The Simple Solution To The AFL's OTT Fan Behaviour Crackdown
“Footy ain’t what it used to be.”
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard fans say those very words lately I could buy a pie AND Coke at the football.
It hasn’t been a great couple of weeks for the AFL, with fans in hot water, follicly-challenged officials taken aim at, and club supporters claiming they felt threatened and intimidated by the swarming presence of behavioural awareness officers (yep, that’s a thing now) at games last weekend.
For the record, ugly, offensive and violent behaviour -- in any form -- is not tolerated beyond the boundary and vilification is out of bounds both on and off field, but some of the recent behavioural policing has the sport’s biggest asset -- the fans -- grumpy.
And fair enough too.
League boss Gillon McLachlan has apologised to the faithful, albeit in belated fashion, but there’s no doubt many of the loyal and passionate are feeling disenchanted and alienated.
So I’ve got some advice for them. Go bush.
Country, suburban and local footy are the only winners out of this whole saga.
That’s not to say it’s a behavioural free-for-all in the ‘burbs, but the essence of the game and old-school footy experience is thriving and can be found kilometres away from the concrete jungle stadiums.
While I watch around five games of AFL on television each round, my weekend outing is to my local footy. And while nothing rivals sitting at a packed MCG for a blockbuster game, I equally love taking in the elements (and I’m from Melbourne so it’s pretty much a season per quarter) and enjoying all the raw charm local sport has to offer.
Cheap admission, soaking up the atmosphere from the outer, the smell of onions cooking (and sometimes burning) on the barbecue are all quirks of the grassroots game. Walking out on the field at quarter and three-quarter time to hear the coach address their team is the best bit -- that fan experience is unrivalled. Kids are running around from siren to siren and everyone is welcome to swamp the field at the breaks to have a kick of the Sherrin. Hey, dogs are even allowed! Just make sure you’re behaviourally aware and bring poop bags.
Local footy is where it all began for most of us -- fans, players, coaches, umpires and administrators. We all share fond memories of the “game day experience” in its purest form. No loud music blaring, in fact the only pre-match entertainment was the reserves or under-18s. Ahh, the good ol’ days.
As Greg Champion sang in his anthem 'That’s The Thing About Football:
Use my voice, make some noise support the boys and that’s what football means to me, that’s how I like my footy to be.
These days you’ve got to be careful how you use your voice and be mindful not to label the ump a “bald-headed flog.” C’mon, we’ve all screamed something similar at the top of our lungs when the umpire made a decision we didn't agree with.
Anyway, clever banter is where it’s at, and some of the best fun I’ve had recently was giving it to the former captain of my local club, who walked out at the end of last year, and copped it from all angles when he came up against his old mob for the first time.
Plus, I’ve watched VFL at the epitome of the good ol’ days, the Port Melbourne footy ground, since I was a little tacker and, hell, I was once whacked over the head with an umbrella by a staunch supporter who was as old as she was ardent. It was character building.
This is not a boycott-the-AFL plea. But if, like the Carlton supporter who had gaffer tape across her mouth at the game last week (or was it an upper lip wax hack?) you’re feeling a bit disillusioned, get back to basics this weekend and take a trip to the sticks.
You’ll remember why we all fell in love with our great game in the first place. Just don’t forget the onions.