THE LAST SIREN

Just before half time during the Melbourne v Canterbury semi-final this year, I wrapped my arms around our 16-month-old Zach, and gave him a big squeeze. He was perched on my lap, blissfully oblivious to the insurmountable score-line. “I think this might be the last time we see daddy run around in that purple jersey, bub,” I whispered.

I was emotional after that game, which was a relief because I hadn’t been until then. I was beginning to wonder whether my attempts to stay stoic had accidentally transformed me into some kind of emotionally devoid ice-person.

In reality, I think the stress of preparing for a move to New Zealand and the everyday busyness of life had distracted me. Plus, it’s easy to defer the difficult feelings when you’re not exactly sure when that last siren is going to sound.

Driving home from AAMI Park later that night, though, I found myself feeling less sad than uptight. Something was bothering me and I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

Eventually, I worked it out. After the game, and in exchanges with well-meaning people, the sentiment seemed to be, ‘Ryan deserved a better farewell than that.’ Which is really sweet and I truly appreciate the kind sentiment.

But here’s the thing: Even if Ryan’s last game had been a record-breaking grand final drubbing of our most hated opponents (and you know who you are), I would still have felt absolutely gutted in that moment after the final siren. Because one way or the other, it literally signals the time to move on.

The week prior, Ryan had been honoured with a lovely video tribute of his time at the Storm and it struck me how young he looked in some of the footage. He was 18 years old when he first came down here. We met through a friend of mine who worked at the club when he was nineteen. Nine out of our first ten dates (probably) were Storm post-match functions. Half the attendees at our wedding were friends we made through this club. I found out I was pregnant with Zach the week of the 2012 grand final and I chose to wait until I finally got a moment alone with him after the win to tell Ryan. So even this most precious moment in our lives is forever and inextricably bound up with Ryan’s achievements at the Storm. Heading to Olympic/AAMI Park every second weekend for the best part of the last decade has altered the fabric of my day-to-day life and the lives of my family.

Whether I like it or not – and admittedly, I occasionally don’t – Melbourne Storm is more than a football club to us. We grew up here.

So for me, even mentioning Ryan’s departure in the same breath as the result of a single game just doesn’t do justice to the enormity of my feelings about moving on. One of those things is kind of a bummer. The other is one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do.

If I have one complaint about football, it’s the frequency with which we as participants, commentators, fans and family, get bound up in the minutiae of score-lines and statistics, without pausing to reflect on what we really get out of our emotional investment in the game. I like to think that if Ryan had never won a single game, it still would have been worth it.

So with that in mind, I’m finished being sad now. If I can create one-tenth as many of the amazing memories at the Warriors as I have here, moving on will be the best decision we ever made. I’m excited for it, and I’m ready for it. Bring it on.

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ONE LAST REFLECTION

Waking up the morning after a grand final win (if, in fact, you got to bed at all) is THE BEST.

It goes something like this: eyes open…where am I?…hotel in Sydney…why?… grand final…we won….JOY.

And then it’s time to jump out of bed, race down the hotel hallway in your pyjamas, ‘borrow’ the first newspaper you see, and marvel at the front page confirmations of what we knew all along – our boys are pretty darn great.

But although it really was a wonderfully exciting and proud time, I have to admit, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Life goes on and even premiers (and partners of premiers) have to deal with a raft of new issues in the aftermath, for example:

  • Running out of battery on your phone trying to reply to the many congratulatory text messages and phone calls received from fabulous friends and family
  • Being side-tracked by strangers in the street wanting to thank your husband for the win they had for first try-scorer (and wondering whether we should be offended that people always looks so incredulous when they recount their story… Was it that unlikely?!)
  • Going to the Player of the Year awards with your husband who is wearing not one, but three premiership rings, and subsequently looking like an old-school boxing promoter, without the floor-length fur coat and fedora (thankfully)
  • Sustaining some kind of repetitive strain injury from cutting and pasting an inordinate amount of effusively complimentary newspaper articles into my latest scrapbook
  • Cancelling our long-awaited overseas holiday because someone who shall remain nameless had to go and make it into the Aussie team

I mean, really. #PremiershipWinningProblems…

Still, a whole bunch of stuff has happened since that glorious day in September, perhaps the most significant of which is the commencement of season 2013, and so it is here that the reminiscing stops. The grand final win was truly wonderful, but that was last season and it counts for virtually nothing in season 2013.

