By Fr Peter Day
You could barely see her amongst the fifteen thousand other supporters, but she was there.
She was always there, wearing her club beanie and scarf, waving the team flag and proudly donning her prized t-shirt ‘stained’ with player autographs.
Pat had followed the club for 65 years. She was a tiny lady, Five foot one, dear. The tape measure disagreed, Four foot 11, and that’s it, it nagged. There was no argument about her weight, though – fifty kilos ringing wet.
But tiny Pat was a giant within the club. She stood like a beacon, shining forth unmatched spirit and loyalty. The players and training staff all knew her, and respected her.
After all, Pat had been to every match they’d played since 1960; she even turned up without fail on Thursday evenings to watch the boys train.
She did concede, however, that there was a little 18 months break when she nursed her husband, Bill, through cancer. “He was my first love,” she said. But other than that, Pat turned up every match day (and Thursday evenings) rain, hail, or shine.
“Just to encourage the boys, mind you; not to pester ‘em,” she’d insist. “I’m no football groupie. Sure, I love these boys, but I don’t want to go clubbing with them, and I certainly don’t want to date them.”
Now this day was special for the club. It was their last training session before the grand final. Supporters had come out of the woodwork – thousands of them from near and far. What a year it had been: “A miracle”, the papers were saying. A bunch of young upstarts, predicted to finish in the bottom three, now in the grand final.
The experts were shaking their heads. Pat wasn’t. She didn’t have much time for the experts.
As far as she was concerned “They were a bunch of well dressed, overpaid blokes who get it wrong half the time.”
Not only was the club a match a way from being premiers, but membership had topped 33,000 – the previous best was 25,000 in 1975. Happy times indeed.
Well, that was two years ago. Today it won’t be so hard to pick-out tiny Pat amongst the crowd. There will be no crowd. It had been an awful year for the club. They’d won just six games.
Worst season in their history. Wooden-spooners for the first time. The press had crucified them all year, while many of the supporters tore-up their memberships in disgust.
Not only that, the coach was sacked and five players were asked to move-on. But amidst the misery and panic, there she was, tiny Pat, faithfully at the club’s last training session of the season.
She was the only one at the ground, save for the players, support staff and the interim coach. It was a bloody cold day, too.
Never mind, Pat had her thermos: four teaspoons of coffee, a tablespoon of sugar, and a nip of medicinal brandy. This was her thirty-second consecutive year of watching the boys’ Thursday evening training.
She always sat at the edge of the fence behind one of the goal posts. And from her faithful lips you could hear the familiar words of encouragement, words that had echoed around the ground for three decades: “Good mark, young fella; c’mon boys keep runnin’, keep workin’. Make me proud!”
A journalist got a surprise when he asked Pat why she continued to be so faithful in such miserable times. “Ya know,” she said, “that Jesus fella new a thing or two. People loved it when he was workin’ those miracles. Even his best mate, Peter, only wanted the highlights package. But he made it pretty clear, didn’t he: “If ya wanna come for the ride, if ya gonna love me, you’ll have to accept that along with grand finals come wooden-spoons too.”
It’s a bit like marriage, isn’t it? My husband and me had a wonderful honeymoon; kinda like winning a grand final; wished it’d never end. But life ain’t like that. He also got sick, got cancer.
“ That was like gettin’ the wooden-spoon; that was a heavy Cross to carry. But it was during that time that I really learned about love, about how to love and how to be a true supporter. I reckon ya need wooden-spoon moments to be a better person.
“Anyway, son, next year we’ll be a better club. We’ve learnt a lot about ourselves this season; can’t wait ‘til training starts again in a few months. Might see ya there? Gotta go now, son. God bless, ya.”