“It gave them something to be part of, something to believe in, something to support and you see it in the faces of supporters at games just how important it is to them that their team goes well.”

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A couple of years ago I was discussing football with a friend and her family. Mid-way through a sentence, her dad cut in and said, “well what would you know about the game anyway?” and dismissed her opinion. I very clearly remember thinking to myself – my dad would never do that to me. In fact, my dad is one of the reasons I have loved football of many codes and developed such a passion for sport over the years. I grew up in a household that not only watched football every weekend but played it and lived it. And though the Websters were late to AFL, I like to think we’ve made up for it with the intensity of our support. Whenever people try and claim that football players and supporters are nothing but morons, I think of the smart, kind, generous, funny men in my family – led by my dad – and know for absolute certain that that particular generalisation isn’t true. As a player, coach, team manager and supporter, my dad has spent over 60 years involved in football and passed his love of the game and willingness to be involved down to us. This is what he thinks about football.

Name: Danny Webster

Recruited from: Cooma, Sydney, Merimbula and lately, Goulburn

Occupation: Retired sergeant

AFL team followed: Sydney Swans

All time favourite footy moment: 2005 grand final

I go for the Sydney Swans because I love them. When I first started watching AFL in 1996 I naturally went for the local team and the first game I ever saw from start to finish was the Swans and Essendon. There was probably a lot of ignorance involved at first I guess, I just didn’t know anything about the game. I didn’t like it. I was brought up in a rugby league state in a rugby league town and I grew up playing rugby league, so I naturally just played and liked rugby league.

I think AFL is a very pure game and there’s a lot of skills in it. There’s a lot of talent amongst the players and the coaching staff. It’s just a very watchable sport; it’s not over in 10 minutes, it take a bit of time to get through a game but it just captivates you I think. The spirit of the game is very strong and people just love it – there’s no doubt that it is the national game.

I can’t remember the first game of Australian Rules I went to. Probably was one of the games that my son Paul played when he was 15 and playing for Goulburn. Because he was playing in first grade I had absolutely no idea what was in store so I just stalked along the boundary line thinking that if there’s a fight, well I’ll run on and have a crack myself. There wasn’t though.

I think maybe the first AFL game I went to was a game in Sydney at the Olympic stadium, what’s that, the ANZ Stadium, to watch the Swans one day although I can’t remember the exact date or the game or anything. I do remember I was just awestruck by the whole thing. Being able to sit there and rather than just seeing bits and pieces on TV, being able to see the whole field and really appreciating the whole game as a real 360 degree game – as opposed to rugby league or rugby union where you’re very much in a small confined area following the ball, if that makes sense.

I’m very sedate watching the footy. I like to support the umpires… hahaha. No, I’m not as loud as I used to be and it does depend on what comp you’re at. I remember I hurled a bit of abuse at Matthew Pavlich one day at a game and just mentioned to him that he had nothing. So then he’s taken a screaming mark and kicked a ridiculous goal and about 500,000 people turned around and looked at me. I had to stand up and make a quick apology. I do love Pav.

At home I’m probably the same, I yell and scream a bit and am probably still very critical of the umpires, but I think they deserve criticism because I don’t think many of them are very good. Certainly not as good as they think they are.

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The grand final in 2005 where Swans won is probably the best game I’ve ever seen. Leo Barry took that great mark right at the end to pretty much close the game off. I guess because a lot of people, a lot of Swans and South Melbourne supporters, had probably gone a life time and never seen them win, for me to see a premiership within less than 10 years of me watching was great. They’ve since won another one of course but I’d have to say that first grand final is the best.

When Cheyne’s team got into the semi finals at Eastlake for the first time ever I think, for a reserve grade side, it was just a very good achievement. That’s probably the best local game I’ve seen. Unfortunately we didn’t get past that first semi final but it was such a great feeling for our team to have been there.

I love the club – Eastlake – that I’m a team manager for and the fact that one of my sons is a coach there is an attraction and of course I get to see him every week. But I just like doing what I’m doing and I realise that clubs need support staff, they need volunteers. No club’s got too many of those sort of people and it’s good to have people who will do the one per center things and keep everything ticking over.

I think by going to the local football you appreciate the dynamics not only of the game itself, but the whole set up for the game – the preparation of players, the equipment, the support staff, volunteers, the input that supporters have… It just gives you a broader picture of the game itself, I think.

What do I love about local footy? Not the umpires. My best sledge over the years has possibly been the one you kids always talk about in Sydney where I was taking photos and doing my best to give the umpires some support with some well timed advice at one of Paul’s games. It was just a few tips on what they were doing wrong. And the umpire ran over to the boundary line and he told me to move away from the field because I shouldn’t be there. Then I said to him, “mate I’m starting to think the same thing about you.”

Once at the tribunal I got a $50 fine for umpiring abuse and again, that one was just offering advice. Once I gave away a 50m penalty but a few times I’ve had umpires run over to the sideline and reciprocate by giving me some advice. I have been told by our club a couple of times to shut up.

