The Big Issue : Edition 569
THEBIGISSUE.ORG.AU 24 AUG–6 SEP 2018 11 MY WORD DAD’S SPECIAL SANDWICHES never changed. Grated carrot, grated cheese, curry powder and pepper, on soft white bread. He would prepare them without fuss on the vermilion laminate of our kitchen bench and then, safely ensconced in Glad Wrap, put them in his duffle bag. We would scoff them down later, cold bums on plastic seats, swaddled in our Carlton FC gear, accompanied by hot chocolate from a thermos. In the frosty winter air of the MCG, with the smell of beer, cigarettes and sweat around us, they couldn’t have tasted better. Going to the football with Dad was a regular highlight in my preteen life. The long trundling train ride from the country to Jolimont station was a perfect breeding ground for excitement. Once there, I would earnestly fist-bump with Dad and my uncle whenever the Blues scored a goal; hum along to my walkman or play cards with my sister in the boring bits; bellow the swanky notes of our club song in my deepest, best voice. I’m sure Dad felt panicked having two young children with him at some of those games. He would glance suspiciously at the red-faced men screaming at the lithe athletes who just didn’t seem to want to follow their instructions. He would nervously flutter around the edge of the women’s toilets while my older sister led me in there to pee at half-time. But we felt cocooned and safe. I came to memorise players’ names and preferred positions on the field. I could wax lyrical about the glory of September 1995. I hung up posters of Kouta and Houlihan in my bedroom alongside the Spice Girls. One time I saw Brendan Fevola getting frozen yoghurt in a shopping centre and almost passed out right there on the sticky, tiled floor. But when my surly teens arrived, I dropped my interest in football, my little navy blue guernsey folded away at the back of the cupboard and forgotten. Other than a latent Fev-inspired penchant for bad-boys with dreadlocks, my love of football was all but forgotten. But getting ready for Saturday night’s game – with a healthy period of falsified, inner-city leftie disdain for sport bridging the years in between – it felt like muscle memory, a sweet instinct that my body leaned happily into. The air tasted cold and clean. I fell in step behind a swarm of similarly rugged- up people heading in the same direction as me; we were like a hands-shoved-in- pockets, faces-buried-in-scarves flash mob. Rounding the corner, there it was, glowing in the foggy winter night. The MCG. While my friends went to buy the beers, I stared around, hopelessly steeped in nostalgia, high with memory. Other than not needing a chaperone to the loo, things were startlingly the same. The concrete and metal steps ringing out with the clumps of thousands of feet. The blinding white lights making the green field glow like neon. The pompoms heaving and flags rippling behind each goal line. The field umpire a tiny dancer, legs jetéing as he leapt backwards, launching the ball over his head. The goal umpire standing straight as the posts, with her all-important quick-draw signals followed by a rigid flag dance. The swirling drama of it all as, cold-cheeked and hot-hearted, we shouted and cheered along with the thousands of other people. I guzzled beer from a plastic cup, feeling mischievous to be drinking alcohol, albeit mid-strength, instead of hot chocolate. We were standing in front of a group of hardcore supporters who were earnestly clad in personalised team jackets, arms crossed as they watched the play with alert eyes. My friend leaned over to me and whispered, “I sure hope they win. My boyfriend is always more in the mood when his team wins.” We giggled conspiratorially, faces close together, her long hair brushing against my arm. The true supporters looked disapprovingly at us. It was far too close on the scoreboard for that kind of merriment. We turned back to the field to concentrate fully, not wanting to miss the gravity-defying leap of a speccy or a snap kick that would send the crowds into paroxysms of joy. The half-time siren blew, we were up by a few points. I thought about going to the gourmet pizza bar I had spotted on the way in, but it felt all wrong. I had a craving for Dad’s Special Sandwiches, the taste of curry powder on my tongue. Gourmet pizza felt like a betrayal. As I turned to hunt out some respectable hot chips, soggy with tomato sauce, one of our new fan-friends loomed down from above me. He was wearing a cap festooned with photo badges, a jumper that had his favourite player’s number drawn on the back in texta, and a serious look on his face. “Oh, don’t worry about getting food, we all bring snacks along to share.” He held out a Tupperware container: “Would you like some baba ganoush? It’s homemade.” Some things had changed since the footy days of my childhood. But I didn’t mind one bit. » Katherine Smyrk (@KSmyrk) is the Deputy Editor of The Big Issue. So inspired by her return to AFL, she now plays for the Victoria Hotel Galahs. PHOTOCOURTESYOFTHESMYRKFAMILY BREAD AND CIRCUSES Footy is a feast for all the senses, as Katherine Smyrk remembers.