AFL Fans: Curse You Harms, You’re Right (about Crows fans)

by Richard Arrowsmith


I could tell from the opening words of John Harms’s article (first published in The Age on Wednesday and now on this site) that there was trouble ahead.

“I am worried about Patrick Dangerfield. He seems like such a nice boy.”

You can visualise the trademark Harms smile as he affectionately paints the picture of South Australia’s Stepford-like attractions for the lad from the Geelong district. He’s Brad Johnson in a skivvy.

There’s going to be a kicker, isn’t there, John? You want him back. You want to invoke the “go home factor” lest the Cats lose their monopoly on big-bodied, highly-skilled midfielders. You’re going to tell us he’ll be part of Geelong’s next premiership team, not Adelaide’s.

Oh yes, it haunts me, that smile above the skivvy. I lie awake at night worrying – about Dangerfield, and Walker, and Tippett, and Mackay. Good grief I could add half the team to that list. And I worry about losing them. I want to write them a letter telling them about the virtues of being a “one club player”; about Nathan Buckley’s ill-fated move from an upcoming premiership club to a club that fell short; about how Mark Bickley said “I have a club that I love, and it loves me back”. I want to tell them stories of the Baby Bombers. Maybe I will write that letter.

But Harms J has sold me a dummy. He has held the ball out to me and then slipped around to hurt me on the scoreboard.

But the thing you have to be most conscious of, Patrick, is becoming like a Crows’ supporter: grim. Because for all the joy that South Australia, the Adelaide Oval, Les Favell, KG and Cornesy, Jarman and Ricciuto, Hayden Haitana, West End beer, Barossa shiraz, Darren Lehmann, Coonawarra everything, and The Advertiser can bring to you, when it comes to footy, Crows people still live with an underlying, spirit-sapping grimness. Crows’ fans don’t crave the joy of playing, they don’t crave the joy of winning, they crave the relief of not losing. Being at Footy Park is like being at the old Highbury or the dentist.

No, John – No! That’s not fair! We’re not all like that! I’m not like that! I’m not grim! And anyway, that’s a bit rich coming from a Geelong supporter!

But like all generalisations, it has a grain of truth and within minutes my life as a Crows supporter had flashed before my eyes. And he’s right, you know – there is a certain grimness around the Crows’ supporter base, and there has been for years.

Sometimes I feel like I’m surrounded by grim Crows supporters – on 5AA, in online comments on The Advertiser – and at AAMI Stadium on match day where these days a visiting team can shut the crowd up with a goal or two. Even Bay 131’s iconic “lady with the streak in her hair”, who makes it her job to gee up the crowd (but only after a Crows goal, not when the team needs it most), seems less active these days.

I can remember being told to “sit down” with a tug on the back of my jacket, when I dared rise to my feet and cheer a goal. I have moved on from that seat, but the negative elements are still there.

And I almost dare not speak of “Mr Grumpy”, who sits behind me now. I have a dark fantasy of watching him coaching a junior side, screaming abuse at their every error but with never a word of praise for the good stuff. I gave him a spray once, a few years ago – it all got too much for me and (to my shame) I turned on him at half time. And blow me down, a few times during the second half I heard a faint “C’mon Crows” from behind me, sounding like Tom Hanks tentatively trying out new words after years on an island. So we shook hands at the end of the game – but years later, he’s forgotten how to “C’mon”.

We do worry. I worry. I worried after we gave it up to the Bulldogs and Brisbane. When we were leading Carlton by 8 goals at half time, I worried about the third quarter. After we smacked Carlton, I worried about Hawthorn. Then I worried about Essendon. And I worried all the way through the slog that was the Round 12 game against North.

And then I remember what it can be like. The 2006 Qualifying Final vs Fremantle. Four points down at three quarter time, and the Dockers were hearing footsteps. 42,000 of us started the “Adder-layde” late in the third, and it didn’t fade until after the ball was bounced to start the last. If victory had depended on the players hearing Craigy’s words in the huddle, the crowd had ensured a defeat. It remains the most awesome sound I have ever heard – no, felt – at a game.

I can’t help but think part of that was because a finals crowd at AAMI has thousands of “newbies” to refresh the spirits of the regulars who take it all for granted. We sit with the same people every home game. We’re like family. But families don’t shout and scream and cheer – not at the football, anyway.

We’re world class when it comes to umpire abuse, though.

