AFL Grand Final: Post-siren concern for Saints suggests a moment that could last forever

By David Bruce

I don’t know for certain, but I imagine that the day you somehow lock down your lifetime football allegiance must be a keystone day. There is certainly enough research into the psychology of supporters to surmise that the club you end up being passionately but non-influentially entwined with must have some influence on how your life will pan out. Therefore, it follows that the day you make that decision, if a decision it is, retrospectively must be a day of far-reaching consequence.

Today may have been that day for my son. He’s six, an impressionable sponge, a so-called blank canvas – but already so much is locked in. He has some combination of his mother’s and my genes, and they will shape his potential – all but excluding some things, increasing the chance of others. We’ve taken him around the world a couple of times. The first trip there is no chance he will have any memory of once he grows up, even now it is a dim memory that has to be prompted by photos and our recollections. Nonetheless, it must have contributed to the person he will become. The last time he was five, and so maybe some event that sticks in his mind will be one of his earliest, disconnected memories. Or maybe not, it is right on the cut off. But either way, that trip should influence his future too.

In the second half of the 2009 AFL season, through the (very vague) vagaries of the coverage in Canberra he saw a few vignettes of St Kilda games. Most involved a guy he described as the tall man, the man with white hair, and number 12 for St Kilda. Like many of us, his vision of St Kilda this year revolves around Nick Riewoldt.

He still remembers a mark that “number 12” took running back into a pack. So do I, but for me it was a remarkable but typical act of courage and skill from a player I respect on a team I care little for one way or the other. For him, it just might be the moment that cements a lifetime connection to a sporting club upon whose performance his emotional well-being will periodically depend.

Photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson used to talk of “the decisive moment”, THE moment to freeze on film to capture the essence of an event. I didn’t, couldn’t, capture this moment on film – but it is in my mind, and it is my own personal photo. I don’t know if he’ll be a Saints man for life, but I do know that he is on the cusp of making that connection. If he does stay with the Saints, that is a photo I will always be able to look at, even if no one else can see it.

He has supported half the teams in the AFL so far – but not if they have fallen behind on the scoreboard. Today, when the final siren went, instead of switching to the winning team he was genuinely upset and frustrated. When the Geelong players went through their carefully scripted hat dance with the kids again, he just wanted to know where the St Kilda players were, and whether they got a medal too.

It seems like real support. The first time, in a manner of speaking.

I kind of remember my own connection. I was born in Adelaide in 1970. While playing footy in the front garden in Banksia Park, I was always the reigning premier in my earliest memories. The year I was old enough to make a connection that could withstand failure, Port Adelaide had won the flag, and so I remain a Port supporter in the SANFL to this day. Later, I established a relationship with West Coast in the early 90s and I could never bring myself to transfer my passion to what passes for “Port Adelaide” when they came into the AFL.

Funnily enough, my nephew reached that same point the year that Port won their first AFL flag, and now he is a dedicated Power man. Same process, same outcome, just the lazy 25 or so years apart.

And so I look at my son today, and I wonder. He doesn’t understand the significance to him, or at least the potential significance. To him it was just football. He wanted to know how many games there were this year, and he can’t really understand how his beloved Saints won more games than anyone else and didn’t get the cup. I share his wonder, but I also wonder if I’ve seen something important lock into place today. I guess only time will tell. If he is still on the Saints next year then it might be decided. If not, then it is clear that his time to choose is nigh.

I think I could influence him, but I don’t want to. I don’t believe it is my right to tell him his beliefs, shape his loves, deliberately manipulate his malleable personality. It believe it is my responsibility to give him a range of experiences, but to let him choose.

If he does end up a Saints man I wish him the best of luck. History says he’ll need it. It could be worse, I don’t have any real antipathy to the Saints, so it would only be when they play the Eagles that there would be a problem. Perhaps supporting different teams would be good for our relationship.

Or maybe this is all premature. All I know is that at some point, some point soon, he’ll choose his team. What I don’t know is why he’ll choose the team he does. All I can say is, if it all comes down to that mark of Riewoldt’s, at least it will have been based on something that deserved a lifetime of respect.


  1. David, fantastic piece. I have a boy about to turn 6 in a few days who was on the Cats yesterday, but didn’t really get involved. The younger bloke was on the Saints, but was even less involved.

