Opinion

Resuming transmission.

There’s a line in the Macklemore song ‘Same Love’ that goes, “Have you read the YouTube comments lately? / “Man that’s gay” gets dropped on the daily / We become so numb to what we’re saying…” It gracefully outlines how casual discrimination can be in our every day conversations, our online interactions, our lives. We throw away comments without any regard for consequences.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that line today in relation to the coverage of the incident regarding Caroline Wilson. For those late to the party, a number of men including AFL club presidents Eddie McGuire and James Brayshaw, made comments on a radio station about holding her underwater and drowning her. Exceptionally poor taste, no matter which way you look at it.

For some reason, no one fires up the football community quite like Caroline. But regardless of whether you like her or not, or whether you agree with her journalism or not, surely there’s a line that’s crossed when violence is threatened, no matter what the context is. I’ve read a hundred comments today that say “oh we wouldn’t be outraged if they said that about a man” and try and brush it off like the problem lies with the victim, not the offenders. Our outrage that a woman should be upset about a comment that was apparently a joke.

Thing is, much like apologies that start with the immortal words “I’m sorry if…” it’s not so much about the intent but the impact.

Regardless of gender, the comments amount to bullying. If we’re going to tell people to live in the fantasy land of possible situations like we wouldn’t care if it was said to a man, then imagine this: imagine if it was your son or daughter, your family member or friend, in their workplace and you heard that their colleagues had been making statements like they should be drowned. The manager of your 15-year-old son who works at Maccas. Your 21-year-old daughter who’s just got her first job out of uni. Your best mate comes home from work and tells you someone said that about them. Would you be mad? Would you laugh it off as just a joke? I wouldn’t. I’d be pretty pissed off.

So why is it apparently OK in this context?

One of the biggest causes for concern in those comments and the group-think mentality that followed, was how quickly and casually violence is implied. We despair of courts filled with the stories of victims of one-punch assaults and wonder how, as a society, we reached this point. It’s the utter casualness with which we regard violence and this casualness just serves to reinforce that it’s OK to think or behave this way. It’s fine to threaten someone, to call them names, to bully them, to assault them. And when it happens, if some people object to it happening, then the fault lies with them not the offenders. We’ve become numb.

Classic Macklemore.

I stopped reading a lot of the comments on social media today because my heart hurt. It’s 2016 and the fact that people out there still believe this type of bullying behaviour is acceptable and want to make excuses for it just makes me incredibly sad. And that’s even without getting into some of the personal attacks and derogatory remarks thrown at Wilson and those who defended her by ignorant idiots out in the community. Her Age colleague Emma Quayle defended her against one such comment and was then sent hardcore porn. Quayle made a great observation that while she’s never felt anything but respect from people she’s worked with or around, she “shouldn’t have to feel ‘lucky’ that I don’t really cop all that much from readers at all”.

The drowning comment wasn’t received as a joke and it was barely intended as a joke. For those who want to write it off or claim double standards because Wilson sat in a studio at a radio station earlier and took criticism from a colleague, they need to appreciate the difference between saying something to someone who is part of the conversation and immediately able respond and a group of people attacking someone who isn’t there and cannot defend themself in that context.

Women aren’t precious; we can take a joke. (We even make them on occasion, too. Oh the horror.) We’re up for banter, for discussion, for criticism, for humour. But again, what is actually funny about this? What is acceptable? To either gender? It’s not just about women, so anyone who thinks it is is just kidding themselves and probably trying to deflect from the genuine issue at hand. Because it’s about how casually violence is referenced and how easily someone is bullied by their peers. It’s about how people who should be leaders and role models and more than old enough to know better, have utterly let us down.

Surely it’s not too much to expect we are all on the same page with this.

My one small beacon of hope is that even a week on, there are people who have been prepared to be outraged about it and refused to stay quiet. In the midst of abject ignorance, there are those willing to put their hand up and say this type of behaviour is not only wrong, but completely unacceptable. So while my heart breaks over every fool who claims Wilson and her supporters have overreacted, it’s mended a little by those willing to speak up in support and call out the idiots.

There just might be a chance for us yet.

“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. If you become aware of any individual degrading another, then show moral courage and take a stand against it.” – Lietenant General David Morrison, AO.

*************************

For many reasons, long and varied, this blog has had to take a back seat this year. However I’m finally in a position to devote some time to it again and I’m looking forward to it. I sat at Etihad Stadium yesterday and watched the young GWS team eventually overrun the second string Bombers outfit, thinking about how great this game can be at times. Sometimes you just need a moment of reflection. My beloved Port Adelaide won’t make finals this year, which is desperately upsetting, but I’m hoping that they (like me) can draw a line through things and come out fighting for the second half of the season.