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I suppose I like the Swans because they’re my team but I also like them because of the way they play football – they play good, hard, attacking football. They can be very scrappy at times, very scrambling at times but I think they play a good hard game.

Kieran Jack is my favourite player, I’d say. Over the years I liked Barry Hall, even though he wasn’t at Sydney all that long, Paul Kelly was very good, Paul Roos was good, Andrew Dunkley I liked… I can’t think really of any Swans players that I haven’t liked. I wouldn’t be getting Poppy at the Swans. Anyone but Poppy. Not sure who I would get though, I can’t really think.

The team I hate is North Melbourne. I think because they continually try to push this Shinboner bullshit and it just doesn’t wash. I just don’t like the way they play, I don’t like many of their players – only maybe a couple over the years, but they’re just a team that don’t appeal to me.

The commentary is disgraceful, mostly. People like Bruce McAvaney and Dennis Commetti, the Bristle, most of them are just disgraceful. Dermott Brereton over-commentates, Lingy is an over commentator too, I think he must be Dermott’s disciple. Some of it’s good and I do like Eddie McGuire’s commentary although you can’t listen to him when Collingwood are playing. Some of the commentators are really good – what’s that young, fresh faced bloke’s name? Huddo. I like him. The commentators who I think do a better job are the ones who aren’t probably those half dozen people who are really considered the top, like Bruce and that. I think there’s time for a change of the guard really. They’re disgracefully biased and if you’re watching a game and your team is a non Melbourne team, then you really feel it. You know, they make stinging comments – they try to mind read, someone will kick a good pass and they’ll say “oh he didn’t really mean that” or there’ll be a line ball decision and “oh gee, the Swans should have been penalised for that”. It doesn’t go the other way. And I’ve watched games where two non Melbourne teams are playing and they have no investment in the result, but the commentators will make it very clear who they want to win.

I think the AFL is well organised, I like their draft and salary cap, things like that. I think that all works well. You know that if your team’s on the bottom, then the likelihood is that they’ll hopefully swing round and be on the top a few years later. If you haven’t enjoyed it then a few years later they’ll be on the bottom and you will have missed it if you weren’t watching. I’d do something about the umpiring though. I just think it’s generally poor and I don’t think it needs to be.

What I wouldn’t change is how players interact with supporters. Even the very best of the most elite players in the AFL spend time signing autographs for kids and supports, so I certainly wouldn’t be changing that. I’d probably look at ways we can improve umpires and I think we need ex elite players to be umpires rather than people who clearly have never caught a ball before.

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I went to the rugby union a couple of weeks ago and watched the Brumbies have a good win and that was great, I also watch some rugby league on TV – mostly Manly games because I’m a Manly supporter. I think the rugby league is on an upturn again, it went for a long time after the Super league dramas where it just wasn’t very attractive. When Manly were chucked out of the comp that was the end of it for me and I didn’t watch any rugby league for a few years. Now I do enjoy watching it again, although it’s a very different game to the game I played years and years ago.

I loved everything about playing footy. Probably the biggest thing was all the friends through that, you sort of make life long friends playing footy. It is very much like going into battle with people I think and you form those life long bonds and friendships. You might run into somebody you haven’t seen in 20 or 30 years who you used to play footy with, and the time just falls away and you’re back to where you were the last time you were talking. I think that’s probably one of the really positive things about playing footy. The other thing is it’s just good to play sport and to play a hard, contact sport I think – it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it was mine and I loved it. If I had any regrets I think I’d wish that I had of been a lot better at it than I was.

I think sport is still very important to those small country towns. It was extremely important when I was a kid. When the local footy was on on the weekends then the whole town would head off to the footy and most people in those days, in the 1950s and 60s, would walk. The grounds were always packed and people just loved it and they lived for it. It gave them something to be part of, something to believe in, something to support and you see it in the faces of supporters at games just how important it is to them that their team goes well. I think the better thing about AFL is that people don’t take it as seriously and cling to the results as much as some other codes – you go to the AFL and if your team’s been beaten then you cop a bit flak from the other people and it’s all good natured, and then if your team wins you make sure you stick it into a few of them as well.

Cooma was such a multicultural area in the true sense of the word with all the people, mostly Europeans, who went there to work on the Snowy scheme. Soccer became big in Cooma and they’ve had Aussie Rules there since those days as well. It struggled a bit down there because it is the heartland of rugby league but there were so many people with so much time and local sport just captivates those people. They don’t turn up in droves to watch the cricket for some reason but I guess a game of cricket is just a little bit too long for people, where is goes all day or all weekend. It’s not so much a spectator sport unless you’re watching Australia play England or something like that.

My favourite memory of playing would be the 1980 grand final in Merimbula where we won. Winning a grand final, even Z grade in Gulargambone, is just every bit as good as winning one in a first grade comp in Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane or anywhere. The 80m try I scored in Tathra was pretty good, too. I’ve been back since and measured it and it’s probably closer to five though. Kicking five goals in a grand final was probably my best effort though, I’d say.

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