Jumper presentation night. For most it’s a good chance to catch up with teammates over a few beers and an undersized steak and optimistically discuss the year ahead. For me it’s yet another sad reminder of my social status at the footy club.
For the last 7 years I have worn the number 83. When people ask me about it I tell them that my grandad wore the number 83 and that the number means a lot to me and my family. In reality my grandad never played footy and I would give anything for a lower number. The only relevance the number 83 has is that it is the exact amount of minutes game time I got for all of last season.
One of my fondest football memories occurred late in the 2016 season. It was midway through the last quarter and I was playing in the back pocket when the ball spilled out of a pack in my direction. I went through my usual process of picking up the ball awkwardly, shitting my pants then kicking the ball as far as I could with zero consideration for the game plan the coach had tried to drill into us during the week. As I kicked the ball an opposition player tackled me to the ground and I heard a loud rip. As I stood up I looked on the ground and their lay my number 3. The number 3 had been ripped from my jumper. I now found myself standing on a footy field, playing the game I loved, proudly wearing the number 8. I have never felt so alive. For the remaining 17 minutes of the game I paraded around the ground without a care in the world. You often hear AFL players talk about the euphoria of running around on the MCG in the dying minutes of a Grand Final once they knew the premiership was beyond doubt. I now knew how they felt.
As if the day couldn’t get any better, with minutes remaining in the game I tackled my opponent (who didn’t look a day over 15) high, and gave away a free kick. The umpire blew his whistle and yelled out “That’s against you number 8”. An opposition supporter then hung over the fence and screamed “Weak as piss number 8. He’s half your age you dog”. I stood up and smiled in her direction. It was official. For 17 magical minutes, I was number 8.
That now seemed like an eternity ago as I sat with my teammates listening to the coach read out the numbers. We were now into the 60’s and pretty much everyone in the room but me had lost interest. Just when it seemed I was once again destined for another year of humiliation, the coach said the words that will stay with me forever. “Number 72………. Tom Siegert”. I’d done it. I still wasn’t in the magical 20’s, the teens still seemed miles away and the single digits (which I had dreamed of since I was a child), were still just a dream but I was headed in the right direction. Bloody slowly I must say but the right the direction non-the less.
My best mate Rusty lent across the table and asked curiously “What about your grandad”. “Fuck grandad” I said as I stood up, floated across the room and collected my new jumper from the coach.
This year is going to be different. I can already feel it.