Football by any other name


THERE was probably only one person among the 12,430 crowd who made the comparison, but Hawthorn's defeat of Brisbane at Aurora Stadium on Saturday was reminiscent of Sheffield United's victory over Brighton at Bramhall Lane in 1989.

A quarter of a century after the Seagulls stormed back from 3-0 down to lead 4-3 only to lose 5-4 in England's old Division Two, the Lions produced a similar fightback from certain doom to virtual parity only to then watch their hosts run away with the points.

It's a dubious connection, but then so is comparing the two football codes, which is what Ian France spent his afternoon in Launceston doing.

Ian shares the equally unfortunate afflictions of being both a lifelong supporter of Brighton and Hove Albion and a former schoolmate of yours truly.

Combining a business trip to these shores with a visit to my family, he was delighted to hear he would be treated to his first taste of Australian rules football and had been looking forward to comparing the game to his more familiar brand with a somewhat rounder ball.

Perhaps surprisingly, there were indeed many similarities.

All the young Hawthorn fans running around with the number 23 on their replica shirts were much the same as Liverpool supporters who unwisely splashed out on shirts bearing the name Torres or unfortunate Arsenal followers still clinging to overpriced garments forever adorned with Van Persie.

Brisbane's Daniel Rich bears a striking resemblance to another midfielder, Robbie Savage, during his Leicester City days, the phrase "schoolboy defending" appears to be equally useful in describing both codes and a ball up is really just a drop ball, only in reverse.

Choosing which team to support was relatively easy. Not only did the Hawks' gold stripes closely match the yellow of Ian's replica Brighton away shirt, but the Lions' maroon and blue was dangerously close to the colours of his team's arch-rivals Crystal Palace.

By such uncomplicated criteria did Ian become a Hawks fan, although he did initially baulk at being photographed with Hawka because he thought the big feller with the beady eyes had an uncanny likeness to Palace's eagle mascot.

Overcoming his disappointment that the marching band wouldn't take a break from its endless recitals of We're a Happy Team at Hawthorn for just one go at Sussex By The Sea, Ian loved learning about the antipodean national sport.

In truth he is still no wiser as to why Brisbane fans like to sing the French national anthem or supporters of all persuasions routinely scream "Ball!" as if they've only just noticed the oddly-shaped thing that the players are following everywhere.

However, sometimes it takes a foreign perspective to cut through subjectivity and preconceptions.

And while there may have been a derisory snort at the mention that Jonathan Brown is into his 15th season as an elite footballer because Ryan Giggs is into his 24th, Ian's experience did end with a complimentary observation about the fitness requirements of his newly- discovered sport.

The post-match kickaround on the hallowed turf served to expose a few marking deficiencies in the Englishman's own technique, but it also prompted the comment:

"It's only when you're out here on the ground that you realise how bloody big it is."


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