I am going to resist the temptation to rail at the ECB and Andrew Strauss over the latest twist in the Kevin Pietersen saga, but sometimes words fail even me. All I will say is that to explain that someone cannot come back into a team because of trust issues and then, in almost the next breath, offer them a role consulting seems like something more at home in an episode of "Yes, Minister" than in professional sport. But, of course, it seems like Sir Humphrey would be a much better fit in the ECB than Kevin—after all, he was born in the right place. He'd certainly be able to talk the talk, anyway.
But, for my peace of mind and to save you from boredom, it is time to move on from cricket, at least for now, into another sport that provides as much frustration for me: Australian Rules Football.
You see, I have a confession to make: I am a Melbourne Demons supporter. There, I've said it. Perhaps it is not as shameful as admitting to being a Collingwood supporter (sorry, I couldn't resist...), but it is an admission that always engenders sympathy from new acquaintances, if not mockery.
Following the Dees has always been an emotional roller coaster ride. Most rational fans understand that you can't expect your team to win every game, and then when you lose it isn't because your players hate their supporters, or themselves, or aren't trying hard enough. Sometimes you just come up against a better team, and that's okay.
But, I have been a Melbourne supporter all my life and I have been lifted to dizzying heights of excitement, and plunged into seemingly bottomless chasms of despair. It's not that Melbourne often lose, it's the fact that when they lose they generally do so in the most incredibly soul destroying way. And then, as if to rub your nose in it, they will turn around and play the most beautiful brand of football that you have ever seen and you will start to dream again.
I still remember the 2000 AFL season with great fondness. Melbourne played some exceptional football, and had built a list of match winners. There was the elder statesmen in Neitz, Schwarz the enforcer, the freakish skills of Yze that made you believe he could have played soccer at the highest level if he hadn't chosen a real sport and the brilliant Woewodin. There was also one of the all-time masters of "speccy," Roberston. And the electrifying Farmer. Most importantly, there was a sense of hope in the future, with real up-and-coming talents like Green. I don't think anyone was surprised when Melbourne lost the Grand Final (though I had dared to dream), but it was a heck of a fun ride getting there. And, there really was a belief that Melbourne was on the rise. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see it was a false dawn, but it still didn't stop me getting my hopes up.
Every season I try not to get excited about Melbourne's chances, but every year something will happen to make me excited about football again. Like the great win on the weekend, or the appointment of someone like Roos. I don't think that I am a fair weather fan. I have staunchly defended Melbourne after the most execrable of excuses, I have never tipped against them, and I have never left a game before the final siren because they are losing. And, I have never, ever been tempted to transfer my allegiance to a more successful team. I may sometimes turn away from following the footy, and ignore the results and the ladder, but I always go back. And I always go back to Melbourne.
It got me thinking, though, why is it that sporting teams excite such loyalty in us? I am not the only footy fan who can tell stories of hopes raised and dreams dashed. There are teams that have had even tougher runs, hard as that might be to believe. But, even the teams that never seem to win have fanatical supporters whose loyalty never wavers. To go back to cricket, the best supporters in the world were always the Barmy Army and if anyone knows what is like to see your team not only defeated but crushed year after year, often snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, it is England fans!
The Jesuit Theorem
Part of it, I think, is that our sporting loyalties are formed at a very young age. The Jesuits would say, "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man." And it remains true in most things that shape us as children are incredibly hard to shake off as adults. If you start following a team as a child, it will take an incredible amount of motivation to forsake them for another. It also may be that, for many of us, our choice of team has incredible emotional significance. It might be that it was our parents who introduced them to us, or that the first great game we remember watching featured them. But often a team's meaning to us goes far beyond mere statistics.
Whatever it is, I think it is a good thing that sporting loyalties are very rarely decided by win-loss rations or premierships won or by mere statistics. It would be a sad world if only successful teams had fans. And, after all, it can be a good lesson for us in our relationships with others, that we should look past each other's failings and flaws and remember why we cared for them in the first place, and hope they show us the same consideration. We can choose to continue believing in them, and supporting them and being there when times are toughest. Not only when they are going well.
It may be another long year for Melbourne supporters, despite some promising signs. I prefer to believe, though, that this year will be different—and I am tipping the Dees for the flag!
David Goodwin is the Editor of The Salvation Army's magazine, On Fire. He is a cricket tragic, having run a cricket club and a cricket association, and attempts to hit sixes and bowl legspin as often as possible
David Goodwin's archive of articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html