The laptop froze. I froze. Then, like Maika Sivo on the touchline, I rushed out the door | NRL

IIf I had asked I would have described myself as a fairly laid back rugby league fan. Someone who grew up watching it but whose interest gradually waned over the following decades. So last week it was a shock to find myself barefoot in the street screaming during a football game. Clearly dormant passions ran deeper than I thought.

My destiny was predetermined. When I was two, my room was painted garish blue and gold by Dad, the colors of his beloved Parramatta Eels. Baptism by Dulux. Dad grew up near Parramatta, at least. I do not have. Although I suspect many Aussies know what it’s like to be brainwashed of their football allegiances at a young age.

Mine turned out to be a somewhat dubious heirloom. The 1986 Grand Final is the first football game I remember watching, and it all went downhill from there. Parra has now gone 36 years without a premiership – the NRL’s longest current drought.

The Eels’ ability to break hearts has become legendary. Surrender an 18-2 lead with 11 minutes left against the Bulldogs in the final in 1998. Being gutted by Andrew Johns in the first half of the 2001 Grand Final. These, however, came in our good years. Many more of the last 36 have been spent in clumsy incompetence both on and off the pitch. It’s a team that cheated on the salary cap and always finished last.

Although I never miss a State of Origin or a Grand Final, my patience for the regular season NRL has eroded over the years. All sports have their habits, but rugby league is particularly repetitive, brutally, as both teams fight for every yard. And the more I read about concussions in the field, the more uncomfortable I feel supporting an empire built by sending young men into harm’s way.

But the love of the sport defies rational thought – especially for Parramatta fans, as I was reminded last week when a power outage at home interrupted my preparations for their preliminary round final. Another example of Parra’s curse? Or the rugby league gods protecting me from myself?

I managed to tether the laptop to my phone, only to find the 4G network blocked. When my wife came home from a stressful 12-hour day just after kickoff, I barely said hello before commandeering her phone to another network. Hit! I forgot to tell him, though. So when she left 20 minutes later to pick up our daughter from a party (after her 12 hour day…I know) the laptop froze. I froze. Then, like Maika Sivo on the sideline, I rushed for the door in my tracksuits and bare feet trying to push her away. I was less than a meter from the speeding car when it started to drive away, my frantic waving and shouting failing to get its attention in the rearview mirror.

On the third call she picked up and reluctantly went home, which made her late to pick up our eight year old daughter. But I knew my daughter would understand. I’ve been brainwashing him about eels all season. In fact, I attribute their last two wins to the blue and gold lucky bracelet she made me for Father’s Day.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once suggested that loyalty to a sports team “is pretty hard to justify, because the players are always changing.” “You’re looking for the clothes, when you get there.” Having only been to Parramatta a handful of times, there is an element of truth in all of this. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why I care about these 17 men in blue and gold, with whom I have very little in common, more than 17 men in black with whom I have very little in common.

But as I sat on the edge of my sofa for the past five minutes, while the dabbing laptop heightened my nervous agony, it was clear that sport is much more than cheering on a shirt – c is subscribing to a shared experience.

That’s true with friends and family, who I immediately started sharing texts with once the win was sealed, but also the wider Eels fanbase, who I have nothing in common with for most, except 36 years of grief and haunting hope. As Badly Drawn Boy sang, joy is not the same without pain. And no one suffers like Parramatta.

I considered a whirlwind trip to Sydney for the grand finale. I have friends who head to the local pub where there is the annual end of season party. Ultimately, though, I think I’d rather watch the game with Dad and my kids, three generations of eel-cheated fans pinning our hopes on an unlikely change of fortune.

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