This article, my first ever published, originally appeared in the Melbourne Age newspaper on Monday 30th September 1996. Page 22 in the post-Grand-Final Sports Age section.
On a fine, warm day in Jerusalem, a boy in his late teens is doing his bi-weekly "shmira" on the roof of his school. Armed with an M-16 he is fairly relaxed doing this, his regular guard-duty period. The only break in the calm is the sudden whoosh as the jet fighters patrol overhead. To Eli, they look almost as if they are at play as they fade off into the blue.
Over this, one of the most holy of cities, the cry begins quite gently. The air is barely pushed aside by the soft sound:
An elderly gentlemen walking below is startled. Is this a Hebrew phrase he is not familiar with? The wail expands and the air rushes out of its way:
Eli Goldberg* does a little dance of excitement as Rex guides Gary through for another six-pointer. He rewinds the tape in his player to hear the moment again. Yes!. It was even better second time around. In Eli's mind, the sun over Israel becomes that shining over the MCG.
In pockets throughout the world, interest in our great game is gaining momentum. The wired up culture is helping spread the message. Cable TV, electronic mail, Internet newsgroups and the famous World Wide Web are all carrying digital messages containing phrases like 'mark', 'free kick', 'injury cloud', 'wily Sheedy' and 'business end of the season'. Not to mention 'yibbidee yibbidah' and 'poofteenth' (what on earth would a lady in Microsoft USA or a man from Kuwait think of these?)
Eli is one such person. He is a Victorian student, studying in Israel and he gets his regular AFL updates via cassette tapes from Australia and electronic mail (email). Hardcopy information on AFL is also becoming easier to obtain in Israel; the "Jerusalem Post" publishes the results and a brief write-up each Tuesday.
On the TV front, the local cable network Star carries a package of highlights, as Eli puts it, "starring...the overtly Australian, Rex Hunt". Whilst Eli and cohorts are huge fans of this, Star seem to have the show in random-time mode and the fans never seem to know exactly when it will be on.
In a recent incident of truly international proportions, Eli and a mate took a footy to a park near the home Prime Minister Netanyahu. Some of the PM's guards were so interested in this strange game, they joined the boys for kick to kick. Eli comments that "They may be able to defend the country, but they have no idea how to kick a ball.".
It is not unheard of to see an old footy jumper being warn in the even older streets of Jerusalem. Occasional speccies have been taken during matches out in the Negev desert. A weekly tipping competition is run out of Tel Aviv. The time difference does cause a bit of a problem here. As Eli explains, "tips are faxed in by Friday afternoon our time, which can lead to an interesting scenario; results of Friday night games are known by the time the tips have to be in!". I just hope this article isn't reprinted in the "Jerusalem Post".
It seems the great Australian game is slowly gaining a following amongst the rest of the world. And it's not just ex-pats with a longing for home either. Regular email reports go to that Lady at Microsoft USA and That Man in Kuwait (yes, they are real people) and many more global village sports fans.
This years Grand Final radio broadcast is being sent 'live' over the Internet. The sound waves are converted to 0's and 1's and then squirted down the millions of wires that make up the World Wide Web. Any of the 40 million Web users can use the (no charge) software, grab those 0's and 1's and reassemble the sound. Not so much broadcasting as bitcasting.
Meanwhile back in Israel, Eli is talking to his mate, another Australian. Eli looks down at his friends Uzi and sees he has a sticker adorning
it. Eli asks his friend why he has THAT player on his gun. The reply is "he's as fast as a bullet".
There, stuck to the inside of an Uzi and staring out over the Holy Land is the face of Peter Matera.
*not his real name
Copyright © 2004 David Sidwell (Artwill Services) Back to Freelance Writing