There is a great scene in Gladiator, a movie I’ve always considered as being more a documentary account of Roman times than a simple Hollywood drama, where the ageing Proximo, Russell Crowe’s owner, arrives at the front of the Colosseum.
Proximo, played with full verve by the magnificent old bastard that was Ollie Reed, was once a famous gladiator himself, the toast of Rome who had won his freedom in the arena.
As Proximo approaches the Colosseum, theatre of blood and violence that it was in its heyday, he touches the feet of the statue of Mars, God of War, and says “Good to see you again, old friend…. Bring me fortune.”
They don’t have a statue of Mars, or indeed any God, let alone a deity worshipped by footy fans, on the bridge between Spencer Street and the Docklands stadium. But if they did, I would be going down one night this week and leaving an offering.
I’ve written before about my belief that supernatural forces come into play with footy. I don’t believe in actual malevolent individual Gods who interfere in the outcomes of certain games, although I’m pretty that sort of system governs pretty much all other human affairs. We are but pawns in the hands of the trickster gods, subject to their petty whims and unknowable jealousies.
No, with footy it is different. There aren’t Footy Gods as much as there is a great and ongoing cosmic being that keeps a fundamental order in place. In this regard, I’m a classic monotheist. And this being is essentially benign in that it doesn’t actually seek to do clubs harm or orchestrate.
With stunning predictability, I’ll use a North example. A few years ago, we had a highly rated father/son pick in Jesse W Smith, widely predicted to go top ten, probably top 5 in his draft.
As everyone knows, that ended in disaster. Jesse broke an ankle early in his stay, struggled to get around the endless rehab and ended up leaving the club on sad terms, with supporters and the coaching staff disappointed at his using a “lack of facilities” argument as justification for his decision.
The reality is all the medical facilities in the world couldn’t have helped Jesse. His leg was just stuffed. These things happen. Of course, the real salt in the wound is the best game Jesse W ever played in North colours was the win against Hawthorn in the 2007 semi-final.
That meant they ended with the pick before ours in the draft. Where they took Cyril Rioli, who James Brayshaw has said North would have taken had they got the chance.
I don’t blame the Footy Gods for that. These things happen. People break ankles all the time.
So where do the gods of football come in? There’s a young fella starting his first TAC Cup season with the Oakleigh Chargers this year. Luke McDonald. Son of former North player and current footy operations manager Donald.
Luke is rated in the top 3 – 5 kids his age in the country. The comparisons I’ve seen involve names like Brendan Goddard and Adam Goodes? None of this means Luke will become as good as Goddard or Gooders.
But it is a very good sign stuff like being named in All Australian under 16 sides and the like. For a supporter like me, I can’t help but sense the Footy God – or more accurately – the Footy Force – is acting to, in its ineffable wisdom, correct the tragedy of the Jesse W saga.
Others would simply say that it is very statistically likely that a footballer’s son would have an excellent chance of being good at footy. Having a Dad who played AFL doesn’t guarantee it.
Me, I prefer my version. We need a bit of romance in a game that is becoming broken down to its rational constituent parts,in nearly every way, both on and off field.