Crio’s Q: What is ‘culture’?

by Chris Riordan

Alex “the estranged” Fevola has reportedly (H/Sun, News section, p24, 02/05/2011) blamed the AFL culture for her “monster” ex-hubby’s infidelity, drinking and gambling – inferring that different tolerances apply to gifted sportsmen.

It is easy to make light of the media/celebrity circus and, no doubt, her news grab will soon be buried under other matters. But it is an important topic and one which worries me greatly.

I don’t look for sporting stars to hold a lantern. Couldn’t care less about HarryO’s social insights, Gillard’s views on the Dogs’ forward line, nor Matt Hayden’s tips on cooking fish. I do, however, think that standards of social behavior apply across the community – which, I’m aware, touches on an even broader debate within our society.

Sports clubs with their blokey cultures, for whatever reason, generate a mob acceptance of deviant behavior. I know the “type” who’ve been ensconced (like College boarders) within a club confine – they can do virtually nothing alone and constantly seek approval from others. It is a ferocious pecking order. They gloriously relate tales of drug excesses and sexual humiliation.

As a parent I am torn for not all is bad. Great life skills can be learnt. Lifelong friendships forged. Leadership, co-operation, goal-setting, camaraderie are positive outcomes. When my son stopped playing footy he also lost a regular circle of buddies as well as a weekly discipline of training and playing. His experiences so far have been affirmative – coaches, managers and parents who are great role models for what constitutes a good person. And exposure to a full range of peers and backgrounds you’d not find in many school or work places.

I love team sport.

I don’t wish to denigrate the fantastic work of so many and the benefits that it generates.

We can’t hide our kids under bushels, but there needs to be a clear delineation between good player and good bloke.

Is this too melodramatic?

What is this “culture” word, so widely bandied, supposed to represent?


  1. Pamela Sherpa says

    We are all ‘role models ‘ whether we like it or not -as parents, siblings, friends, teachers, team mates etc (sorry Chris Judd, it’s not a choice thing.) I don’t expect more or less of footballers than anyone else in society.

    Football clubs tend to operate behind closed doors more than they used to and ‘protect ‘ their players .- not a balanced way to live life in my opinion

    I know of one current AFL players who, a couple of years ago, went to travel overseas. but was unaware that he needed a passport.

  2. John Butler says


    This is a complicated issue, but a valid one in light of recent events.

    Terms like ‘role model’ and ‘hero get thrown around freely in relation to footballers. I think they are very different things, but often confused in the discussion surrounding the game.

    Players work as heroes for me. Their deeds on the ground bring pleasure and inspiration. But I wouldn’t for a moment consider them a ‘model’ for how to live my life.

    I can see how young kids might take their lead, but as long as there are the right countervailing influences in their lives, most should come the right perspective.

    You are dead right to point out the many benefits and life lessons of team sport. Kids miss out if they don’t experience them.

    What muddies the AFL waters is money, which helps players get mixed up in the muddier world of celebrity. This is where I see the confusion with ‘role models’ coming in. Celebrities are held up as role models when they’re nothing of the sort. Most of us will never live our lives anything like a trashy magazine.

    But most kids who play sport will never have to worry about this. They’ll just have fun with their mates, and learn to get along.

    As for the specific ‘culture’ of different VFL/AFL clube, that’s an entirely longer story…

  3. Andrew Fithall says

    Had a chat to a bloke in the supermarket carpark Saturday morning and asked how his son was going. The son has moved to Sydney and is part of the GWS. The father spoke glowingly how the move has been great for his son’s development both physically and socially: moving away from home as well as to a distant city. And he now has 30 new friends who will be his friends for a long time.

  4. There are many parts of this discussion that annoy me a bit.

    For example footy clubs are described as blokey places as if that’s a bad thing. Of course they’re blokey because they are full of blokes. Are they perfect? No. But there is a tendency the dwell on the negatives. Its much easier for some hack from a newspaper to write a story about a negative because it takes no intellect, no research and is probably dead easy to sell to the editor. And so the cycle goes.

    Another example, a footballer went before the court (err I mean media – think it was young Riewoldt) and had to mea culpa because he gave the opposition bench the bird. So what! And the Melbourne player Moloney begged forgiveness from the media, his family, and the world in general because he got pissed one night. Hands up whoever hasn’t done that? These were held up by the media as evidence of terribly bad football behaviour and a poor culture. Absolute hogwash.

    These things are not the culture of the club, they are the by-product of fit, vigorous, healthy young men who get together and do dumb things. Crickey, if the local chess club got enough young blokes together there’d be stupid stuff going on from time to time. And lets not fool ourselves that young women are immune from this either. I don’t accept that it is a mob acceptance of deviant behaviour unless it grows into criminal activity, which the vast majority of times it doesn’t. There’s a big difference.

    The culture of the club is seen in its involvement in the community and I reckon most clubs (not just AFL clubs) are pretty good at this.

  5. johnharms says

    All groups of people have cultures. They can’t not. Just a matter of working towards the culture you aspire to. Families have cultures. Footy clubs. Continents. Nations. Cities. Schools. They are always contested cultures, which include a dominant culture and alternative/resistant (marginal?) cultures, which may or may not work to alter/change/usurp the dominant culture. A good question is the degree to which individuals can work to change the dominant culture. If you’ve worked in a school or uni or hospital you’ll know what I mean. Some of us aren’t very good at working within these cultures. If you are an indigenous person in a post-conquest culture you’ll know exactly what I mean. If you are a communitarian living in the age of self, you are up against it.

    Lots of really interesting writing on these matters.

    In footy terms, one of the reasons I remain connected with the Adelaide Lutheran Footy Club is that I love their culture, I love their leadership and its sense of essence and history.

    There are plenty of clubs – and I have spoken at some of them – which aren’t my cup of tea, but they are nonetheless what those (largely) blokes are. For examlpe I spoke at a club – good fellas – who were excited that their clubrooms had been carpeted for the first time. Why? Because they’d get a better class of stripper. This was a joke in one sense, although clearly, from the stories they told they had had strippers at the club. That’s not for me. Although some time later I met a woman called Leigh Redhead – a former stripper and now author – who encouraged me to change my views on strippers. My point: these are complex issues. Know the culture you seek – and not by a mission statement necessarily – and work towards it.

  6. JTH – please you just can’t leave it hanging – Leigh Redhead encouraged you to change your view on strippers. How?

  7. Pamela Sherpa says

    #3 Andrew – it is nice to hear something positive about GWS coming out of Victoria.

  8. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Great question Crio,

    for me, culture is the accumulation of the hopes and fears of a collective that goes with what seemed right at the time. Positive and negative conditioning ensues.

    A good footy culture knows when to look back and how to look forward without compromise. Tough balancing act, but the most successful clubs like Carlton,Essendon and Collingwood have always seemed to do this well.

  9. Domenic Favata says

    A good footy culture is where all the players, young and old, have a strong mindset about who they are and how they fit in with the footy club. A footy culture where this doesn’t occur, means that there will be a clash of Egos and a lack of sense about belonging, especially amongst the younger players.
    A culture such as Port Adelaide is the problem, where the experienced players have settled in the fact that they wont be dropped and will get a game, week in week out, regardless of form. Which is where the younger players come out and say, “Well, the leaders on the team aren’t setting a very good example, so maybe i should just worry about getting my own ball and stuff the team”. This is what Matty Primus is trying to fix, by dropping big names such as Cornes and Pearce. This will take time.

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