Fan stories

Teams emerge from their change rooms, up through a tunnel and onto a stadium’s playing field: here they run through a paper screen upon which is collaged a message of support – and, typically, a sponsor’s name and slogan. A team kicks a goal and behind the goals the pom-poms are waved up and down; flags are waved enthusiastically and cloth signs are held high. A few members of the crowd wear wigs, come dressed in team-coloured  suits and necessarily the teams colours.

A sport is little without its fans; it is the fans that give meaning to a team’s victory and they take meaning from the team’s victory. Between the fans and the players there exists an unstated agreement: the fans can interact with the players as glorified idols only, not as mere human beings going about their profession. An encounter with a player must be reverential and deferential and of course, momentary – terminated at any moment by the player himself. A smile, an autograph, a photograph. The player will love up to his established image and not go beyond the cliches and answering questions the fan already knows the answer to.

Fans crowd the trains going to the MCG or the Docklands stadium with their chatter about the game; the loud voices filled with excitement. Fans of opposing clubs mingle with one another. Footy is a sport that remains local and even the most spiteful of rivalries are played out in conversation only. The discourse of rivalry doesn’t descend into violence and crowd separation. Part of being a fan of footy involves the exaggerated hating of other teams; but this is mostly bravado. Friends who oppose different teams go to the games of common interest with each other; it is a difference that often unites, as much as it is played up to divide.

Throughout the 2013 footy season Dugald Jellie, a Richmond fan, wrote a blog of the stories of fans: Tiger Tiger Burning Bright. He wrote more or less two posts each week. His first post was on 26th March and his last on 19th December, 2013. In Jellie’s first post, ‘I have a dream’, he writes a beautiful scene of an ideal Richmond Tigers team, playing beautifully and enriching the lives of their supporters who finally have their patience and loyalty rewarded after three decades of failure. Jellie writes: ‘[the fans] gain meaning and satisfaction from supporting a group of men who all play for each other. There is beauty in their unity. It’s a season they never want to end’ (26th March, 2013). For most of the season, the team lived up to the fans’ expectations.

Jellie’s writings were initially published on the Richmond Football Club website before shifting to his own blog: dugaldjellie.wordpress.com. The reason for the shift from the RFC to WordPress was never explicitly stated. My impression was that Jellie’s writing posed a dilemma for the RFC. Jellie’s writing promised to give too much space to the voice and experience of the fans themselves. This contrasts with the (generally) one way direction of communication between club and fan. The club alone sends out the messages to the fans and the fans are there to listen and consume.

The writing of the blog became a deeply engaging affair for Jellie. This was not a quiet time in his life: during the year his second child was born. Writing the blog was done voluntarily. He could have easily given up soon after beginning it, just as so often happens with blogs. Jellie has a professional background in journalism, but, this was done as an amateur. An ‘amateur’ in the sense of ‘without pay’ and also in the sense of ‘for the love of it’. Being an amateur, supposedly, allows for a position of disinterestedness. Jellie’s Tiger Tiger Burning Bright was a space for articulating the fans’ experiences of the RFC – and it wouldn’t be limited to seeing the club through wins and losses. And it is the amateur who is also known to be seriously earnest, doing work as a part of their free time and recreation.

Perhaps this is why, as Jellie often recounted, the players, ex-players and coaches often greeted his introductions with condescension and arrogance. ‘Oh yeah…you write a blog? Oh yeah…okay, mate.’ This would come from footy players who have their efforts at cooking simple pastas or sliding along the change room floors put up on the club’s website for public consumption. It is as if ‘footy player does the mundane’ is as remarkable and as newsworthy as what they do on the playing field. Highlighting the fans stories would show up the narrative that ‘footy is important’ and replace it with ‘footy is [just] a part of everyday life’.

Jellie’s posts were often long – many around the 2,000 word mark it seemed. He would recount the stories of Richmond fans (and others), documenting the dedication and how footy is important to them, while still fitting in around their other family duties, their recreation and of course their work. One reads of the voluntary manner in which fans inconvenience themselves for the sake of being at the game, watching the team live.

My impression was that as the season went on Jellie gained more and more readers. His posts would be frequently commented upon; and, Jellie would nearly always respond, both quickly and respectfully. Jellie understood who his audience was and who he was writing for. The posts and the writing became increasingly self-perpetuating. So many blogs are about the trivia of one’s everyday life, throughout the season, though, Jellie met more and more people and perhaps travelled further than he was anticipating. This footy writing was clearly hard work; hard work, yes, but, also enjoyable. Jellie could explore the lives of others who share a common interest with people who come from different backgrounds.

