Recognizing the Heart on the Sleeve

I’ve played football (several codes of it) in many different colours and patterns. I’ve been variously cloaked in red, black, blue, gold, white, green, grey, and orange, plus a few combinations of those and more I can’t remember. There’s been stripes, hoops, chevrons and design elements that I don’t know the name of – even some mythical creatures. Despite wearing all of that, and being worn close to my heart, I’ve never really given much thought to the cloth I donned for each match. I certainly never considered if there was one strip or another that suited me – I just didn’t ascribe any kind of in-depth meaning to any particular kit. One time I played for a team that got a good rate on some Polish national team jerseys and so we wore those.

I’m not Polish.

I’ve known some good Polish people, including the lad who got us the gear for $10 a unit, but mostly it was about the shirt fitting and me getting to play football in a tournament billed as being a celebration of multiculturalism. We were the Polish team and I think we had a single Polish player. He was our goalkeeper, barking mad, and full of pride that he was able to represent his Poland.

Good on him – We (Poland) won and I’ve still got the shirt and it still fits but I don’t wear it now because it feels like I’m being disrespectful to Poland. Because I’m really not Polish.

Which brings me to the AFL’s Indigenous Round and the special kits the players of all 18 teams donned for the occasion.

I’ll wear almost all of them, because quite simply, that clobber looked bloody brilliant and it’s as Australian as I reckon you can get.

I’m Australian.

This may be the only time I say this, but I’m even envious of Crows fans – That number looked deadly awesome, acknowledging the very first people of this land with clear respect, while the team dished out a reality-check to the Suns. Who were also decked out in a uniform that looked to have some class.

Not all of the examples were absolute stand-outs – Collingwood’s strict adherence to their black and white stripes tends to dull the creativity. The resultant strip was respectful but only in the way that McCartney and Wonder singing ‘Ebony and Ivory’ is – the message is good but the delivery has a synthesized beat underpinning it. Their Thursday night opponents St Kilda, by contrast, looked the real deal in their chosen ensemble. Musically they were Yothu Yindi’s ‘Treaty’ – A driving funk rhythm and respect for our origins.

Sure the Saints didn’t play like that, being soundly belted by the Pies, but the latter’s victory could have been sweeter if they’d taken an open look at those vertical bars, side-by-side on their uniforms, oh Eddie, why can’t you?

Most of the other clubs though had brought an open game to their kit designs. Even my beloved Freo. I wouldn’t have thought that anything could elevate the sight of Stephen Hill slotting goals on the run but the Dockers’ nod to Indigenous history did just that. And just like the boomerangs that the purple chevrons had come to resemble, it seemed like Hilly just kept gliding back to the arc for another successful strike on target.

Maybe those jerseys could keep coming back too. For more than one round a season.

As could at least one of the grounds – Alice Spring’s Traeger Park looked fantastic on TV. The surface looked like a bowling green while the MacDonnell Ranges as a backdrop gave the feel of a quintessential Aussie experience. The efforts of Port and Melbourne helped too – It wasn’t the greatest game of footy ever played, but the Dees kept the table-topping Power honest via some direct and energetic play. The game was in doubt until near the final siren and I reckon the locals were happy at seeing a contest.

As I understand it, Traeger Park (And the rest of Alice Springs) sits on the traditional lands of the Aranda people. Meanwhile Fremantle and upstream Subiaco, where the Dockers play their home games, are in Noongar country – and the contribution of Indigenous people to that club goes even beyond that gift. Freo would be nowhere in its own history without the efforts of a mob of Indigenous stars that have shone in the purple and white. It’s a bigger deal in footy than just Freo too – The entire AFL would be bereft without the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Sadly, history hasn’t paid the Indigenous community back quite so well. The Dockers’ banner on Sunday testified to that with a simple wish to honour the Stolen Generations – The victims of heinous policies that saw Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids forcibly removed from their families and their lands. In addition to the banner, the player’s jerseys also bore the Stolen Generation Commemorative Flower front and centre above the boomerangs. However simple, that kind of heartfelt recognition is surely a step in the right direction.

As is that promoted by the AFL at the ‘Dreamtime at the G’ showpiece, played Saturday night and featuring Essendon and Richmond. The Tiges couldn’t bring the footy to match the occasion and so the Bombers won handily across the park but for mine, the real victory was in the stands and outside the stadium.

Among a host of events and activities, there was a celebration to mark the 10th anniversary of Michael Long’s iconic protest walk while The Footy Record featured a large and bright ‘R’ on the cover. This is the symbol of the Recognise movement – a push to get Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples acknowledged in our country’s constitution. It’s a simple concept and it’s mostly symbolic but that’s ok because this Indigenous Round demonstrates the power of symbolism like nothing else in the AFL can. You can’t put on one of those jerseys, or even just look at them, and not feel something a little deep. Maybe it’s not quite a connection to this land but it’s a pride in who we are and a pointer for who we can be.

Maybe I don’t put much thought into the colours that I wear but I reckon I’ve found some meaning in a footy jersey. So when I buy a Dockers top for this season I’ll be after the Indigenous Round model – Heave ho, way to go, recognize Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our constitution.

About

Leftist sports writer, recreational astronomer, husband and dad. Believes in level playing fields and that people with a mental illness are stronger. Can be found in Perth, Western Australia and/or in a stupor.

Comments

  1. Peter_B says:

    Lovely piece Longworth. Fine sentiments.
    You had me until the final para.

  2. Thanks Peter – I politely refrained from mentioning the Subi Oval game, although the North jersey looked pretty good (Better than when they knocked off the Dockers earlier this year). The Eagles kit looked alright too but the effort less so. If you need a better memory, then as I was watching Hilly launching 6-pointers I got taken back in mind to Peter Matera.

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