This piece was originally performed at NYWF ’14 at an event where different kinds of writers wrote on different kinds of love.
Image taken by Kaitlyn Plyley (@kplyley)
If there is one phrase that has dictated my opinions on any kind of love over the years it would have to be this -
Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because you can no longer process emotions correctly.
My father is Western Sydney born, raised and only left once on a R.A.A.F mission but didn’t leave the base and came home the very next day. He looks like me which is unfortunate for us both. When going for walks at night he straps two mining headlamps to his head – one on the front and one on the back, making him look like a kind of marauding lighthouse cutting through the mountains fog in search of a ship that is quite frankly very, very lost. He is neither cruel nor absent – which for someone working in the arts is a gift but feels like a curse – but he equally isn’t an outwardly emotional man.
There were only really two things that could bring out real passion in my father and the first was of course the final scene from M.A.S.H: Goodbye Farewell and Amen. You know that scene. You do. You know it. It’s that scene where Hawkeye is flying away and the B.J. wont say goodbye but then Hawkeye’s chopper flies away and GOODBYE is written in stones on the ground presumably by B.J. That’d make a statue cry.
The second love is what I wish to speak about tonight.
The love i wish to describe tonight is the kind you find under bright lights in cold winter nights. It’s the kind of love that leaves all to quickly but always returns. it’s the kind of love that makes you believe again, even for a moment, when you promised yourself you wouldn’t be fooled this time.
I’m talking about the love of Rugby League.
Let’s get this out of the way up the top – Rugby League is dumb. It’s a dumb game played by, let’s face it, mostly actual criminals. The rules don’t make sense, the players are overpaid children repeatedly concussed for our entertainment to the point of not remembering their own careers and the referees literally have a Go-Pro duct taped to their head and still can’t see a fucking thing.
Rugby League is like art itself – mostly terrible and unseen. Also they tried in Perth once but it didn’t really work.
And I love it.
I see myself in Rugby League. It’s scruffy. It hasn’t really gotten itself together yet. It doesn’t have a terrific dress sense. It’s way too influenced by Bundaberg Rum. And if you give it a chance, and if you believe in it – it can be pretty good sometimes.
Panther Park was just as beautiful back then as it is now – which is to say not really very nice at all. It’s a stadium designed by someone who really wanted to get out of the office by 5pm on a Friday. There’s no beauty or nuance. The Panther logo doesn’t look anything like a Panther. If anything it looks like an upset bear that just fell down and can’t get back up.
The lack of finesse in Pamfa park is perhaps best exemplified by the old team song ‘GO THE MIGHTY PANTHERS’
Its lyrics were as follows:
Go the Mighty Panthers
They’re running through the field!
Go the Mighty Mountain Men
They’re coming through the field!
All that said, I try and give it the same respect my girlfriends over the years have given me and do my utmost to love it in spite of its many obvious faults.
For those who don’t remember, 1998 was a time of crisis. We were deep into the Howard years. Ross and Rachel had just split up – or they were on a break depending on your point of view. And, most troubling, the Cronulla Sharks were undefeated seven weeks into the season.
I was seven years old and i didn’t really know where Penrith was. Being seven my major preoccupation in life was being seven – doing the things a seven year old does – off memory it was eating Samboys and falling down, mostly.
I don’t know what it was about this game – or maybe it was just time – but Dad took me along to see Penrith play the undefeated Sharks.
Before i was born my father was in a car accident that saw hairline fractures in four places in his back. For as long as ive known him he’s lived his life in constant pain. It was something I couldn’t comprehend as a child so i would get upset when we couldn’t bowl more than one over in cricket. Trying to sit in a plastic seat in a grandstand in the cold air was herculean – but he did it.
He brought me a Penrith flag and I sat right at the front waving it all game. I still have it hanging in my room today.
