I don’t know why I support the Canberra Raiders, I think it’s a childhood disease of the blood. Objectively, there is not much to like about this life choice: disappointment, cold fingers and luminescent colours that look good with nothing. But I do, and I fear I have passed this disease onto my five year old. And like all genetic family quirks that we hand down, I feel a confused combination of shame, regret and elation.
Monty’s first Raiders game was about a month ago. We sat in the sun, the Raiders scored constantly, there were flame throwers, a big horn going off all the time, the lady behind us gave Monty a voucher for free chips, green wigs and fairy floss. We even had an ice cream. This was an inauthentic experience and, I fear, a desperately dangerous manner in which to commence a relationship with the ‘Green Machine’.
So last week when I was discussing the possibility of travelling to Parramatta for the Qualifying Final Monty’s ears pricked up. “Ooh is that rugba league dad?” he asked, using the correct pronunciation, “the Green Machine? I’d like to come!” Well, what can you say to that? I asked Milo if he too would like to come. He looked at us both with a smirk that said enjoy yourself losers, replied “No” and returned to his book.
So off we went; a bright Friday afternoon full of promise. We packed light to remain nimble – 12 Dr Seuss books, the educational boardgame ‘Sum Swamp’, two soft blankets, three stuffed toys (Slothy, Grogu and Blue Bear), A3 paper in a variety of colours, and two lime green jumpers.
We arrived mid-afternoon at a salubrious purveyor of temporary accommodation in central Parramatta, our dwelling for the evening. I will protect the modesty of this establishment by withholding its name but certainly crimes have been committed there; both reported and un-reported. As we opened the door we were greeted with what I initially thought to be the whiff of stale cigarettes, but then soon after more accurately identified as stale urine. All of the various door and drawer handles came loose when you pulled gently on them, the beds were so concave you could play that marble game where it spins around and around endlessly, we had a beautiful view of the carpark and I wouldn’t even let Monty set foot in the bathroom. But he loved it.
“Ooh I love our hotel dad. I think this is the best hotel we have been in. Oh, my bed’s better because I have a beautiful view out the window (NB. of the carpark) but yours is better because you are in front of the TV etc etc.” Which of course goes to show, all of life’s rich experiences are deeply contextual.
We played some hide and seek, which is stressful when you don’t want your child to touch any of the soft furnishings. I terminated the game after I tried to hide under the ‘desk’ and it collapsed – like when you have half assembled some IKEA furniture using only the dowels – and we struck out to find food and rugba league.
After a quick meal on Church Street we joined the various lime and yellow tributaries that were flowing together to form a stream towards the stadium. Monty was well below the surface of this stream and clung tight to my hand. The sun was dropping and soon Monty, with his unique perspective, noticed the giant fruit bats that inhabit the skies of Sydney every evening in the warmer months, swooping and gliding. Captivated, he began to count as they drifted past, eyes glued to the sky, and the next time he looked down we were standing at the foot of the gleaming, disco-lit stadium. “woah – this is different to Canberra Stadium dad!” he exclaimed. Umm, yup.
We navigated our way up the stairs and through the cavernous walkways, Monty skipping ahead to explore and steal views of the grass and the lights. Eventually we arrived at our seats and I quickly realised a key flaw in my planning. I had purchased seats in the front row, which also happened to be directly behind a television camera. Monty could not see over the barrier without assistance, and even then the camera obscured 90% of our view. We were banking on multiple tries in the left corner, I mean right in the corner, to ensure we had a view of anything. Parramatta was running our direction in the first half, and those who happened to watch the game will know that we got our wish.
As we approached half time Monty, who had been on my lap for an hour or more, was less sitting on and more clinging to me. He looked somewhat overstimulated, and I could see he was starting to tune into the general restlessness of the great green mass that swayed around us. “It’s a bit noisy dad.” he said. I agreed and asked whether he would like to go home at half time. After a moment of consideration he agreed that might be a good idea because afterall we could still watch it on TV, or maybe Hey Duggy (which he charmingly calls Hey Doggy), or maybe read Dr Seuss.
So as half time arrived I levered us up out of our seat, enjoying the exquisite sensation of blood once again flowing unencumbered through my femoral arteries, and picked our way through the crowd. Around us middle aged men had taken to their feet, looking down forlornly, self consciously smoothing their jumpers with their hands as they wondered if lime green was, in fact, as flattering as they had always believed it to be.
The bats had evidently arrived where they were going, so the skies were clear as were strolled back to our luxurious dwelling. Only once were we the recipient of drive-by yelling “better luck next year!”, but I sensed at least a sprinkling of genuine sympathy to it; I think that’s what you get when you are accompanied by a little green person with angelic blonde ringlets.
Back at the hotel I was not surprised to learn we only had three television stations, and none of them were showing the rugba league. Probably for the best. So instead we watched Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom (I am 100% sure the first time it has ever been enjoyed in that room), read some Dr Seuss, brushed teeth (I brought the toothbrush to him) and fell very swiftly to sleep.
A rugba league roadtrip for the ages.