Sydney

“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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“Eventually the umpire had to stop the game and came over and said, “Mate you shouldn’t be here” and dad turned around and said, “I’m starting to feel the same way about you”.”

Cheyne coach 1

I suppose the alternate title of this post is ‘What my brother thinks about footy’ because that’s exactly what it is. For as long as I can remember both my brothers (and my dad) have been involved in some code of football or another, be it AFL, rugby union, rugby league or soccer. Typical country kids that had a go at everything. Now that Cheyne has managed to stay in the country for longer than five minutes he’s moved from being a player to a coach and is currently based at the Eastlake Football Club in Canberra. We had a moment the other day when he told me that he likes GWS and Richmond better than Port Adelaide but terrible taste aside, he’s still one of my favourite people to talk about footy with. Not to mention he currently rates as one of my favourite two brothers of all time (and I’m pretty happy he decided to stick around with us).

Name: Cheyne Webster

Age: 33

Recruited from: Eastlake Football Club

Occupation: High school teacher and footy coach

AFL team followed: Sydney Swans

All time favourite footy moment: 2005 and 2012 grand final wins

“I go for the Sydney Swans. Being from NSW I think it’s great that you support a local team and I guess before GWS that was our only local team, so I’ve got an affiliation with them because I’m from there. Clearly they’re successful, which always helps, but I think the players that they’ve got there are really great to watch, plus the culture and their style of play is pretty awesome.

My first game was a long time ago now. I just remember how passionate people were about the footy. I remember going to rugby league games and people just kind of sit there and watch it passively but at an AFL game it seems like it was just non-stop screaming from everyone. People were either screaming at a player or the umpire or screaming at opposition fans. So that was kind of my memory of the first time at the footy though I can’t exactly remember who was playing.

I probably go to the footy four or five times a year. Being in Canberra with GWS playing games there now is great and I try to get to a Melbourne game when I can. Nothing beats watching it at the ground, it’s a completely different experience to watching it on TV. Just nothing beats actually being at the footy. Being a coach, I feel like I’m coaching the team when I watch – I’m yelling out at players to do things or getting upset at how it’s going. I wouldn’t just sit there and watch it, I’m very vocal and I don’t mind giving it to someone who is wearing kit that isn’t from the two teams that are playing. I think that’s important too because it’s one of footy’s biggest crimes, the umpiring.

I’ve got a few good sledges. One is actually something that you said, talking about dropping wooden spoons when someone drops their hat or scarf on the ground. That’s always a good one. It’s even better when people actually take the bait and seriously look around themselves and then realise they’ve been had. The anger in their face is gold. That’s probably my favourite sledge because it’s good to watch when it comes off.

I have been a member of the Swans before but I’m not now. I think it’s probably something I should do because I feel like it’s important for people to be members in order to put something back into the club.

I’ve got a couple of favourite footy memories. The 2005 grand final was massive – I was watching it at home with my family and it was just amazing to see a team that had been nowhere for so long just come almost out of nowhere and win it. And then in 2012 I was living overseas and I watched the grand final at an ex-pat pub in Bangkok and I don’t think I’ve ever been drunker in my life. I was screaming in people’s ear that Mike Pyke was the best ruckman in the world… I think a couple of people wanted to punch me in the face. But I just remember being so unbelievably happy.

Last year’s grand final was horrible, losing that way to Hawthorn. I remember wanting to turn it off after quarter time and I’ve never been that kind of person. Then just copping it from a lot of friends who are Hawthorn fans. So that’s a game that I wouldn’t want to really ever re-live.

I’ve got two favourite players, either Adam Goodes or Jude Bolton. I just love the way they both play their footy and they’re both great Swans people and I think they play the game right. I think they’ve both been wonderful ambassadors for the game. Currently I’m a big Luke Parker fan and I think he’s destined to win a Brownlow. He’s just one of those people who kind of embodies everything Paul Roos brought to the club in terms of that Bloods culture. I think he’s a phenomenal player and I also think he’ll be a future captain.

