Monday, May 11, 2009

Sunday afternoon football

Nothing deep and meaningful today, just the story of a Sunday afternoon trip to the footy...

Sunday afternoon, and the shadows lie light and insubstantial on the grass.

The sun is warm and the air cool, luminous with the soft clear light of Autumn, when the sun rides low and lazy across the arc of the sky. The trees stand in solemn rows in the park, each on its elongated oval of shadow.

We're here for a suburban footy match. We pay our twenty dollars and walk through a gap in the old-fashioned red brick curve of the stadium wall. There's grubby concrete underfoot and leaning wooden benches on either side. We thread our way between the few spectators to the plastic bucket seats of the new grandstand, the product of a former club president's forgotten dream of glory.

The ground's name changes with every new sponsor, but the real matches have moved on to the glossy grey stadiums with their enormous crowds and television rights. Here only the suburban teams play. Crumpled crisp wrappers rattle down the empty rows, the grime grows thick and undisturbed on every surface, and pigeon droppings pattern the seats.

We choose a seat, half in and half out of the sun, and sit. My husband watches the game. My littlest boy trots between the chairs and up and down the stairs, sturdily independent. My older children take turns on a hand-held electronic toy, guzzle lemonade, and squabble over who has eaten the most chips. I read, legs comfortably extended, as the hours of the afternoon stretch long and languid before me.

I glance at the game from time to time, ignoring the score but enjoying the play of light and shadow across the manicured grass. There is poetry in the rise and fall of legs, the red and blue of the footy jumpers, the ball soaring first one way and then the other. From the feet of the players trail elongated black versions of themselves, running, swooping and stumbling across the grass, a second team in precise silhouette.

The quiet is barely broken by the distant rumble of Melbourne trams, the umpires' whistle, the occasional hopeful cheer from the tiny crowd, the constant calls of the players and the clap of shoe on ball magnified by this satellite dish of a footy ground. We sit in a bubble of warm air and silence, the sounds echoing as if from a remote distance.

Sunday afternoon, and the shadows lie long and lanky on the grass.

It's half-time. Kids and dads surge onto the ground, kicking their footies, pretending for a brief moment of glory that they are footy stars rising to the cheers of thousands of fans and heralded by the cries of the commentators.

I watch my husband and children run onto the ground. The little one's legs piston frantically as he struggles to keep up, corn-coloured hair gleaming in the sun. The older kids scream, "It's my turn! Kick it to me, Daddy!". Our enormous translucent orange ball bounces erratically among the purposeful professional-looking footballs.

The sun gleams from the shiny silver girders of a half-built fitness centre. White motionless banks of cloud stretch flat over the curving lines of the grandstands, their smooth sweep broken by city buildings and the tops of palm trees. Seagulls fly low over the ground. I can smell dust and cigarettes.

My older two boys go on their own crazy exploration. I watch, heart in mouth, as they clamber from grandstand to grandstand, disappearing into the dark bowels of the stands then re-emerging, heads bobbing as they run between the seats and up and down stairs, smaller and smaller in the distance, until they sit far away on the other side of the ground. We wave, and they wave back. They return like homing pigeons to our side, puffing with exertion and exaltation.

The sun shines into our eyes, dropping lower and lower, pursuing us into the ever-decreasing shaded parts of the grandstand. We move from one patch of shade to another, like frightened rabbits hugging the last stand of corn at harvest time.

The siren sounds. It's time to go home. I hold my tired middle son's hand, and my husband carries the little one, as we trudge through the park back to the car. Golden late afternoon sunlight threads between the trunks of the trees, each on its stripe of shadow stretching far across the park.

Sunday afternoon, and the shadows lie black and heavy on the grass.

images are from Crashy, pominoz, littlenutbrownhare & Barnstorm Creative at

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