When your partner plays NRL, you have to push to prioritise your career

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I’ll love it? Does he assume I’ll be coming to this game, too? I stopped and thought. I’d only been in my new job for one week and this would require me to ask for two days off.

I could not yet even confidently assume my boss knew my surname, let alone my boyfriend’s occupation – and the fact that said occupation might require slacking off to watch him play football.
I procrastinated. “Huh … are your mum and dad heading over for it?”

“Of course.” Aha. So he wouldn’t be completely bereft of a fan club.

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“Cool, cool.” I paused, unsure of how to proceed. Thankfully, my uncharacteristic silence made him suspicious.

“What?”

“It’s just that … I don’t actually think I can come.”

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”What? Why?” He was shocked.

“Because I’ve just started a new job. I can’t ask for time off already. I won’t have accrued any annual leave yet.”

Hoff had never worked an office job and only had leave entitlements according to what the football season allowed, so I might as well have answered his question in high Latin.

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“I’m sure they will understand,” he protested.

“Mate, I barely understand it. I doubt very much that they will.”

“What, so you’re not even going to try? What would be the harm in asking?”

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I’m sure this was meant as a rhetorical question, but I chose my words very carefully.

“Because I don’t want to become known as that girl.”

“What girl?”

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“The girl who strolls into her new boss’s office and says, ‘Hi! I know I’ve only been here for, like, five minutes, but can I, like, have two days off next week? I need to go watch my boyfriend play football.’ ”

“You know it’s not like that. This is important.”

“And so is my job. I don’t know these people and I haven’t had a chance to prove myself yet. I’d love to be there to support you, but I’m not prepared to risk my credibility for it. It’s sort of like: it’s not you, it’s me.”

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I was attempting to keep it light, but what I meant was, this is not about you, it’s about me. My career. My work ethic. The standards that I set for myself. Unfortunately, it was this unusual focus that seemed the most difficult to understand. In this way, Hoff was a product of his work environment – an environment that focused on player performance, nothing else.

I realised it must have seemed to him that I was as dedicated to his career as I was to my own. And sometimes, maybe, I was. I had also thought that when the time came, Hoff would do the same.
But Hoff was also a product of a culture that inflated the value of professional sports, a value that is reinforced everywhere we look: players’ salaries, the scheduling of public holidays around their showpiece events, the never-ending media coverage.

The back page of the newspaper has never announced, “Melbourne woman excited to debut recently acquired corporate jargon at new law firm job.” The back page of the newspaper was a team list for State of Origin game three, and included Ryan Hoffman. He was a living, breathing embodiment of this over-valued industry.

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Ryan Hoffman appearing for the NSW Blues in a 2007 State of Origin match.Credit:Getty Images

So, in that climate, it was hard for him to find it in himself to consider me, my career and my ambition as being as valuable as his own. He was as blinded by the spectacle of rugby league’s overblown popularity as everyone else.

It felt like our situation was a depressing microcosm of society as a whole – how many other people had fought to be valued for pursuing something not considered important? How many other people – other women – had been heartily encouraged to follow their dreams, but only if they could still manage all their existing duties to uphold the status quo?

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He changed tack. “It’s just that I’m no guarantee of being picked next year, especially if we lose again. It’s beyond my control. This might be the last State of Origin I ever play …”

This reference to the precarious nature of his career made me lose my patience. I knew that he had no interest in playing a bit part as a NSW player. I knew that it was his intention to consolidate his place for years to come. Anything less would be considered a monumental failure. Knowing this,
I wanted to say that perhaps if this did turn out to be his last State of Origin match, he might prefer I wasn’t there to share in his disappointment. But instead, I steeled myself.

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“Well, honey, as it turns out, I do have faith in you. I’m quite sure this won’t be your last State of Origin ever and I am willing to prove my faith in you by missing this particular one.”

With that, the conversation was done. I was annoyed at myself for still having to resort to justifying
my decision in the context of Hoff’s career and future. Surely, given the hierarchical nature of football clubs, he could understand my reluctance to ask for special treatment so early. We’d had conversations about how he always felt he had to prove himself by going beyond expectations, first in the club environment and more recently in the State of Origin environment. To me, this was exactly the same. And it disappointed me that he couldn’t see it.

But the disappointment was forgotten when the final siren sounded and NSW beat Queensland 18-4, on the Maroons’ home turf. They’d salvaged their pride and Hoff rang me after the game, finally sounding like his old self.

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“Congratulations, darlin’,” I said.

“Thanks – it was awesome. What did you think of the game?” he asked.

“It was great. I was really proud of you,” I replied and left out the bit about how happy I’d felt watching the game on telly in my pyjamas, flanked by Mum and Dad, proud in the knowledge that I had really stood my ground.

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Edited extract from Full Credit to the Boys (Affirm Press), by Mel Hoffman, on sale now.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale May 16. To read more from Sunday Life, visit The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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