Bring back that special Sunday afternoon in Spring

Sunday Telegraph, 04/10/09

Last Friday something terrible happened to me. On the eve of the big game between the Bulldogs and the Eels, I was accused by another Sydney newspaper of being a dogs fan. Now the Bulldogs are a great team, but they’re not my team. I bleed blue and gold.

Not surprisingly I got a lot of haughty text messages from mates who thought I had sold out. A few suggested Fuifui Moimoi should be sent over to my place to offer some counselling. Others thought I had changed my stripes to blue and white to win a few votes.

Being a Parramatta fan is not exactly a vote winner in my electorate – Bankstown is Bulldogs territory. I know that. But you can’t change who you are.

It has been a long time between drinks for the blue and gold army. We last held the JJ Giltinan Shield aloft 23 years ago.

I grew up in the glory days of the Eels. My childhood heroes were The Zip Zip Man, The Guru, The Crow and Mr Perpetual Motion.

They weren’t superheroes in a comic book. They were real life heroes. Men who took the field every weekend, weaved their magic and defeated foes from far off lands like Newtown, Eastern Suburbs and the most evil empire of all, Manly Warringah.

They also had a ‘Super Coach’, Jack Gibson. Together they won three premierships in a row in the 1980s. The first time it had been done since St George did it in the ‘60s and something not repeated since.

I still have vivid memories of those special Sunday afternoons in Spring. The BBQs, the sunshine, the family and friends, the stress and anticipation. It was just like Christmas – with something good on TV.

A lot has changed since the days of The Zip Zip Man and Mr Perpetual Motion. Some good, some bad. The game is faster and more professional. Players are paid a lot more and some have let us down. The Grand Final is also no longer on just after the BBQ is turned off.

In 2001 the NRL moved the Grand Final from three in the afternoon to seven at night. Fans were outraged. Last year the NRL moved the kick off back to five o’clock. That’s better, but it’s still not good enough.

I understand things change. As the Super Coach used to say, “In football, if you are standing still, you’re going backwards fast”.

But not everything changes. Look at the National Party.

And not everything should change. Can you imagine the Boxing Day Test starting on the 27th of December? The AFL Grand Final being played on a Sunday? The Melbourne Cup at Caulfield? The Australian Open in July, or the Sydney to Hobart starting in Wollongong?

The same is true of the Rugby League Grand Final. Like all great Australian sporting events it has its time and place. And that’s three o’clock on that special Sunday afternoon in Spring. When the sun is still hot and BBQ is cooling off. Before the kids get tired and the adults get ‘tired and emotional’.

I think if you asked most footy fans they would agree. Just like the team you barrack for, there are some things that shouldn’t change.

History is against the Eels today. No team has ever won the premiership from eighth place. But if any team can do it, it’s this new bread of heroes: The Smiling Assassin, Super Freak and Jelly Bean Face. You might know them by their alter egos: Krisnan Inu, Jarryd Hayne and Fuifui Moimoi.

And just like 23 years ago I will be sitting on the edge of my seat when the whistle blows, cheering them on. I hope you will be there along side me, and I hope one day that whistle will blow again at three o’clock on the special Sunday afternoon in Spring.

That’s not too much to ask is it?