It was a game that just-so-happened to be a Penrith classic. The sharks got out to an early lead and Penrith seemed all but ready to give up – when at half time in the locker room one of our forwards, this is true, gave an impassioned speech about being tired of losing all the time – and Penrith came out swinging. We scored try after try from impressive flying catches to break away runs – but it all seemed for naught. It was the final minutes of the game and we were still four points down. Worse, Cronulla were attacking on our line and looked poised to score.
That was until our golden boy, hero of Penrith, Ryan Girdler (Australian representative, Cleo Bachelor of the Year Nominee and owner of the second most successful Gloria Jeans in downtown Penrith) plucked the game-winning pass out of the air in front of the Cronulla winger and charged down the field with the determination with which his Gloria Jeans franchise would later funnel money to homophobic organisations.
The crowd were on their feet screaming for him to make it. More importantly, dad was on his feet, which was no small task.
Gidler crossed the 50, the 40, the 30. Time expired. Whatever happened this would be the last play. It wasn’t looking good. He crossed the twenty as two Sharks jumped onto his back. He slowed but kept pushing. More sharks piled on and the crowd jumped to their feet screaming GO, GO, GO. And so he went. He dragged what I remember as half the team on his back over that try line and he brought the win home for Penrith.
The town was electric. The streets sangs. I was in love.
Five years later Penrith made the Grand Final for the first time since i was an infant. The streets were empty as the entire Hawkesbury Nepean region crowded around televisions. In fact, maybe the only person ten kilometers in any direction not watching the game was me. I was 13 and far too nervous to watch the game in case i accidentally cursed the team with my love, which is something that does happen occasionally. Putting any kind of emotion in my hands is like handing a rabbit to Lenny from Of mice and men. No, instead i rode my scooter in a circle around Hobartville Primary School – Go the Fightin Pegasi. I sat on the street corner and cried nervous tears until the sun went down. I scooted off home and as i opened the door my dad told me the final score. They had done it. We won and it was the happiest I could ever remember being. The feeling in the streets was the same as that first game years earlier – it was pride. Pride rippled through the hearts of everyone who had been told for years that they were nothing but Westies.
It’s a rare phenomena in the West for people to be truly and vocally proud of where they’re from but that’s the true value of sport. It’s not about the tribalism of my house being better than yours – it’s about being proud of my house – even if it usually only brings you sadness and every once in a while Brad Fitler comes in and wrecks the place.
My birthday often falls on Father’s day and neither of us are particularly easy to buy for. This year Penrith really had a chance of making the Grand Final – which is to be played this coming Sunday – It was an outside shot. There was also a realistic chance at the time that the Grand Final could end up as the Sydney Roosters vs the Manly Sea Eagles in which case my prefered result would be a comet crashing into ANZ stadium and ending all life on this miserable planet.
I decided to throw caution to the wind and dare to dream. I brought dad and I two tickets to the Grand FInal this Sunday. It will be the first game my father and I attend together since that cold night in Penrith all those years ago.
He will be there – and I will be there – the only people missing will be the fucking Penrith Panthers because they choked against the Bulldogs and got themselves knocked out last week as I sat on the 20m line with my head in my hands.
Don’t cry because it’s over – smile because you don’t know how to deal with emotions anymore.
This hasn’t dampened my father’s spirits, though.
For one important reason:
My father is a Souths fan.
They did make the grand final.
He has been since he was a little kid and his dad, who was a Bulldogs fan, took him along to a game. I don’t know why that game – maybe it was a rite of passage – maybe it was just time.
The last time Souths were in a Grand Final my dad was thirteen years old. Same as me. He was selling newspapers at Redfern Oval and was almost too nervous to watch.
His father passed away this year.
They weren’t close but I could tell it still hurt. He didn’t say anything but I knew it did.
But all that will be forgotten in a few days when he will sit with his son and watch his team play his father’s team for the Grand Final.
And I will do my best not to cry like I do every time I watch MASH: Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.
[Note - The fucking won, too.]