Footy Rivalry: Factoid versus fiction

In the modern era, rivalry is a brand. Just like a wee bit too much of the wide, wide world of sport these days, it is used by some people to extract a few extra bucks from other people. Go back a little while though, and I think rivalry was both a little more serious and a little more real.

Today the Eagles, the footy team I’ve supported since not long after they came into existence, played Sydney in “one of the great modern day rivalries”. What a load of poppycock. I’m sorry to bang a hole in the fictional world of the media and the AFL’s marketing department, but the so-called “great rivalry” is not much more than the lingering effects of five close games in a row between two evenly matched teams.

The fact that four of those games were finals, and resulted in consecutive grand finals being shared one apiece, does make for something of a rivalry – but more a temporary crossing of paths than a passionate competitiveness. As the paths of the two teams have taken diverging paths since 2006, it’s harder and harder to see that rivalry anymore. Some mutual respect for recent history? Yes. A primeval need to win? Sorry, no.

Many of my friends are Eagles fans, and one of my best friends a multi-generation South Melbourne – Sydney fan. In all the conversations we’ve had that touched on football, and that is most of them, the Eagles-Sydney ‘rivalry’ has never once been mentioned. Never once.

The term ‘factoid’ was invented by Norman Mailer writing about Marilyn Monroe, and his meaning was not ‘a small fact’, but rather “facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper”. Speaking as an Eagles fan, and I am prepared to be contradicted, but I think that the whole “enduring West Coast – Sydney rivalry” falls precisely into this category.

It got me thinking about who we do have a rivalry with. There is a hype about the ‘local derby’ against Fremantle, and there is no doubt that there is some passion there. I do think it means more to Freo fans than Eagles fans, but whether it is factoid leading fact or the other way round I am not 100% certain. I do know that in 2006 when the Dockers beat the Eagles three times and made a prelim for the first time they celebrated at least as hard as the West Coast fans did for winning the flag.

When we were introduced to the VFL it was mandatory to hate Collingwood, but it’s never really felt all that genuine. Certainly not to the extent that Port Adelaide means it!

Which leaves Essendon. Kevin Sheedy is to marketing what the genuinely dangerously good looking guy is to a sleazebag – it’s what they’re trying to convince people that they actually are. In 1993, to celebrate a close, important win over the defending premiers he ran onto the ground waving a scarf over his head. The gesture was picked up by fans and for a number of years was a passionate celebration of the winning fans. The massed jackets and scarves of winning home teams was quite literally a breathtaking sight at times, and the defiant waving of victorious away fans equally inspiring, and a I’m certain even more satisfying.

Now THAT was rivalry. Didn’t matter where on the ladder we both were, the result of THAT match mattered.

I was at Subi oval last Friday night when the Eagles beat the Bombers, and I have to say that while that scarves were waved, it was more for form than with the emotion, the release, of the first few years. It also wasn’t a close game or a convincing win, so that might have had something to do with it. Nonetheless, there was a part of me that was unaccountably satisfied about beating Essendon.

I have to say, I think that is rivalry. Today watching what is left of the Eagles, it was no more disappointing that they were playing Sydney. No rivalry. Next week we are very likely to get toweled up by the Dockers. That WILL hurt, so I guess there is some real rivalry there.

So, for all the non-partisan viewers of a Sydney-West Coast game, don’t get hung up on the so called rivalry. We’re not.


  1. Richard Naco says

    Don’t stress: people here in Sydney don’t get all that rapt in the Clayton’s rivalry either.

    Games against St Kilda (because of Ross Lyon’s close association on a personal & professional level with the club), the Bulldogs (the Barry Hall factor) & Brisvegas (being the other shining light in the howling wilderness of the NRL’s last stand) mean far more to Swans’ fans of the Emerald City these days than other games.

    The win was greatly appreciated, but really no sweeter for who it was won over as much as the how & why.

  2. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    You’re right West Coast Dave the Swans-Eagles is not a rivalry. Its interesting that you dismiss the derby rivalry with Freo – because as far as they are concerned WCE are the enemy. Freo fans I know were equally delighted at their winning run recently as the fact that the Eagles hadn’t won a game! I also think you’re onto something with the desire to always beat Essendon – for WCE to somehow prove themselves against the big boys in the AFL.

    As for the Swans I recall Brett Kirk being asked at a Sydney Uni footy luncheon which club did he like to beat the most – unhesitatingly he said Collingwood. Alas the Lake premiership matches against St Kilda are long gone, maybe a bit of needle lingered about the defection of Foschini & Paul Morwood, and later, Plugger, and then Barry Hall, now perhaps Rossie Lyon, but its not deep-seated enough to be a ‘rivalry’.

    There’s too much empathy with the Lions for it to be regarded as a rivalry.

    Like every other team in Melbourne, the Swans want to beat the Pies!

  3. westcoastdave says


    I know quite a few Freo fans, and as you also know, there is no doubt they love to see the Eagles get beaten as much as they like to win. A lot of Eagles fans like to see the Dockers get toweled up too, but I feel like not to quite the same extent. One difference seems to me is that over many years Fremantle, and by that I mean both the club and the wider supporter base, have taken their eyes off the real prize. In wanting to beat the Eagles, which they’ve figured out how to do, they’ve never really worked out what they have to do to be competitive in the competition as a whole. The best teams understand that it is about ‘winning the campaign’, not the individual battles. One day I assume it will all fall together and they’ll suddenly understand what they’ve been missing – it probably could have been ’06 if the Eagles hadn’t finished above them. They seem to have an uncanny knack of not carrying anything meaningful from one year to the next, be it good or bad.

    BTW – has Doug Trappett got involved in the AFL scene in the Emirates since he got there? His son and mine played soccer together in Canberra before he got posted to Abu Dhabi, and I know he was keen for Hugh to get involved in the footy over there.



  4. Rocket Rod Gillett says


    Agreed – the fact that Freo have usually been focused on beating the Eagles – it is not an uncommon approach for footy clubs that generally struggle in their respective competitions but get highly aroused for a local derby – Grong Grong Matong would always lift when they played Narrandera. There are numerous other examples – this is a pet theme of Paul Daffey’s. It certainly sustained Rochester for the for the first fifteen years back in the GVL when all they could look forward to was playing and beating Echuca – if not in the footy, in the fights. Echuca, like the Eagles, were focused on winning the flag. The situation has changed and Rochy comfortably beat Echuca last weekend to stay on top of the ladder.

    His Excellency, Doug Trappett presented the premiership cup at this year’s Middle East AFL GF.
    When he presented his credentials – ex Quenbeyan certified by Chook Fowlie – he was welcomed into the Emirates football court. He was very busy yesterday hosting the Anzac Day service. You’ll be delighted to know that Doug and son Hugh are very active in the Auskick program.

  5. westcoastdave says


    I think it is fair to say that Freo have won most of the fights over the years too.

    Good to hear Doug and Hugh are getting into it. I’m sure it didn’t take much persuading to get Doug to come along to hand over the cup…and what else is an Ambassador for if not the really important stuff?


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