Coming back to Melbourne I was reminded of things that made me feel at home here: walking along Merri Creek and inhaling the smell of eucalyptus, riding my bike through the inner suburbs towards the city, and joining the swell of people walking towards the MCG for the football. Often new acquaintances or colleagues comment that my being a football fan seems out of character for someone who makes a living working in the arts, who loves to read, who lives a relatively quiet life. But I feel like I’m more myself at the football than I am when I’m talking to artists, managing a queue of people or sitting in a meeting: all the things people see me doing where I try to be confident and in control. The truth is I feel the need to put on a front to hide the nerves I feel when talking to strangers or the worry I feel that everyone is safe and happy in a room that I’m responsible for. When I’m at the football I lose my self-consciousness. I go by myself, sometimes I go with friends, or when I’m really lucky I get to go with my brother. Like going to the cinema or a cafe alone I feel that this is the greatest way to enjoy the experience, being able to eavesdrop on those around you, not having to explain the rules or context to those next to you, but focusing on the game and quieting all the noise in your head. In the crowd all anyone cares about is their enjoyment of the game, nothing else needs to matter.
But it’s more than this: football is my connection to home. I grew up going to games with my Dad, he took me to my first game when I was six weeks old. I’ve watched North Gambier play from the child seat of my parents’ station wagon. I’ve climbed the steps up the concrete seating bank at Glenelg Oval as a child to sit with Dad and Grandpa’s friends. And as an adult, I’ve found my favourite spot to sit at the Punt Road end of the MCG, up in the cheap seats above the right-hand-pocket, looking down on the Richmond cheer-squad. At every game I’ve watched yellow and black uniforms run around an oval with varying degrees of success, and every time they’ve won I’ve sung the same theme song which declares that I come from Tigerland. I’m now thirty-three and read my book in the stands when I get there early and eat a gluten-free pie at half-time and check player stats on my phone, but really I could be the same five-year-old that brought her stuffed tiger toy and ate lollies and drew pictures in the margins of the Football Record. Football reminds me where I’m from. It connects me to my family, it gives me the ability to make small-talk with every cab driver, tradesperson or awkward relative I encounter, and it gives me something to look forward to when the Melbourne weather turns grey and wet and I don’t want to leave the house. Football is an important part of who I am, of where I’m from and why I love living in Melbourne. Football to me is just as much home as the bed I sleep in at night.
From The Outer is a collection of stories from fellow football lovers who likely have similar reactions to their love of the game as my colleagues do to mine: this not-so-secret love feels illicit in some way because for some reason it is seen as unexpected. For some, football is a game for a select few, watched and enjoyed by a particular type. I would argue, and I believe Alicia Sometimes and Nicole Hayes - the editors of this collection - would agree, that those who purport this are not true lovers of the game. When I sit in the stands waiting for my team to run onto the field, I’m surrounded by people of every age, every background, all genders and classes and sizes and shapes. But historically the game has been lauded as one for burly white men, and indeed it is mostly still run by and reported on by these ‘blokes’, despite the crowds looking very different. So I was excited to read stories by all the ‘unexpected voices’ gathered in this book: whether they be ‘female, Indigenous or gay; those with a disability, a foreign accent or even - perhaps most dubious of all - literary leanings’.
Some of these stories feel like journalistic interviews, and some unfortunately feel a little like poorly-penned autobiographies of footballers. In some cases this was because I was already familiar with the stories being told: the first female AFL umpire Chelsea Roffey, the LGBTIQ+ Essendon Bombers supporters group - the Purple Bombers - run by Jason Tuazon-McCheyne, and Leila Gurruwiwi the female panel member of Indigenous football show Marngrook. For those of us on the outer looking for narratives in the game, a lot of these stories are already part of our connection to the sport. But these are stories that need to be told and shared if the game is to grow to better represent the people who watch from the stands.