In the last couple of months we have waved goodbye to a host of excellent people who were instrumental in our premiership win last season, and we have welcomed a host of equally excellent people who we hope will be instrumental in our defence of that title next year.

As I write, the boys are currently undertaking their preseason – pushing their bodies to the very limit in order to set themselves up for the season ahead. They are doing everything humanly possible to put themselves in the best possible position to do it all over again next year.

The one thing that they’re not doing, however, is looking back. And if they are, it’s only to check that no one is sneaking up too closely behind them.

Merry Christmas everyone, and here’s to season 2013.

2012 GRAND FINAL DIARY – PART VI

Saturday 29 September

10.28am

After what seems like an eternity, this latest and final grand final diary comes to you direct from QF422 – we’re on our way to Sydney. Hooray!

The last couple of days have been pretty epic.

Firstly, an embarrassing story. Just as I was tucking myself into bed last night at 10.30pm, our house phone rang. I’m not going lie – I panicked. Everybody knows that late night phone calls rarely contain good news. And when I saw that it was Ryan, I wondered what he could possibly have to tell me since the last time we spoke two hours earlier.

I picked up the phone and demanded to know instantly what was wrong. “Nothing! Relax,” he said cryptically, “I’m just going to pass the phone over for you to chat to someone.”

Next thing I know, Ryan’s sister Carlie’s bubbly voice comes down the line. “Hello Miss Mel!” she said.

The thing is, Carlie was supposed to be London. She lives there. At least that’s where I assumed she was. She had decided to make a surprise last minute visit to cheer on her big brother on Sunday. It’s all so exciting.

The embarrassment kicked in when I recalled my last diary entry. If you missed it, here’s the key excerpt:

I remember that the last time I saw Ryan win a grand final, his sister Carlie, was overseas. Carlie is overseas now too. Good omen. 

(Incidentally, Carlie – if you’re reading this and considering any kind of surprise return for Sunday, I respectfully urge you to reconsider). 

So it turns out my cheeky little blog entry was spookily prophetic. And, as noted, now quite embarrassing. Apparently Ryan’s other sister, Rebecca, knew all along and was having a good old laugh at yours truly as she read my previous piece. She also forwarded it on to Carlie before she left London. Brilliant.

Still, I am forgiven and as if we didn’t have enough to be excited about, the prodigal sister returns for a visit. This is why I love Grand Final week; you really never know what might happen.

(I feel compelled to point out that Carlie was not overseas during the 2007 Grand Final, so for those of you who are superstitious and have any inkling towards bustling her on a plane and sending her back north – you needn’t worry.)

So after only a semi-restful night’s sleep (thanks to a combination of excitement and nerves) I hit the road early this morning.

My first stop was the Slater household were I was greeted by two little bright-eyed cherubs, working their way through breakfast and practicing their “go daddy” cheers. I must say, Jake and Tyla Slater are excellent travel buddies. There is never a dull moment, for example, little Jake likes to put his sock on his hand and pretend that he is Storm Man. So fantastic.

Then off to the airport we went, where we linked up with a few more of our crew on the way. By the time we boarded the plane there was about a dozen of us all told and it’s such a treat to be doing this together. There’s never a dull moment, always a friendly face and most importantly, us adults still outnumber the kids, which makes for some good airport logistical mathematics.

As for me, I am looking forward to arriving in Sydney. I’m looking forward to the warm weather, I’m looking forward to spending some time with my friends, I’m looking forward to seeing my family and most importantly, I’m looking forward to the big game.

I suspect the seat belt light is about to come on, so I’d better sign off for now. I would like to thank all the Melbourne Storm supporters very sincerely for reading this column, but more importantly for the unending support you’ve shown our boys and the club in the lead-up to this weekend. Every cheer, every banner, every tweet and every good luck wish is so greatly appreciated. I look forward to celebrating our grand final appearance with all of you tomorrow. Enjoy the weekend all and most importantly….. GO STORM!!!!!!!