Tiger Tiger Burning Bright was an unmediated space for Jellie to write as he pleased. He comes across as sincere and interested in others: mainly the fans, but, also the players. He writes plainly and accurately of the departed Richmond players: Shane Tuck (retired), Robin Nahas (North Melbourne),  Matt White (Port Adelaide) and Luke McGuane (Brisbane). Tiger Tiger Burning Bright deserves an audience beyond Richmond fans and beyond the easily forgotten space of a blog. These are stories that deserve the attention of an editor and publisher to emphasise and develop further the key interactions Jellie had throughout 2013. Footy fans, the makers of banners and other ephemeral paraphernalia, have contributed their dollars to the growth of the game; their stories also deserve to be told.

Comments

  1. Yvette Wroby says

    Hi Andy, I have met and been interviewed by Dougald last March, he was taken by my footy exhibition and fan-dom, and even though I didn’t keep up with his website, I relate to the way he thinks. His connection to others supporters and his provision of a space for story telling is wonderful and I hope he continues. I have to say I have enjoyed the way St.Kilda has embraced its fans more over the last few years, without the fans there is no heart and soul. Players, staff, coaches, can come and go but the fans are there forever. My uncle is in his 65th year. Unbelievable. And every fan has a story.
    Yvette

  2. ned_wilson says

    Lovely piece Andy. Rest assured Dougald wouldn’t be “diaappeared” from the Almanac.

  3. Terry O'Shea says

    A very good dissection – I have enjoyed Dougald Jellie’s blogs & hopefully can enjoy them thru’out 2014. Best wishes to all

  4. I am an avid reader of Dugald’s TTBB and am so pleased to see he has launched his 2014 odyssey into the ups and downs of Tigerland.

    Enjoyed your article, Andy, but have to point out that there was a Dugald piece about making the banner.

    Hope to see more of your thoughts in print.

  5. Jamie Mason says

    His writing last year was fantastic … teared up a few times. Hopefully RFC can acknowledge his value.

  6. Stainless says

    Hi Andy
    Thanks for this. I’d read one or two of Dugald’s pieces when they were still on the RFC site, but I hadn’t realised he was so prolific nor that he’d been effectively given the push for daring to ask for money. He’s a wonderfully whimsical writer who captures the essence of true fan-dom brilliantly.

    I read today that last year Richmond led all clubs in terms of income generated from commercial sponsors (about $22 million). According to his blog, Jellie asked the club for $15k to do his writing (which judging from his blog would be considerably less than $1 per word) and was knocked back.

    Puzzling decision from a club whose branding screams “passion”.

  7. Good news – Dugald and I have just (this morning!) launched the 2014 version of TTBB. It’s here: http://www.tigertigerburningbright.com.au/

    Any and all feedback very welcome from Almanackers.

  8. Gavin Smith says

    Great work Andy. I’m thrilled to see Dugald’s work acknowledged in this way. This is a man who exists in a world populated by far too many football writers looking for any kind of rubbish to fill column inches with whatever trivial garbage they can latch their mangy claws on (I’m looking at you Mark Robinson & Caroline Wilson), without becoming bogged down in the hideous day to day melange that has become known as “football journalism”. He touches us, club allegiances aside, in a place deep in the spiritual heart of our ‘supporterdom’. This is is a rare and beautiful thing in this day of dollar signs and peptide injected sensationalism. As one who bleeds Black & Yellow myself, I have stood by, utterly baffled by my beloved club failing to see the value in what Dugald has to offer. In fact I’d say I am downright embarrassed by the short sightedness of the Richmond Football Club when it comes to this man and what he has to offer the club. The fact that he persisted on a voluntary basis for so long is a testament to what he’s all about. I don’t know the man, but after reading his first few pieces, I emailed him and offered my own time to help him out in any way I could, perhaps helping to answer his own fan’s queries or something, anything really to lighten the load, and was surprised to receive a prompt reply! Dugald Jellie knows what it is to be a fan, as well as a supporter. He also has a talent combined with the determination to make us sit up, listen & to be touched by his words. Shame on Richmond for not recognising & acknowledging this with some sort of paid stipend to keep his work coming. It’s a short sightedness unlike the Richmond we’ve come to know under the very talented Brendin Gale administration who are otherwise very difficult to fault. Keep up the good work Dugald and rest assured that there are an abundance of us out there that fully appreciate what you contribute to the Richmond canon and to footy writing in general. Remarkable work in an arena populated by a sea of bottom feeders who make a living much more deserved of you and your work. Eat Em Alive Tigers!

  9. Troy Hancox says

    nice story!
    Thanks Chris Rees for the link!!
    In my favourites, will be reading all his columns each week now.

    CARN THE TIGERS!!
    2014 top 4 is a must!!

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