Are you match day experienced?


As a football child of the early ‘Eighties, weaned on the terraces of Victoria Park and bum-numbing bench seats of Waverley, I’ve experienced a lot of match days. Probably somewhere in the region of 500.

Wide-eyed kids notice a lot of things that as an adult you don’t see or no longer give a toss about.  Besides that which directly relates to the game, it’s the peripheral stuff and rituals that add up to make it Bruce McAvaney special.  Now as a father of 6 and 8 year olds I’ve come full circle, and the little things I’m seeing again through their eyes.  Early days it’s an adventure that you hope has them hooked.

Along the journey I’ve come to the Earth shattering conclusion that apart from my team winning the best MDE is curated by the fans; not confected by the League, commercial partners, ground announcers, well meaning venues or club marketing departments.

March together!  Dance now!  Roar louder!  Kiss now!  Clap harder!

Oh pls, STFU!

Naively, I held out hope the AFL’s push down to venues and clubs might herald a new dawn of fan focused delights for those who make the effort to extricate themselves from the comforts of home.  If what I witnessed at the MCG’s Carlton v Richmond season opener is an indication of what’s in store then I’m going to poop on this party.

Having spent a motza on ground encircling LEDs, the MCG’s new toy caused more aggravation than Captain Carlton and his ridiculous hovercraft ‘Betty Blue’.  Besides the danger posed to epileptics, some fans bedazzled by the brightness and unyielding distraction of the ever changing billboards even reported suffering headaches.  Watching on TV engendered the same conclusion; this is technology designed to maximise profit, not enhance the spectacle or fan engagement.

After being assured betting agencies would no longer pollute the scoreboard, lighting up the ground as an invasive Bet365 billboard during play was disgracefully sharp conduct.  Additionally, it would be interesting to know whether players attempting set shots at goal were put off by downtown Vegas behind the sticks.  If the League and clubs (who control the content) were truly serious about MDE and creating a sense of home, why not replicate the old banners draped around the ‘G on Grand Final day?  And while they’re at it, keep them static until the breaks.  Then give sponsors carte blanche to foot the game’s bills. 

I always considered cheer squads as being a primary driver of the match day vibe.  In recent years several have been decimated by dictatorial club hierarchies.  Up until ten years ago Collingwood  boasted the largest assembly with the most floggers, the biggest banners and the loudest support.  By comparison, last year’s cheerless squad was as healthy as a mute anorexic on oxygen.  It’s no wonder given club management sacked them and made them reapply, stripped banner making duties and enforced a ‘ten commandments‘ (there was actually 15) to the media gagged remainder willing to stump up the exorbitant fee.

Of course some might say run throughs are passé – a waste of time and paper – but don’t underestimate the charm they hold for the kids.  As a youngster, finding out what poetic mastery was on the banner, watching the duffle coated zealots strain themselves hauling it up and praying wind would rip the other team’s to shreds was a major plank of old school MDE.  In addition to the basic chants that would quickly envelope the ground and lift the team, phone book snowstorms behind the goals also made for a carnival atmosphere.  Don’t get me wrong, the game itself was first and foremost, but if the AFL is to snare the next generation, working out what equates to a desirable MDE is indeed important.

Marching to the ground like sheep and the incessant chanting and unfathomable politics of the tribal soccer dynamic (seemingly more importance than the game itself) is not the model I’d like to see in AFL.  However, Port Adelaide’s lauded pre-match variation on the ‘you’ll never walk alone’ call to arms succeeds because it stirs emotions, it’s been embraced by fans and there is no obvious ulterior commercial motive.

peanut man

Peanuts, peanuts!

Back in the day there was also random characters such as the peanut man (John Boyd), ‘Hoges’ the can collector (a slightly derelict Paul Hogan lookalike) and any number of larrikins providing additional entertainment week to week.  Back to my initial point, it was the personalities on both sides of the fence and the way the crowd was invested in the game which fed on itself and made it The Big League.  Not choreographed dancers, fireworks or other Yankeephelia.

And if the AFL is serious about growing the game and encouraging diverse participation then curtain raisers are an easy no-brainer.  Hours of downtime before the first bounce could surely be replaced by TAC Cup, VFL, women’s footy, multicultural games or RecLink Football League.