2012 GRAND FINAL DIARY – PART V

Thursday 27 September

So Ryan’s only been gone for a little over twenty-four hours, and that’s all the time it’s taken for me to just about send myself mad.

It’s the superstition that’s getting to me. I find that my brain is starting to interpret every insignificant event in my day as an indicator of what we can expect on Sunday.

For example, I go for a walk and I listen to my iPod. In between songs, my brain suggests that the next song will provide some clue as to the result on Sunday. For example, if Thunderstruck by AC/DC pops up, brilliant. If Who Let the Dogs Out by the Baha Men is next in line, that presents a problem.

As it happens, MMMBop by Hanson came on next, which highlights absolutely nothing, except maybe my questionable taste in music.

(I should note, I don’t actually have Who Let the Dogs Out – or indeed anything by the Baha Men – on my iPod so phew, we’re safe there.)

I remember that the last time I saw Ryan win a grand final, his sister Carlie, was overseas. Carlie is overseas now too. Good omen.

(Incidentally, Carlie – if you’re reading this and considering any kind of surprise return for Sunday, I respectfully urge you to reconsider).

I wonder ridiculous things like, will the result of the AFL grand final have any bearing? If the Hawks win will the universe feel like it has to even up the NSW/VIC ledger? Or if the Hawks win, will it represent a good omen for our boys from Melbourne?

I start to think about packing my bag and wonder how I am going to get through an entire weekend wearing only purple? Purple’s not even really my colour, truth be told. Plus by that reasoning I’ll have to avoid blue and white altogether, which seems like quite a task, as far as fashion decisions go.

As you can probably imagine, apart from feeling a little unhinged, I also feel a little drained. Usually I don’t even believe in horoscropes, or anything else like that, so I’m not sure why this time of year turns me into a superstitious mess.

And I can’t help but wonder whether I am selling the boys short by buying into any of my self-imposed mind games. At the end of the day, the future is very much in their hands, and no amount of purple attire or AC/DC on my iPod is going to change that. To think that it would only takes away from the serious (non-crazy) effort they have put into this exercise to date.

So I am resolved to continue on for the rest of this week, ignoring the urge to read my tealeaves and woefully attempt to predict the future. And now that I think about it, I feel better already.

(In light of these developments, Carlie – feel free to make that last minute dash if you feel so inclined. I’m sorry about before.)

I enjoyed watching the Grand Final Breakfast this morning although I was mildly disappointed that Operation Hawaiian Shirt was shelved for the more traditional approach of formal club attire. I don’t really know who won the battle of ‘more relaxed’, although I did note our boys all busily swapping chocolate and banana milks during the opening address, which I thought demonstrated some comfort with the proceedings.

I also thought it demonstrated a closeness which I found to be quite cute – that they were prepared to swap their meals around to ensure that everyone had the flavoured milk they desired. Talk about teamwork.

I spoke to Ryan afterwards and he sounded really well. He seems well-rested, well-fed and extremely focussed on the final days of training for the big day on Sunday.

As for me, I’ll be busily distracting myself with homework, housework and catching up with friends. Most days I talk to one or more of the other girls, which is the very best thing to be done, I find. I think I can safely say that we all feel pretty lucky to be heading up to Sydney on the weekend to support our menfolk, and it’s not too long now before we head off on our way. Three sleeps to go, people…

2012 GRAND FINAL DIARY – PART IV

Wednesday 26 September

4.30pm

I’m sitting at the dining room table in our house. It’s quiet and still, except for the clicking of fingertips on the keyboard. Well, that and the cat snoring from her patch of carpet in the sun.

Gone are the piles of training gear neatly stacked around the house waiting to be packed. Gone are the electronic devices being frantically charged and loaded up with music and movies for the inevitable down time and bus trips to come. Gone are the itineraries and checklists, organising the next six days to a level of detail that can only be imagined.

Yes, Ryan has left for Sydney and the next time we see each other it will be after full-time on Sunday night.

YIKES!!! It’s getting really serious now, people.

The last couple of days have been dedicated to organisation, and to making the most of time spent together before the parting of ways today.

I came home from work last night to a flurry of washing, packing and organising. Ryan had a lot to organise – suits, training gear, casual gear. Although, as he said as we left the house this morning, as long as he’s got his mouthguard and his boots, the rest is secondary. And he checked his bags about fifty times for those things, so I can only assume we are set there.

