For me, summers are long and the waiting game is even longer. I try to squeeze 23 short weeks into 52, or 161 days into 365.
My first point of conversation with anyone new is footy. I try to suss out who they go for, if they really like it, and of course, their favourite player.
The average footy fan would say their favourite is their team captain, or big bustling full forward. The names everyone knows. The faces you can pick in a crowd.
Any footy fan who is so in love with the game like me would tell you anything you wanted to know about your favourite player, from the colour of their boots to how they wear their socks.
Growing up a cats baby gave me many great legends to pick from.
Anyone from the great Gary Ablett Junior, Jimmy Bartel, Joel Selwood, Cameron Mooney, even Tom Harley, Paul Chapman or Stevie J.
But for me, the choice was simple. I was going with the red hair number 45, who wore his blue and white socks up to his knees with his simple black boots.
He came to the club in 1999, grabbed at pick 38 in the draft. A full forward at heart, he played for the Falcons before being drafted to his hometown club of the Geelong Cats.
At 4 years old, I had decided. Cameron Ling was my first favourite player.
From then on, I always noticed Lingy in any crowd, on any footy field, from the front row of the MCG to the back.
I met him when I was 8. I had to wait four years. Four gruesome, football filled years. Four years of watching him, even when he wasn’t at his best, watching him when he was hurt and injured and always forgiving him whatever he did.
I remember the day like it was yesterday. We waited at Kardinia Park, back in the day when security didn’t push you out of the way and the players actually wanted to talk.
I saw him walking to his car. His blue Ford truck. Everyone else let him slide, but I saw him, and I knew it was my moment.
Every kid dreams of meeting their favourite player. For me, I didn’t know what to expect. He was my hero, a person who I truly looked up to. He was the guy who’s number was on MY back.
“H-hi Linga. Can you sign my jumper please?” I ask, turning as red as his hair. “And could I maybe get a photo too?” I ask again, shaking as he signs my jumper. “You’re her favourite!” My dad chimes in as he snaps a picture.
That photo from that day, 8 years ago is stuck to my wall in my Geelong Cats bedroom. My smile is as big as it has ever been, and my eyes are lit up. I’ll never forget how honoured I felt, how excited and star struck too.
I’ve kept every jumper I’ve had since I was little, and most don the number 45, which was coincidently my lucky number too. I’d draw 45’s on everything, and proudly pronounce it as my favourite of all numbers in Maths, or jump a little in Italian class when we counted over it.
And at that point in my life, I called it. Cameron Ling was going to be there forever.
In 2009, a new face arrived at the club. His name was Mitch Duncan, and he was picked up at number 28 in the draft.
Given jumper number 22, he didn’t get a gig until 2010, where he played against his childhood team Essendon. I noticed him straight away however, and I had already secretly picked him as my next favourite player.
I know what you’re thinking. How could I leave Ling so suddenly? Why was a forgetting about a Geelong legend? MY Geelong legend!
The thing is, I hadn’t forgotten about my Linga. If anything, I had forgotten about Mitch for a while there, but I made sure I kept an eye out.
As a young kid, I didn’t really understand what retirement was. I thought that players played forever. So, naturally, it was a big shock when I heard Cameron Ling was going to hang up the boots.
It kind of hit me like a truck. I wouldn’t be able to watch Linga anymore. I wouldn’t be able to nervously ask him for a signature or photo like I had before.
My 11 year old life came crashing down before my eyes. Cameron Ling was going to retire.
There were long nights, where I’d remember his highlights, his goals, his tackles and one percenters, everything really. I couldn’t remember a week without him. I couldn’t remember not seeing him play footy.
There wasn’t much more I could do. He was going to retire and I was going to have to move on.
Luckily, the last game I saw him play for Geelong was the 2011 Grand Final. Going out on a high is exactly what all AFL players dream, and Lingy being able to captain his last game ever to a flag sure was satisfying.
I wore my number 45 jumper with pride throughout the 2012 season. To this day I have all his jumpers stacked away safely, where no one can see or touch them, signifying Linga’s significants in my life. His pictures still hang on my wall, the number 45 still is special and so is he.
2011 was a great year for the club, and there was no hiding that I was excited to hear Mitchy would be playing more than one game.
I picked Mitch after his first game in 2010. There was absolutely no doubt that he was going to be my new favourite player.
I noticed his playing style, his hair, socks and boots, and remembered them better than my Year 5 spelling words or maths problems that were due weeks before.
Mitch wears his socks down, with his back adidas boots and he sometimes makes sure that the socks pattern goes white, blue, white.
He never wears long sleeves, unlike Jimmy Bartel or Cam Guthrie. He wore headbands when he was young and he used to have blonde hair.
I met Mitch in 2012 at a January training. The routine went the same as with Ling, where I got shaky and nervous and turned red, and Dad chimed in to ask for a signature and picture.
That picture is stuck on my walk, right next to the one with Linga. It means just as much and brings back just as many good memories.
These days, number 22 is just as lucky as number 45. I’ll use it in Maths and sometimes in French, and I try to relate it to as much as I can. I’m very superstitious that way.
My Mitch jumpers are tucked away with my Ling jumpers too. And it’s funny if you think about it. Those jumpers are just pieces of fabric, with pen scribbles all over them which wouldn’t mean much to many, but mean the whole world to me.
I could never really give you the exact steps to picking your player. I could never tell you who you should pick. You just know. Like how you just know how to smile and laugh and cry. You never had to be told, it was all you.
If you sorted out every jumper number of every Cats supporter today, you would find many 14s, 3s and 26s. Some may be holding on to their famous 29 jumpers, in hope that Cam Guthrie could one day fill those famous shoes of Gary Junior. You’d definitely find a 35 or two, but you’d have to decide if it was meant for Chappy or Danger. You’d even get a few 22s for Mitch and maybe a 45 for Cameron Ling.
For many, numbers on the back of singlets mean little to nothing. But, for we select few, who get filled with joy as we see our favourites kick a goal or make that tackle, that number is worn with pride, shouted out loud when necessary and even used in a few maths problems along the way too.