NSW is a state without a dominant football code. Victorians define themselves in terms of their game, which is why it was so pleasing when the Swans snatched the AFL premiership last year. And the rest of the world, of course, is obsessed with football, except Americans, who never care what happens outside their borders, and Canadians, whose love of ice-hockey reflects their dismal climate.
Rugby league used to be our game, but News Ltd’s attempt to build it up almost destroyed it. Most of the clubs we grew up with have been amalgamated or excluded and sell-out crowds are rare nowadays. Many have given league away, except on State of Origin night.
These days, a Sydneysider’s football preference is determined by how posh their school was, how much they like Melbourne and whether they find Reg Reagan funny. Despite the World Cup in Germany, football is unlikely to unite us because Sydneysiders are fickle and insist on trophies. Melburnians back their AFL teams for life, but Swans crowds drop away whenever the team isn’t winning.
It’s sad because we never get to experience the mania currently sweeping Europe and Latin America, where homes are draped in flags and the entire male population wears team colours for a month. Winning the Rugby League World Cup for the umpteenth time against the likes of Lebanon and the Cook Islands doesn’t have quite the same sense of occasion.
Of course, Sydney’s mix of codes has its benefits, including fewer hooligans. English football fans, by contrast, like to beat the rest of the world in every sense. Some of the country’s prime hooligan exports couldn’t even wait until they got to the first game in Germany to start smashing things, vandalising an airport cab in Cologne.
Best of all, mixing and matching codes gives us enormous variety. This past week has been one of the most entertaining ever. We had the Wallabies-England Test, the Swans’ thriller against St Kilda and, of course, the Socceroos’ first World Cup win in 32 years, plus an Origin match tonight. It’s amazing anyone has turned up for work at all.
And while some Latin American players have been shot for failing at the world’s biggest sporting event, we can just move onto the next code for our dose of patriotic triumph. 2008 Rugby League World Cup, here we come.
Read more of Dominic Knight on the Radar blog, www.radar.smh.com.au.