Sporting fandom, at its essence, is a sense of belonging.
It’s a tribal beast, a spiritual awakening, a feeling of riding a wave of heartache and joy, with tens of thousands of people you have never met, yet understanding that their emotions are in tune with yours, and yours in tune with theirs.
It is a sense of community and identity not often seen outside the most ardent of religious sects, a heaving mass of chanting and singing and passion.
Yet the end goal of eternal life is replaced by a shiny cup or an aging shield, held for an agonisingly short time by your sporting gods before the holy grail is handed back to be won all over again.
It is simultaneously pointless and life affirming.
This is your flock, and the bounce of a ball or the flick of a wrist is your shepherd.
For many of us, we do not choose our flock. It is dictated to us as children by our place of birth, or by our mum, or our dad, or by family members from generations long gone.
However, what happens when your genetic family can’t agree on the sporting family to which you will belong?
Thursday’s episode of the incomparable Bluey poses that exact question.
As Queensland and New South Wales gear up for Origin II in Perth on Sunday night, Brisbane’s own Heeler family gathered together on their deck in front of a makeshift bedsheet projector screen to watch The Decider.
Joined by Pat, Lucky and Chucky of the Labrador family from next door, the familiar soundtrack of Ray Warren echoes across the screen as the maroon team — or purple, in Bluey’s eyes — battles it out with the blue team.
Warren officially announced his retirement from the commentary this season, having called 99 of the 122 State of Origin matches, prompting many fans to bemoan that he never reached the magical century.
Just quietly, we’re going to count this as number 100.
While a distinct Queenslander vibe radiates from every magical corner of the Heeler’s Red Hill or Paddington or Highgate Hill or everywhere-in-between-depending-on-who-you-ask home, Janelle Labrador sits in the house next door decked out in her blues gear, occasionally yelling her displeasure or joy across the yard.
Chucky, the youngest of the Labrador family, doesn’t quite know what to make of it all.
Like many of us who were raised in a split supporter family, he’s unsure who to back.
In one emotional moment, the little fella stands between his mum and dad at half-time as they ask him who he wants to support.
While we don’t want to offer up any spoilers, the fleeting look on the face of the losing parent is one of utter heartbreak.
“I’m not even much of a sports lover but this episode was great! All the feels though when it came to choosing one colour,” Lisa Milton-Welke wrote on the official Bluey Facebook page.
“We’re a tri-state family, hubby is Melbourne, I’m Sydney and our 4-year-old was born in Townsville. We mainly watch AFL, but she informed me after today’s episode that she’s a ‘purple Queenslander’, Amy Webb wrote.
On the surface, it’s a story of simply having to choose a sports team.
Deeper down, though, it’s a lesson of the reality that decisions for children are hard when they know that someone they love is going to be hurt, no matter what they decide. It’s a lesson for the parents watching as much as the children. Maroons or blues? This house or that house? Weekends or weekdays? Mom or Dad?
“This was a great one. I thought the under story about having to pick a side between mum and dad was also well done,” Sarah Bea wrote.
Like many Bluey episodes, there was a story within the story.
It was an episode about tough choices as much as it was about sport.
Sometimes our tribes choose us, other times we have to choose our tribes.
While the deeper message of difficult decisions is obviously an important one, life needs a balance between the serious and the absurd.
It’s why we watch sports. It’s an escape. It’s a chance to yell and scream and jump around, forgetting the woes of the world.
And it’s an escape we get to enjoy with others.
The sense of belonging doesn’t just come from the jersey you wear, or the songs that you sing. The sense of belonging comes from a shared passion for the contest, the understanding that all of this is a little bit silly, but it’s the silliness that brings it all together.
It’s a moment to gather around the TV with friends and family and ride the wave of emotion together, no matter who you support.
Bluey has been known to cause tears in this household. Two adults, no kids, and just a cartoon about a family of dogs living in the suburbs of Brisbane.
For this sport-loving sob, this episode had all the hallmarks of a tear-jerker. Footy, family and Rabs Warren on his last Origin call.
But it was my non-sport-loving wife who copped the Bluey effect this time around.
“Why does it always make us cry,” she said, half-laughing through tears.
“It just all reminds me so much of my childhood.”
Sport isn’t just about the game or the result. Sport is about the memories you make with the people you love along the way.
Join the ABC Sport team on Sunday night as they blog Origin II at abc.net.au/sport. Bluey is available in Australia on ABC kids and iview.