Booing is for Babies.


Some perspective on our beautiful game

In VFL/AFL football there is a time honoured tradition of the crowd being vocal during matches. Most of the watchers know the game, many have played the game, or aspired to do so. Many who watch, or listen, know the intricacies of the game, and how demanding and merciless it can be. Many consider it a game which requires extreme courage to play it, and it is seen as being a test of the character of the players.

Many consider the game to be peerless amongst football codes, because as it has evolved it has retained its high level of physicality, it has if anything become inescapable in the scrutiny of its players, and it is relentless in the level of competitiveness between the clubs. This is replicated throughout the AFL states.

Elite football does not exist without the non-elite, players of all levels of ability, striving for excellence, and tales of the gifted country footballer still resonate, because those young men, and women, do occasionally turn up, often from country towns, but also from the city, or wherever the game is played, and display heroic capabilities. State that someone played one game and most of us are still in awe of such an achievement. And the game has been played for so long now that it has its own history, with its own legends and myths.

Every country town last century boasted a footy team, and its companion, a netball team. These days many of the women who would have played netball now embrace women’s football. Many towns have the footy ground, with its four posts at either end, and somewhere close by, a netball court. It’s Australia, mate.

Football demands, above all else, commitment. The kids who are seen with a football constantly in their hands, grown men wearing their team’s colours in public, the answer to the question “Who do you barrack for?”

Those who have played at the highest level often note the level of noise at a game, the oohs and aahs of the watching crowds, the sheer numbers who attend games. This vocal quality often had a tinge of humour attached, as when Val Perovic, a Carlton player, kicked the ball. He could kick it a ‘country mile’, the crowd would erupt, shouting “woof” whenever he sent a long left footer out of defence. Shouting “woof” was a joy on a Saturday afternoon, back in the 80s, along with 30,000 other lunatics.

There have been others, of course, but always within the spirit of the game. Roy Cazaly was cheered every time he went for a mark, where the crowd roared “Up there, Cazaly”. Passionate commitment, from all, until the siren sounded. And then the most appealing part of our game; families and friends, or even strangers, supporting opposing teams, walking away without conflict, immediately after games, because the game is over. No barbed wire, no armed police, no segregation of opposing fans.

Adam Goodes is a true champion

In recent times, however, there has arisen a really ugly addition to our beautiful game. Adam Goodes, a true giant of the game, was driven from the field of battle by opposition fans, grown ups and not so much, actually booing him. People not fit to lace his boots actually disgraced our game with this behaviour. His record is huge. Two Brownlow Medals, two premierships, All Australian four times, he played 372 games. Not one. Three hundred and seventy two!

There was a sinister reason for the booing, however. It was simple racism, tinged with jealousy and envy. Goodes had called out racist language in a couple of games, and in an act of defiance one night, he performed a short version of an Aboriginal ‘war dance’ at a section of the crowd which had been booing him mercilessly. Some of them actually called his gesture “intimidating”, although he was a lone black man, being publicly vilified by thousands. He had just scored another inspiring goal, by the way.

Boo. It is a stupid word, which describes a stupid act. “Booing is an act of showing displeasure for someone or something, generally in response to an entertainer, by loudly yelling boo! (and holding the “oo” sound) or making other noises of disparagement, such as hissing.” Wikipedia.

Wow. I took a straw poll last weekend, and I could not find one person who admitted to booing, ever. Some expressed the free speech argument, though that is a false equivalence. Booing caused a modern master of our game to retire, prematurely, because the weight of the crowd was too much.

Booing is for babies. You boo when you are watching Punch and Judy shows. That is the only acceptable use of the act of booing, and it should be discontinued when you attain school age. If you continue to exhibit this behaviour, you are suffering from arrested development, and you need help.

Adam Goodes left the game, and he has never attended any function related to the game, since his retirement. Now that is a crying shame.

Footy – A Richmond Tale

Dusty mural

I have a confession to make. I was an Essendon supporter until I was fourteen years old. My maternal grandfather captained Essendon to two premierships in the 1920s, so I was a ‘sworn’ Bomber. But then I went to the footy with my father, and I changed teams. Just like that! No-one does that in Melbourne.

Tigers first golden era

The game was the 1967 Grand Final, and Richmond won. I was taken into the players’ rooms after the game (an extremely rare honour, even then), and I was introduced to the players. Most of them were just out of the showers, but those were curiously decorous times. The players, to a man I think, tolerated the social task of shaking a 14 year old’s hand as I was led through the room. They wore towels.