I guess before Buddy and Tippett went to Sydney I would probably say we’d want someone like a Nick Riewoldt, a big tall forward. I’d love Luke Hodge to play for us, I think he’d be exceptional and he’s a very good leader but he’s also hard and tough. I think he’d shore up our backline beautifully.

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I’ve kept playing footy myself for a long time because I always loved being around a place where people had a common interest. That’s why I’m still in footy now, even as a coach, is because people love the game and there’s lots of different ways that you can kind of embrace that and put something back. Obviously playing or coaching is one of them, and just supporting clubs as well. But being around people that just love the game is what keeps me going.

I’ve got plenty of good local footy memories. I think one of the best ones is our dad getting a fine for umpire abuse. That was a fantastic memory. But probably the best one is when I remember going to Sydney to watch our brother play football and dad was just absolutely giving it to the umpire all day. Eventually the umpire had to stop the game and came over and said, “Mate you shouldn’t be here” and dad turned around and said, “I’m starting to feel the same way about you”. The whole crowd did the “Ooooooohhhhhhh” and then dad had no hesitation in leaving after that. It was great. It’s probably my favourite local footy memory.

I guess I’ve always enjoyed studying the game and talking to people about why and how things happen, and how to get the best out of people. There’s a lot of things from coaching footy that translate into my normal job, which is teaching. I also enjoy helping people to get better. I think coaching has probably been more fulfilling than just playing to be honest, because you can see tangible results and there’s pressure on you to help others. It’s a selfless pursuit I think, whereas being a player can be a selfish one.

What makes a great coach is honesty, flexibility, drive, energy. I think they’re probably the four things any coach should really aspire to have. There’s a few coaches I really look up to in the AFL. I always enjoy listening to the Scott brothers and the way they analyse the game. They’re pretty refreshing in terms of their honesty and where they think the game’s at or what we need to do to get the game better. I’d really love to be a player under them because I think you’d learn an infinite amount from them.

I think I’ll stay involved in footy for as long as possible. It’s getting to a point now where it’s becoming an all-encompassing job and I’d really love to make a go of coaching to a point where it would become more than just a part-time pursuit. So yeah, I think I’ll be in it for as long as I possibly can because I just love being around footy clubs.

I’m concerned about the state of the game interstate, particularly in Queensland. I think that the product itself is still really strong but I also think the AFL’s push to equalisation hasn’t quite worked. They need to come up with some ways to strengthen footy in other areas. That’s probably something that needs to change. At the moment there’s really strong teams and really weak ones.

I love just how much people invest in the game. Like, there’s so many people who wear their heart on their sleeve and I think it’s a really great way to get people together and bring people together for a common purpose. It’s just a great thing to be a part of.”

Of my people.

sydney v port

I’ve realised over the years that people arrive at their football team one of two ways – they are either born to them or they choose them. The born to people are the ones who grow up in a family who support the one club or live in the club’s homeland. The choose to people are those who give consideration to who they are going to support, weigh up all the options and then make a decision based on gut instinct or some other intangible. Both paths are equally powerful and can deliver a lifetime of impact.

My family are all born to people. I am a choose to person. And doesn’t that cause friction.

Let me explain. All five of us are NSW born and bred, people who grew up watching and playing rugby league on cold weekends. Later it was also rugby union that fought for our attention and similarly divided us into NSW Waratahs v ACT Brumbies supporters. We all arrived late at the game we often referred to as “aerial ping pong” and it wasn’t until the Sydney Swans made the 1996 grand final that we took any interest in AFL at all.