 

 

Advertisements

Futility.

night-lights-reflection-on-wet-road-700x437

I’ve been thinking about this post for a couple of weeks.

It started with the death of Cooper Ratten, the 16-year-old son of Hawthorn assistant coach and former Carlton player and coach Brett Ratten, in a collision where it’s been reported the driver is believed to have been alcohol affected. Young men in such a hurry. Rarely does it end well.

Then I thought about it again today when I heard that Hawthorn captain Luke Hodge had been caught drink driving. While the level of alcohol in his blood was considered low range, I thought it was pretty disappointing behaviour from one of the league’s most prominent players. It’s just sheer stupidity, no matter which way you look at it.

I like Hodge; despite the fact he just about broke one of Port Adelaide’s star player’s neck by ramming it into a goal post the other week, I’ve always admired him. My initial thoughts – aside from the sheer stupidity of the act that I previously mentioned – was that it probably wasn’t the best look for a player currently serving a suspension to be out drinking, especially when his team is heading into finals. When I heard the club wasn’t going to impose any penalty on him I was again disappointed. I’m not one of those people who thinks that footy clubs should just focus on footy, I think they absolutely should be agents of cultural and social change. Here was a chance for Hawthorn to stand up and say this behaviour was unacceptable from one of their players and more broadly, unacceptable in society, and they missed it.

It wasn’t until a friend raised it that I considered the juxtaposition of Hodge and Ratten. “How can Luke Hodge walk into that club and look Brett Ratten in the eye after his son has just been killed by a drink driver?” my mate asked me. I honestly hadn’t thought about it but a quick scan of social media showed plenty of other people were considering it.

I don’t know what the answer is but there is such unhappiness entangled in both situations and the way they will intersect.

I wrote the below piece about seven years ago and while it has absolutely nothing to do with football, it just feels right to put it here, right now.

We were in the kitchen, discussing incidents that had happened in our neighbourhood; all the things that went on in the dark hours of the night which I had previously been unaware of. Psych patients that cut into the soles of their feet, a boarding house only several doors down from us that was home to residents of questionable gender, a bloke who had gotten behind the wheel after a few too many drinks and driven himself into serious injury.

I mentioned a fatal crash that had happened almost right in front of our house, one rainy night months ago when I had been driving home late to watch a rugby test. I’d been unable to turn on to my street, stopped by a young officer in a long neon yellow coat standing amongst a litter of traffic cones, lit up by the blue and red flashing lights. I’d parked the car and run down to the scene, the water soaking through my thin shoes. I was peering up through my hooded anorak at what lay before me – debris scattered all across the road. Simple, everyday things like a shoe and a kids bicycle, lying there amongst the glass and torn metal. I remembered being struck by how incredibly unflinchingly ordinary those things looked in that situation.

The car itself was sitting in the middle of the road. It looked like someone of enormous strength had picked it up and tried to compress it into a smaller version of itself, with the top and sides pushed in as though it was made of nothing but putty. There was a blue tarp lying over it, flapping gently on account of the weather as people moved about the area.

On the other side of the road was a high concrete fence, the substantial kind that looks as though it is made of solid brick that someone iced with creamy concrete. There are no gaps in it and it’s one single entity that stretches for the length of the yard of the house it belongs to. Down the middle of it there was now a crack going from top to bottom, with the right side of the structure pushed back so it was no longer even. Black marks screeched from the fissure across the pale concrete, like the kind of marks you get when you’re moving furniture and you scrape the wall.

That whole fence will have to go, I thought.

I stopped to talk with several of the officers, introducing myself. Lucky it happened on a Saturday night I said, it means you can go about your work without interference. They nodded, grumbling quietly about the weather and lack of support from other units. When I asked what they thought had happened, one of them said they’d simply been going too fast along the road, hit the dip at the intersection then lost control on the wet road. How old were they, I enquired. Only young, the officer said, both males but impossible to tell the age of the one killed. Too badly hit. The other – the passenger – had gone to hospital.

I thanked them, said good luck and walked the 200 metres back to my house. My flatmates were inside watching the rugby. Did you hear anything, I asked? Someone has just killed themselves outside our house. One of them raced out and came back inside after several minutes. We kept watching the rugby.

The next day there was nothing in the paper except for a few brief lines hidden away on a late page to signify what had happened. I drove past the spot on the road where the crash had occurred and there was nothing there. The glass and metal swept away, the bike and shoe disposed of, the vehicle towed to a yard somewhere. No one would know what had happened there less than 12 hours previously, with only the cracked fence left as an epitaph to a young man’s stupidity.

