Travels in Oz

I'm off - for 6 months of adventure (er, research) in Australia.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Sports! Sports! Sports!

I’ve never been a big fan of sports, probably because any team competitions tend to bring up traumatic memories from my childhood (always the last picked, zero athletic ability, never quite understood the rules – all the usual stuff). The only trophy I ever won was in the duckpin bowling league I somehow found myself a member of at the age of 12, and that was for “high flat,” meaning the highest game you can bowl without getting any strikes or spares. Yes, it was a trophy for getting the best possible score if you otherwise suck at the game.

With all of that sports-related baggage, I shocked myself by spending the week watching, and actually enjoying, three different games. Living in Australia, it’s hard to avoid sports – everyone you meet plays something or supports some team or at least knows enough to engage in long conversations about sports heroes and game controversies that I always find completely incomprehensible. Since my time here is getting shorter and shorter, I figured that I needed to jump right in and find out what all this talk was actually about.

I started with an AFL (Australian Football League) game last Saturday night; the Sydney Swans were playing the Saint Kilda Saints, my friends were already going, and tickets were cheap. About ten minutes after we found our seats in the bleachers, it started raining steadily, and didn’t let up for the rest of the game. I discovered that feeling cold and soggy isn’t the best way to appreciate a new sport (there’s nothing quite like sitting in wet jeans for two hours), and besides that, I had no clue what was going on. Guys were scrambling around, sliding on the wet grass, pummeling into each other, kicking the ball, throwing the ball – it was all very confusing. Something like a cross between American football, soccer, and rugby, with perhaps some gymnastics and synchronized swimming thrown in for good measure. After it was over (Sydney lost by two points, but don’t ask me how), my friends declared that it had been a boring game, and we all went home.

Monday night was a different story. Australia was playing in the World Cup for the first time in 32 years, and everybody I knew was ridiculously excited about it. Even though the game didn’t start until 11pm on a school night, the pubs were packed. The crowd was pretty tense though – Australia’s team is better this year than it’s even been before, but it’s still not amazing (I guess you don’t miss out on playing in the World Cup for three decades for no reason), and a number of people told me that this would probably be the only game that they stood any chance of winning. The first half went terribly – Japan quickly scored a goal, while Australia took a few shots but never came close – and when things weren’t picking up in the second half, I thought the guy next to me was going to start crying. A friend of mine turned to me and said, “I just want to see Australia score one goal in the World Cup. They don’t have to win. I just want to see one goal,” which I found endearing in a really pathetic way. But just when everyone was about to give up, the team somehow rallied, and scored three goals in the last ten minutes. It was beautiful – strange men were hugging each other, everyone was cheering, and I got a free beer from the bartender (which I have to admit was probably the most exciting part of the evening for me).

To complete my sport trilogy, I decided to watch the second game of the State of Origin competition with my roommate on Wednesday. It’s a three game rugby series that’s been played for years between Queensland and New South Wales, and even though I was watching the game from Sydney, I chose to root for Queensland. Most of my friends are from up north, and in any case, they had prettier outfits. My god though, that game was intense. The guys playing were ridiculously beefy, and spent an hour and a half slamming each other to the ground, and then pummeling their opponents’ heads into the dirt for good measure. Tackles that would have killed most of the people I know were just shrugged off, men kept playing with bloodied faces and broken noses, and of course there wasn’t any padding. After the first 45 minutes, I was exhausted. But – and I hate to admit this, being an academic and all – it was great viewing. Plus, my side won, which made me feel accomplished even though all I did to support the team was sit on the couch in a ball, grimacing and saying “that looked painful” every now and then.

So, in sum, I’ve learned a few things: 1) sports are better when you are dry. 2) sports are best when accompanied by free beer. 3) brutality is fun.

The big news is that my parents are currently flying across the Pacific on their way to visit, arriving tomorrow morning at the crack of dawn. We’re off for two weeks of traveling – Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Cairns – and knowing my mother, many hours spent touring the gift shops of Australia. I can’t wait!


  • At 8:41 AM, Anonymous Wendy said…

    Say Hi to the 'rents for me! Hope you have a wonderful safe trip (and great stop in Hawaii!). Does this mean you'll be back on the east coast of the US soon? Also, I found some pics of Jez that I'd taken at your apt in NYC and she looks SO MUCH like Tony it's ridiculous!!! SO CUTE!

  • At 1:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    yo how about you score yourself a queensland jersey before you leave the continent. that'd be cute.
    - johnny

  • At 11:13 PM, Blogger Howard said…

    Currently writing from Vancouver BC where I am super jealous of your travels in Australia. I just want to go to perth since it is the most remote big city in the world. When are you going to be back in DC? Can't wait to see you!


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