This incident, though slight to my reader, changed the world for me. The Richmond Tigers went on to win another four premierships over the next thirteen years. Did I look back over my shoulder to re-consider my decision? Never. I gloried in the Richmond way, the ruthless Tigers who gave no quarter, who trained harder and played harder, with an assurance that they had no friends, just opponents.

Carlton was our natural enemy, later to be Collingwood, but they were all loathed, except for Footscray, who were everyone’s second, other team. That’s because they were never a threat.

My commitment never wavered, though there were times when I did not even follow the footy. Somewhere in those years footy seemed to be just another sport, and life demanded we turn our attention to more worldly matters. Life intervened.

The wilderness years

And after 1980 there was less to be interested in. As the years rolled on, Richmond stopped being a power, and became something of a joke. Years and years of power struggles within the club drained momentum. Beloved figures from the past ran nasty, personal campaigns to wrest control back from whomever, maybe outsiders?

These were the years when the enemies of the club prospered. Even the Bombers, disdained so many years ago, won several flags with an ex- Tiger champion coaching them. Essendon’s 2000 season was probably the greatest season ever played, where they were virtually unbeaten, and unbeatable. And coached by Kevin Sheedy. Oh, the horror, the horror.

But I found an interest again. I suffered the slings and arrows of the Tigers’ outrageous fortune. I heard Collingwood touted as the club with the biggest membership, but I knew the Tigers were a sleeping giant.

Even Hawthorn, dressed in their brown and gold, came to shine. And shine again, many times over. If Richmond gloried in its proletarian beginnings, the Hawks represented middle Melbourne. They even played at Waverley, bang in the middle of Middle Melbourne.

The new century brought no relief. Richmond gained a reputation for finishing ninth, just out of the final eight, stranded. The others jeered, but redemption was close, perhaps. There are many riffs able to be played on finishing ninth. Ask me, I’ve heard them all.

The Tigers have always been distinguished by their supporters. No matter how dire the season, or the game, there was always someone in the crowd, or the bar, who could spot reasons why the latest performance was showing positive signs. Green shoots could be determined in the ashes of another unsuccessful season. And once a true-blue Tiger, you are doomed to share their fate.

Gradually, however, the new five year plan began to take shape – finally spelled out by club President Brendon Gale, it stated:
”By 2020, we aspire to have won our 13th premiership; consistently provide the most exciting and powerful match-day experience in the competition; once again have the strongest support base in the nation, and enjoy the strongest emotional connection with our members and fans”. Spooky.

Redemption

The 2017 season started auspiciously. Five wins, no losses. Then a run of four losses. Adelaide crushed us by 76 points – another blighted birthday for me, but who’s counting? I’ll cut this scintillating tale of redemption short; Richmond became a frenzied football machine, tackling and passing the ball, tall players and short suddenly as good as, and then better than, their opponents. Richmond pressure, ninety percent chaos, was suddenly the blueprint for success. Goals were expected now, rather than prayed for.

The finals were absolutely nerve-wracking. Geelong had had a particularly successful period when they had routinely sent us back to Richmond in the foetal position – not any more. Crushed comprehensively. Next to the Giants, seen as young, but hugely talented. They were tossed aside the following Saturday. That game left us only one mountain to climb – the Grand Final, the first since 1982. It was against Adelaide, the power side, the raging favourites.

Suffice to say, chaos ruled. Richmond won by 48 points. The crowd was 90% Tiger – fuelled. Adelaide were the feared foreigners for the day. So the hordes took to Richmond to celebrate. Our first stop was to a back street in Richmond, where a giant mural of Dustin Martin had appeared, as if by magic. We joined a queue, to be photographed standing in front of Dusty. My daughter Lucy (an innocent child I had introduced to a lifetime of watching Tiger teams crash) and I then went to the All Nations Hotel, to celebrate the life – changing premiership. The night was completely and absolutely mad, but no-one was hurt. Except for the staff, whose faces were a sight to see, as every forty seconds the Tigers’ theme song was sung, and they were exhorted to sing it, again, and again.

The streets were awash with delirious fans. Young men danced on the roofs of taxi cabs, Bridge Road was blocked by thousands. A drought of thirty seven years had broken. Caroline Wilson wrote an article in the following days explaining how, although only a game, Richmond’s win had elevated our spirits and reaffirmed our love for life. We weren’t to be pitied any more, because we had won a premiership.

Melbourne is seen as the serious city in Australia, where people take great issues seriously, and where political passions run on the slightly puritanical, progressive path. But a serious Melbournian can be distracted. Just ask them who they barrack for.