I checked on Monday and read the names of the two young men from the northern suburbs who had been in such a hurry to get somewhere. The days passed and there was still nothing at the site – no floral tributes left below the fence or wrapped to a light pole with yards of sticky tape. No photos and no crosses. Nothing.

The fence is still not fixed.

So we were talking about this ‘accident’ and he remembered it, hadn’t been there but remembered it. I remarked that it was strange no one had stepped forward to recognise the dead and he said, “yeah, they were crooks.” I remembered the names I read, initially I had thought they might be internationals with no local family but the names had been traditional mid-eighties Australian like Jason or Darren or Damien. “Ah,” I replied, “crooks,” and nodded my head. We left it at that.

****************************

Every single day, people are killing themselves and others on our roads and we cannot seem to shake ourselves from the lethargic acceptance of this situation, or change our behaviour in order to stop it.

“Was it for this the clay grew tall?
– O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?”

– Wilfred Owen, ‘Futility’, 1917

A guide to footy fan etiquette.

geelong

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.

In the wash.

I can personally vouch for Cheyne Webster’s passion for AFL because he happens to be my brother. He’s spent nearly 20 years watching, playing, coaching and talking shit about the game and now I’ve convinced him to write about it. He’s chosen the subject of recycled players though I have to admit I’m a little put out he hasn’t included Paddy Ryder in his top five predicted success stories (this may be the last piece he writes then). He’s also put Sydney – the team he happens to barrack for – as number one when it comes to the ability to recycle a player well. So no bias there, then.

Cheyne’s lived overseas a number of times and had to beg, borrow and steal to watch games so I understand why he picked the 2012 grand final win as his special moment. For me personally, I have two favourite footy memories with Cheyne. The first is when we headed to ANZ Stadium (or Stadium Australia as it was known back then) to watch the Swans play the Lions in the 2003 preliminary final and Cheyne was wearing a Swans mask we’d bought God knows where at some point in time. You’d think people attending a Sydney game would appreciate the mask and understand its relevance but some punter still came up and asked my brother why he was wearing a duck mask. The second memory is when we went to see Port Adelaide play North Melbourne at Manuka Oval in 2005. Port had had a solid lead (around 60 points from memory) but went to sleep and got done. Ouch. Cheyne waited with a very sombre me after the game for quite some time then patiently took around 47 photos of me with Stuart Dew, who remains my all time favourite player. Maybe he’s not such a bad brother after all. Oh, and I still have that mask.

Well, it’s that time of year again. That time of the year as a footy fan that has you in a state of emotional limbo. The premiership action on the field has ended, and supporters of 17 teams this season have periodically broken up with their sporting bed fellow. After the ensuing period of enraged emotions and looking within for answers to their teams inadequacy to win the flag, footy’s answer to the dating scene has now hit full swing. Teams looking for a fresh start and fresh blood to put on their books, head to the national draft to reinvigorate their core groups to keep their dream alive. A raft of unfulfilled players already on club lists then for reasons unbeknownst to many become hot property. Like an out-of-town leggy blonde that struts into a far flung country pub – no one has seen her before, yet at first glance they all clamour at her feet to charm her socks off. She may look like the perfect woman, but those smart cookies in the shady drinking hole can see through the facade – why hasn’t she made it yet? How has she ended up at this last chance saloon?

One of football’s harsh realities is that on club lists that near the half century mark in number, some players just don’t make it. It would be hasty to judge these players who simply can’t get the opportunity that others get ahead of them, for a range of reasons. So many cards have to fall your way to forge a successful AFL career. As a supporter, it seems so straightforward – train hard, play well when you get your chance, and the rest takes care of itself. However, the hardest working people don’t always reap the rewards. When footy clubs fly the white flag at the end of seasons they’d rather forget, you can’t help but feel that a combination of exasperation and desperation sets in. Not all players have got it in them to be great but when their club spits them out the side and they all of a sudden become ‘available’, it amazes me how desirable some these players become.

One of the things I love about footy is a successful recycled player. Something that annoys me though are players who become huge currency at this time of the year and then seem to float into another footy club without reprisal. They are either drafted highly and fail, don’t fit into the club’s culture, or have had a bad run for one reason or another. Whatever plot lines are churned out by clubs, player managers, or the players themselves, someone is having supporters on. Are all players who don’t get a shot worthy of another chance? Like all employees at workplaces, some get the job done regardless of the circumstances, whilst others grasp at excuses like clutching straws. Perhaps young players on club lists reflect the young people in Australian society today. In this world of instant gratification, where we want everything now without having to earn it – perhaps its the wrong attitudes that are at fault.

