In 2004 I was chased out of the SCG by an irate AFL supporter. St Kilda had won 10 in a row to start their season, a record breaking streak for the club, and everyone was on a high. The bandwagon was well and truly full up. The team headed to Sydney to take on the Swans and my family decided we’d drive up from Goulburn to watch.
I remember a few things from that day – it was beautiful and sunny and we were sitting somewhere in the vicinity of the Doug Walters Stand. The group included me, my dad and my brother Paul. Riewoldt took an absolutely magnificent mark for the Saints, a gutsy dive with no respect for his personal wellbeing. The kind of mark people talk about for weeks afterwards because it’s just that good. Sydney got up though and from probably mid-way through the third they looked like they would win easy.
As I’ve matured over the years I like to think I’ve learned to shut my mouth. But as a 25-year-old whippersnapper, egged on by my brother who is one of the wittiest people I know (and six foot six so can get away with saying what he likes), I decided to line up a Saints supporter and have a crack. There was only a few minutes to go but already the St Kilda fans were streaming out of the ground. “Ask that bloke, ask that bloke,” my brother kept saying over and over as fans passed us. I finally spotted a youngish man in the yellow alternate strip and bailed him up.
“Excuse me mate, are you able to help me? I’m lost. Can you tell me where we’ve parked the bandwagon?”
Needless to say old mate didn’t find it funny. In fact, he didn’t even find it in the same postcode as funny. He started yelling at me, telling me I was a disgrace and how dare I have a go at his precious team. Sydney weren’t even much good he was screaming. And by screaming, I mean screaming. Loudly.
My family were absolutely useless and took off laughing as soon as he started to respond. The final siren went and in an effort to placate him I told him to calm down, I was only kidding and anyway, I was a Port Adelaide supporter not a Swans fan. It didn’t make a shred of difference and as I tried to blend into the red and white crowd and move out of the stands, he followed me, walking along the top row and continuing to abuse me while I walked the path below.
I honestly wish I could tell you I stopped baiting opposition supporters after that but I didn’t. I still love rolling out the old “Excuse me mate, you’ve dropped something back there” and when they ask what, I say “your wooden spoon.” Works a treat when you flog a lowly ranked team but a Carlton bloke nearly belted me once so I cut down on that too and save it for special occasions.
Despite all of this ‘humour’, I rarely find anything funny about being a football fan. It’s never been just a game to me – it’s a way of life. Win and you’re on top for the week, lose and get ready for the week from hell. I love almost everything about AFL. Want to know why I take all my big overseas trips in October? Because ain’t no way I’m missing the AFL finals series. Seriously. Grand final day is like Christmas but better. I’m definitely not as full on about football as I was maybe even five or six years ago and I think I’ve learned to mellow out quite a bit (and cough find some other hobbies cough). But I do love it so very much.
One of my colleagues and best mates is a passionate Hawks fan and we often talk about footy, in particular the behaviour of fans. Our ethics in this area are very much aligned and run something along the lines of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. No one likes an arsehole. No one like a know it all. No one likes an arrogant prick.
So with that in mind, these are my very simple etiquette rules for football fans. Predominantly AFL but really any code or any sport could apply. Given it’s just the start of the season please feel free to put them to particular good use in the months ahead. And carn the Power!
1. If your team is not involved in the game, fuck off. Do not sit there loudly barracking for the other team, who I know you do not give one shit about, just to piss me off. If that team wins, then you have no right to carry on like a pork chop either. I will punch you.
2. The above is doubly true for people whose team didn’t even make the god damn finals.
3. If your team is playing mine, then don’t be a tool throughout the game. Don’t criticise every umpiring decision and make pointed remarks about how we’re getting all the easy free kicks. Do not cheer in my face. Do not be a cranky fuck if we’re flogging you.
4. If my team wins, I will give you a single comment involving a non committal statement such as “better luck next year” or “your boys tried hard” then I will move on. Do not gild that lily. That’s because it doesn’t matter how excited you are that your team has made the prelim for the first time in 10 years, you show the other person some respect when they’ve just had their heart broken. No one likes a wanker.
5. Conversely, if your team wins no one wants to hear patronising sentiments over and over again like “oh but you guys tried so hard, we were only lucky in the end” or “doesn’t matter because we’ll probably lose next week anyway.” No one wants your false sympathy. Shut the fuck up and enjoy your win in the appropriate manner.
6. Never ever tell me my team has got this before the final siren goes. Remember 1997? Western Bulldogs up by 30 points over the Adelaide Crows with three minutes left on the clock. Crows kick five to win in that time and eventually become the first team to win a flag from sixth position. That is your barometer right there – five goals in three minutes. If you don’t have that distance in that time frame then you could end up screwed. But also know that if you’re within that then you have every possibility of coming back.
7. People who stand up, kick the back of your seat, don’t push across into the spare seats or sing overly loudly at the footy are dickheads. And don’t you even think about talking through the anthem. Show some respect.
8. Never ever leave before the final siren. Doubly so if your team is losing and you’re in club colours.
9. There is a special hell reserved for people who call “BAAAAAAALLLLL!!!!!” every time an opposition player so much as gets touched while he’s got it in his hands.
10. You only get to buy hot jam doughnuts outside the ground if you win. You lose and you’re going home without diabetes tonight.
11. If you’re only at the sold out game because you’re an MCG member or on a corporate package then you have given up the right for people not to hate you. We will. THOSE SEATS BELONG TO FANS.
12. Finally, there is no shame in tears. Win or lose. If you win then stand there proudly and sing the song, enjoying the moment. Wave to your boys as they circle the ground to thank the fans. If you lost, take your sobbing to the toilet because nobody wants to see that shit. And if it’s your friend who’s crying in defeat then you never ever acknowledge their tears. Respectfully hand them a tissue, give them a non committal statement of tepid encouragement and a pat on the back, then go home to watch all the highlights and post them on Facebook.
PS Titus O’Reily also has some pretty spot on words of wisdom on the subject.