Thoughts of my grandparents are always accompanied by a deluge of sense memories. Rich smells of wholesome cooking. Soggy sweetness of sugar biscuits dipped in tea. Camphor bags pinned inside winter spencers. Rattle of Yahtzee dice. Clacking of knitting needles. Fierce hugs.
There is another wave of memories that is less about sentiment but equally strong. It is tied to football and tribalism and sport and loyalty. It is about the Parramatta Eels.
They were fervent in their fandom, my nan and pop. Season pass-holders until they could no longer climb the stairs into the stand. Part of the dedicated few who travelled to the away games to watch their beloved team, thermos in hand.
One of my first football related memories is centred around Cumberland oval, a far-cry from the grand Bankwest Stadium that now adorns the site in Parramatta. My cousins, siblings and I were festooned in blue and gold striped jumpers, hand-knitted by those clacking needles. Hair tied up in matching ribbons, our tribe was well-appointed. We spread out on the hill and played while the adults cheered.
My grandparents were vocal in their support. My husband recalls one of the first times he entered their house and witnessed my tiny grandmother catapulting herself out of the armchair and careening closer to the screen with each full-throated cheer until she was almost on the field herself.
Their house was littered with Parramatta-themed trinkets. One or two reside in my home now, the memories well-preserved. It was a source of unrivalled pride when the family arranged a football signed by the team for one of Pop’s milestone birthdays. He never said, but I suspect it impressed him more than the Queen’s anniversary and birthday wishes.
The next generation carries the flag. My parents never miss a televised match and my brother takes his place in the member stand. They are educated spectators. They analyse the game, condemn the off-field antics and decry the backroom politics. They have met legends of the game, both past and present, at fan events and during country jaunts where they’ve shared a beer and reminisced.
I don’t claim to have been immune to the fervour. As a ten-year-old I was thrilled to win a raffle at the Leagues Club and receive my prize from one of the players. I have dim memories of decorating both the house and my little sister on grand final day. During drives I eagerly searched for the local house with an Eels emblem emblazoned on the garage door.
I no longer follow the footy. As C.S.Lewis declared, I “put away childish things”, and yet I would still consider myself an Eels fan at heart. We have the obligatory regalia in the form of hats and scarves within our house and have made a token pilgrimage to a match over the years. My children participate in the neighbourhood tipping competition and dutifully select the Eels every week. It seems the fervour, albeit muted by age, is an inherited one.
Jo Mularczyk’s stories and poems appear in publications within Australia, the US and the UK. During 2020 she won two writing competitions. Jo is a proud western suburbs girl who worked in Parramatta for ten years and has been published in several Zinewest editions including the fifteenth edition in 2021 with Lies of Love which won her the Judge’s Commendation.