In the midst of the packing and organising, we stopped and went on a date. We’ve done this each time Ryan before Ryan has left for a Grand Final because I think it’s nice to sit down and dedicate some time, without distractions, to celebrating what he has achieved so far, and to wish him well for the most important part to come.

Sometimes I worry that I get so caught up in helping him get organised for this week and the logistics of everything, that I forget to tell him how proud I am. Date night is a good opportunity to set some time aside for that.

Plus, we had steak and it was amazing.

And of course today Ryan headed into the club early and I followed later for a farewell barbecue and one final good luck hug. It was a beautiful day to sit in the sun, eagerly anticipating what is to come over the next few days, and to farewell the boys as the hopped on the bus to the airport.

Tomorrow the boys have the traditional grand final breakfast. I love the part where all the journalists and commentators try to determine who’s going to win the final by identifying which team looks the most relaxed during this breakfast.

I had a thought on this: perhaps our boys should ditch the traditional club suit for Hawaiian shirts, sunglasses and thongs, and saunter into the breakfast holding a breakfast cocktail (non-alcoholic of course) with a little umbrella in it. Then there would be no doubt which team looks more relaxed. I wish I had thought to suggest this to someone in charge at the club today. No doubt they would have been very grateful to me for sharing my excellent idea and insight, even if the plan is a little late to realistically implement.

So the boys are now officially in Grand Final territory, making their way through the commitments and excitement that makes up this very exciting week. Suddenly the whole thing seems closer and more real than ever. Four sleeps to go everyone…

2012 GRAND FINAL DIARY – PART III

Monday 24 September

9.15pm

Hoff and I are sitting on the couch watching Newsroom (his latest TV obsession), when I hear a car pull up outside.

I ask Hoff to pause (he does, reluctantly) telling him I need to go and get my slippers because my feet are cold. He moves to follow me upstairs (presumably to get his own ugg boots) and I spin on my heels. “You have to stay here,” I tell him, and I grab him by the shoulders and push him back to the couch (gently, we don’t want to risk injury). He eyes me suspiciously.

Outside in our driveway and unbeknownst to Hoff, mum and my sister, Tara, are stealthily negotiating a giant platter out of Tara’s boot. Tara has prepared a surprise gift for Ryan – a platter full of mini- cupcakes, coated in different coloured fondant, arranged in the shape of a Storm jersey.

Mum and Tara navigate the cakey creation into our dining room and she presents it to Hoff as a good luck gift for the grand final.

And this is one of my very favourite things about Grand Final week – the well-wishes, excitement and general good-will from friends, family and fans alike.

Already this week Ryan has received emails, phone calls and text messages from friends and family, keen to pass on their best – not to mention a jersey made out of 106 mini cupcakes! Others have contacted me, or my parents, or Ryan’s parents, or the club, to ensure that their message finds its recipient. And I know that Ryan has really appreciated the regular and encouraging tweets that he has been steadily receiving since Friday night. It really is such a lovely time.

The surprise cupcake delivery capped off a busy day in the Hoffman household. Ryan had a full day of media and training at the club, whilst it was business-as-usual for me. Rosie the cat probably just lazed around in the sun as per usual. I have explained to her what’s going on, but she just yawns and continues washing her ears so I don’t think she’s interested.

After such an exciting weekend, it is difficult to focus and to accept that life goes on as per usual for the moment – I’m sure everyone behind the Melbourne Storm is feeling the same. I keep sitting down intending to do homework, then doing other footy-related things instead (like writing these diary entries, for example), and simple tasks take me twice as long as I know they should. I dread to think how Hoff’s homework is going this week. I don’t think I’ll ask.

And so we look to the next couple of days when things really start to get serious. In a few days I’ll be left behind in Melbourne to bang around the house feeling nervous all by myself (cue: violins), until I join the other lovely Storm ladies and head up to Sydney for the serious bit. It seems like the butterfly brigade have arranged to send the odd advanced party to flutter around my belly, but I’m keeping it together for now and I hope everyone else is managing to do the same. Not long now people!

