little Tiger! (And they are…)”
At the game, I was flooded with sentimentality. The day’s activity linked generations. I thought of my father, and our afternoons long ago together at the football, and our easy conversations about the game, and how our lives slowly part. He goes for the Bombers. He allowed me to choose my own team. Is this the guide to follow?
At the game, at Etihad Stadium and sitting above Port Adelaide’s cheer squad, our boy mimicked opposition chants. “Power! Power! Power!” Richmond supporters looked bemused. “Go Port Adelaide!” I didn’t have the heart to instruct him otherwise.
“Why do they need grass on the ground and not mud,” he asks, his mind pliable and for now maybe swayed by the children’s television cartoon, Peppa Pig. My team, unexpectedly, were in front and playing well and here was an opportunity for subtle persuasion. I plant the idea of Richmond. “Dad, do you know I barrack for all the teams,” he retorts. “When are the Swans playing against the Cats?”
This Sunday afternoon – father’s day – my team again play Port Adelaide and for now I again tiptoe about the subject. I follow my father’s lead. An old friend (two of his three sons are Tigers, the eldest switched to Fremantle in defiance,) is picking me up and together we’re driving to Adelaide. For eight hours we’ll probably talk about life and families and football. For eight hours driving back into the night I hope only to talk of football.
I know I cannot prescribe a team for our eldest son, but I’m not sure he has much choice. My father allowed me free will, but my father didn’t write a blog about the meaning of football (collaborating with a graphic designer football-dad in Hobart, and a researcher football-dad based in the Netherlands), and my father did not hand-stitch clothes and banners in his team’s colours to wear to the game. That is, my father was relatively normal.
I am open-minded about these things. It is his life to live. Our little boy can choose his own team – so long as it isn’t Carlton, or Essendon (my fondness for them having waned these past two years). As with all football followers, I live with hope. Richmond will win on father’s day and our son, he’ll make a perfectly considered decision to be a little Tiger.
Of course Richmond didn’t win on that Sunday and there is no assurance our boy will be a little Tiger, and I cannot force the issue.
What I do know is that one of the most enjoyable pieces I’ve read on TTBB this year was written by Chris Rees about taking his son, Marcus, to the game in Sydney. It was a weekend away – sitting in the cheer squad, Marcus on the ground and helping raise the banner – those two may remember for the rest of their lives.
It is only an idea, but I like it: of having lifelong memories with either of our two boys, together at the football, if that is what they want. But I know right now, this is never going to happen if he turns out to be a little Crow.
Tiger tiger burning bright