Comment: The times are a-changing?

by Tony Robb

Many of the articles printed in the past weeks have clearly pointed the finger at the changing nature of football and the negative impact these changes are having on the game and the way in which we now view it. John’s story regarding “agon” was very thought provoking. But as the game has evolved and varying negative nuances have crept into what gets describe as ”modern football”, I got to thinking about how the followers of the game have changed and evolved accordingly. Is the fan the same?

On face value, those attending this weekend’s round will look much the same as those that attending in round 8, 1980. Only with less mullets and better teeth, Collingwood and Port supporters being the exception. They wear their collection of scarfs, beanies and badges signalling the alliances to the “boys” they adore. The usual separation of fans into sections of the ground, marking their territory as a dog marks a tree sometimes quite literally. A smattering of non-affiliated followers who are there just the watch a good game of footie. Yes, on face value very little has changed.

However, if we scrape the surface a little, there has been a not so subtle change to the supporter demographic. Call them theatre goers, call them coterie members, call them sports enthusiasts. I call them fakes and pretenders. Football Avatars (FAs ). Like a Picasso with an emu in the background, there are tell-tale signs of this insidious breed. While outwardly harmless and innocuous, their increasing numbers at football grounds should send fear through the hearts of any hot blooded fan in the outer.

FAs have distinctive patterns of behaviour that goes against the grain of your average punter in the stands. Firstly, they will be wearing a suit and tie which means one of three things. 1) They were too lazy to pack a change of clothes after work. 2) they are guests in a corporate box, or worse, the President’s lunch or 3) they don’t actually know why they are at the footie and just followed all the other merchant bankers down Flinders’ St. and ended up at the MCG thinking there was tax seminar being held in the members.

Let me make this very clear. Fans stopped wearing ties to the footie in April 1963 when Bert Mitchell got off the tram at Punt Rd. It was an unseasonably hot day and Bert thought that dispensing with his tie might actually enhance his football experience. The trend soon filtered through the stands and by the end of the month the only one wearing a tie was the bloke on the door in the Long Room. In 1963, the tie at the footie was superfluous to needs and made you look like a knob. In May 2010, you may be wearing a better cut of suit and a silk tie but you still look like a knob. While advocating that anyone over 18 should never wear a football jumper to a game, the wearing of a suit is equally, if not more, ridiculous.

FA’s will be wearing scarfs that in no way faithfully represents the colours of the club they supposedly support. They are tartan thingos that could be a team scarf or could be a fashion accessory to your suit and tie. What they definitely are not are “fan” scarfs. If you’re going to support a team, then wear their real colours. Not these pseudo garments that conveniently turn into souvenirs from your recent trip to Scotland when your team is being pumped by 10 goals.

FA’s don’t barrack. They don’t cheer. They don’t have passion. They don’t commit.
Like holograms, they don’t have substance. I know wearing a bag of fruit may preclude you from doing cartwheels down the aisles but please make some attempt at giving a bit for the boys toiling their guts out in the middle. A polite round of applause after a miracle goal does not cut it. It’s not acceptable to quaintly giggle after one of your players stuffs up the kick in resulting in an easy goal to the opposition. Get into him. Call for his head on a platter and one that doesn’t hold canapés. And if you have to explain every passage of play to the person sitting next you, they had better be from overseas or they just should not be there full stop. This particularly applies at finals games. It should be legislated that “guests” should not be admitted to seats that could have been filled by real supporters.

FAs on the surface don’t seem to have any children. I know Eddie makes a token effort to bring his kids along but by and large FAs seem to be child free. Football is a family sport and it is inherent upon genuine followers to pass on the traditions of the game to their progeny. The failure of FAs in the important rite of passage only further served to prove the threat they pose of football as we know it. I know lots of modern professional couples choose not to procreate but there is no excuse for not taking the nephews and nieces or even some orphan kid from Malawi if that’s how you get your feel-good moment.

I urge every true football fan to make a stand against this corrosive counter culture. The AFL has an obligation to stamp out this insidious blight on our game as they were the ones that created it. Sure, it seemed like a good idea at the time but so were cane toads. We forgave the odd indiscretion when Friday night footie started but like everything in the corporate world, they just weren’t satisfied with one game. They wanted the lot. Now it’s time to take back what is means to be a supporter. Now is the time of the fan.

About Tony Robb

A life long Blues supporter of 49 years who has seen some light at the end of the tunnel that isn't Mick Malthouse driving a train.


  1. That’s brilliant Tony. I think the term Football Avatar really could catch on. As with cane toads, I support their extermination. But it might be too late. The federal government recently changed tack from “eradicate” to manage”. Maybe we need to do the same.

    The worst thing about FAs is the proportion of them in the crowd on Grand Final day, at the expense of the real fan. And as you pointed out, this blight is of the AFL’s own making.

  2. Pamela Sherpa says

    One of the great amusements at the footy is the crowd itself. I love the way passionate fans respond to their teams efforts.I’m also amazed at the distances fans are prepared to travel week in week out.
    It is an absolute scandal that tickets for Grand Final day are not sold to all members of competing clubs first before corporate packages are offered.

  3. Nice one Tony.


    your observation regarding change of approach from ‘eradicate’ to ‘manage’ is profound.

    This approach is also spreading out and beyond into political mainstream with the speed of the cane toads and Tony’s ‘Avatars’.

    In Tasmania the Government has now confirmed that it is no longer reasonable to expect to ‘eradicate’ the Greenies as they are infiltrating all walks of life and have moved into management mode.

    And worse there is a link. I know one over fifty Greenie who wears his Cats jumper to selected strategic outings and is in posession of one of those pseudo tartan chokers provided by a family member for Christmas.

    My long suffering wife has now conceded to the reality that she will not be able to ‘eradicate’ my behaviour and therefore attempts to ‘manage’ it.

    I don’t know how she manages, really.


  4. Steve Healy says

    Isn’t Chris Judd an avatar because he became a Blue?

  5. johnharms says

    FA: I think I’ll have to see the movie.

    I susrvived on a pair of Levis, a apir of Volleys and about six different jackets – dinner jacket, a couple of dead man’s jackets from Vinnie’s, sports coat for the races, seersucker pin-stripe, and I forget the other one – for 20 years.

    When we moved to Melbourne I had to occasionally get the bag of fruit out (my one and only – got married in it) for the VRC and the MCC dining room.

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