Life is full of moments that radically alter the way you look at things. Sometimes you can put a finger on specific events or circumstances that, for better or worse, distinctly influence the future of your being, the nature of your self. In other instances, change is more gradual ? people, places, years, faces?a confluence of things, things that slowly, imperceptibly alter. Maybe you don?t realise it now, maybe you never will, but things have changed, fundamentally ? the world is hollower or more complete, simpler or more complex, more tainted or more beautiful.
Tigers fans in 2004 will have little trouble with the semantics of this distinction. For one, they have seen enough bullsh*t over the years (on and off the paddock) to be instantly and contemptuously dismissive of such, when they are so confronted. However, equally, they will be more than happy to identify the moment in which it all changed, and eager to bore you to tears with a rapturous and long-winded recollection. For, one Sunday afternoon, it arrived, sweeping all before it in a wave of joy, optimism and irrationality. And those who witnessed it were left in no doubt that things, in football terms, had changed.
Wests supporters are a downtrodden bunch, generally speaking. But even before that day, for those in the know, there was the faintest whiff of something special. Whispers of boom youngsters on talkback, a devious team sheet, internet gurus attempting to convey knowing smiles with a barrage of emoticons. Then, an announcement -?14, Benji Marshall? - met with rapture bordering on delirium, as if everybody sensed what was coming.
Maybe they did. The record will show that on the day, the Tigers defeated the Knights 52-12. What it won?t substantiate is the fact that, from that point on, things would be different out west.
Epiphany. Exaggeration. Hyperbole. Call it what you will, but it was there that afternoon: a moment in time to which only the grandest of sports-fan hyperbole could possibly do justice. A moment encrusted with so much portent that even the most verbose and biased amongst us could not hope to do justice with mere words. Men and women who had renounced their faith after a decade of angst eagerly proclaimed a new messiah. We abandoned ourselves, collectively, in a sea of decadent self-illusion.
And it was good.
For the first time in a long time, we looked to the future instead of mourning the past. Maybe things would work out, after all. We had the kid. And, more importantly, we now had the belief that we were on the cusp of something better, something special.
It?s not the result that sustains us. It?s the hope. The dream is the race itself, not the finish line. September, not October. If you are in with a chance, you have arrived. Ultimately, for all but the most blessed of us, there will only be a smattering of truly great football days. For many, and especially those who have seen dark days in Leichhardt and Campbelltown, that flicker of hope, the spark of realisation that maybe, one day?this is what keeps us coming back.
And so it goes ? nineteen thousand journey back in time at Leichhardt, the fibros dust off their Victa-vintage jerseys, and with two games to go, a small slice of history beckons. There is hope. The same hope that was crystalised in that instant out at Campbelltown, when the kid playing the man?s game beat one, two, three. He may not be the world-beater we want him to be, but ? in addition to being the catalyst for this remarkable reinvigoration - what more could we possibly ask of B. Marshall?
?Benji? isn?t a player of the future, or a step, or a moment. Benji, for Tigers fans, is a revelation. A revelation that, given time, there?s hope. It?s the kind of sustenance that only something as truly irrelevant as football can provide.
When all is said and done, it?s not about the kid ? whether he is any good remains to be seen. It is not about football. It is about life, and those brilliant moments in which, against all the odds, the faintest glimmer of hope is rekindled. About how, surely, if a hot-stepping Tiger cub can bring a twinkle to the eye of a Magpie hard-head and an inkling of better times to come, we must all be in with a chance, on the field and off.
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