Sometimes people ask me what my husband does for a living. 99% of the time, I’ll tell the truth. 1% of the time, I’ll say that he is an accountant. This is because if I tell the truth, there is generally a host of follow-up questions and sometimes, I don’t have the time or inclination to answer them. Cheeky, I know.

Mostly though, I am happy to chat about Ryan and his career, and in answering these questions I try to give the impression of a woman who is thoughtful, insightful and otherwise cool, calm and collected.

So when someone asks me, “do you get lonely with Ryan travelling away all the time?”, I smile and patiently explain that of course I don’t, because it gives me a good opportunity catch up on any urgent Sudoku and cross-stitch that may be outstanding.

Or when someone says, “does he eat a lot?”, I regale them with stories of a 19-year-old Ryan waking himself up in the middle of the night to consume protein shakes in a quest to beef up his teenage frame.

But when someone asks me if I get nervous watching Ryan play, my resolve to remain calm and unflappable immediately crumbles. At which time all I want to do is throw my hands in the air and shout something like “OF COURSE I BLOODY DO!! MY HUSBAND RUNS INTO GIANT, MUSCULAR MEN FOR A LIVING!!! WHAT DO YOU RECKON?!”. Ahem.

This is obviously a concern for me. Shouting angry, rhetorical questions at your hairdresser, work superior or electrician is not a generally acceptable standard of social conduct.

But sometimes the word ‘yes’ just doesn’t cut it. Do I get nervous when I watch Ryan play? Absolutely. Without a doubt. Oui. Ja. Si. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. YES!

The butterflies usually make their unceremonious arrival sometime on match day. Then I start wishing, hoping and praying that the result will be the right one. This is two-fold. First and foremost, I hope for a win. Second, I hope that Ryan is happy with his own effort. The second is inextricably linked to the first; he won’t be satisfied unless they win, no matter how commendable his individual performance might be. Unfortunately, the same is not always true of the reverse and a win does not guarantee a happy husband.

I get nervous about a loss and what that would mean for the season. I get nervous for Ryan’s performance and what that might mean for his place in the team, or his representative chances, even his career. I get nervous about what people will say if the boys don’t perform to their potential – commentators, fans, journalists, opposition supporters.

And of course, there is the bandaged elephant in the room – the possibility of injury. The start of the season is the worst because during the preceding months, I do my best to forget just how fierce this game can be. As a result, the brutality of the hit-ups and tackles in round one cut right to my core in a way that thankfully doesn’t persist as the season goes on.

However, as unwelcome as these pesky little butterflies may be, it is not all doom and gloom. Far from it. As much as I don’t appreciate an unnecessarily elevated heart rate once a week, my nerves serve to remind me that I care, which is vitally important.

I also think that these nerves can be a force for camaraderie – I am nervous, the crowd is nervous, the boys are presumably nervous – although not in the unhinged manner that I tend to be, thank goodness. And perhaps it’s this collective nervous energy that makes going to the footy the incomparable experience that we all know and love.

However, if nerves get the better of you from time-to-time (as mine do all the time), I can offer a few match-day pointers that I have picked up over the years:

  1. Sit with kids. Kids provide not only a necessary distraction with all their wriggling and only slightly helpful analysis (“look Mel there’s STORM MAN!!!!”), they often provide a timely reminder of perspective. Take this post-match change-room exchange, for example: “Hi Dad. Sorry you just lost the grand final…. Can we please have McDonalds on the way home?”
  2. Remind yourself that you are in the stands, not on the field, so it is essentially out of your hands. And thank goodness for that. I’m not sure my taking of a pass and running off the field to hide from the opposition behind the Gatorade esky would be particularly welcome on-field behaviour.
  3. Finally, at the risk of sounding somewhat irresponsible, I find that a glass of wine, in moderation of course, works really well to calm the nerves. It was a long, nerve-racking season at Wigan where the folks at DW Stadium saw fit to only sell beer, tea and some kind of odd beef stock drink in the concessions stands.

And if anyone out there has any other ideas, please, send them my way. Better yet, if you see me sitting in the stands at AAMI Park, nervously rocking back and forth, forgetting to breathe and wringing my hands, stop by and give me your tips in person. Goodness knows I could use the distraction…

Happy season 2012 everyone!

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