James Frawley is a great example of this. The saga that played out all year was difficult to digest for all footy fans. Here we had a player who clearly didn’t want to be a Melbourne footballer – he decided well before the season’s end he wanted out and yet strung Demons fans on with the notion that he was waiting until season’s end to make a decision. He played some downright ordinary football this year in a fledgling team that needed strong leaders to convey some strength and credibility to the group. Coach Paul Roos used him down forward in a move which surprised many, but I cant help but feel was a method of awakening Frawley from his apathetic slumber. It’s worth noting that only four years ago Frawley was the All-Australian fullback. Leigh Matthews was particularly scathing of him on radio this season, claiming that, “…if Frawley wasn’t a free agent this season, his name wouldn’t even be mentioned. He’s not even in the top 100 players in the game.”

At the end of the day, however, not all players requesting to be recycled are footy’s big names. Twenty-nine players found new homes over this limbo period with most of them only playing a handful of games at their former clubs. There will be more to come. It is an exciting time of the year for these players – they’ve broken up with their football partner, dolled themselves up and thrown themselves into the meat market. Footy’s dating scene. Pumped up by their managers, telling all and sundry they’re not cooked yet, just resting on the warming rack on top the barbecue. Managers are playing match-maker, shoving their clients in the back towards the smiling group of singles in the middle of the footy dance floor.

So who are these singles strutting their wares, parading their premiership desires to the masses? Carlton, Western Bulldogs, Melbourne and Brisbane all played the jilted lover in 2014. Success has not come to these clubs for a considerable amount of time. Draft picks have failed (or flown the coop), experienced players have wilted in the ladder’s bottom half heat and players on the cusp have not lived up to expectation exacerbated by this flirtation with the dreaded wooden spoon. Has their spiral into singlehood driven them to drink one too many at the delisted free agent table? Sure, there’ll be recycled players who’ll prove their ex-lovers wrong. They’ll ‘go steady’ with their new flame, grow their mutual admiration and respect, work their socks off to make the relationship work, and – if all goes to plan – slip their finger into a ring on grand final day.

As supporters, now we wait. We wait for the flirting to materialise, we wait for the perception to become reality, we wait for the water to turn into wine. While it doesn’t always work out, I think supporters of clubs love a good recycled player. Looking far and wide at the competition, not only do successful ones enhance club rosters in the short term, provides them with huge impetus to drive towards a premiership sooner rather than later. They’ve ended up at the last chance saloon, and there’s only one thing they can do – drink up, or shut up. I can’t wait to see how they unfold.

My predictions? My top five recycled success stories for 2015 will be Mark Whiley (from GWS to Carlton), Allen Christensen (from Geelong to Brisbane), Shaun Higgins (from Western Bulldogs to North Melbourne), Travis Varcoe (from Geelong to Collingwood) and Jason Tutt (from Western Bulldogs to Carlton), An honourable mention also to Jack Crisp (from Brisbane to Collingwood). My top five likely recycle failures for next season are Liam Jones (from Western Bulldogs to Carlton), Sam Blease (from Melbourne to Geelong), Jeff Garlett (from Carlton to Melbourne), Tom Boyd (from GWS to Western Bulldogs) and James Frawley (from Melbourne to Hawthorn). This time the not-so-honourable mention goes to Jarrad Waite (from Carlton to North Melbourne). Finally my top five clubs who do the recycling this best are Sydney, Port Adelaide, Hawthorn, Collingwood and, so far, GWS.

Cheyne Webster

Name: Cheyne Webster

Age: 32

Recruited from: Canberra, ACT via country NSW, Taiwan, the Maldives and Thailand

Occupation: Teacher and local footy coach for Eastlake

AFL team followed: Sydney Swans

And why: The most parochial fans are those that follow their home – home is where the heart is. I am a born and bred New South Welshman, so I’ve got to support the Swans. I started to seriously follow footy in the mid 90s when the Swans brand exploded and I haven’t looked back. It’s a wonderful club to support.

All time favourite footy moment: It’s hard to go past the Swans’ grand final wins – the 2005 grand final was amazing but I’d have to say 2012. I was overseas at the time in a crowded Aussie ex-pat pub and I was literally the only one in the room wearing a Swans jersey, surrounded by hundreds of rabid Hawks fans. Needless to say I was the drunkest man in that pub and didn’t leave for quite some time afterwards, letting everyone know what I thought of the game.