Luck is a funny thing. When we first arrived in Canberra, last November, one of the things I was sure I’d miss most about Europe was football and supporting my favourite team, Liverpool. More than that, I was concerned that I’d struggle to fill the gap that left in my life.
As a potential solution – and as part of my policy of ‘make the most of your new life by trying new things’ – I signed up for a season ticket (known as a membership here) for Canberra’s local rugby league team the Canberra Raiders.
My decision was partly influenced by price – I think it cost me around $190 (about £95) for an adult and child season ticket. That gained me and either Mini or Maxi-CBRbound access to all 12 of the Raiders home games. By comparison, it would cost about the same for us to go to just one English Premier League game.
Before moving to Australia, I’d been to just three rugby league games and two union games. League struck me as the more interesting of the two games and I confess a certain bias towards league simply because of the politics of its origins. Nevertheless, I was somewhat sceptical about whether this really would fill the void of football.
(As an aside, Aussies seem to be in the habit of calling almost all sports ‘football’ except football. Aussie Rules, is ‘footy’. Rugby league is ‘footy’. Rugby union is ‘footy’. Football, is ‘soccer’. This even extends to the TV coverage of the sports where there are at least two TV shows called ‘The Footy Show’ but both cover different sports so, in the TV schedule, they are differentiated afterwards in brackets. So, there is ‘The Footy Show (NRL)’, ‘The Footy Show (AFL)’ and, for all I know, ‘The Footy Show (Union)’, but definitely no ‘The Footy Show (Football)’).
My original plan was, to alternate between taking Mini- and Maxi-CBRbound to each game. I think, however, for the first game, Mrs CBRbound was away, so I ended up taking both boys and paying for one extra at the gate.
Here’s where luck intervened. On the free bus from our neighbourhood to the stadium (also included in the ticket price) we got chatting to two fellow expats who invited us to stand with them inside the stadium. There, we were welcomed by their circle of friends. At the same time, it turned out that Maxi-CBRbound’s best friend at school was in the Raiders’ junior cheer-leading troupe, so we shared a half-time beer with her parents.
Since then, all have become firm friends. We’ve met the Raiders players during a special, post-game ‘invite the supporters onto the pitch for autographs’ session. We’ve cheered and howled as the Raiders missed out on the end-of-season play-offs. We’ve whooped as the Raiders downed a try during the sponsored McDonalds Power Play – a five-minute spell during which, if the Raiders score, all ticket holders get a free burger at their local Maccas. And we’ve booed when the Power Play has ticked away while play was suspended for an injury or a decision by the TV umpire (on one occasion, in response to the booing, they extended the Power Play by a minute, during which Raiders scored a try, to the great delight of the crowd).
And, as the season comes to an end – there’s one game left, on 31 August – we realise we’re really going to miss it.
There are compensations of course. The English Premier League season has just started and, for the first time, I have access to the right array of subscriptions and websites to ensure I don’t miss a single kick of Liverpool’s progress.
But the Raiders have given us much this year – a group of friends, a subject in common with fellow Canberrans, and a connection to our home town. The close season is going to feel like a big gap in our social life, thankfully filled with some of the friends we’ve connected with over a game and a beer.
I said that my original plan was to alternate between taking Mini- and Maxi-CBRbound to each game. That plan lasted about 80 minutes. At the sound of the final hooter at the end of the first game, both were adamant that they wanted to come to every game, not every other game. Within a few weeks, Mrs CBRbound was joining us too. Now, each Raiders game is a family expedition. That was unexpected, but then Canberra has made a habit of catching us by surprise.