So being good NSW people, dad and mum and both my brothers went with the Swans and have stayed true to them since. They’ve seen them play in five grand finals and win two of them. One of my all time favourite memories is racing into the city after the 2012 grand final win to meet up with my brother Paul who had come down to watch the game. As I walked into his hotel lobby he stepped out of the lift and we ran excitedly towards each other, hugging and jumping up at down in excitement at Sydney’s win. I have long adored the team of my people and for many years I also had a Swans membership. I love seeing them play well and I will cheer cheer the red and the white so hard against almost any other team in the competition – except one.

Port Adelaide. My team, the team I chose. Picked in the summer the year before they started in the AFL in 1997, they were the new team, I was the new supporter and they were going to be mine. The specifics of my reasoning have faded over time but my support has not, even when they break my heart like they have done this year. I’ve watched them play in two grand finals, winning one. I was at the MCG on the day of the losing grand final, one of the worst scorelines in history, and stayed right until the bitter end. Then I got hideously drunk at a pub in the city with my Geelong supporting best friend, vomited under a table and lost my 2004 premiership scarf.

I dread the couple of times a year Port Adelaide plays Sydney and I pre-emptively cringe when I look at those rounds when the new draw comes out. I know they are going to be tough because my family makes it tough. Port has the worst record against Sydney so I invariably end up bruised and battered after facing the brunt of their piss taking. My brothers can be particularly brutal so as much as I love Sydney, there is absolutely no team I’d rather beat.

Of course, my nightmare is a Port Adelaide v Sydney grand final.

It certainly won’t be happening this year, though not though any fault of the Swans who look red hot. Even missing key position players Lance Franklin and Kurt Tippett through suspension they still managed to get over the line last Thursday night by 10 points. What a heartbreaker. Port looked valiant at times but never really good enough to win, though they kept me guessing right until the bitter end (thanks for nothing).

There’s really not much to say about Port Adelaide this year that I haven’t said already and I can’t see much point re-capping another ordinary outing in detail. We’ve been wildly disappointing in a season where I think I could realistically say many of us dared to dream we’d be premiers. Week after week they’ve let me down and it’s getting harder and harder to watch the games. The one small point that has consoled me recently is a piece I read by Malcolm Blight who said most teams that experience a significant increase in form – like Port did over the 2013-14 seasons – generally hit a plateau before rising again. In 2006 Geelong finished 10th and in 2007 they were premiers. So it can be done. All I’ve got to do now is keep the faith.

Thursday was one of the most topsy turvy days I’ve had in a long, long time. It started with some poorly delivered news I didn’t get a job I’d applied for, then a couple of hours later I got a medal for some work I did a few years ago in the job I already have and love. My current colleagues said some gorgeous things that made me feel valued and the colleagues I nearly had expressed the right amount of outrage I wasn’t going to be theirs. I bantered with new friends then had drinks with some old. People told me my hair looked good (always a win). My parents told me they were proud. Despite some wildly fluctuating circumstances I realised that I really am surrounded by good people and that there are great things to come this year. Everything will be OK.

And of course, the team I chose got beaten by the team of my people. Of all days it had to happen on that one. But you know, I still wouldn’t change my choice for anything.

The anticipation.

MCG at night

I love seeing the MCG lit up and ready to go.

I love seeing it when I leave work late on a Friday and am inching through traffic on Flinders Street, the lights shining on my right and the sky turning pink as the sun goes down. I love seeing it when I go through Richmond on a chilly winter night, the light poles stretching into the dark. I love seeing it in the distance as I walk down Punt Road to go to a game, the anticipation surging through me and the excitement stating to build.

I also love seeing it super early in the morning against the backdrop of a sunrise, wondering what exhilaration and heartbreak have been experienced there only hours before.

Nothing beats those moments when you walk up to the ground and everything seems ready to go, calling you closer and closer and closer… You figure out which gate you need to go through and there’s that first glimpse of the green grass on the field.

You’re here. It’s on. Let’s do this.

Why would you want to be anywhere else on a Saturday night in Melbourne?

(Cracking win by the Swans tonight too in the grand final replay against Hawthorn. Just sneaking home there at the end makes it even sweeter.)