What really struck me in this collection are the pieces of memoir which capture the heart of the game I love in ways that brought me to tears or filled me with joy. Particular stand-outs included Tony Birch’s mourning of the Fitzroy Lions, Stan Grant’s response to the Adam Goodes’ victory dance, and Sophie Cunningham’s nerves watching tense Geelong games. These pieces share a viscerality: I can see Tony Birch walking past an empty Edinburgh Gardens oval, I can imagine Sophie Cunningham biting her fingernails in the stands, and I am overwhelmed by the hurt and pride that leap off the page when Stan Grant talks about how Goodes’ experience mirrors that of so many Indigenous Australians. My favourite piece in the collection is by Anna Spargo-Ryan, a writer from Adelaide who was also initiated into the game by the South Australian league, and to whom the game also represents family and belonging. Her beautiful memoir of listening to the radio with her grandfather made me weep, it made me smile, and it made me grieve.
Not all the pieces in the book struck a chord with me, but those that did reminded me why I love this game so much, despite the fact that it is problematic in many ways (last year I wrote about loving football as a feminist in which I spell this out more clearly). But as I read each story I thought about all the people I want to buy this book for: my brother who doesn’t always read as regularly as me but who loves the game as much as I do; my female friends with whom I share a bond as fellow football lovers; and all the ‘blokes’ in my life who would read a book about football but wouldn’t necessarily read a book about feminism or transgender politics or migrant stories. This book will resonate with others who like me, for many reasons can feel like they’re on the edge of this community. But the power of this book lies in connecting those in the centre with those on the periphery; one of the most powerful things about football is it’s ability to bring people together, to provide common ground. There are thousands of people with whom the only thing I have in common is our shared love of the Richmond Tigers — this book reminds me how special that is, and how we can use this bond to bring people closer together no matter who they are, where they’re from, or who they support.
As the weather in Melbourne takes a turn and the grey skies feel heavy, it truly begins to feel like football season. Seeking shelter in the stands, sitting in the corner of the pub watching the game on the screen, or perching on the edge of the couch, football breaks up these endless, monotonous rainy days. While food at the football has historically been terrible, watching at the pub or from home opens up the ability to make hearty meals or healthier snacks to keep you from biting your nails down to their cuticles. Nigella Lawson’s new cookbook Simply Nigella again focuses on the idea that the kitchen is the heart of the home. Many of the recipes in this book come with stories about friends and loved ones — recipes made with them in mind, recipes that they love, recipes that Lawson cooks to entice new friends and acquaintances into her home. It’s about comfort and sharing. This Simple Salsa from Simply Nigella (recipe not yet available online) was super easy to make and allows you to add as much or as little chilli as you’d like, without succumbing to the overly salted and preservative-ridden jars from the supermarket. I could imagine making a big bowl of it to serve when friends come over to watch the game on the couch, tailoring the spice to their preference. I also tried making these Chickpea Tortilla Chips from My New Roots to eat the dip with. Although the dough was crumbly and difficult to handle without baking paper, I’m keen to try them again in order to roll the dough as thin as possible and get an even crispier result. Rolling the dough out on the kitchen bench was messy and meant the end product were more like a thin cracker, but they go very well with the salsa or even just with cheddar cheese. A little weekend baking to warm the house before the start of the game - it feels homely just thinking about it.
If we’re lucky we can find home in many places outside the house in which we live. In the company of family and friends, in the comfort of familiar smells, in being surrounded by favourite belongings, or in a kitchen while nostalgic recipes are prepared. These little things bring comfort, nourishment and familiarity, and help to connect us to where we are or what we’ve left behind. While I was in Berlin I often felt anchored by things from home: having a stack of books by my bedside, drinking tea brought over from Melbourne, cooking familiar foods in the kitchen, watching Richmond games at odd hours on my laptop, live-streamed from home. At a time where I felt displaced and aimless, these things made me feel like myself again. Now that I’m here I’m grateful for having friends close by, that my hometown is only an hour’s flight away, and that I can go to the football every weekend. It turns out that home is not just about trying to create comfort — proximity to the people we love and the places we see ourselves in matter just as much.