Until a month ago, I’d never heard of the Community Cup. My friend Frances told me it was a fun event, and I agreed to go along. It was later I found out I’d committed to an Australian Rules football game. Although I grew up in Melbourne, the fanatical birthplace of this sport, I’d never been a real fan. To this day I still don’t understand how the game is played. I’m not caught up in the god-like worship of professional players, and a night in watching the Footy Show is a form of prolonged torture. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to a few games (literally). There were two occasions when school friends tried to get me interested in footy. My very first experience was in primary school. A school friend took me along to watch her team Hawthorn play Collingwood at Waverly Park. It was a freezing day, the place was packed and I couldn’t see the field. What’s more, there was a very loud, drunk Collingwood supporter jeering at us throughout the game. My friend informed me that I must become a Hawthorn supporter, and I bought a club scarf. My second experience was in high school. My best friend was an avid Bulldogs supporter and took me to a game at the Bob Whitten Oval in Footscray. Again it was a freezing day but this time I had a clear view of the field. My friend tried her best to teach me the rules, I even had a go at jeering the opposing team, but in the end, I couldn’t understand why the players could run backward and forwards without getting penalised. It looked like a confusing mess. My friend and her family told me that I must become a Bulldogs fan, so I ditched Hawthorn (who I hadn’t really followed, except to fit in with the other kids during the footy season) and bought a Bulldogs scarf.
A few years ago I attended a game at Etihad Stadium at the invitation of my boss at the time. The Bulldogs were playing, and we watched from the comfort of a catered corporate box. The view from the box was spectacular and although I still didn’t know what was going on, I liked the game a little more. Sitting outside on a freezing Melbourne winter’s day to watch the Community Cup wasn’t an inspiring prospect. However, Frances was looking forward to it, and our good friend, Nicky was in town for the weekend and would be joining us. Accepting my fate, I did some Google research and discovered the Community Cup was different to your average game of football. The event began in 1993 and is an annual battle between two aptly named foes- the Triple R and PBS radio team, the Megahertz, and an assortment of local musos and rock stars, the Rock Dogs. Proceeds from the game go to Reclink an organisation committed to helping disadvantaged people through art and sport. Further internet research revealed this year’s line-up included 90’s rock identities Regurgitator and Tim Rogers. Spiderbait’s Kram and actor Rhys Muldoon would be entertaining the kids, and a concert followed the game. Suddenly things had got interesting.
The game fell on the coldest weekend of the year. I donned my trusty puffer jacket and beanie and headed out. Arriving at Elsternwick Park, I met with Frances and Nicky who had strategically nabbed us a prime location on a park bench- perfect for watching the game and people. The crowd consisted of the usual footy types. Parents and families staked out the sidelines with picnic blankets and prams. Kids were kicking their footies around and groups of males stood together knocking back beers. Gradually, the cool crowd began to arrive and soon the place was filled with black jeans and leather jackets. From our bench, we spotted well-known musicians casually walking through the crowd. The guys from Regurgitator held their kids and chatted with friends. My mind went back to the mid-nineties when the only time I would these guys in person was from the depths of a mosh pit or behind the security fences at a music festival. Now here they were holding babies and taking turns cooking snags on the barbie. In that moment, reminded by how quickly time passes by, I couldn’t help but feel a little old.
Having not yet pledged our allegiance, Frances ‘suggested’ that we support the Megahertz. She offered solid reasoning – they’re regarded as underdogs and therefore need the support, and her boyfriend supports them. Game time arrived and my new team entered the field to the sounds of ‘Doctoring the Tardis’ blaring through the loudspeakers. The Rock Dogs followed closely behind, looking alarmingly fit and determined. I guess when you spend all your time inside a radio station or sound editing suite it’s hard to keep active. On the other hand, the life of a rock god offers many forms of exercise including performing exuberantly on stage and dodging hordes of fans. However, what the ‘Hertz lacked in physique they made up for with their go-getting attitude. This attitude carried over to their cheer squad. Donned in face paint, wigs and a lot of lycra, the cheer squad managed to work the crowd into a Megahertz frenzy. Much to my surprise, I was beginning to enjoy myself.
The game opened with two daredevil guys parachuting onto the field, and a performance by music legend Ross Wilson, of ‘Eagle Rock’ fame. I’d take Mr. Wilson’s solo over a bad club anthem any day. Finally, the referee’s whistle blew, the Community Cup had begun. Unfortunately, that’s the point where I lost track of the game. It didn’t matter, I was enjoying the atmosphere, the company of my friends and looking forward to eating a pie. However, the weather had other ideas and the temperature began to plummet. Nicky, fresh from the sunny, warm NSW coast began to freeze over. One thing I have to say about footy is I admire the resilience of people who run around in ice cold conditions wearing only a singlet and shorts. Apparently, the Community Cup crowd were used to seeing people wearing much less. Frances was eagerly waiting for what she considered the highlight of the event – the half time nudie run. However, like true wet blankets, Nicky and I proposed to leave- Nicky was losing circulation in her legs and the motivation to stay put, and I wasn’t too keen on trying to tough out the cold until the late hours. A compromise was soon reached, and we decided to wait until halftime, watch the nudie run and escape to the comfort of indoor heating. Halftime arrived, and sadly the scoreboard wasn’t looking good for the Megahertz. While Frances waited for the streaking to begin, I went off in search of caffeine and pastry. On my return, Frances was puzzled by the absence of nudity on display. I reasoned that the exceptionally cold weather (and resulting shrinkage problems) was most likely responsible. Thankfully, Nicky spotted Paul Kelly walking through the crowd and managed to revive herself. We agreed to wait a little longer to see if the nudie run had indeed been delayed and then leave for warmer conditions. Shortly after kick-off, the nudie run was delivered. A single brave soul flung off his clothes and ran across the field, thus earning the respect of the crowd and continuing a time honoured tradition. We collected our belongings, wished our team well and bade our farewells.
Back in my cosy apartment, I discovered that the Megahertz were defeated 63 to 30. As Harper Lee once wrote, “Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
Later in the evening, another friend sent me a text from the Community Cup concert. Tim Rogers was on stage singing with Regurgitator. It sounded really cool. As much as I would have loved to have seen it, I was also aware of my own limits. Half a game of footy and cold weather was enough for a gal like me. And besides, it was the first time I’d actually enjoyed going to the footy.