Almanac Footy: The Best and Worst of Crowd Behaviour

 

 

Last week’s appalling crowd invasion at AAMI Park raised a number of questions for me. Most notably comparisons with our indigenous game of AFL.

 

Given the scale of crowds that attend AFL games, we as fans can generally be proud overall with the behaviour. Having said that, I experienced a second tier VFA grand final at Princes Park in 1993 that will go into the annals of footy history for all the wrong reasons.

 

What started out in the first quarter with a number of spiteful spot fires, became a bushfire with a few minutes to go in the final quarter.

 

I was playing for Werribee and we had soundly beaten Port Melbourne all day in sodden and very physical conditions. The two inexperienced field umpires chosen to adjudicate by the VFA were out of their depth managing many hardened senior players, so it was the perfect storm.

 

As my team mate Richie Raeburn ran into an open goal to kick our final goal, I turned to see at the old Heatley Stand end, a bench clearing, ‘all in’ brawl of huge proportions, even for VFA standards.

 

What made the scale of the fight worse on the eye, was that there were ten times as many civilians on the ground than players.

 

One Port player who will remain nameless, ‘king hit’ me and was reported for the fourth time that day by the now debilitated umpires.

 

In a bizarre turn of events, my opponent on the day Sean Bowden and his brother Rhett lifted my semi-conscious body to its feet in a grand act of sportsmanship.

 

In the background, a Port supporter was being held down by two cops and handcuffed whist a police horse was rearing upward. It was truly surreal.

 

This is a short clip of those events that fortunately failed to ruin the exultation of Werribee FC’s first flag.

 

 

The only nasty incident I have ever seen at the MCG played out at the 1998 preliminary final between Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs. I was sitting with my good friend ‘The Senator’, directly above a bay full of WB members.

 

As Adelaide’s Andrew Macleod almost single-handedly destroyed The Dogs in the last quarter, one very drunk and stoned numbskull who had been annoying the locals all day, suddenly lifted the temperature of his berating to another level.

 

How or why this clown and his two mates were even in the bay that was clearly dominated by Western Bulldog fans was inexplicable and therefore was never going to end well.

 

Despite cries of “sit down” and “there are kids here” the ringleader continued to stand up and then proudly claimed that he was in fact a lone Richmond supporter with no allegiance to either of the competing sides.

 

Given the game was well and truly over, ‘The Senator’ and I turned our attention to two large men approximately fifteen feet to the left of the troublemaker. We started taking bets on when exactly recompense for the pest’s behaviour would take place.

 

As a Footscray local at the time I picked it. You see, men who were raised in Footscray, Maidstone, Braybrook etc are up there with some of the finest I’ve met. They had tough upbringings but were proud and never ones to complain.

 

Many of them have had excellent careers and moved out to Werribee and Hoppers Crossing to build a new home and raise their families in the 70s and 80s.

 

They were fairly innocuous to look at. Very neat, Gazman-wearing, often with ironed jeans with a crease down the middle. That’s what these two gentlemen looked like.

 

At the nineteen minute mark (and yes I was spot on) one of the men neatly folded his jumper and handed it to his mate, along with his thermos and empty lunchbox that had been fastidiously prepared by his wife.

 

His row of seats were one in front of the idiot, now screaming obscenities to the forlorn Dogs fans. He shuffled along the row sideways towards his prey, apologising to his brethren along the way.

 

In a matter of seconds it was all over. The man from the west had metamorphosed the idiot from vertical to horizontal, spreading his nose across his face in the process.

 

The two hangers on suffered the same fate despite thinking they were out of range. As quickly as it was executed, he was calmly shuffling back to his seat amid rapturous applause from supporters of both teams.

 

Ironically it was the three knuckleheads who the police ejected. Applause and cheers accompanied their exit.

 

Another close friend and Essendon tragic, ‘Tails’ recounts going to game in the late 80s at the MCG.

 

The reserves were playing and the ground was starting to fill. Melbourne crowds are notoriously late arrivers to any event, so there was plenty of time.

 

A family of four turned up to their allocated seats where mum, a large woman was settling the kids in and getting them comfortable.

 

Her husband sat down immediately upon arrival and selfishly started hoeing into a Four and Twenty pie, set at that perfect ‘2pm on a Saturday arvo-like’ temperature.

 

A few rows back, an uncouth opposition supporter yells, “Siddown ya fat moll!” It garnered some chuckles from his mates but the consensus from those within earshot, was one of hushed disdain.

 

Mum, clearly insulted by the remark gave the perpetrator a ‘hairy eyeball’ then turned to her husband who was now one bite into his pie….the pie he’s waited all day for.

 

She glared at her husband and with eyes bulging, mimed the word “well?”

 

Powerless to his wife’s needs, he slowly stood up, turned 360 degrees and pitched the savoury delight, hitting the imbecile in the face which also created collateral damage on his mates. The crowd cheered and the said imbecile was removed from the ground by security.

 

Probably my fondest memory of a near altercation came in 1989. I was playing at Werribee and our coach was the recently retired Geelong champion Michael Turner.

 

My younger brother Glen was visiting Melbourne with our mum. Glen was a champion country footballer in WA and he took up an invitation to train with us at Werribee during the week.

 

He certainly impressed the coach and team mates alike and enquiries were being made as to his possible move to Melbourne.

 

It was never going to happen to a ‘dyed in the wool’ country boy but on a chilly Saturday that same week outside the MCG waiting for me to arrive for the Collingwood v Geelong game, he was spotted by Michael Turner.

 

It was a crowd of 88,000 and Glen was agitated. He doesn’t like crowds and he had an elderly Ruth Cracknel-like mother to contend with.