“If you’re not nice to that little kid then no, you’re done.”

clair

I worked with Clair White for well over a year before a Facebook photo made me realise she was actually a Sydney Swans supporter. What a missed opportunity that was and we could have spent months talking about how good Kurt Tippett looks in a red and white jumper these days. She’s also one of the few people I allow to message me about football on game day because she’s always respectful, though her reputation recently took a hit when she told me she thought Nat Fyfe was good looking. The other week she was on a late shift so that made Clair the perfect person to harass and actually, you know, talk to my friends about what they think about footy.

Name: Clair White

Age: 23

Recruited from: The Yarra Valley

Occupation: Media Officer (after being promoted off the rookie list)

AFL team followed: Sydney Swans

All time favourite footy moment: “Leo Barry you star!”

“I go for the Sydney Swans football club. I go for them because I didn’t have a choice in the matter. My dad went for South Melbourne and now I go for Sydney. That’s really about it. He started going when he was younger and it was thrust upon me. Everyone goes for Sydney (in my family) by blood or by marriage – my mum went for the Bears and now she goes for the Swans.

I feel like I’m too far gone now and I don’t want to be one of those “flip floppy” supporters who just change when the mood strikes. I had a friend who went from Essendon to Carlton when Dale Thomas got there because she thought he was good looking – that’s not a good enough reason for me to change teams. I like the Swans because I think they’re a good club. They’re a nice club. Everyone likes the Swans. They’re like, just the nice guys of the league.

I call them the Bloods sometimes. They still have SMFC on the back of their jumpers and I think that’s important to keep. Sydney people are probably like, “Screw that, it didn’t work in Melbourne and that’s why they came here and look how good they’ve been.” But we gave them their start and it’s important to recognise that. That’s why I go for Sydney, because they were South Melbourne once and our family wouldn’t be the only one that’s like that.

I went to the football for the first time I reckon at Telstra Dome. Or maybe Colonial Stadium was what it was called back then. It was when it was brand new and I would have been maybe about nine or 10. I had a colouring book because I couldn’t stay focused the whole time and we were up in the heavens of Colonial Stadium because it was so steep. There was a lady in front of me and every time Paul Kelly came on she’d be like, “Come on sweetheart! Come on sweetheart!” and it was so cute. So I had the colouring book, the lady and then I had the Footy Record. To get me interested and keep me watching, dad gave me the Footy Record and I was given the task of recording who gets the goals. So now to this day I will get a record. I compulsively fill it out and I cheat the system now because I have an app on phone to check, but I have to leave the ground with the Footy Record all correct. I bring them home and keep them for a while until I think, “Why do I have this?” and throw them out. But they do go home with me.

I feel like I’m bad luck when I go to games. I’ve seen the Swans win in person maybe only two or three times. I’m terrible luck. I go as much as I can because we’re an interstate team so we don’t have heaps of games here – last year I think I missed one of our Melbourne games. As I’ve gotten older it’s been easier to go but I’ll go to other games as well, not just Swans games. Mostly I try and recruit someone who goes for the Melbourne based team and go with them, otherwise I’ve got my sister or one of my best friends is like a Switzerland and will go with whoever, for whoever, whenever. It’s good when you go and you see all the other red and white people there. I remember distinctly being in primary school and having a footy day and everyone’s in black and white or black and red and I’m the only one in red and white. There’s a photo of me in a white polo shirt, red shorts, white tube socks and a red scrunchie. I reckon I was the lone Swan. It was terrible. I remember this one boy who went for St Kilda – who now goes for Gold Coast, which is questionable in itself  – saying to me, “Why do you go for an interstate team?”. For so long it felt like that was gnawing away at me and then we got really good so I was like, “Ha ha ha ha ha”. It’s been a labour of love but we got there and now we’re doing alright.

