I was he and he was I – a glimpse of immortality
I knew that this would be a night to remember. My grandson was playing under lights on the main ground in the Under 14s. Unbelievable, how good can it get? I played under age football on the MCG but not under lights.
The organisation and management of the team is so professional. They mimic all the behaviour from the top AFL clubs. They have a coach, assistant coach, runners, water carriers and a first aid officer.
I have to pinch myself that this is only an Under 14s game.
It is a frosty night. The frogs up and down the creek have been silenced and we are enfolded by the heavy moist air. I am positioned alongside the race through which the boys will run on to the oval.
Holding a hot mug of coffee, I listen to the coach giving the boys a motivational speech and then their voices rise as one, as they chant, “Go Roos”.
Moments later they burst from the changing room with determination in their hearts, and adrenaline coursing through their veins. There is solidarity and security in numbers as the tightly bunched group run on to the ground. It strengthens their resolve.
For a brief but significant moment, I was he and he was I.
Just like he, I stood at centre half back, legs astride, chest thrust forward, looking towards the forward line. I felt invincible. I could handle anything that came my way.
Power was within my marrow. I stood taller, I was stronger. All was before me.
Maybe it was the sprigs on the base of the football boots but it felt that I had an extra two inches of height. My spine was erect and strong. I breathed in the cold air. I was ready for battle yet again. The game was on. He nudged his opponent in the side to indicate his presence and intent that there was no easy ball to be had. He wore No. 35 on his back. It seemed a large enough innocuous number such that he should be regarded as a team player.
Not one of those players with single digit numbers on their backs was shooting for individual stardom. All for the team. Well, was that really true?
Maybe like I, he was really chasing stardom for himself, the team was secondary to personal success and acknowledgement that he really mattered.
I could see it in my grandson and I understood fully because I had felt it and experienced it myself in my youth.
His opponent was taller but not as solid, not tall where it mattered in the heart, in the soul, in the bone marrow.
I intuited that my grandson had his opponent’s measure. He could leap higher and had more pace. That was in my head space and I hoped by some magical telepathy I could transfer this thought to my grandson.
To see every part of the play I repositioned myself around the ground, my focus always on him. While concentrating on his game I thought back to some of the great, and not so great, moments in my junior sport years. I value the lessons learnt in coping with success, disappointment and defeat.
To face adversity and take bad decisions on the chin are part of the training. To get up again and again after setbacks and foolish mistakes against all odds, is what maketh the person. Sport, through the pressure of competition, provides instantaneous correction and drives us forward both to humility, understanding, compassion and excellence.
A defender is required to stick like glue to his opponent but also know when to leave and intercept the ball or assist a team mate. Burst through packs and make clearing kicks and provide drive into the forward line is the modus operandi.
I did all that back then until I came out the other side of a pack with a broken collar bone and little finger. He was doing it tonight under lights. He was now my legs carrying me forward with him. My eyes were moist and not because of the cold. For a moment, past and present merged such that I was he and he was I.
They won the game, but the result was immaterial for I had gained a glimpse of life’s continuity and immortality.