Where did it come from, this grim, worrying view of our team and its prospects? We started 1991 by pantsing the reigning premier and even the inevitable big losses didn’t dampen our spirits. The 1993 Prelim debacle was just a taste of what could be coming. We were happy, we were optimistic. The dark years of Robert Shaw passed quickly, and suddenly, unexpectedly, amazingly, joyously, we had a locker room full of dual Premiership players.

In 1997 I stood in the living room and applauded as the siren went. And yes, I teared up. I packed my young kids in the car and drove through the city so they could share the street party. I still remember the bloke who shouted “good on ya, Dad!” when he saw my precious cargo. In 98 we partied in front of the big screen in Elder Park as Peter Vardy somersaulted through the sealing goal.

Was it too easy, too unexpected? Have we had no real practice at watching our team build steadily towards a flag? Are we spoiled? Worst of all – are we ignorant of what it really takes to be a supporter – of a Hawthorn, or a Sydney – or a Geelong? Are we just happy to sit back and bag the coach? I can’t forget that this was a supporter base that a few years ago thought Nathan Bock was no good (but I can claim that I was a Bock fan from day one).

So thanks for writing that John. That was, in coaching terms, a massive wakeup call. I might be one of the few in the outer who actually gets to his feet for a great tackle or a good goal (any goal, actually) but I won’t kid myself – I can improve my game.

You had some help, John, from Footy Classified‘s Gary Lyon and Craig Hutchison on Monday night. Together they delivered a glowing report on Andy Otten, followed up with “they’re good, and they’re young” through those pursed lips that Gary uses when he’s impressed. I mean, I already knew that. But hey, Lyon agrees with me, and Hutchison used the words “top four”. I will, I must, I can worry less and cheer more – can’t I?

And if I have anything to say about it, Danger Mouse is going to love his club, and his supporters.


  1. John Kingsmill says

    On Being a Grim Adelaide Footy Fan

    There are good reasons to be grim sometimes.

    I was grim when Graham Cornes was given the coaching role of the first Adelaide Club and brought his Glenelg cronies into the new club with him. I was a lifelong North Adelaide fan and hated Glenelg more than Port because they had denied my club a couple of premierships.
    I had to swallow more than my pride at the beginning, but I managed it… mainly through the North players Andrew Jarman and Ben Hart. And later, of course, when Cornes was long gone and D. Jarman played such a pivotal part in two premierships, that grimness was dead and buried.

    I was grim when the Adelaide Footy Club thought they needed a Victorian coach to get anywhere in the national competition and appointed Robert Shaw. That was dumber than dumb. I got over that because it didn’t last for very long.

    I was grim when Malcolm Blight sacked Andrew Jarman.
    One of my favourite alltime players. But I got over that.
    Up until then, the Crows hadn’t been the Team for All South Australians. The Crows had been the Team For Me. and my private North Adelaide fantasies.

    Blight forced me to grow up, in a sense.
    The Crows were no longer North Adelaide or any one of the other clubs.
    The Crows were now themselves. And Blight delivered back-to-back premierships.

    Far out!

    Instant payback for the pain.

    I was grim when Blight walked away after losing the plot week by week in his third year. I was grimmer when he took up a coaching position for St Kilda not that long afterwards. I am still a little grim because I still don’t understand what happened to him in that third year and, so far, no-one does. Will Malcolm Blight please write his book while he can still count to a hundred. Otherwise, I fear one of the great footy stories of the age will remain untold.

    I was grim when Gary Ayres was appointed coach but so was everyone. And so would you be. Gary Ayres was Father Grim. His press conferences were Father Grim Smiling. Not a good look. I was even more grim when the AFC considered Terry Wallace as his replacement. Thank god that didn’t happen. And thank god the AFC appointed Neil Craig who understood more about the squad than anyone else and someone who also understood something about South Australian football culture.

    I am grim these dayswhen Adelaide media figures make idiots of themselves supporting my team in national forums. I cringe for their hillbilliness, their pathetic need to think they have to take it up to the national media… some of Mark Williams’ stunts on national TV, for example… or Graham Cornes or KG goosing it up on national footy shows as if they are fighting a war. They are not.

    But that hardly matters. Victorian media figures say outrageously stupid things every day of the working week that Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney, Hobart, Canberra and regional fans have learnt to take for granted.

    The interstate teams… for example. Interstate according to whom?
    Where is the point of view, here?

    It’s the dominant Melbourne market, of course.

    You can analyse most of the national talk in point of view terms… it’s so Melbourne-centric, that few of the participants realise they are doing it.

