Vive Les Chats! Following Australian Football as an Expatriate
Vive Les Chats !
Paris is a truly wonderful city. There may be none more beautiful or with more character in the world. However, as an Aussie, one vital ingredient tragically lacking in the host of entertainment this city has to offer, is real footy coverage, which does not exist at all.
The "Frogs" don't know what they are missing! I'm not talking about the world venerated soccer variety or those super-padded, over-paid, U.S. gridiron heroes and especially not that "throw yourself at the turf" game they call rugby. I'm talking real footy here, the great Australian game which is without doubt the best spectator sport in the world by a mile and a half.
I shouldn't have read Buddha's biography I suppose. It has only made my thirst for footy and the Cats' brand of the great game in particular, more intense. Though I was grateful when David (one of my five brothers living in Geelong, who I keep annoying for Cats replays) brought it over to me in Paris from "Sleepy Hollow," along with some videos of recent Cats games. Buddha was a Cat champ I had admired for years and he himself had signed the book, which made it special.
While I was intent on watching the videos, our "free-loader" visitors wanted to get out and see the sights of Paris:the magnificence of the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysees, grandest of all the worlds' Grand Avenues and Saint Chapel, where glorious tall stained glass windows surround you. But hey, I had my priorities sorted out; I just wanted to settle down with a baguette, a bottle of French red and watch the footy.
I needed to update my memory banks with a "footy fix." I needed to get to know the players again, catch up on all the excitement, the skill and raw talent. Follow those super-fit and dedicated sportsmen, playing "Aussie Rules". But no, Wendy , dedicated shopper and very dear sister-in-law that she is and Denise, my supposedly Aussie (but footy-apathetic) wife wanted to go shopping in Paris. Women! As someone once said, we sure do love them, but who among the male species can ever understand them?
Denise and I had been living in Paris for almost two years, and while the experience had been fantastic and we were thoroughly in love with the City of Light, enough is enough mate.
The videos David brought over were a blessing. French cable TV carries endless, absolutely dead boring, English cooking shows (ye olde BBC) plus a plethora of even more mind-numbing house and garden decoration shows, news and...darn little else.
CNN repeats the same old, same old, hour after hour and on live French TV they speak their exquisite language at a zillion miles an hour and detest the English language with a passion. The French would never understand the complexity of our footy anyway.
My memories of growing up in Geelong with footy as the Welsh family staple diet were triggered by Bhudda's writings. Like so many other Southern Australian kids, we played footy every chance we had. At school, for the local club, in the street and the back lane, anywhere we could. Our six sisters often made the backyard team as well - just, and only to make up the numbers, mind you.
We lapped up all the footy culture we could and it will stay with us all our lives, no matter where we are. It is something that resides in my bloodstream along with a fair dose of Bordeaux when we lived in Paris. Hey, it was France after all !
I was at the "G" (the legendary Melbourne Cricket Ground) with dad and a hoard of other Welshes in '63 when the mighty Cats beat Hawthorn. I was 12 years of age and I cried with sheer joy. I was also at the Cat's home ground in Geelong, Kardinia Park, on the following Sunday morning to bury the hawk. I cried again. Great times for a lad with football heroes who had just won the greatest of sporting trophies, to a lad anyway.
These fond memories came flooding back when I finally watched those tapes in Paris and read Bhudda's story. I realized yet again what a great tradition Australia has in the game which originated from Irish immigrants playing Gealic football on the goldfields of Ballarat in the 1800's. I also realized just how much these traditions meant to me and what I had missed out on over the years we lived overseas.
I wondered how many people in Geelong really appreciated what they have. A lifestyle most people in the world would envy, in a country still seen as at least a lucky country, if not THE luckiest, and with a sporting tradition and sense of fair play that reverberates around the world.
My career in the oil industry had led us to live overseas and we wouldn't give back a minute of it, but I still miss my footy!
Singapore was our first exciting posting, but alas, Australian football didn't stand a chance of making it onto Singapore TV screens. Mr. Lee Kwan Yu didn't want his people corrupted by such unhealthy western influences. Jakarta was much more liberal. In the early 90's we received the "VFL Match of the Day" live on TV Australia. It was great to lie by the pool with a Bintang (Indonesian beer) in hand and an eager houseboy ready to bring another when required as I watched the footy action.
The following year we couldn't pick up any footy on TV in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Dr. Mahitir was still peeved with the then Australian Prime Minister Keating for his ill-considered "recalcitrant" remarks directed (correctly) at the amazingly smug and arrogant Malaysian Prime Minister.
We were living in New Orleans, Louisiana, in '95 when the Cats made the Grand Final against Carlton. We were ecstatic to find a live telecast on U.S. cable TV. broadcast late on a Friday night. Denise even made small Aussie meat pies while I hunted down adequate supplies of Fosters Lager and convinced some (somewhat reluctant) American friends to view the spectacle with us. We even dressed our apartment in blue and white and had special t-shirts printed up for the occasion. Ah, what a party it was to be.
It didn't take long to see the Cats were in for a thrashing and our friends wilting from the power of real beer (Vs their watered down variety). We all ended up drowning our sorrows, I did in my case anyway, they simply enjoyed the beer. But at least we saw the game (such as it was) live. The Yanks thought the game was a free-for-all. All they remembered the next day was the beer and pies.
Alas, as the French do not want their airwaves or cables fouled by the dreaded "parley Anglaise" they do not allow the satellite dishes needed to pick up the signal in Paris. In fact, we couldn't even pick up audio BBC clearly, even though it is just across the channel.
No doubt about it, Aussie TV is the best in the world. It must be, it carries loads of footy. It used to be free to air to placate fanatical fans, but these days pay TV is devouring more and more of the spectacle.
Maybe the AFL will one day become the IAFL (the "I" being International) with teams from perhaps, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland and The Pacific in the competition. Then we might get to see truly international coverage. I'm dreaming again. Or am I? I really do think the game has great international potential.
Yes, there is a lot to be said for the excitement of living in various parts of this wonderful world, but there are also great advantages in staying where your roots are, growing up with lifelong friends and enjoying the great lifestyle a city like Geelong and "Gods' Country" Australia, offer.
If you intend to travel you should not miss Paris. It is a truly wonderful city, with great architecture, character, colour, love, life, audacity, vibrancy and charm, as well as the French, who make Paris what it is.
As for my footy, I'll just have to try to be in Melbourne, at the "G" on that special day in September. I will shout encouragement until I'm hoarse again and hopefully watch the mighty Cats bring home the flag. Then I will reluctantly board yet another plane to return to expatriate life. A part of my soul will stay behind in Geelong, as it always does.
The French have a much-revered saying, always stated with heartfelt sincerity and patriotism, "Vive la France."
This may still be the year of the cat ("chat" in French) so I say, with even greater reverence and lots more hope. ... Vive les Chats!
Ron A. Welsh
RAW Power Writing
About the Author
I am lifelong avid follower of the Geelong Football Club after growing up in Geelong in South Eastern Australia. I have followed the "Cats" from 10 countries as an expatriate working in the oil industry and now work as a writer from Brisbane.
Ron. A. Welsh