I don’t mind watching with other people. I do like watching with my dad, mostly just to laugh at how loud he gets, knowing full well no one can hear him and that most of us don’t really know what he’s yelling about anyway. Even though I’ve been brought up around footy I’ve managed to get to 23 years of age without knowing all the specifics of the rules. I played netball when I was younger and when you’re in it, you know everything. My mum came to watch me play netball for 12 years and could not tell you a single rule. She did it because she said it kept her less stressed. If she didn’t know the rules then she couldn’t get upset. I’ve taken a similar approach to football – I know if something looks wrong and I’m like, you can’t do that. You can’t grab that guy around the neck, that’s bad. Or hold that ball while he’s holding on to you. I’m a big “BAAAALLLL” fan but I’m not much of a sledger. My dad’s a big, “Open your eyes!” while I’m more of a “Pfth. Pfth. Oh. Pfth.” That’s about it, I don’t get too emotional.

I haven’t been to Sydney to see a game. I know. I was actually in Sydney last year with some girlfriends when the Swans had their family day and I was like, “Guys, we gotta go” and they were like, “Noooooo!”. I haven’t been interstate for any football – I’ve seen so many at the ‘G and Etihad. I have a friend who goes for the Pies and he always goes up to the game up there and they always beat us. He messages me and I don’t want to talk about it. It’s really depressing.

I’ve cried at home watching the football but I haven’t cried at the football. I cried in 2006. I’ve been yelled at by people when I used to work at Etihad in the bars and food outlets. There’s a lot of pressure on pies and beer at the football and as a 16-year-old, if you don’t have cold beer then you’re getting an earful. It’s nuts. I have cried in those halls of Etihad while going to get change or ’cause I’ve run out of water or whatever. It’s intense and it’s interesting to see the demographics between games. If you were working a North Melbourne v Melbourne crowd, it would be different to  working a Carlton v Essendon game. The different people that the different clubs bring, and the different vibe the supporters bring. It’s such a cultural and human experiment watching all the supporters interact. There’s also the difference between a footy crowd and a soccer crowd and their different actions are super interesting too.

My favourite day at the footy probably isn’t anything to do with the actual football. When I was in first year at uni I did a week’s worth of work experience at AFL House due to constant pestering of their Communications Director. When I was there they said just let us know if you want tickets to anything and I got tickets for my family, as well as my aunty and uncle who go for Melbourne, to a Swans v Melbourne game at the ‘G. We got these tickets and they were nice seats because they’re corporate or whatever and being there with them – we got trounced by the Dees and you don’t want that to happen – but it was great. I can’t be sad at the football. I like being there. It’s the same if you go to something like a concert and you know you’re there with people you have something in common with, I find it really fun and you can’t be sad. You can be really angry, but you can’t be sad.

nails

In 2005 when Sydney won the grand final I was at home and both those years, 2005 and 2006 I was so nervous. Though as much as I do love football it gets to about halfway through the second quarter and I do lose interest for a while. I lull. When it gets to fourth quarter I’m all there though. I was really angry we didn’t do anything more exciting when they won in ’05 – there wasn’t a big crowd at our house so we couldn’t all hug, it was just my family. I’d just turned 14 so there wasn’t much I could do; I probably just went back to watching TV. In 2012 when we played in the grand final I made cupcakes, red and white and decorated. I made a bet with my dad, who didn’t think we’d win, that if we won I’d get to paint his nails red and white and he had to wear them to work. So we won and I alternated nails red and white and then did dots on the nails. I think I was more excited about that than the actual win. It was awesome.

I don’t want to talk about last year. I think the thing I didn’t want the most was to have to come in here and look at Carla, my Hawks supporting boss. Last year… was terrible. It’s like we forgot why we were there. Or how to play football or what a football was or how to function. It was bad. It was bad and I think because it was Hawthorn it was even worse.