    I was grim when Port won its flag in 2004. I thought Port had a skinny chance of going back-to-back in 2005 and wiping off the permanent smile that had been etched on my face since 1997/98. When Brisbane went one better than Adelaide in 2001-03, I was in awe. Lovely bunch of players, good coach, honest club… could wish that success to no finer better group of people… but, please, please, not Port in 2005… not those fake ghetto wannabe victims of living… not to those poor-us/everybody-hates-us collingwood copies… not those whinging whining best-club-in-Australia egotists… not those Only-Real-Club-in-the-Competition PaperBullies…

    But not grim with your response to JH’s piece, Richard. Not grim at all.

    John Harms lived here for a while and once understood a thing a two about SA culture.
    Since he’s left, all those brand names he mentioned in his SA piece are no longer SA brands. They are all made in Connecticut or Osaka or Melbourne or somewhere… like Fosters making all the once proud world beer brands out of some Melbourne suburb, and passing them off as global products.
    [Don’t believe me? Buy one of your favourite world beers; turn the bottle around and see the magic words: Made in Melbourne. Fake beer. Fake Melbourne cosmopolitan beer.
    Harms forgot to mention Coopers Ale, of course, still one of the best beers in the world that even Melbournians prefer to drink. They haven’t got their hands on that one yet… nor have they been able to produce a beer of their own they want to either drink or promote. ]

    But John Harms has only been a visitor to our town, an interloper, a tourist, a notetaker, a travelling salesman, a bedwarmer, a seedplanter, an investor in our art. He came here, went on the dole and slept with all of our women, like those New Zealand expats who came here for the surf. He wouldn’t know a checkside punt if it walked up to him and kissed him on the lips.

    And don’t get me started on Cape Jaffa, Lilla’s, the Cherry Trail, the Trak, James Ashton, Stall 45, Michael Bollen, Cleo Lane, Gaganas, cheese and gherkin double cut rolls, the Cash Store in Gilles Street, Norwood in autumn…

    The only reason he hates Adelaide is that no-one here know how to make a decent cup of coffee. And he is right, there. A genuine complaint. Melbourne understands coffee like no other city on earth. On the other hand, Adelaide has some excellent teas…

    John wrote:

    Postscript: I was at the Adelaide-Geelong game (circa 1994) at Footy Park when Ablett kicked 10 out of 14 in a losing side. His remarkable skill didn’t raise an eyebrow; didn’t register a murmur.

    I, too, was at that game. It was one of the most remarkable games I have seen in my life and one of the most remarkable performances from any one player. I sat there in complete awe. Dumbstruck. Silent. Almost in prayer.

    I wanted Ablett to kick more.

    The Adelaide crowd paid great homage to Gary Ablett on that night with their silence.
    Sometimes, a footballer is so good, you should remain quiet unless you interrupt an artist at his work.

    We understand the true nature of silence, Richard.

    Our eastern cousins are too loud for the world sometimes.

  2. johnharms says

    John Kingsmill

    What a magnificent defence. The Kingsmill silence defence. “Almost in prayer.” Well let me defer to such insight.

    And yes, I took a risk building a sense of SA identity on my experience of 1985 and subsequent (annual) interloping. But it was a considered risk. I looked around today and saw KG and Cornesy (still holding the state together), Farmers’ UNion iced coffee (this got more response than any ohter line in the piece),the fruit fly bin (hasn’t moved), and churches (still standing even if they’re now restaurants, offices of personal trainers, and nail salons).

    But even still, these are just a few things that I picked out because I think they give SA a distinct identity, and I celebrate them. I could have picked those few abandoned buildings on the Truro-Eudunda road which keep getting photographed for QANTAS and SA tourism ads. I could have chosen the Chappell bar on any day of the test where people love cricket so much they never climb the few steps to the actual arena itself. (Now the Adelaide Oval crowd is a completely different story)I could have chosen Maggie Beers and Simon (lavendar icecream and stewed apricots).I could have chosen alpaca farming (not llama farming) and water ski-ing up the Murray.

    My whole point is about the nature of the Crows crowd at Footy Park. Not Adelaide or SA.

    please help me to understand that.


  3. johnharms says


    Do you remember that restaurant called Mistress Augustine’s in North Adelaide? In 1985 it was superb. I once took a bottle of Scotch there and after a superb meal (kangaroo and oyster pie served with mash) the poeple running the joint sat down with our crew (three of us) and knocked it off. Great night. And, I thought, very Adelaide.

