John Campbell is in a self-analytical state of mind. Here he tries to explain his passionate disapproval of English sporting efforts.
A lot of my mates who follow the NRL still sprout the ‘whoever is playing Manly’ line when asked who they will be barracking for in any upcoming round of footy. It harks back to the bad old days when the Sea Eagles from Sydney’s northern beaches were shamelessly poaching star players from less well-off clubs (notably Souths and Wests) to win silverware for their empty trophy cabinet. Grudges die hard in the wide world of sport, so if that anti-Manly sentiment now seems a bit retro it nevertheless rewards its adherents with a sense of belonging to a tribe and, like it or not, tribalism is hard-wired into most blokes’ DNA.
My personal psychosis has led me to a lifelong, sometimes emotionally crippling, devotion to the South Sydney Rabbitohs (fellow travellers will understand me only too well when I say that the high anxiety I experience for 80 minutes every week rarely allows me to ‘enjoy’ any game involving the Cardinal and Myrtle). To a degree that is barely skin deep but undeniably there, I feel some allegiance to Queens Park Rangers in the EPL, St Kilda in the AFL and Città di Palermo in Serie A (it was the pink shirts and Marco Bresciano that won me over).
More profound than any of my club-land loyalties, however, is the one that has been forged by the simple fact of me being Australian. And, as it does among those who maintain the anti-Manly rage, it thrives on negativity. I’ve tried to talk myself out of it, if only for the sake of my own wellbeing – pop psychologists and lifestyle gurus are adamant that we must not have a bar of any thought that is not positive. Bugger that, I say. In lieu of passionately wanting one side to be victorious, the primitive need to see another fail can be perversely uplifting – the joy of schadenfreude shouldn’t be underestimated.
I first became aware of my condition – for want of a better word, let’s call it Pommiephobia – on a steamy night in Brisbane. It was in the dark ages, before the Gabba had been transformed from a bloodhouse into the modern, all-seating stadium that it is today. I was there with a mate to watch Australia play England in a limited overs day-nighter. For the life of me, I couldn’t tell you who was top scorer or who took most wickets, but I do remember that England won, and if that wasn’t bad enough, worse was to follow in the pub afterwards. Over a couple of cold ones, we listened with humiliation and rage as a mob of plastered Poms sang their national anthem, altering the words to ‘long to reign over YOU’.
Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against the English. I lived and worked in London for a time as a young man and just last year enjoyed a splendid month driving around that Sceptred Isle after attending the first day’s play of the Lord’s test match (in which we flogged the bastards). They speak a similar language, drive on the proper side of the road and have taught us in Oz everything we need to know about whingeing. They also gave us the Beatles and Kate Winslet. But on that night in the Brisbane pub I learnt that I harboured a deep-sewn prejudice that manifests itself in sport – I can cope, just, with Australia going down to any other nation (the All Blacks are an exception to the rule), but I simply cannot abide being our nation defeated by England. Consequently, I can’t stand England winning anything. I always want them to lose, regardless of the contest, regardless of the opponent.
To be uncharacteristically analytical, I’d guess that my blue-eyed problem with the Poms is in no way unique in Australia’s broader multicultural society. Our Greeks would surely never go berko with joy upon hearing of a Turkish sporting triumph, nor would our Indians be sent into somersaults of ecstasy by Pakistan’s ascendancy in any field. It’s human nature to have a default-setting enemy.
As an old bloke with a long memory, I can recall with televisual clarity Eric Ashton leading the 1962 British rugby league tourists onto the Sydney Cricket Ground to play a combined Sydney team. They entered the arena in single file – walking – and were booed every step of the way. As a little boy, I was enthralled. With their pale northern flesh – except for the legendary black winger, Billy Boston – and in a spanking white strip, they came as empire builders to lord it over the colonials. The nationalism of that Saturday afternoon, albeit expressed through the mob’s hostility, lingered and now flourishes in my Republican heart.
And it is not just in team sports that it arises. Lewis Hamilton, Andy Murray (notwithstanding his Scots heritage), Justin Rose, Chris Froome (who is not really English, unlike our Kostya Tszyu is a fair dinkum Aussie) – it’s all the same. As far as I’m concerned it’s ‘go anybody else but the Poms!’
As I write, Steve Smith’s Australians have just been defeated in their opening T20 World Cup match by New Zealand, while England made a record score in beating the Proteas. Gawd help me, I can feel a severe dose of the Edgar Britts coming on …