Tragically, and until hell freezes, I am hopelessly in love with football (soccer), the Beautiful Game, the World Game.
In these June days and as I write this I am through my desktop and other devices deeply, deeply, irretrievably marinated in wondrous international soccer tournaments currently under way everywhere in the world.
One day last week, against all of my masculo-footballing habits, instincts and prejudices, I found myself enjoying watching, until the very end, a match between two teams of women, the Danish and Australian national teams.
Usually I think of women's football as a very inferior version of a game that God (football's creator) only ever intended to be played by men. But in recent times, by stealth, something, something indefinable about the women's way of playing football has been creeping up on me.
It startled me when, as the Denmark versus the Matildas match ended (the Danes won 3-2), to realise I had been engrossed for all 95 minutes.
"What's happening to me?" I gasped, horrified, for it is always a wrench and a horror to give up a dearly beloved prejudice. A man's sexist prejudices (of which I have so few I was loath to lose this precious football one) put a solid floor beneath his feet in what is otherwise a wobbly world.
Alarmed, I made an urgent appointment with Mystic Sigrid (her real name) my therapist. The very next day found me on the couch in the discerning woman's consulting rooms in mystic Gungahlin.
It is too early to fully explain my conversion to women's football but one thing that emerged from Sigrid's probing, investigative questions of me is that I love the way women's football flows.
Men's football is, now, a staccato, stop-and-start spectacle because of the way in which male players respond to every real and imagined tackle by collapsing to the turf and then writhing and rolling in fake agony so as to try (thus winning free kicks and penalties) and persuade referees that they, the writhers, are victims of violent assaults the referees must punish.
As well as the cheating wickedness of this fakery (of which more in a moment) these performances always stop the game, often for minutes at a time as the writhers complete their performances, then have their faked injuries seen to by club trainers who come onto the pitch to administer fake treatments.
Women players don't yet go in for these rigmaroles, and this is why (I came to realise, as enlightenment dawned on me there in Sigrid's candlelit, incense-perfumed rooms) women's football has a continuous, flowing, ever-rolling-stream quality about it that is pleasing to the eye of the soccer connoisseur.
Quite why the women's game has yet to be spoiled in the men's way is not clear. But as a strong feminist (in spite of my confession above of some aberrant sexism) I choose to think it is because women, always with a far better developed sense of shame than my own sex has, find it too shameful to cheat by faking the sorts of agonies (making them look ten thousand times worse than childbirth) that male players so shamelessly act out.
Another, less likely possibility, (for sometimes the writhing men have just suffered an actual minor nudge, clip or biff) is that tackled women, more stoical than men, are far better able than men to shrug off minor clips and biffs and to just get up and get on with things.
We see this at work in the famous phenomenon of "man flu" which sees a man with minor sniffles (that a woman would shrug off) exaggerating his sufferings and insisting he is at death's door with galloping influenza.
With Sigrid's help I am examining (for the unexamined life is not worth living) quite why it is that the men's game's writhers and rollers (you'd swear that they're suffering career-ending injuries, that the damaged leg they're clutching will need urgent amputating there on the touchline) causes me such angst. After all there are whole areas of life in which fakery is not only tolerable but expected and even welcome.
Politicians, especially opposition ones, are always feigning and faking stoked-up moral indignation at perceived government crimes (federal Labor's Penny Wong and Kristina Keneally especially do a lot of this simulated seething, and badly need acting lessons so as to appear less transparently thespian), but somehow this doesn't deeply offend.
Then, I am almost as tragically fond of fine opera as I am of fine football but all of the grandest productions of operas use lashings of fake special effects of lighting and scenery while, of course, the greatest opera singers are great actors too and in their faces and their voices fake emotions as false as the cheating footballers' false agonies.
I put these, my opera versus football confusions, to the significantly mystical Sigrid. Her analysis is that I am one of those besotted football fans (there are thought to be 4.5 billion football fans worldwide) for whom football somehow has a hard-to-define spiritual-religious importance in our lives.
"So when football is your religion, Ian," Sigrid put it to me, moving about the room to snuff out the candles to indicate that my expensive (but pricelessly important) hour of her mystical time was over, "the wickedness of players who besmirch the Beautiful Game's sublime beauty and spiritual purity with their cheating comes across to you as unforgiveable blasphemy."
All the way home on the tram (thank you Mr Barr), its pace a meditative trundle helpful to the workings of the inquiring mind, Sigrid's wise words rang in my ears.
- Ian Warden is a regular columnist.
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