    Now move forward to the last Ashes series. The eve of the first day our visiting team from Melbourne played a twilight match v St Ignatius Old Scholars at Webb Oval (Park?). They made 210 in 20 overs. ONe red-headed bloke arrived in a cab, waltzed in, batted like David Gower for a quick 80, and then went back to the office. We got flogged. Finished up in a Norwood pub enjoying a sensational steak with a list of reds to dream about. Very Adelaide.


  4. John Kingsmill says

    Yes, John H.

    You write:

    “My whole point is about the nature of the Crows crowd at Footy Park. Not Adelaide or SA.”

    AAMI is a sell-out for season ticketholders. There’s a waiting list. Each year we renew our season tickets, thinking that if we don’t we will lose our seats.
    Each year, for every game, we return to the same seats with the same people sitting around us.

    We go to AFL football in ADelaide and we sit in the same seats with the same people.
    And this has been going on for twenty years.

    This is new and this is different.

    In SANFL, you enter a suburban stadium and find your mates on the hill or sit or stand with a different bunch of strangers each week. And make new friends… or enemies… or whatever. Old SANFL footy was always a new expereince every week with new people based on old regualr patterns… favouyrote spots on the ground, next to the piecart, close to the golas, or changing ends if tyhe wind was blowing so that you always saw most of the game.

    AFL at AAMI is one seat, one set of experiences, fortnight in, fortnight out, year in year out, decade in, decade out.

    It’s dry and sterile. BUT THIS IS THE PRICE the South Australian football community has paid to become a part of the AFL experience.

    I am not moaning.

    Victorian fans have paid a huge price too.

    They have their venues reduced to two. Or three, if you include Skilled Stadium.

    DStaying with Adelaide, for a moment, I think this sterility is no different to, say, the one-team-per-town culture of, say, most American sport and most American cities inviolved in national; comps.
    One team, one venue, one set of experiences year in, year out.
    One group of people you watch the game with for five, ten, twenty years.

    It’s a probelm for which I can’t see an obvious solution.

    An aside.

    Radio 5AA has often criticised Adelaide crowds for sitting there like stunned mullets through a game. Year in, year out, 5AA footy know-alls have asked why the Adelaide crowd is so quiet.

    In the very first year Adelaidejoined the competition, every season-ticket hoilder was goven a little portable AM radio locked into 5AA as a promotion gimmicj, encouraging Adelaide patgrons to listen to the radio broadcast as they watched the game.

    This single act, all by itself, changed the nature of footy attendance for a generation overnight. Many of us found that by listening to the raqdio we could idnetify every player in every passage of the playt without having to refer to the Record (sorry! We call it the Budget in SA).

    Why is Adelaider so quiet?

    We are all sitting there, listening to the raqdio bradcast and forgetting to barrack.

    5AA’s condemnation of Adelaide’s silence is the height of hypocrisy.

    As for anyone else’s view… it doesnt matter. if we sit there listening to ABC-FM classical music through a game, we are allowed to do that. We’ve paid our money. We can do what ever we want to do.

    Some kids next to me sit their texting their friends throughout the entire game. I don’t understand that either. But, that’s their call. They are spending their recreational money in a way they choose.

    A second aside.

    40,000 or 50,000 adelaideans attend Adelaide games each week, every week.
    700,000 people watch each game on the telly.
    That’s where the real culture is, John.
    The real city.

    In that aspect, is Adelaide any different from any other small city in the world?

  5. johnharms says


    It’s the lack of observable affection for the game as played by the opponent which intrigues me. It’s like victory is all.

    I think most fans have two loves: the game (which is subconscious and expressed at special moments) and their club (which is conscious and expressed often). I am wondering why this is lacking in Crows crowds as Footy Park.

    It is certainly evident at the Gabba where there is delight in the game being on show where 30 years ago it seemed highly unlikely.

    In Melbourne I have seen fans, no matter how disappointed, applaud both teams off. The prelim final Geel v Coll in 2007 is a classic example. A magnificent night. tension. And spectators left euphoric, shattered, and all drained.


  6. John H –

    Firstly, thanks for your piece.

    I’m possibly not the right person to talk about this, because I’m an expatriate Adelaide fan. I’ve seen them play more times at Kardinia Park than at Footy Park. But I have seen a few games at West Lakes – including the night of Gary snrs. 10 goal feast.

    I agree with your premise that most fans have two loves. That’s why I can quite happily sit down and watch Essendon play Melbourne on a night where I don’t have more than a tipping interest. I love the game.

    I have seen plenty of occasions where Adelaide fans did the right thing by the game. Adam Simpson got an appropriate reception as he left Footy Park after game 300, despite the conditions. I’ve seen Pavlich applauded for singlehandedly keeping his side in the game.

