Liking frogs and lizards is fine, but the Tigers and Carlton? There are limits!
‘Would you like to play football like dad one day mate?”
”Um yeah. But dad, do you know what I really want to do? When I grow up I want to catch lizards and frogs!”
This pretty much sums up the level of importance football plays in my young fella Jarvis’ world. He’s aware of football, he knows his dad plays and so do plenty of dad’s friends who come by the house. He’s seen them on TV, he’s got his Dogs jumper with No. 2 on the back, and he likes the theme song when dad sings it in the car (especially the trumpet solo).
But there is a fogginess to it all beyond that. His obsessions lie elsewhere. He’s only five-years-old, after all.
His little sister Frankie is only three, but she has a bit more clarity. ”Dad, you should play for the Tigers. The Tigers are the best. The Tigers winned.”
This outburst would have been fine in the family kitchen, but little Frankie announced her new footy leanings at the Bulldogs’ post-match function straight after the loss to the Tigers – within earshot of the senior coach! It was like a grenade going off.
Jarvis started primary school this year and last week was the annual footy day. Jarvis’ mum and I were curious as to what – if any – effect this would have on our amphibian-loving little boy.
We didn’t get off to a great start to footy day. In the morning rush we’d forgotten his footy jumper and had to make a quick dash back home.
This had shades of 1995 about it, when Geelong’s Shayne Breuer came to our high school and I’d forgotten my footy kit. Luckily my mum was a teacher at the school and was able to dash home to get it for me. Mums … bless ’em.
Once we’d gotten Jarvis in his red, white and blue, the school had an assembly where each kid got to run around the group, high-fiving as they went. The message from above was a clear one: the day was about cheering and encouraging, getting into the spirit no matter what team colours you wore, or even if you didn’t have any colours on show.
Some people at the grown-ups’ footy could learn a lot from that little assembly.
It was great to see plenty of old Fitzroy jumpers in the playground. I felt unexpected pangs of pride and admiration for these kids and their folks as they joined in with their classmates.
There weren’t too many other Bulldog jumpers to be found, in fact only Jarvis and two others. They’d need to stick together, which kind of comes with the colours. This was going to be interesting. I want my boy to grow up with the freedom of choice, to lead his own life, with one exception: he barrack for the Dogs. A rogue Essendon soft toy in the crib as a newborn is one thing (easily removed, too) but the pressure of peers is a formidable one to resist.
My anxiety was heightened by the horrifying news that some Carlton players were coming to the school that day for a footy clinic. Last year it was Chris Judd. Oh dear.
For Jarvis’ dad, every day is footy day. Most of them I spend trying to keep up with the ”kids” at the Kennel. They’re not really kids though. Jarvis couldn’t pick me up and throw me over the fence if he wanted to – but Jake Stringer could.
After another day at the football factory I headed for school pick-up, wondering what kind of day my little mate had at school. Would his loyalty to the Bulldogs have been tested by the appearance of men in navy blue? What about his mates? I know young Jake barracks for the Cats, but I wasn’t sure about Hugo or Axl. I was prepared for the worst.
I waited next to the other mums and dads as the kids sprawled out in all directions, and took some heart that at least he still had his Footscray jumper on.
”Did the footballers come to your class today mate?”
”No, they only took the grade ones and fours.” This was a joyous moment for me.
”Who’s our team?” I asked Jarvis.
”The Bulldogs dad. Don’t you know that? But I have two teams …”
I almost lost my footing. Then he explained. ”I have two teams – the Bulldogs and the Inverloch/Kongwak Sea Eagles. That’s my cousin Fred’s team.”
Order restored, we’d made it through footy day in one piece.
This article originally appeared in The Age