It’s footy finals fever time. For those of us with our teams playing, excitement and obsession levels increase. For others, there’s still an interest, because you pick a team ie #2dayweareallbulldogs (The Western Bulldogs pulled off an unlikely victory last night). Of course some people have absolutely no interest in this parochial little game played only in one corner of the world. Poor them. But, in Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart, n the country, and the remote aboriginal communities, footy is a big deal.

I’ve written before about football before, trying to draw analogies from it. It also has made a contribution over my years working in this area to community cohesion and building. I read a study a while back that said a good indicator of how a  country town was going was whether it could  field a football (and netball ) team, as it suggests that there are enough men (and women) of the right age to make the town viable.

Jason McCartney, a North Melbourne Footballer, was severely burned in the Bali Bombings. It was  said to me at the time that probably the only reason he survived was because he was an elite athlete. Seeing him recover, and play one more game, which I and my team were at, was extraordinarily inspirational.

During the Millennial Drought in the early 2000s, one of the proposals to come to us was to sponsor the annual grudge match between two rival teams in the Wimmera. I was a bit skeptical, like I was with the funding the book of stories in East Gippsland. Is this really a good use of public money, I asked dutifully? The regional manager patiently pointed out that they usually got between 5 and 6 thousand people to this game, but attendances were down, as people couldn’t afford to go to the match. “We’ll also have the community health people there as well”. Sold. It was a success.

Back in 2009, I was flying over Kinglake as part of an assessment team, looking for locations to establish a community services hub. Flying over the Kinglake Football Ground (which had a field hospital on it), one of the team said, we’ll put it there. I remember saying it will need to be gone by March. He asked me why, and I said start of the footy season. “But this is way more important than football”. Others in the team, said no, he’s right, we can’t take that away from them. One of my mates, Dave Larkin, who has one of the biggest voices, sang the national anthem, before the opening game of the season. He said it was hugely emotional for everyone.

My own football team, North Melbourne, contacted us at the instigation of two of the players, during Black Saturday as we were located in North Melbourne as well. Like many, they wanted to help, but didn’t know how. No media, they said. Funnily enough, it came to me to make contact. We spent a little bit time working with them to work up something that would be meaningful, as i thought this could be great for long term recovery. Only to have the League step in and “coordinate it all”, which meant they were sent up to an evacuation centre to “entertain” the people, with the media in tow. They did come past and ask us if we needed anything to taken up, so we sent a bunch of things up with them. I was pretty proud of my team, and the guys  who just wanted to do something to help, but were willing to listen to the best way of doing it.

I kick the footy with a eclectic bunch of guys who are probably old enough to know better. We run around, trying to capture past glories every Wednesday and Sunday, and have done for 20 years (me for the last 10). We run round and round and round, and sometimes we change direction and run in the other direction. There are no teams, nobody wins. It’s a place to belong to for a moment, be someone else for a while, or be yourself. There are, of course, the injuries (which is what a lot of the conversations turn to How’s the knee, hammy, back, etc). But it keeps us sane. Many have commented on that. So have our partners. The group was an extraordinary support for during the black Saturday fires. I still have the many messages of support they sent to. It was one of the things that kept me going through that time, knowing there was something I could go to and lose myself in. For two hours, I’m no longer a disaster manager, I’m just a guy trying to chase a kick, hit a target, take a great mark. Or just a mark,on some days. It’s the perfect psycho-social support, aligned with the 5 ways to wellbeing (Connection, Doing something different, Giving, Being healthy, talking).

Finals are here, it could be a “disaster” for some teams, and ultimately not for one. My kangas have not been travelling well leading into the finals, but they are there, and like disasters, with  a lot of belief, and some things falling your way, and a plan , and a mix of skills,  things might just go their way. GO KANGAS.

There is only one football song

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