On Greek Easter Sunday, I attended my son’s first football match and that’s “football”, as in Australian Rules.
This was his decision and I have acquiesced.
Since he “suffers” at Greek school for me, as he puts it, I have to suffer watching him play this rough game.
I have to curb my tendency to run out on the field to his aid each time he’s knocked flat on his back by an opponent who’s half a foot taller than him, ten kilos heavier, a more skilful player or a kid who is simply developing the qualities required to become a thug.
The thing is I love football.
People find this characteristic as something out of kilter with the rest of me.
I was on my way home from a writers’ meeting with a colleague on Anzac Day during the last quarter between the Collingwood Essendon clash.
As we drove down St Georges Road in the thrashing rain, the windshield wipers working overtime, talking things literary, I looked at the clock and said I have to listen the game.
We were at a set of red lights when David Zaharakis kicked that goal and I was hitting the ceiling of the car in frustration while my colleague looked on, astounded and wary.
Perhaps it was the fact that my father had no sons and such circumstances forced him to make an effort to instill a love of both codes of football in his daughters.
Whatever the reason, it’s a spectacular game that I love to watch.
But it’s a different story when your nine year old son is playing.
It’s not simply a case of booing the opposition if they tackle too high and break someone’s nose, or cheering when a free kick is awarded to your team as recompense.
When it happens to be your son, the boy who, until fairly recently, cried because he hurt himself falling over, your natural reaction is to run, protect them from harm and deal with the perpetrators of the gross injustice inflicted on your own flesh and blood.
It is comforting to know that it’s not just me who feels this way.
The mother of Rugby League player Solomon Haumono ran onto the field during an NRL match when her son was knocked down after a particularly rough tackle and the mother of Benny Elias, former captain of the Balmain Tigers, made headlines in 1991 when she ran onto a state of origin game to embrace her bleeding son.
It’s not just my maternal instincts that trouble me.
At the end of their first victorious match, we were all herded into the club rooms to watch them sing, arm in arm, the club song and cheer each other on.
It had just been a week earlier when the boys down at the North Melbourne football club had made some kind of snuff video about chickens, an allegorical denigration of women, but the North boys seemed strangely unaware of this.
As I watched the nine year olds participate in this ritual of male bonding, I couldn’t help thinking of the ugly downside to testosterone overload.
My friend, the sports writer, Martin Flanagan, tells me that this is men’s business, when I relay my musings to him.
“There are no rituals in our culture about boys turning into men,” he says. “Sport is one area where it happens and you have to stand back.”
“If he wants to do this, you have to let him do it on his own terms. You don’t want to protect him from everything in life do you?”
No, I certainly do not.
He asks me if my son was hurt while playing according to the rules of the game. “What does it matter,” I ask him.
“Of course it matters,” he reprimands me and I understand immediately what he means by men’s business.
It does not matter to me one iota whether it’s in the rules of the game, but to Martin, this is a crucial question.
He points out that football, like everything else, has its bright and dark side and there are good men in football who speak out against injustice.
I think of Phil Cleary’s response to the North Melbourne video.
He said that these incidents will only cease happening when good men start to speak out against this kind of behaviour. Phil Cleary is one such good man.
I know all this intellectually, but out on the football field this Sunday, there’ll be the usual battle going on inside me between wanting to look after him and letting him look after himself.
I tell myself it’s because he’s so young, but then I realise that my mother is still trying to look after me.
Obviously, it never stops.
Jeana Vithoulkas is a freelance journalist and a published author, her book ‘Love Begins with A’ was a best selling novel.