I am quite fickle with favourite players and I have a soft spot for different players for different reasons. Adam Goodes holds a dear place in my heart because I feel like he’s a attached to a golden era of the Swans and many of those players have now left or retired.  He’s great and I think he’s really good for our team off the field as well. I think he’s a good leader. Luke Parker – very good, Teddy Richards – am a fan, Mike Pyke – token Canadian and do love him. I was a big Ryan O’Keefe fan for a long time until he made it clear he wanted to move back to Melbourne and I took that as a personal affront. I was like, “No we’re done. No Ryan, no. We’re done.” And I was a big Tadgh Kenneally fan for a long time with his little jig.  I’m really not that picky though.

When I found out we’d spent that obscene amount of money on Buddy I was very emotional and I didn’t like it. I’ve gone now from not liking it at all to liking Buddy for three hours a week to being OK. He seems to have mellowed out a lot and I don’t know if that’s because he is in Sydney and I don’t see him all the time or because he has really grown up. He’s engaged now. But I was very nervous that Buddy was gong to unsettle our team and he’d be a bad off field influence. He probably has been and I just don’t know, but they haven’t imploded yet so he can stay until we get our money’s worth. So, for like the next 25 years…

I will take a dislike to a player if when they win the grand final they aren’t nice to the kid that gives them the medal. Like with Tadgh Keneally, he did his jig but did the jig before high fiving that little kid. And even though I’d liked him for seven years that did take away some of the love. If you’re not nice to that little kid then, no, you’re done.

My creepiest moment was during that week at AFL House and they had some kind of big team, maybe a world team and Michael O’Loughlin was there. I was kind of excited because that’s Micky O and he’s kind of a Sydney legend. But then I lost my absolute shit when Bobby Skilton walked in the door. I lost it. He’s like this tiny little old man now and I couldn’t even talk. I was trying and I couldn’t ask him for anything, I couldn’t do anything. I was just in full Bobby Skilton meltdown mode.

I have a jumper but I don’t have a number on my jumper. I think that reflects my fickleness regarding favourite players and I can’t do it. I have a scarf that’s probably from that first bloody game at Colonial Stadium. It’s pretty gross and it’s got my name that mum stitched on to tell who’s is who with my sister and me. And I’ve got a beanie somewhere, one of those old ones with the logo and the pom pom on the end. I don’t know where it is though.

clair and sister ali

I have a soft spot for Melbourne. They would be my second team out of all of them and it’s like, “Why do you pick the struggling youngest child?”. Or oldest child as it may be. I liked them before Roosy and a lot of my extended family go for Melbourne. I like the tradition and I just feel like Melbourne seem important. I don’t know why. And then there’s the Jim Stynes of it all and you get all emotional, plus they were almost broke then they’re not broke and you’re like, “Yeah you can do it!”. And they suck all the time. When Roosy went there it felt like the stars were aligning. I was very sad when he left the Swans but now I like John Longmire so I don’t mind as much.

I would give Tasmania a team. I reckon they’ve earned it. Hawthorn can’t just be getting all the love from Tasmania, they’ve had enough. No more for Hawthorn! There’s no real team I have any big issues with though there’s some teams I like less than others because I associate them with people who I don’t like that barrack for them.

I really didn’t like Matthew Lloyd when he used to play because he as annoying. I don’t like Ryan Crowley because I think he’s a bit of a douchebag. There’s some funny guys, I think Dane Swan is hilarious and I could listen to him talk for ages. I think Jimmy Bartel is funny because he’s quiet, he’s quiet-funny. I like Pav. I love Joel Selwood, oh my god yes. I was a big Jack Trengove fan from Melbourne. He hasn’t played for a year and a half though because he’s got a bung foot.

I do follow a lot of sports journos and a few players on Twitter but I get sick of the players tweeting annoying stuff like their holiday to Bali. I don’t care. I watch bits and pieces on the Footy Show and the news, pre game stuff and I also have the Footy Now app on my phone.