 

Suddenly he was confronted by the Geelong champ who along with Dean Kemp, happened to be our mum’s favourite ever player.

 

Mick greeted Glen who introduced mum. Mum gushed over Mick with genuine adoration and as Mick listened he reached into a bag of jam donuts in order to eat them while they were still hot.

 

Unfortunately a large dribble of red deliciousness dropped down onto his expensive Italian shoes. Our mum, fresh from raising eleven children, automatically stepped into action.

 

Ripping a floral handkerchief from under her jumper sleeve and bowing down as if to receive a knighthood, she spat on the hanky and wiped the jam from the leather.

 

Glen, not prepared to be humiliated any further, distracted Mick with conversation and eye contact whilst subtly grabbing mum by the hair at knee level and gently lifting her back to the vertical.

 

I arrived ten minutes later. He angrily described what just happened and I laughed uncontrollably as we entered the ‘G’ and reached our seats in the nosebleed section with no cover.

 

It was a great game and for any Geelong fan they will never forget Gary Ablett’s game and goal that day.

 

 

The crowd was fever pitch, which always occurred when Ablett was on fire. Two opposition fans were ‘at it’ verbally all game. They were separated by a few rows but what started out as friendly ribbing, started to turn personal.

 

Suddenly one of the combatants stood up and yelled, “step outside and say that!”

 

My brother immediately jumped from his seat and yelled, “you are outside!”

 

Anyone within twenty metres of the two supporters pissed themselves laughing. Both men, now utterly embarrassed looked to this rather large, red headed lunatic who had demonic frustration written all over his face and dutifully sat down to watch the rest of the game in silence.

 

I love going to the footy. I think the AFL is very family friendly and I’ve seen many a potential ‘blow up’ simply defused by a “please don’t” or a collective glare from other fans.

 

As a Saints fan our expectations are always low so we have a mutual commiserative approach before we even get to the game which means we have to have a sense of humour.

 

Let’s hope the events of last week at AAMI Park are never seen again. At the end of the day its just a game. There’s enough conflict happening everyday around the world.

 

Listening to the banter from fans in the outer is one of real joys for any fan. May it stay that way.

 

Hope you have a great festive season and a big thanks to John Harms and the contributors to The Footy Almanac for your support and feedback.

 

Go Saints :)

 

 

Read more from Ian Wilson HERE

 

 

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About Ian Wilson

Former army aircraft mechanic, sales manager, VFA footballer and coach. Now mental health worker and blogger. Lifelong St Kilda FC tragic and father to 2 x girls.

Comments

  1. Dennis Gedling says

    I’ve been given the ‘Let’s take it outside’ at Subi Oval during Geelong game after we’d won by a bees dick. The old standing room area behind the goals at Subi used to see some unbelievable punch ups. The jugs of Emu Export may have contributed.

    There’s a minority of dickheads in all national leagues.

  2. fair chance emu export played a significant role Dennis. Yes you will never rid all knuckleheads from arenas

  3. Ian, I was at the 1993 GF as a spectator. Horrible match, not happy at all. It was a wild day, rain, sun, wind. We were at the Eastern end of the ground so we weren’t near the Heatley end of the ground, so the big ‘barney’ was miles away. I wonder if all the aggro was from the Burra, as some of your team mates like Ja iz, weren’t backwards in coming forward.

    There was the match at Geelong West in 1979 when the Burra went down by 3 points: I reckon it was David Thorpe’s last senior game. Burra fans were unhappy, the Channel 0 commentary van was upended post match, with a few Burra fans spending the night as guests of the state. In their benevolence the police released these fans after the last train to Melbourne had left, stuck in Geelong until the following morning.

    There was a Queens Birthday match at Victoria Park in 1972 when Collingwood hosted Essendon. We saw the floggers set on fire at the ‘Falls End’ of the match with spectators on the ground getting away form the flames. Floggers disappeared from the football for many moons after this.

    There were events when cans, etc have been thrown at players. Footscray V Essendon @ the Western Oval in 1973 comes to mind. Wouldn’t be the only time though there’s not a huge amount of occurences.

    I’m sure we can think of other footy games, also Rugby matches, where there’s been bad behaviour, but soccer is in a league of its own. Soccer seems to have a global problem where poor behaviour seems to often catch the public eye. How else can last weekend be described but as an own goal for soccer? We were all happy with how well Australia did in the World Cup, then this episode. It may be the World Game but it certainly is not a sport to envy. You hear about some of those pitch invaders already serving life bans: are you serious? What is it about soccer some people need to bring, throw flares?

    There’s talk of Melbourne Victory having to play the rest of the season without spectators, that being a good start. What about jail time for those involved in the pitch invasion last weekend? These life sentences about being banned from soccer matches, why not enforce them?

    It’s important for all the areas of the entertainment industry where spectators are present that rules to guarantee everyone’s safety are in place. Sadly Soccer Australia seems to have a fair way to go. I’m happy to be proven wrong, but the future is unwritten.

    Glen!

  4. Peter Clark says

    Ian, I’ll sidestep the crowd behaviour issue and concur with your assessment of Gary Ablett’s goal in that game in 1989. The reaction of Ablett himself as the sherrin sailed through the big sticks said it all.

  5. Thanks Glen, yes unfortunately there were a significant number of dodgy Borough ‘old boys’ who instigated the raid at the end of the game. Jack Aziz was also king hit but by 2 x spectators. It was as spineless an act as it gets. I’m still flabbergasted that flares are still entering the soccer arenas.

    Yes Peter an unforgettable goal. Pushing Robert Scott out of the way and barging his way through the Collingwood defenders to kick it 55m on a muddy MCG. Just a freak.

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