“It’s more than a game!” is a well-known lyric often heard during a popular television footy show.
Whether it be AFL or NRL, football really is more than a game. The tribal nature of team sports is a very powerful force, attracting both players and spectators alike.
My mind goes back to a balmy Melbourne evening earlier this year, when I attended the first AFL women’s football match between Carlton and Collingwood, who share 120 years of playing against each other. The tribal rivalry is amazing and deep between these two famous clubs, and to stand in a sea of team colours of navy blue mingled with black and white was memorable. The teams also sensed the atmosphere that evening and it was a real adrenalin surge.
I felt proud to be wearing the Collingwood black and white that night. As we left the ground to the sound of the victors’ [Carlton] theme song, it still felt good to be in my team colours. I remember Carlton and Collingwood fans alike smiling, joking and enjoying each other’s company, proving footy is more than a game. Two groups of fans were happy to have experienced a historic women’s match and to be paying respect to the victors.
Recently we have witnessed the even more intense tribal nature and atmosphere that permeates State of Origin games in both Sydney and Brisbane. While this interstate rivalry is more than that of a home and away game, the opportunity to proudly don blue or maroon is something that many thousands of NRL fans cannot miss. The crowds revel in watching their state representatives do battle on the pitch, for the honour of holding high the trophy. They come to be part of their state tribe, and their passion is strong—both players and spectators would never consider wearing the opposing state’s colours.
The Bible mentions a similar scenario when the apostle Paul writes to the church in Ephesus about “putting on the full armour of God” (Ephesians chapter 6, verse 13).
While Paul is speaking to his readers about far more spiritual armour, there are strong links to the tribal nature of wearing our team colours to a footy game—we put on a “suit of armour” as we prepare for the emotional battle ahead.
The wonderful thing about team sport is that while we passionately sing “It’s more than a game”, sport has the ability to bring out the best in human nature and in our relationships with each other.
These bonds of camaraderie can last a lifetime and for both players and spectators alike this tribal nature is a part of the strong community spirit which makes sport so attractive.