I like the politics of sport. I would like to work in that space one day and I think it’s interesting to look into how clubs function. I’m probably more interested in that than I am in stats and that kind of boring crap.

The best thing about the football is… anything that can unite people like that, where you can take four hours out of life and just be at the football. There’s no pressure. But at the same time, something that is literally as simple as some men kicking a ball through some sticks will stop this town. Even at work I have to be ready – if James Hird quits his job tomorrow then I’m getting nothing in the paper because the first dozen pages are going to be about Hirdy. The best thing about the footy is that you can just be at the footy, you don’t have to worry about anything else.

Sydney will make finals this year but I don’t think we’ll win. I reckon at the end of the home and away we’ll be maybe fifth. I reckon we’ll get later into finals but I don’t think we’ll finish at the top. We have just dropped the bundle before. I’m very sceptical and I’d rather aim my expectations low and be surprised rather than bitterly disappointed.”

Tres disappointment.

port loss

There’s two different ways to lose: the first is when you have one of those nothing seasons where wins are few and far between and losses become the norm. You’ll be disappointed to get done but hey, you’re used to it by now. The second way is when you’re carrying the weight of immensely high expectations and are completely crushed by them when your team comes undone.

Let me assure you, it’s the latter that really hurts.

It’s an exquisite kind of torture when all your family support the one AFL club and you are the only one who doesn’t, then their team beats yours. Being born and bred in NSW I have a lot of love for the Syney Swans except for one or two days a year when I find them (and my family) utterly intolerable. It’s been especially difficult given Sydney have proven themselves to be something of a bogey team for Port Adelaide and regardless of our respective fortunes, they always seem to beat us. I’ve gotten used to copping a hammering from my brothers in particular but let me promise you that it never stops hurting. Or being really fucking annoying.

Tonight’s 48-point loss was bitterly disappointing for a few reasons. The first is those expectations I mentioned and the fact Port have been considered almost THE premiership contender for this season. To start the year 0-2 isn’t what we wanted or expected. I kinda thought we’d have two wins under our belt by now and be the talk of the town. The second is that tonight was our first game at home at Adelaide Oval and clearly we hoped our vocal supporters would play the role of the 19th man and cheer us through to a win.

It’s also hard to watch your team lose by making the exact same mistakes they made during the last loss. Against Fremantle Port kept repeatedly kicking to opposition players alone and making some really poor decisions with the ball that resulted in turnovers. We keep trying to consistently play that awesome running game we can do so well, but it’s almost like the players don’t know how to get the ball up the ground if it’s not a running handball under pressure. I’d like Port to be a bit calmer and consider their options a little more.

Tonight again highlighted to me that Ryder isn’t the great saviour we probably expected him to be and that we really really really miss Lobbe. If we could have a team full of Robbie Grays and then Boaky as captain, we’d be laughing. Gray is just such a class act and ye olde cliché “silky skills” really applies. Trengove and Carlisle stood up at the back, while Monfries looked dangerous up front. Pittard had a solid game and made up for his ridiculous mistake last week. I thought all round there’s a lot of room for improvement so hopefully the players will take note and start refining.

I don’t want to say much re the Swans except it was satisfying to see Hanneberry get belted and Gary Rohan’s red hair really shits me.

In the end, the only thing that kept me watching was that tiny pilot light of hope that we’d get our act together and start kicking a few goals, enough to pull together a gutsy come-from-behind win. That and the fact the camera kept focusing on a hot and sweaty Travis Boak (that man is my everything). Watching our beloved captain hurl his mouthguard on the ground in disgust after the final siren was a good sign I think and hopefully he can lift us for round three.

Next week is the Kangaroos in Melbourne and I’ll be heading along to Etihad Stadium on Saturday night. I fucking hate North and their “Shinboner Spirit” bullshit with the power of a thousand suns so fingers crossed we can notch up win one. Otherwise the weight of that unlived up to expectation is going to keep crushing me.

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.