2012 GRAND FINAL DIARY – PART II

Sunday 23 September

10.30am

I’m standing at the counter of a bottle shop, buying a gift – not a morning beverage, don’t worry – and I notice something strange. I’ve just been to the coffee shop, the newsagency and the supermarket and every time I engage with the person behind the counter I have this desperate urge to steer the conversation towards the fact that Melbourne Storm are playing in a grand final next weekend.

The coffee shop conversation very nearly went like this:

Me:

May I have a skinny cappuccino please?

Barista:

Certainly, would you like sugar in your coffee?

Me:

What did you say? Hoffy? Oh yeah, he’s my husband. He plays for Melbourne Storm. Did you know they’re playing in the grand final next weekend?

Barista:

[Confused] Uh… I said ‘coffee’.

Me:

Riiiiight. No sugar thanks.

Or the newsagency:

Me:

I’ll just have this paper please.

[Drops paper on the counter and ‘accidentally’ flips the page open to the rugby league page]

Me:

Oops! Clumsy me! Hang on – what’s this? Melbourne Storm?! What a coincidence! My husband plays for Melbourne Storm! Did you know they’re playing in the grand final next weekend?

Newsagent:

That’ll be $1.30 thanks.

Me:

Riiiiiight.

[Fishes coins out of purse, blushing simultaneously].

And my impending conversation with the bottle shop man could very well go like this:

Me:

[Places bottle on counter]

Just this thanks. Oh, and I think there might be something else…. What was it? Oh yeah, MY HUSBAND PLAYS FOR MELBOURNE STORM AND THEY ARE IN THE GRAND FINAL NEXT WEEKEND!!!!! Just saying.

Cashier:

Riiiiight.

[Places bottle in bag, eyeing me suspiciously]

Clearly I was running out of creativity on that last one.

Actually, when I was at the supermarket I noted an AFL grand final window display, with some annoyance. It just seems a little biased. How hard would it be to whack up a couple of purple streamers show a bit of ‘code-equality? Come on retailers of Melbourne, get it together.

I doubt whether I am the only one that has noticed this. As such, I provide below a pro forma text that any readers may feel free to copy, paste and insert in a communication to their local retailers.

Dear Retailer

I note (with some consternation) your AFL grand final window display. Window displays themselves do not make me anxious, per se, I am just bothered by the lack of football code equality shown by the omission of a corresponding NRL grand final window display.

A dual display will do wonders for your business. Those who know and love the Melbourne Storm (and there are many of us) will be grateful for the recognition. And those who have no idea what it’s all about may feel compelled to come into your store and ask you, thereby providing ample opportunity for you to ambush them with tempting impulse purchases. 

Plus purple is such a lovely colour. 

Yours sincerely,

A concerned Melbourne Storm supporter.

Actually, if I’m being honest, there have been a few other important things to do in the last twenty-four hours than pen irate letters to local businesses.

Yesterday afternoon was spent very productively – (1) waiting for Ryan to finish recovery and (2) re-watching the game from the night prior. I don’t usually indulge in this type of thing, and I have been known to accuse Ryan of narcissism when he’s done this in the past, but I think this weekend we can make a special exception. I’m sure we probably weren’t the only ones.

The afternoon was also spent with a flurry of phone calls, trying to determine which family members would like to come to the game on Sunday, who’s going to sit with whom and how the basic logistics of the weekend is going to work. Honestly, if there were some way we could know that we would be playing in a grand final prior to one week beforehand, that would be super helpful. I’m sure the administration of the club and hoards of Melbourne Storm supporters would agree.

Then last night Hoff ditched me in favour of going to watch the Bunnies v Doggies with a couple of the boys. Not that I minded. As I ominously warned him, he won’t be able to escape me once the season finishes so he might as well make the most of it now.

And so the final piece of the grand final puzzle fell into place – we go up against the Bulldogs. It’s kind of an odd feeling, knowing who your opponent will be. On the one hand, it’s a vital piece of information, but on the other, there is no preference one way or the other. The grand final showcases the best of the best and it wouldn’t matter who turned up on the day. Anything can happen.

One thing is for sure, however. We need our Melbourne Storm supporters up there in their purple thousands. ANZ Stadium is usually Bulldogs turf so we need to purple-up the place a little bit and get behind our boys. Let’s do this Storm fans.