Optimism wears many disguises but none so utterly convincing as the start of a new sports season.
Last weekend, rugby league got back underway in Canberra and, amid a sea of green polyester merchandise and a flurry of beer-buying, we were back at the Canberra Stadium, among friends and toasting the heady possibility of a winning season for the Canberra Raiders.
The mask of optimism slipped from time to time. A boisterous beginning was followed by a few basic errors and we were soon bemoaning the same old frailties that left the Raiders just short of the play-off places last season. But then something happened, a flash of steel, a taste of grit, and they won the game in such convincing fashion that we left the stadium talking of the grand final and a big day out together at the end of the season.
This will all ebb and flow of course, and the mood of sports fans can be as fickle as their team’s fortunes. I once spent a whole pre-match drinking session in a pub in Derby telling my fellow Liverpool supporters what a waste of space Emile Heskey was, only to see him score a hat-trick and then join in with the rest of the crowd in chanting his name like he was the only player on the pitch.
Optimism can be contagious too and as I enjoyed the euphoria of the Raiders win, I looked around at the group of friends I was standing with. Mini and Maxi-CBRbound were running around with some of the other kids in our group, Mrs CBRbound was in lengthy conversation with another friend, and I was flanked by beaming faces with arms over my shoulders from both sides. This was most definitely a good day.
All the same, it was tinged with a little sadness. The friends who introduced us to the group – probably the first friends we ever made in Canberra – are moving to Brisbane in a few weeks. These were our breakthrough friends, the first ones to break the ice and chat with us, to invite us for dinner, to welcome us into their extended circle. Their big-heartedness made our entry into Canberra life easier, warmer, friendlier. And we met them on the bus to our first Raiders game exactly a year ago.
They say that it’s hard to make friendships in Canberra because the population can be transient – people pass through on their way to somewhere else while permanent Canberrans already have friendships going back to their schooldays and aren’t interested in new ones. That hasn’t been our experience. We’ve found kindness, friendship, neighbourliness and generosity to such an extent that this past week has probably been our most social in years.
When the Raiders promote their season ticket packages they encourage supporters to ‘join the Raiders family’. As I looked around at our 12-strong group, all clad in green, all celebrating a Raiders win, it occurred to me that this meant more to the CBRbound family than they probably imagined.
Our Brisbane-bound friends go with our thanks and blessings and two wishes – that they encounter the same welcome in Queensland as they extended to us here, and that their decision to purchase a Brisbane Broncos season ticket is rewarded with a strong second place finish, to the mighty Raiders of course. Now there’s optimism for you.