A cool winter afternoon, sun beaming down onto the field, the shadow of the grandstand slowly creeping over the ground. Children kick footballs around, mates in rival colours rib each other, others wave their flags and wear their team jersey with pride. The cheery old men with the booming voices sell junior league doubles, ?doubles on the main game? they cry.
You take your seat, and watch the reggies side run around. Former first grade stars, youngsters on the rise, they?re all there, and with a polite clap or occasional shout you encourage them, but they aren?t what you came to see. With another hard fought victory they leave the field, and the teams are announced. A few late changes, a few roars for Hindmarsh as he pops up on the big screen, then the cheerleaders step out, forming the tunnel. You boo and jeer the opposition as they take the field, then stand and roar for the mighty Eels as they run out onto the park. The excitement peaks as the kickoff soars, and Nathan Cayless drives it forward into the defensive line to start the game.
You know all the good things about a day at the footy. Beer, pies, larrikins and good times. They?re what compels you to get out to Parramatta Stadium despite your team being on a three game losing streak and playing with as much passion as I have for visiting the dentist. What people seem to neglect, is the dark underbelly. No, not the Bulldogs fans, I?m talking about the mess that is pre game entertainment.
If your team still names the first grade side before kickoff from 1 to 17 with little, if any, fuss, consider yourself lucky. If you are, like most of us, a victim of the ?Nathan Hindmarsh, sponsored by Brillo Pads and Slick Tony?s Kebabs?, you?ll know what I mean. Why does every player have to be sponsored by a local business? Do these businesses really think they are getting value for money by associating themselves with Michael Vella, so that every time this try scoring machine crosses the stripe they get a mention underneath the crowds roar? While the naming of a team isn?t a tradition with a proud history that is sacrilege to break, it still should be treated with more respect than a commercial break with a few players? names thrown in.
Then we have the classic halftime shows. Now, if I wanted to watch some bogan win a Lowes voucher, I?d watch the Price is Right. I don?t class watching a 10 year old kid, a 30 year old mother and a drunk off the hill trying to dropkick footballs into the back of a VW Convertible as entertainment. Sure, it can be funny, but does it compare, say, to the Monday Night Football days of The Angel?s playing live at the ground, or heck, even to the pathetic Buddy Holly/James Bond/Elvis shows we used to get at halftime. Nowadays I count myself lucky if we get the cheerleaders dancing another poorly choreographed routine to a dodgy techno remix of Thunderstruck at halftime, since it means we avoid watching an uncoordinated young woman make a fool of herself trying to kick a conversion 10 metres out, in front, or even better, trying to catch a poorly aimed bomb while the drunken bloke from the hill tries to cop a feel.
Sure, sometimes we might still get the traditional under 6?s games, and watching cute little kids running in circles and around their entire team three times to score a try will always be funny. But what has happened to the effort? While I don?t expect extravaganza?s every week, for the big TV games, perhaps a little more effort wouldn?t go astray in an attempt to get more fans to the ground and away from the television sets. Crowd numbers are strong this season, but still, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon with two fierce rivals playing, on the back of a last minute victory and supposed revival of the club after one of the worst slumps in recent memory, there should be more than just a shade over 10,000 people there, and a little more spark to the presentation at the game can only help to make being there more appealing than simply watching the game at home with Fatty, Sterlo, Rabs and Gus Gould.
But look on the bright side. At least we don?t get the SG Ball relay anymore.
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