Keith Miller, champion cricketer and a RAAF fighter-bomber pilot in the big match against Adolf Hitler, knew how to handle stupid questions that equated the pressures and performance of sportsmen, even the best of them, with the experience of anyone who’d ever gone to war.
He snorted in contempt.
“Pressure?” he laughed at Michael Parkinson. “Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your a**e, playing cricket is not.”
There aren’t many Millers left in modern sport, but it was gratifying to see his spirit expressed, if a lot more carefully and with less swearing and drunken two-fisted assaults on the dignity of higher ups and mucky-mucks, by Richmond’s Jack Riewoldt this week.
Pressed on Fox Footy about what the annual weekend of ANZAC Day sport meant to him ahead of Richmond’s AFL clash against Melbourne on Monday night, Riewoldt was cautious and thoughtful, even abashed in his answer.
Invited by the Herald Sun’s Mark Robinson to unpack the ‘parallels’ between the record of the ANZACs and the games which commemorate them, he said: “I think you’ve got to be very careful drawing parallels with the actual game.”
He looked genuinely uncomfortable to be asked to measure running around a footy field against running into enemy fire and said that, if anything, the ANZAC Day matches were best viewed as encouraging people to simply stop and reflect on history for a moment.
Discussion of war and sport never encourages good sense, either separately or together.
Riewoldt, however, covered himself in a modest sort of glory.
He explained, when repeatedly pushed to emote about what ANZAC Day meant to him, that he had no personal connection to it.
No grandpa who saw off Rommel. No grand-aunt who nursed Monash.
“Personally, it’s not… there’s no connection there,” he almost stammered.
And good on him.
Most of us are lucky enough never to have pulled on a slouch hat because we were ordered to.
Our forebears probably didn’t storm the heights at Gallipoli or push Japan’s 144th Infantry Regiment off the bloody slopes of Imita Ridge.
There really weren’t that many of us in the plantation at Long Tan, and even fewer in Afghanistan’s Shah-i-Khot Valley.
Some other blokes did all of that hard work.
Some amazing doctors and nurses put them back together when they literally came apart.
And we should always remember them. All of them.
But it’s taking a bit of a liberty, and nudging right up to egregious disrespect of what they endured and what they achieved, to invoke the ANZAC Legend every time you want to boost your ratings or sell some tickets, or move a bit of war-themed merchandise off the shelves after the Easter sales.
Our veteran forebears would have considered it disrespectful in the extreme for a sporting match to held conducted on ANZAC Day. I retain that opinion.
You would think that after nearly two decades of deployment by the modern ADF that we might be a little more circumspect.
The toll levied on thousands of young veterans, the damage done to their bodies and minds, might curdle the enthusiasm of even the worst blowhard. You would think.
With so many of our latest veterans taking their own lives, or living with the spectre of what they have seen and done in our names, the least we could do is stop the ridiculous comparisons between war and footy.
It’s unseemly and disrespectful.
But don’t imagine the sporting contest you enjoy on ANZAC Day in any way recalls the reality of their experience.