Sunday, 29 March 2015

On choosing a team to follow in the football (if you don't happen to have one already)

Well, it's football season again here in Australia.

Now there are six ... or seven ... or six-and-a-half codes of football played around the world.  Each is known simply as "football" among its enthusiasts, and within the area where it's the prevalent code.  The various codes are: 
  • Association Football, or Soccer, the world's most popular football code, played in most countries of the world, either as the main football code, or alongside other football codes,
  • American Football, or Gridiron, the main professional code played in the United States and Canada,
  • Gaelic Football, the main code played in the Republic of Ireland and also played socially by Irish expats elsewhere,
  • Rugby Union, the main code in Wales, South Africa, New Zealand, and many Pacific nations, also played alongside other codes in many other countries,
  • Rugby League, not as popular globally as Rugby Union, but the main professional code in parts of Australia (New South Wales, Queensland, and the Australian Capital Territory), and
  • Australian Rules Football, the main professional code played in the rest of Australia.
There's also International Rules, a hybrid of Gaelic and Australian Rules, developed so that top Irish and Australian players can play each other as national teams every two or three years or so, when the promoters can organise a tour.

Here in Australia, we play almost every code (except for Gridiron and Gaelic) at a high level.  And it's getting to the time of year when Australia's two main professional codes (Australian Rules and Rugby League) are beginning their seasons for this year.

Now, for people who live in Australia (and particularly in those parts of Australia where Australian Rules is the main football code), it's essential to have a team, even if you're not all that interested in footy.  (While all the football codes can be called "football", the term "footy" only properly applies to Australian Rules.)  

The rest of this post is about Australian Rules (Aussie Rules, AFL,
"footy", ...) rather than about the whole range of football codes.

Developing an attachment to a team is a important rite of passage in Australia. 
  • For a young person, having a team of your own choice - preferably one that's not the same as the team(s) followed by one's parents - is a sign of having grown up. 
  • For a recent migrant, choosing a team to support is a sign of having confidently become at home in your new land. 
If you declare yourself to be "not all that interested in football", you're bound to find yourself involved in long conversations about football with footy enthusiasts trying to convert you. 

This is similar to a person who calls her/himself either an atheist or an agnostic and finds him/herself involved in many long religious discussions.  For example, it's easier (if you're not really all that religious but don't want to talk about it) to describe yourself as "Church of England" (unless you live in England), or as "Methodist" (unless you live somewhere - i.e., anywhere other than Australia or Canada - where there actually is a Methodist Church), or merely as "Protestant" (but without naming an actual denomination).  Each of these descriptions carries the notion of "not all that religious", but is less likely to invite unwanted discussions with the intent of proselytisation than the more provocative labels of "atheist" or "agnostic".    

Similarly, re football, rather than being openly uninterested in football, it's better to "bite the bullet" and choose one of the teams in the league as your team to support.  But, if you don't want to be involved in too many footy-related conversations, choose a team that doesn't invite too much attention. 

Now, you don't actually have to watch a game to do this.  The important thing - particularly in the areas that follow Aussie Rules - is to identify with a team.  And the fact that you want the team to win doesn't mean you actually have to watch their matches.  (Occasionally watching the final 10 to 15 minutes of a game may help.) 

Here's a few hints in choosing a team to follow.

Don't choose a team that's been among the top three or four teams in the AFL in the last few years, and expects to perform similarly this year.  Whether they do well or poorly this year, it will involve you in more football-related conversations than you'd want.

Similarly, and for the same reasons, don't choose a team that's been consistently among the two or three worst teams.

Also, don't pick a team that's been involved in a scandal (sex, drugs, gambling, stupid comments by players that were picked up in the media, etc., etc.) in the last few years.  You'll be called on to defend your team, even if you haven't a clue what the scandal's about.

If you live in Tasmania or Victoria, choose one of the Victorian teams, or a team that used to be a Victorian team.  Otherwise, you'll get a lot of "And why do you support the Dockers?"

Finally, don't choose a team with a lot of anti-fans.  If a team has a lot of people who say about them, "I don't care who wins, as long as X loses", don't choose X as your team.  It's usually less about the team's players than about the attitude problems of the team's fans.  If you can help it, you definitely don't want to be seen as a X fan, with all the implications this has in terms of your character.  You particularly don't want to be seen as an X fan if you want to avoid long, drawn-out discussions of football during breaks at work, with either passionate X fans or passionate X anti-fans.  (OK, OK, I'm talking about Collingwood, Carlton, and Hawthorn here.)

So basically, choose a team that's been playing neither too well nor too badly, with a present or past base in Victoria, with no recent scandals, not too many offensive fans, and almost no anti-fans.  Let all and sundry know that you're a proud supporter of said nondescript team, and you won't be plagued by lengthy lunch-hour discussions of the weekend's matches.  (Unless you're really unlucky, and your team starts doing well.)

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