Saturday saw my sister-in-law get married. For the first time. In Sydney. On the same weekend as the first round of the A-League.
Thanks Betty, much appreciated.
For years, football fans had to keep their passion for the game a little hidden in some quarters. I still get the odd jibe about the game’s ethnic roots, simulation and an ill-informed perception of a lack of toughness among the players.
Thankfully there is a much broader acceptance and appreciation of the game among casual sports observers in the country these days.
However, these poorly planned nuptials resulted in a return to the dark days of my youth. A time when I had to make a genuine effort to keep football fandom under wraps.
It was a time when football was a dirty little secret that, if discovered, would see you left off the guest lists of the cool kids’ parties and lose all respect in the league-dominant community.
In this context, it wasn’t a fear of public humiliation or aggressive jibes and teasing, merely the issue of trying to watch two games of opening round A-League in the middle of a wedding ceremony and reception.
A 5:30pm M1 derby and a 7:50pm kick off for the 44th incarnation of the Big Blue would make this wedding seem far less important than it should.
A 45-minute drive gave me a chance to plan. Finding an appropriate seat in the church would be key. A pew where a subtle look at the Huawei to keep up with the breaking news through the day would go unnoticed by anyone important.
Locating a phone-charging station in the reception venue in case of emergency was desirable yet unlikely, as was finding a little hovel where I could duck away and soak in some of the action at the dull moments – you know the ones, the bridal waltz, the cutting of the cake and that awful moment where the bride and groom actually come to your table to chat.
A voice inside kept telling me that I couldn’t pull this off. I considered pulling over and dry retching. I could jump out and get an Uber home; “I’m sorry darling, I hate to miss the wedding but I’m just not well.”
She knows me better than that. Much better.
This day would be a monumental challenge to undertake and a daring attempt to hide my dirty little secret. Fortunately, it started well.
An early entry to the church pulled a great spot, back-left corner, phone in left pocket. On silent. Perfect.
A few notifications came through, nothing important, mostly Sydney FC news from fans who had taken the trip down to Melbourne for the match.
I made sure I sang along, threw a few smiles in the right direction, all the while caring far more about Adrian Mierzejewski feeding passes to set up Bobo at AAMI Park.
Having made it through the service scot-free, now I faced the challenge of getting through the reception, where I would undoubtedly be expected to discuss the day, the occasion and the happy couple’s future.
There was another occasion of which I was far more interested. An M1 derby had kicked off and my 65-inch television was sitting at home, lonely, without me.
Trying to keep track of the first 30 minutes in Gosford proved futile, thanks to the collective efforts of Asdrubal and Roy O’Donovan. Each time I looked at my device, the score had changed.
My bride turned to me right on the stroke of halftime and said, “It’s a beautiful wedding isn’t it?” I don’t think my response had the enthusiasm expected.Labouring through a tedious seafood entree, seemingly designed to take maximum consumption time thanks to the vast amount of de-shelling and shucking required, I missed it all.
As the throng began to socialise I found time to duck away, only to watch a scoreless period in the game. Guilt-ridden I returned, to subsequently receive notifications of the Jets’ two late goals.
Ticked off by this stage, I inhaled the mains (unfortunately I copped the chicken, despite craving the eye fillet) in an attempt to create as significant a window as possible to catch Victory-Sydney FC.
It was a masterclass in artful deception and subterfuge from beginning to end. Drifting from dance floor to bar to bathroom, where I’m sure some people were concerned about the number of times I was ‘powdering my nose’, the secrecy blended in naturally with the festivities.
The grinding nature of the contest probably worked in my favour and when the own-goal did arrive, being positioned at the bar with another football fan allowed for something of a muted celebration.
With a second half that didn’t rise to any great heights and the pattern of play suggesting Sydney had decided to lock things down, I resorted to frequent score checks.
Full-time came with the pleasing knowledge that an IQ box had been running at home and all the pre-game, post-game and highlights could be savoured on arrival.
I pulled it off, stayed in the good books with those who matter, and met every family obligation on the day.
I’m pretty sure they were all oblivious and as I was driven home by my darling, designated driver wife, I felt content that no one had been made aware of my dirty little secret.
Until she said, “So, it was one-nil then.”