Creating a fantastical MDE is a bit like attempting to throw the party to end all parties.  The key is not trying too hard.  Don’t go for contrived party games when the guests are still sober.  Let the drinks flow, play some decent tunes and the fun will start organically.  Be the enabler, not the ringleader.  People will find their own rhythm; fans don’t want to be treated as props or directed like movie extras.


About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.


  1. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Great work JD,
    After the Captain Carlton shtick the teams entered the arena to Phil Collins’ ‘In the air tonight’. It was bad enough having to endure Phil in the ’80s and having the kids’ ears polluted by that tripe…well it defies description.
    The GAME makes the experience: High Flying Forwards, One to one contests, flow, umpires unnoticed, body to body bumping, risk, long kicking, chance, possibility, torps!
    The GAME gets my attention, but doesn’t stir my imagination like it used to. Make the GAME better and the rest will follow.
    Featuring Women’s Footy as a curtain raiser would be great for the GAME.

  2. The People's Elbow says

    PD, you need to make your peace1 with Phil Collins – as I have done, largely through “Sussudio” and “Invisible Touch” (Genesis, but my point still stands).

    1. 80s artists I’ve yet to make peace with include Billy Joel and Foreigner.

  3. Too many marketing flaks (flakes?) in search of something to do to justify their salaries. I like to talk to family and neighbours about the game during the breaks, but am drowned out by Subi’s loud and muffled sound system. Its the connection to the game and other fans that makes match day. Not connection to sponsors or ‘public service’ announcements.
    The Eagles have a ritual at 3/4 time of the Eagle mascot doing a dance in the stands with fans joining in. For years it was mostly Eagle Rock and the bouncy rhythm and connection to youthful days and past glories made it a fun experience that we all joined in. Now it is some WTF pop rap crap from the current charts. It is too loud and too awful to ignore. The noise silences conversation and we just shrug our shoulders and stare at each other.
    We went to the NAB Cup game against the Dockers and left 10 minutes into the last quarter to beat the traffic on a Sunday evening. The Dockers marketing caravan on the concourse was open and doing good trade in caps and scarves. The adjacent Eagles van had shut up shop. Prescient?

  4. PeterB

    There is absolutely no need for a WCE fan to write “…and left 10 minutes into the last quarter.” It’s a derby tradition.

    With you on the noise. Dockers did day time fireworks on Saturday.

  5. Jeez, I wasn’t aware they also stunk up the air with Phil Collins on Thursday night. I can just picture Jeannie up in the board suite shaking her booty to that little number (special request?).

    Nope, I cannot make peace with Phil. And now I cannot unsee Jeannie.

  6. Dave Brown says

    Fair point, well made Jeff. For me the question is always about who needs a match day experience. For me it’s about getting the kids in before they are ready to watch a full game of footy. My almost 7 year old is only now interested in watching footy but he has been coming to SANFL games for years for the experience (read: bouncy castles, face painting, kick to kick at each break and the occasional chupa chup). Make the experience interesting for the kids and their parents will take them.

    The other group in need of an experience are adults trying to convince themselves that $50 is a reasonable price for a footy ticket. As much as has been made about Port’s successful match day experience last year, the most important point is they played bloody exciting football.

  7. “Dance now! Roar louder! Kiss now! Clap harder!”
    Well said, Jeff. The line above just about sums it all up:
    the eternal quest to make “the experience” bigger,
    better, higher, stronger, faster.
    It is all just a fabrication.
    You cannot use force to achieve these outcomes, for the
    proletariat will rebel!
    Phil Collins. Dear Lord.

  8. I think most (slightly jaded) footy diehards are of a mind the game is, or at least should be, enough (old line; marketing is what you do when your product is no good). What % of the potential captive audience do we make up though?

    The reality is for reasons of cost, convenience and experience (home theatres etc) it is becoming increasingly difficult to convince ourselves, let alone our kids, that it’s worth braving the cold and other barriers. Especially if you barrack for a chronically crap side.

    And if I was to compare the experience of attending the Storm or Victory to the AFL then I have to say our code needs to work harder – and smarter – to ensure footy remains relevant and viable over the coming decade or two.

    Finally, the difficulty for the transient Melbourne clubs besides money imo is the generic nature of Etihad & the MCG has cost them a sense of unique identity. Can a hovercraft, mad lighting or Phil Collins replace that, I dunno. But that’s not to say there’s no good ideas out there besides ensuring the game spectacle is first rate.