    Likewise, I’ve stood and applauded Chris Grant as he entered and left the field in game 300. Similarly, when Brad Johnson ripped my hopes up in the last 5 minutes of round 1 last year, I clapped him off the ground when every smack of my hands hurt me all the way through. I’ve applauded great play by the opposition, as recently as the last game I went to.

    Where I take issue is your characterisation of Adelaide supporters as somehow grimmer, or less lilely to appreciate the opposition than their brethren elsewhere. I can cite examples that match your Gary Ablett snr one. I’ve seen Tony Modra and Matthew Robran take goalsquare hangers at Kardinia Park with barely a murmur from those not wearing the tricolours. I’ve seen Jason Porplyzia weave a goal out of nothing and the only sound from the opposition supporters being moans of discontent. I’ve seen Brett Burton do things that should really only be performed in video games to combinations of stunned silence and abuse of his human stepladders. Would I be fair in extrapolating this to some assessment of the grim nature of the supporters of Victorian clubs?

    The problem, in my opinion, is pure weight of numbers. If you sit in the crowd at Kardinia Park as a Cats fan, see an opponent (particularly one from a non-Victorian club) perform miracles, and hear quiet noises of appreciation, how easy is it to convince yourself that it’s your fellow Geelong supporters being sporting and loving the game? Whereas if you sit in the same crowd as a supporter of the other side, and all you can do is hear you and your fellow die-hards going crazy in the wind blown silence. That’s the experience you’ve had at Footy Park, John, and I get that. It’s what I get every time I see my team play.

  7. johnharms says


    I take your point, of course. Your argument makes complete sense. I have been to Geelong games where there has been little acknowledgement of the opponent – especially in recent times v West Coast.

    However I’d argue that a Geelong crowd seeks joy. That’s the starting point. And that the joy is often provided by the game, the style of game and the effort of the home side. Not just the result.

    I think there is a longstanding culture of this in Geelong. The citizens of The Pivot have, for generations, gone to Corio and Kardinia to see their team PLAY football. This is very nineteenth century, but Geelong and its footy culture goes way back to then.

    This celebration of play has been an issue for some diehards who got tired of the large section of supporters who are satisfied with an admirable loss.

    I think Geelong’s greatest eras have been when the coach has encouraged the team to play footy – I think of Blight especially, although interestingly he couldn’t quite pull it off. But what a ride! I think the Geelong of 2007-09 taps into that, and I think of all those Geelong people who for years just wanted to see players freed up to take the game on. How happy they are now.

    I like to read some of the writing of fans from clubs who have never felt entitled to expect success. Just being at the footy is what it has been about for a lot of them. Scragger John Weldon is fantastic on this subject (an Almanacker and one of his pieces Round 17-2007 addresses this).

    I think there are differences in fans and maybe, like the parent of the private schoolkid, Adelaide members/fans feel like saying, “I’ve paid the bill, why isn’t my kid a genius?”


  8. I am old. Old enough to remember almost 40 years back before I emigrated from Melbourne to the best city on Earth. In those days to go to Victoria Park, Windy Hill or The Junction Oval, to name a few, as an opposition or neutral supporter was to risk your life, or at the very least being maimed.
    Still, I went, because I love the game. I even played it and coached at a lower level than VFL/AFL.
    I go to Crows matches whenever the cold and wet aren’t too bad to have the arthritis flare up to the point of misery. Yeah, Adelaide crowds are quiet in comparison to those blood-letting tribal rituals in the old VFL and the VFA. It’s just the nature of the people that live in this state. Adelaideans are a much more reserved bunch than people in other states. This is the one city in the world where you NEVER see a standing ovation in theatre, opera or associated art forms. Pavarotti got a polite clap. But that doesn’t mean the Adelaide crowds appreciate Pav (the opera or Freo one) less that people in other states. Nope, it’s just the way people here are.
    You will find no more knowledgeable football fans anywhere in the country. Fans here know their onions, believe me. Just check any of the footy blog sites that have all clubs on them and look at the informed and erudite knowledge displayed on A Crows Board (we’ll leave aside the rabble down the road. They would not know if their arses were on fire. They took your article seriously and they are crowing–err–porting about it).
    So, this is a different place to the rest of Oz. People react differently, and as you passed awhile among us you should know that.
    Incidentally, my pet hate is that bloody awful clap clap clap Ad–el–aide chant that goes up around the ground. It is so–refined!
    I laughed out loud at your article and so did my mates. Can’t wait till you do the Poower.

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