Before every game this year and for the rest of the year the two opposing sides out in the middle of the ground will come together one last time before facing and they will rally around the drum, so to speak. These circles, in my experience, spit and fizz with doubt, excitement, brotherhood, expectation and adrenaline. Twenty-two red-blooded men with complex inner workings nod their heads along with the captain’s sermon. What will happen next? What circle might await us after the battle has been won or lost?
We got a brief glimpse into the troubles at Melbourne this week when we found out that the players had lifted out the cheap plastic chairs to form the worst circle of them all. The “we’re in a whole lot of trouble” circle. Home truths, brutal honesty, tender confessions and promises of redemption are usually the order of the day.
As dire as it all sounds, these times in a football club can also be perversely inspiring and spark a relaunched assault on the league, but it’s a big card for a playing group to play at round three. It’s tantalising to ponder about who spoke up and put their reputation on the block and who sat back.
This kind of ritual is like a reduction of human chemistry. Your team at it’s most basic, raw place. Remove every distraction and outside noise and quite literally circle the wagons of your footy team.
Whether it’s confrontational or confessional, the hope is that everyone recommits to the cause. This is high-risk poker for the Demons this week. It will be an uncomfortable build-up for the players, but the reward can be season-defining and we know how devastating their football can be when it clicks for them.
Best guess is that 10 teams circled up this week. The nine winners and the Demons. From the nine winners my attention was drawn to Gold Coast. Despite beating my old mob, the Bulldogs, I couldn’t help but admire the Suns. I guess it’s the underdog thing. I wonder how many times they have circled up the plastic chairs over the past nine season.
If the losing-streak circle is full of jumbled, anxious thoughts and excruciating silence, its counterpart, the victory song sung arm in arm, is its polar opposite. These brief minutes in a footballer’s life are a meditation. No conflicting thoughts, just the mantra of joy and camaraderie to the tune of your club’s old ditty. You’re feeling, not thinking, and that’s when the pack is happiest.
Circles within circles, like the inside of a fallen tree. Rings of time. The Blues were one of the other eight teams who probably didn’t circle up. Arguably, they’ve started OK. Low expectations and three honourable losses in a row, but they might be left with the most uncomfortable question of all: will we ever circle up again? When can win we sing our damn song and feel its goodness?
We’re a long way from home. The premiership race is still wide open. But let’s not forget that after that final siren has been sounded a group of players, the strongest pack, having already sung their song and showered up, will walk out into the darkness of the MCG. They will walk out into the centre of the ground, place the cup in the middle of the centre circle, form their own circle around it and sing their victory war cry. The song will reverberate around and around and around …