  9. E.regnans says

    – AFL, are you a sport or an entertainment?
    – Both
    – But what’s your core?
    – Sport. Nah, entertainment.

    Of course it is.
    Entertainment producers think they know what their audience wants.
    (Count-down clocks, obsessive noise, etc etc).
    But sports fans don’t want that stuff.

  10. DBalassone says

    As a side issue Jeff, you got me thinking and googling about the Peanut Man. Standing in the outer at Victoria Park and Princes park, dad and I never failed to buy a bag of peanuts from this old chap in the 1980s when he limped past with his distinctive ‘Peanuts’ catch cry. I remember dad, who came out from Italy in 1949 as a six year old, often telling me that he recalled the Peanut Man’s face from the streets of Collingwood in the 1950s. Finding this article below, I think he was right. Sadly the peanut man died in 1991, paradoxically around the time of ground rationalisation, which has all but killed the spirit of footy in this state.

  11. Rick Kane says

    This might help us pick through the quandary raised by JD:

    As far as I can tell everybody’s footy going experience is pretty individual and unique. They can throw all the MDE at the crowd that they like but it washes over me (and I reckon most others at the game). On Monday, I had a pretty young woman on one side, looking bored. Then her boyfriend arrived decked out in Hawks gear. And they sat and hardly clapped or cheered. But they seemed to be enjoying themselves. Behind us, sat four or five hipsters. One knew just a smidgen more than the rest so he was the expert. And he talked and talked and got most things wrong. But they enjoyed themselves. Sitting to our right was a grumpy Dad and his kids. They cheered and booed and tore the umpies a new one. And so on. I didn’t see anyone around me who was directly engaged with the MDE but everyone was engaged with the game. As it ever was. Hawks won by the way :)

  12. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Boom Crap Opera was the unwanted Adelaide value add last week – Wa Wa Nee or Indecent Obsession must have been booked already. Surely Jackie Love or RatCat could have been exhumed.

  13. Am I the only one thinking that the subtext of the AFLs contrived MDE is that they have no faith in the actual product? Have the powers-that-be given up on the game being able to sell itself? Do we even need an ‘experience’ outside of what actually happens ON THE FIELD OVER FOUR QUARTERS?

    I devoured footy from the time I came to understand it in the late 70s then through my teens in the 80s, my 20s in the 1990s and then through my thirties. Not once did I sit back and think: “You know what would make this break better? Someone telling exactly what I just saw over a mic and imploring me to Make.Some.Noize!”Am I the only one sated by the actual sausage of the game and not the peripheral sizzle that goes on in between?

    Mike Sheahan used to get so much mileage in the 90s about the AFL’s pandering to the ‘theatre-goer’ fan: the disconnected attendee with no appreciation for the nuance within the action on the ground. Now it appears that the theatre-goer is the sole target of footy marketing departments – a group, like PB mentions in his comment that are more concerned with justifying their place in the food chain of the Game than actually contributing anything of worth on game day or beyond.

    I accepted long ago that I’m no longer in footy’s target market. I don’t drive a ute and build shit from Monday-to-Friday, I respect women, I don’t need to be ‘won over’ and prised away from the NRL or the A-League and I don’t think gambling on whether the first score is a point or a goal makes a game “a bit more interesting”, but I’ve come to wonder if the AFL even knows what its target audience is? Has it become so engrossed in the turf war north of Wagga that it now thinks that what attracts the picket-fenced-nuclear-family of Southport to Metricon also attracts fans in the heartland in Glenorchy, Glenroy, Claremont or Torrens Park?

    Give me a spell!

    And pass me my meds, now that I look back on this idiotic Jerry-Maguire rant…

  14. Luke Reynolds says

    Well said Jeff. The AFL aren’t alone in trying to make the MDE about everything else as well as the game. Nervously awaiting to see what Collingwood serve us up with at our first home game on Saturday.

