Good name…Viv. For a debutant.

The act of following football defies plenty of logic. People who don’t support a club, or even like the game, don’t understand much of it. Why would you pay money to watch a collective named after a suburb close to yours possibly lose? Why are you leaving the warm house to sit amidst freezing concrete and even colder supporters? And what do you mean you’re in a shit mood because ‘your’ club lost?

But it’s those innate absurdities that create the best part of supporterdom. And for the most nuanced fan, another arises: the debutant.

They’re usually younger. And if they aren’t, they just weren’t good enough before. Their attributes need work and they’re not winning a game off their own boot. By the third quarter, the debutant’s legs are as heavy as the unfashionable number on his back. But they’re full of excitement. We look forward to their name in the 22, their first kick, and the hope that you can walk away with a “that young bloke looks alright” after the siren.

As a Fremantle supporter, I probably should’ve resigned myself to forgetting this sensation. One of Ross Lyon’s many stigmas is ‘he just doesn’t play youth.’ But in his 18-month tenure, Lyon has handed out nine debuts. And every time, you tend to look forward to it. Why do you want a Queensland-bred, SANFL back pocket in the league’s best backline? What’s a 5 foot 9 One Direction-look-a-like doing in your midfield? And while that might be oversimplifying their qualities, their untested ability is an odd thing to warrant excitement.

The thing about debuts is they come once. Some Frenchman came up with it. And there’s something special about the first of everything – it’s a celebrated hallmark for plenty of pedestrian things. ‘Firsts’ make parents smile. ‘Firsts’ warrant photos. ‘Firsts’ make self-conscious 16-year olds sweat near girls. They’re as unique in their rareness as they are in the feelings they conjure. I suppose our culture puts a pedestal on the kick-off for plenty of things, and a kid entering the grassy stage of a billion dollar industry isn’t any different. The excitement stems from a cultural smugness of being there and seeing it first.

But the world of AFL firsts is also intrinsically motivated. The sport is usually your first introduction to the things plenty of people enjoy their whole lives. You see your first huge crowds and the roar of “ball” through footy, and that sound (and it’s subsequent boos, depending on the ground you’re at…) probably still feels good at 65. It becomes an embedded part of identity as well as the crux of your weekend. So of course there’s a personal element in lots of football’s avenues and alleys – especially when sentiment’s involved.

We probably compare the debut to ourselves. The prospect of seeing your name on the whiteboard would be as intimidating as it would exciting. Then there’s the continuation of that: the calls to your parents, the pats on backs, the warm-ups, and the enviable feeling, like your heart’s an opening and clenching first, of getting out there for the first time. Imagine that? And imagine the money. And the lack of proper jobs or banal uni essays. It’s the life that a tiny percentage get to live and that a large fraternity dreamt of living. The cocktail of vicarious experience and jealousy is a heady one.

Viv Michie is one. He debuted against the Catters on Saturday night. Plenty of serious Dockers followers have tracked his WAFL progress with sister club Peel Thunder. He’d been amassing 30-odd touches and a few goals, but his fitness sat below the peak. Plenty of people were hanging out for his debut. Myself included. And I had a strange attachment to a guy I’d never even seen in the flesh before. Maybe I liked his quieter demeanour. No, I did. I thought it was cool how an AFL footballer was into The Strokes, and how he grew up in the poststamp postcode I now reside – 3065, Fitzroy. I liked how he was an inside player, won his own footy, and studied Arts. Pretence and cringe aside, maybe I just liked the similarities.

When he ran on to an absolutely freezing Simonds Stadium on Saturday night, plenty of fellow Freo supporters were happy for the kid. The ex-Fitzroy resident and junior player with toughness, aptitude, application, a footy brain, and bad luck was making his delayed debut. Since his drafting in 2010, people liked the look of the Oakleigh Charger – the ease in which he floated from contest to contest, dished out handballs, and made hasty clearances hit chests swiftly. But imagine getting picked up and losing your chance twice? And thanks to the same foot? Plenty of people empathised. And maybe plenty of people just hated delaying their “I always knew he’d be a good little player” boasts to onlookers and future admirers. But he got there on Saturday night. And he showed himself as a respectable, natural footballer. And we liked the look of him.

Brian Taylor, Cameron Ling, and Matthew Richardson extended their conversation to “Viv.” BT didn’t anoint his TAC Cup club as a footy factory, but Richo sounded genuine when he said “good name – ‘Viv.'” But Richo said something else, something pretty indicative of the culture of the debutant and the fandom Viv’d gained from Fremantle fans. “He’s got cult player written all over him” he said. It was that throwaway line, probably lost between jokey verbal jabs from BT, that spoke volumes about Aussie Rules’ unique debutant culture. It was hopeful, a sign of things to come, and in praise of a young kid who’s career could go anywhere. And you know what, Richo? He does have ‘cult player’ written all over him – and the ink’s already set in.

Comments

  1. Ben Footner says:

    Watching a young players develop is one of the great things I love about watching Aussie Rules. I was at Patrick Dangerfield’s debut and it’s been a joy to go on a ‘spectators journey’ with him as he becomes a true champion.

  2. Congrats to MOC and Joan and the Fitzroy Juniors as well.

  3. Kath Presdee says:

    Lovely article Kyle.

    Ben, one of the things that I’ve loved about being a Foundation member of the Giants is seeing some boys like Jeremy Cameron, Dylan Shiel and Adam Treloar grow into becoming young men and footballers. We saw these three (and others) in the NEAFL, and watched them debut in the AFL with the other youngsters picked up in the draft.

    The ‘spectators journey’ is a pleasure that I hope to enjoy for years to come with some of these boys.

  4. Very enjoyable read. And spot on too. My wife still reminds me that she “discovered Powderfinger”. There’s something about “getting on early” that appeals.

  5. Stan the Man says:

    Great insight into the world of the Debutant. I was at Norwood oval in the early 70’s when the guy on the oval loudspeaker informed the public of a number 9 a lad from Edenhope , Victoria – P Carman not included in the Norwood team to play vs Port Magpies. What a debut. What raw talent went on exhibition that afternoon. Yes we all said the kid can play…the rest is history. Gee I love a grand debut…long live the debut !!

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