    I wonder about how to give them the opportunities to become a ‘supporter’ as an ex-pat. We have Auskick starting up again next week here in Abu Dhabi, but the timing is somewhat askew and they find it hard to last through a session in 35 degree heat, although the temp is dropping…

    I grew up as a Saints supporter in Brisbane because I liked their tri-colours. Although did not support the Morningside team up here (same colours), preferring the Western Suburbs team (Maroon jersey with two white Vs). mainly because they were a 5 minute bike ride away and I could squeeze through a hole in the fence!

    I got attached to the Bears when they were playing in the 90s. I had an Austudy windfall as a stucent in 2000, so jumped on the board the Lions with a season ticket at an auspicious time!

    I like your attitude of allowing your son his own path and hope to follow suit. Although if he becomes a Collingwood supporter he faces being disinherited!


  2. westcoastdave says

    Thanks Gus.

    He has been on Collingwood at different times this year, but never for very long. Funnily enough, I don’t have the same antipathy for Collingwood as people from Melbourne. To me Collingwood and their fans are just a wannabe copy of Port Adelaide who lucked out and were in the competition that evolved into the national one. They are crude (I can say this after being at the Geelong-Collingwood prelim), but the whole club seems pretty harmless.

    Not sure I can help you with the Abu Dhabi thing. Some friends of ours are just heading over there this weekend on a 3-year posting with DFAT, and they have a 6 year old who is into AusKick as well. At least your boys might have someone else to kick it around with soon.



  3. Perfect timing!

    If they need any advice on Abu Dhabi living, and/or location/dates for Auskick, I’m happy to be of service. The Falcons also kick off their season on the 9th of October against the evil empire Dubai Dingoes. So no end of season blues for the Middle East footy fan!

  4. David,

    I love the piece as well. I’ve got a five-year-old boy who at one stage barracked for 14 clubs (everyone but the Bombers and the Dockers) before deciding early in the season that Port Adelaide is his team because he likes the teal and because his choice annoys his mother so much.

    Jo’s Hawthorn. I’m Richmond. We’ve explained that Port Adelaide is in another city, but it just made him decide that when he grows up to play for the Power he’ll play only when they’re in Melbourne.

    It’ll be interesting to see whether he sticks with them in the next two years. I expect he’ll drop them, but we’ll see. I’m waiting for that moment of raised consciousness that you describe.

    On another tack, I’m fascinated by people who choose teams full stop. I was born into a Richmond family. There was never any question about which club we barracked for. It just seems to laissez-faire to choose a team.

  5. I chose a team when I came to Melbourne in 94 (Fitzroy, they were called). When they were cancelled I didn’t choose another. Now I can’t. My kids barracked for Carlton because that’s where they were born but then shifted to the Pies when they were old enough to realise they could make that kind of decision and through the evil influence of John Wren’s children (metaphor for their mother and her siblings).

    On kids supporting teams here’s a nice piece by Ben Goldsmith (on English football)

  6. westcoastdave says

    Sorry, I’ve been away at a conference all week, so missed a few comments. Thanks for the feedback on the piece.

    Paul, I can understand what you mean about “choosing” a team being a different paradigm – but I think it IS one of several equally valid paradigms. The generational continuation of beliefs is common, and very very strong. Organised religion is basically predicated on this process.

    However, when the world changes around you, sometimes you are exposed to a choice that simply wasn’t relevant to you before – like the advent of a national competition that supplants the one you used to know. When that happens at a later age, and when there isn’t a dominant belief to be immersed into, a whole different process happens, even if it is not necessarily in any conscious sort of way. That was my experience with the AFL and the Eagles, I don’t recall any epiphany like I had when I was six or seven, it just happened somehow.

    Aidan’s current experience is different again. He is young, and so influenced in very different ways, but he is not surrounded by any dominant passion. We are in Canberra, so football is less visible. I’m barred from watching the Eagles play by my wife, but even if I was allowed to they have been so woeful the last year or two I wouldn’t be as obviously obsessed as maybe I would at other times. And I do believe that he should be able to make his own choices – my wife and I have different religious views, and we have very explicitly talked about how to expose the kids to experiences that they can use to form their own beliefs without having been too distorted by us.

    I think that all of these processes are legitimate – if for no other reason than my expereince tells me that they all happen. There is, perhaps, a purity of that generational continuation that is emotionally satisfying, but in more serious contexts than sport, I frankly find it more thabn a little disturbing!



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