  15. Everything just feels so fake these days. Intriguingly the most enjoyable pre-match I’ve seen in the last few years was a game in Darwin (we played the Gold Coast, bludger of a game, look hard enough and you’ll find what I wrote on it) where there was no “music” blaring over the loudspeakers, no mascots doing ridiculous dances that you wouldn’t see at a kids school fete, no countdown clock or ground announcer telling us when to cheer or how orchestrated the start is going to be. Just a crowd making enough noise and the steak sangas being consumed. To be honest I can’t wait for the final round game in Brisbane when I’m probably going with the old man, making our own entertainment at the various watering holes en route to the ground, timing our arrival to be just before the teams run out.

    Mind you, the worst last year was up in Cairns (again look hard enough for my piece), where they tried some semi decent looking sheila singing Michael Buble (ordinarily at that)…….

  16. The word ‘fake’ is a pertinent one Mick. The competition went down the fake road when the Suns and Giants were introduced along with a gerrymandered draw designed to handicap / lift certain teams. Throw malleable salary caps into the mix and it is clear the League enjoy playing puppeteer like no other professional sporting administration I know of.

    As for MDE, it embraces a lot of things – good & bad. To launch a mini Jerry Maguire rant of my own, I find that being brainwashed into thinking the MDE isn’t complete without pissing one’s hard earned up the many bookmakers’ walls is deplorable. That we were led to believe was finished.

  17. Glen Potter says

    Jeff – Spot on. March, dance, roar, kiss, clap louder/now! We’re all idiots, apparently.

    Steve – The AFL having no faith in the game itself to draw appeal is dead right. Hence they target the non-converted with banal nonsense. Which is sad.

    To the prick who thought ‘thunder-sticks’ were an innovative method of drawing new followers to the footy or cricket and enhancing my MDE – I’d love to smash thunder-sticks around your lug-hole and see if you still think they hold marketing appeal.

    And as for the hand-held, slide-out, advertising banners, where when instructed, one can do a gavotte and a jig in the false hope they might see themselves on the big screen propping up a hand-held, slide-out, advertising banner doing a gavotte and a jig, well ………………………………………………………. Enough said.

    Glen Potter

  18. Yvette Wroby says

    Matt Finnis asked for feedback from the GWS game on Sunday. I passed this on:

    Loved the local artists that will give there version of “Oh When the Saints” each home game. They are local and often have relationship to St.Kilda so it has some meaning. Was pretaped and on screen, so we could hear and see. Good music. Original and supporting Australian artists.

    Loved the sticks, I came with 4 1/2 year old, plus I am 4/ 1/2 year old when it comes to making noise.

    Hated the moving signage, especially during the game. Distracting and annoying, and must be so for players. CUT IT OUT. No movement of the boards please during play.

    LOVED the kick to kick on the ground afterwards, there were over a 1000 people from a game that only had about 13,000 there. This was extremely popular and good initiative. Initiative ie going back to something that was special in our youth and is good for family to get out and kick together,, good message to kids to be patient and wait for a kick on the ground. Absolutely loved it.


  19. Agree 100% on the kick-to-kick Yvette. And local artists performing the club anthem is a nice touch as well, Saints would be blessed in this regard no doubt.

    There are certainly initiatives that can add to the MDE positively whilst keeping it real. Let’s hope the limited number of k2k sessions and curtain raiser this year aren’t short-lived for fear of MUD appearing on the grounds.

  20. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Curtain raisers ( have a national reserves competition ) and kick to kick
    Odd bit of music but don’t blast us away , socialising catching up with friends is the match day experience , personally miss the footy park car park barby .
    Overall the old keep it simple stupid

  21. As an excited first time member at the Gabba on Saturday night I was disappointed with the experience and the result.
    Blinding advertising, loud interviews by people i don’t care about with people I don’t care about.
    The pre game will include big screen replays of famous Lions last quarter comebacks. Sounds pleasing until you realise you’re listening to Matt Campbell commentating for 30 minutes, arggghhhh.
    Please don’t tell me to”make some noise”. Try kicking more goals, hitting targets, move the ball towards the big white thingys.
    Bring back the curtain raiser.

  22. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Was just emailed a Match Day Pulse survey from the AFL, so I took the opportunity to give them my $0.02 worth, but I should’ve included a link to this article as well.

  23. with you Jeff.
    Went to a Victory game earlier this year (as has occasionally been my wont) – their awful pre-match contrived singing and “ground announcing” put me off for at least this season.
    If I want music, I’ll go to a concert. a singalong? Karaoke. A parade? Moomba.

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