The tempo of the drums started beating wilder than an African celebration.
The crowd were on their feet. Any minute now they would burst out onto the stadium in a flash of green and gold, blazing forth with the promise of victory.
The captains foot landed on the grass and we roared. I let forth a yell and just managed to stop my primal scream,
“This is the best goddamn country in the world!”
“Holy shit. Where did that come from?”
My eyes welled as I looked at where I was standing. I was in the 21st row of ANZ stadium close to the sideline, watching the Australian Wallabies Rugby team run onto the field as they prepared to beat the British Lions in the third and final test of the Lions rugby tour in Australia.
It’s a test series that happens only every 12 years.
Craig and I had been invited to attend as guests of the International Hotels Group, of which Crowne Plaza Hotels are a part of. We love the hotel chain and have worked with them several times during the past two years.
Craig and I are total sports nuts. I’m not great at sitting at home watching sport on TV, but get me to a live match and I get a little carried away. Like now when I wanted to streak across the field and give each player a giant squeeze and pep talk,
“Do you know you are representing the best country in the world? Wear that jersey with pride and SMAAASH them.”
I sang the anthem louder and with more heart than ever before. My country’s colour’s and the words that spoke of beauty, freedom and opportunity raised me up to new heights.
Only a few hours earlier, I stood on our balcony at the Crowne Plaza Coogee Beach overlooking the ocean. It was the most perfect winter’s day.
The sky’s brilliance was not weakened by a harsh summer sun, the air was not stifling, but crisp and fresh. The water sparkled, showing me the seaweed that danced on the sand underneath. I watched for whales and thought,
How lucky am I?’
How lucky am I to live in a country where you can stand on the veranda of a building and see whales casually play in the water out yonder? I didn’t see them then, but I’ve seen them before eating lunch at a restaurant with views, or sipping a green tea on the comfy couch in a Starbucks cafe.
How lucky am I that every day I can cover my feet with the sand and splash them in the salty sea spray? I can share my worries and joys with the wind that carries them away over waves that rush to tell me all is perfect.
How lucky am I to be born in a country that says you can make your ultimate dreams come true if you worked hard enough for it? How lucky am I to have a strong history of people who overcame adversity to create a prosperous environment?
From a land of shackled convicts to one full of freedom. How lucky am I to have that genetic makeup?
How lucky am I for the opportunities that brought me to stand in this stadium amongst 83, 000 people, and delivered me here along a path of 15 years of travel through 52 countries.
The BEST goddam country on earth.
I could have grabbed the game callers mike and chanted it then and there for the whole goddam world to hear.
My patriotism surprised me because it’s not usually my thing. I find it dangerous to place your country above others; it can often highlight judgement, contempt and scorn which can lead to misunderstanding, fear, and hatred.
But perhaps sometimes it is equally dangerous to ignore the greatness of the place you come from and the deep bond you have with your place of birth. You wouldn’t be who you are without it, and knowing that allows you to feel gratitude.
My country is not perfect. There is much I don’t like about it, but when those boys ran out on that field, I realized that doesn’t matter. All that matters is how much I do love it and how much it gives me.
The best goddam country into the world.
Here were our chosen warriors, the personification of our country’s greatness ready to trounce those blazing red lions.
And then kick off happened, the wallabies committed school boy errors and within five minutes the lions were ten points up and the dream of victorious defeat started to fade.
I’m not a violent person, but for the next 90 minutes I was encouraging our players to “Take him out and stomp on him.”
“C’mon Wallabies.” We jumped, we screamed, we smacked our clackers in frustration.
“What the hell? Who was this team taking the field? This is not how you play rugby!!!” And why aren’t the Aussies singing in the crowd?
“You know Craig, I can’t believe we are sitting here in Sydney watching this game and all I can hear is the loud singing of “Lions, Lions.” You’d think they come from the best country in the world.
The Aussies were too stunned to move their lips. The pride and the tears turned to insults and disgust and sad defeat.
The wallabies played like a bunch of pigeons.
My gratitude turned to the lions for their graciousness in their win.
It’s usually been my experience when losing to the Brits that we would be mercilessly teased. But not a word about convicts and the mother land was mentioned. They sang and laughed and hugged those brave enough to still be wearing the yellow jersey. The were well-behaved and the perfect visitors to the best country in the world.
Although we did not win, nor even look like it, the atmosphere was electric and we thoroughly enjoyed stepping back into that sporting world we love so much for a weekend.
There’s nothing like an international sporting match to fire up the pride and love you have for your country and to remind you that every country has its greatness.
We lost, yet I feel like I won.
I woke up in the morning with those same sparkling ocean views.
I watched a group of people jump in the frigid water and swim out to Wedding Cake Island about 1km from the shore. I sipped on my green tea, called them a bunch of crazy fuckers and slowly smiled,
“Yep, we live in the best goddam country in the world.”