The magic of sport has always been well entrenched in a phalanx of youngsters like myself across the globe. Growing up idolising whichever gladiator had just conquered the final frontier is a feeling shared by billions. The sport may change, but the feeling doesn't. These days, the amino acid uprising of protein propelled professionalism, has transformed the sporting chapter into a very big branch of the entertainment tree. No longer do we applaud the dark arts of eye gouging, but rejoice in the vulgar grandstanding of human billboards, who unashamedly boast in even the most pedestrian of achievements.
In a bygone era, the mighty shoguns full of vim and vigour would wow us with their brilliance, and the flock of flabbergasted fans would soak it up. And whilst we came for the astonishing skill, we'd stay for the intensity of the tribalism. No matter how many Phil Gould pre game hype speeches, cheerleaders or fireworks the investors would finance to engage the crowd, the anchor of the ship was the product.
I've had the good fortune of pulling up a pew in the galleries of some the most grand and extravagant shows in sport. The NFL springs to mind as the standout stallion. A kaleidoscopic array of colourful mayhem fervently emulsified by gimmicks that would make Ian Turpey jealous. There were marching bands, military parades and scantily clad maidens scattered throughout the streets on the long stumble to the bleachers. Sprinkled with a few myopic chants of the monosyllabic make up, and you have a recipe for a booze fuelled freak show that doesn't quite rely on the game being a classic. Let's not get it twisted though, the day was brilliant. The seppos don't miss a whisker of detail and ensure your wallet stays out of your back pocket for the entire day. Tv screens in the urinal and gargantuan beer sizes, coupled with a 4 hour long spectacle make for a ripper of a time, for what I can remember. I actually won a passing accuracy contest outside the stadium. Half cut, of course. Whilst every Tom Brady protege and wannabe focused on torpedoing a sniper rifle overarm quarterback pass to the target, my trusty Joey Johns cut out pass got the job done. The alien technique bewildered the punters, who had never seen such wizardry. The pass was practised in the tangerine winter skies in Paterson's Tucker Park for hours on end. Shame I could seldom execute that level of precision in an actual game, but there's something liberating about not having to look to your blindside in fear of a thunderous Samoan shoulder.
Fittingly, the match was a bloody corker too. An overtime victory to the home side, the Seattle Seahawks. The lads trudged into the sheds at the main break, being in the hole to the tune of 28 points. They somehow steered their fortunes away from the rocks, and came up with an unlikely victory. However, the slice of my soul that loves sport was left vacant and despondent after the game. For all the bells and whistles, the whole day felt cinematic. An episode of a feel-good sitcom, where no one would leave disappointed. It was all about the fan experience, and that experience wasn't the final score. Maybe it's bias because a sport so alien to me could bear no emotional significance. Fair point. I had a wow of a time, but it didn't feel like a day on the hill of the old Marathon Stadium. The ballerina on the money box of the NFL might be twirling with great speed, but my voice oddly remained less hoarse than days at Lorn Park or Marcellin.
A while back, a mate of mine and myself from across the ditch decided to revisit our favourite memories from sport to cure our crippling hangovers. It was a rainy day in a different hemisphere, and being a few oceans and a couple of deserts away from home we decided some nostalgia was the only cure. He showed me the New Zealand NPC rugby final of 1998. His native Otago downed Waikato in an absolute classic that day. I watched a 20 year old match of which I had no stake in the outcome with uncontrollable joy. The old Carisbrook faithful surged with every strong tackle and precise punt. And what better venue than at the "House of Pain", the sacred turf and spiritual home of the mighty Otago. It didn't hold 80 thousand, but looked like an imposing fortress even on pre-millennium video.
In response, I played him the famous 1997 Rugby League grand final between the underdog Newcastle Knights and hot favourites Manly.
"Albert'll score, Albert'll score". Those immortal words as Darren Albert crossed the stripe to snatch an unlikely win will bounce around the back blocks of my mind forevermore. Goosebumps that no amount of gimmicks will ever refill.