In this week's NRL.com column, Roosters Women In League Ambassador and Channel 9 reporter Leila McKinnon talks about NRL tribalism and pays tribute to the legendary Darren Lockyer.
I’ve never seen anyone as miserable as my Weekend Today colleague Alicia Gorey the morning she lost a bet and was forced to wear a Collingwood guernsey on television. A bet is a bet, but following through with it doesn’t mean you have to look happy about it. Poor Alicia hung her head with shame, wriggled and fidgeted as if being burnt by the black and white stripes, and rushed off-set to call her family and apologise.
That’s what it is to be part of a tribe. Alicia is, and always will be, a St Kilda supporter, no matter how few triumphs they bring, or how frequent the disappointments.
We wear the colours of our fellow tribe members, shout from the stands and at the television together, plaster our cars with bumper stickers (does anyone else get irritated when they have to let a Rabbitoh into the lane?), and follow our team with blind loyalty, even if it is right to the bottom of the ladder.
And despite the failure, and the occasional scandal, the fact that we belong makes us feel good. So good, that for many fans it’s one of the first things they teach their children. I know a guy who rushed from the delivery room of the hospital and called his footy club to register his minutes-old daughter as a member.
A friend just bought a Roosters jersey for his four-year-old son, and little Fred was thrilled. He’d still rather watch the Wiggles over the football, but he probably picked up just how much it meant to Dad. Another Roosters supporter is currently in a tug of war with his Rabbitoh wife for the team loyalty of their two girls, oh dear - things could get ugly.
But even though we’re all split into 16 different NRL tribes, and we dislike the other 15 teams with various levels of intensity, there comes a time when great players transcend the tribalism.
Just look at the reaction to this week’s retirement announcement of Broncos legend Darren Lockyer. Online forums, and twitter, were plastered with glowing tributes, all rising above the demands of the tribe.
“From a Bulldogs fan my best wishes to Mr. Lockyer. He's worth every standing ovation he gets from now on.”
“As a true NSW supporter I am glad he is retiring. But if I was being honest I'd say I am sad to see him go. What a great player. Well done Mr Lockyer sir.”
“Although not a Broncos supporter, I don't think I can come up with a bad thing to say about Lockyer! He's a Legend!”
Yes, Lockyer is a legend. He’s taken to the field for Australia more than any other player, played the most Tests as captain, and scored the most tries for the green and gold.
In winning four premierships and six State of Origin series, the fleet-footed five-eighth has heaped plenty of misery on thousands of Blues supporters, and on those of us who don’t support the Broncos, but we will miss him.
Sure, only Broncos fans will be jumping up and down the next time he scores a try this season, but no one will be happy to see him leave the game.
That’s because all our tribes are part of a greater tribe: the NRL.