Good ol' sport. Grrrr, sport. True blue, fair dinkum, green & gold, up your cazaly, howszat, who's your daddy, Aussie Aussie Aussie oy oy oy... sport.
It's a big sporting weekend - Geelong has today smashed Port Adelaide by a grand final record of 119 points to win its first AFL premiership since 1963. And tomorrow, rugby league fans will get behind Melbourne to win the NRL grand final - for no better reason than apparently Manly sucks.
Let it be known from the outset that these days I am generally indifferent to most sport. The only team I support is the Brisbane Lions, and I'm honest enough to admit I hitched my wagon to that club's rising star around the three-peat premiership years. However, I continue to be a supporter in this time of "re-building", because I know they'll be on top again someday soon. Also because ruckman Jamie Charman is simply gorgeous.
...But enough drooling over Jamie Charman. My own history of team sporting involvement is a chequered board of loss and ineptness, married with a great sense of enthusiasm. There's a good reason why I always won the "Best Team Spirit" award, but never the "Best Team Player" gong. And that reason is because while I could bellow the school anthem or team war-cry, run up and down the field hurling abuse at opposition and cheering on my teammates - I couldn't actually hit a ball to save my life.
My first memory of getting a right royal shaft was in Year 6 netball. Miss Williams, the bosomy spinster Year 4 teacher-come-netball coach, had divided us into an A Team and a B Team. I found myself, amazingly, in the Goal Attack vest for the A Team. Oh, I love it when a plan comes together! After a couple of practices, where the A Team usually ran rings around the B Team, Miss Williams decided to swap me out with Nicole Buckley. All of a sudden, I went from a sweet gig on the top team - to Goal Keeper of the B Team. For those of you unfamiliar with the sport Goal Keeper is like the Jar Jar Binks of netball. Sure, George Lucas might reckon you're important to the game, but really you're just a big irritating Space Jamaican that nobody likes. It made sense to me though, as I hated running (still do). So I spent two years up one end of the court in a constant defence position, right arm and left leg in the air, trying to defend balls that would inevitably get in the net. Yup, I was a shit netballer.
That didn't stop me trying out for netball come Year 8 and high school. Fate intervened however, in the shape of the St Paul's Year 8 hockey team. The school had only just begun accepting girls the year I started, and there were only 25 in my year. Only ten of those girls wanted to play hockey - and you need 11 in a run-on side. I jokingly suggested that if they couldn't find anyone by the day before their first game, I would play for them.
The day before the game, the two Year 12 boys who'd signed on to be the team coaches appeared in the door of my Japanese classroom, begging me to play. I told them I'd really been joking as I hadn't ever played hockey ever, and really wouldn't know how. They told me not to worry, as they'd give me a quick demo the next morning before the game. All I had to do was buy some shinpads and a mouth guard.
It was no problem with the netball coach - she already had more than she needed for a team and was quite happy for me to go (must've heard about my primary school netballing years). So the next Saturday morning, I turned up at the opposing school's oval. I'd borrowed my brother's soccer shinpads, which, as I was to find out, are not really up to the task of handling hockey stick blows. And my Mum and I had completely screwed up the instructions on the shop-bought mouthguard. We hadn't melted it enough for it to properly mould, so I basically had a harsh strip of plastic wedged into my face for 60 minutes. Joy.
The coaches gave me a stick, showed me the basic techniques, and briefed me on the need-to-know rules - which mainly involved not slamming someone else in the head. With that, we were off, 10 girls with prior experience of hockey, and one with absolutely no freaking idea. They'd slotted me in as "right inner", running between the centre and right wing. All I had to do, they said, was move the ball up if I got it, and pass it to either one of those positions.
At half time, I was still confused, and the score was nil-all. That was actually an achievement, as all girls' sports so far that first year had suffered from the lack of numbers. There had been very few wins in basketball and swimming. But all that was about to change.
Little Diana Ratcliffe, who'd been hidden in goalie gear for the first half, came out to take over the centre position. The second half, for me at least, passed in a blur. Diana was a speed demon, and I, even then, was in no condition to keep up. Diana didn't need me at all, if she passed at all she went straight across to the wings. She scored three times, and along with the rest of the girls worked excellently in defence. The result at the full-time whistle was a 3-nil win for St Paul's.
Shock. Awe. Excitement. An actual win!
From then on, I was a hockey girl. I invested in another mouthguard, and some proper shinpads. Eventually I bought my own purple hockey stick (how I loved that stick!). We kept on winning, primarily due to Dinie's brilliance, but helped in no short measure by the nine other girls - talented and dedicated to the team. I like to think I helped; I certainly know I got better as the season went on. And of course, I was the loud one, yelling and singing the war cry like a crazy person. "Green and red, we are strong! Loyalty, can't go wrong! S-T-P-A-U-L-S, St Paul's!"
As our winning streak extended, the school began to pay attention. We were doing better than any other team - not even the First XV rugby boys' had our success. Eventually, we got about a hundred onlookers at our "grand final" - although having won every match, we'd already stitched up the premiership before the sticks had even clashed. Premiers! I got a pennant and everything. For the first time in my life, I was on a WINNING TEAM. It was a great feeling.
The next year, when we were all in Year 9, the same eleven girls returned to defend the championship. Again, Diana led the way, and again, we were victorious. Undefeated premiers for two years running. On top of it all, at the end of term sports awards, I won the trophy for Best Team Spirit. Sure, I couldn't run to save my life, and when I thwacked my stick I got mostly grass, and only sometimes ball. But damnit if I didn't make up for that with cheering and sledging. That, my friends, is my natural sporting talent.
But those halcyon years of 1993 and 1994 were sadly not to continue. The next year would see us reach the "Open" level of competition, putting us in the selection ring with increasing numbers of Year 11 and 12 girls. Our new coach, the ironically-named Mr Broom, would divide us, and the best - like Diana - would be rushed into Open A, while the dodgy (yours truly) would be shunted back to Open B. The team dynamic would never be the same. And St Paul's would never win a hockey pennant again (at least not for the next three years while I was there; I haven't cared enough to inquire whether it's happened since I left).
Tomorrow, Girl Clumsy's Sporting Life continues with tales of victory in third-tier volleyball, and the rise and joy of girls' soccer. Stay tuned!