Footy’s tribalism versus cricket’s nationalism

For as long as I’ve breathed oxygen, I’ve been unable to separate my passion for both AFL football and Test cricket. They remain my two true loves and each begrudgingly accepts that I need the adrenaline rush provided by the other “mistress” in my life. The sight of the pigskin descending into the stratosphere or willow easing leather across the turf will for ever be two of life’s great pleasures (as long as they’re not in the same room together!).

That said, the sheer joy of your football side winning a “close one” (the last close one my dearly departed Fitzroy won was against Adelaide at Footy Park in Round 8, 1995) versus Mitch Johnson decimating the Poms two seasons ago evokes vastly different emotions. When your footy team wins a thriller, it’s a personal victory for you and your relatively small “tribe”. You have that sense of one-upmanship; the opportunity to get your own back on the mate who gave you grief after his team had won the previous ten encounters against yours. When Australia has a narrow Test victory, the joy is diluted somewhat (unless you’re overseas) because it’s shared among a much bigger tribe with less opportunity for bragging rights. As such, I’ve long been fascinated by the different supporter cultures for the two great games – footy’s “tribalism” versus cricket’s “nationalism”.

I was moved to write this piece after the West Indies’ abysmal Test performance in Hobart, their biggest innings loss against Australia since January 1931. Many post-match texts read out by the erudite Karen Tighe from ABC Grandstand expressed a genuine desire that the Windies rise to the occasion on Boxing Day and thoroughly test the Aussies. Yes, there’s the fact that passionate Test fans like a game to go the full five days and for there to be a thrilling finish (as long as their team wins). But there’s the bigger picture aspect – that true cricket lovers can cast aside nationalism and realise “competitive balance” is important to ensure the long-term survival of Test cricket.

Yet, I couldn’t imagine many fanatical footy fans hoping for the same. And I can’t say I blame them! I’d rather my team was 10 goals up at quarter-time no matter who the opponent is, allowing me to enjoy a few cleansing ales without nerves spilling the contents all over the harmless couple sitting in front of me. Been there, done that, copped the abuse! Following a footy team is justifiably a tribal thing – if your team doesn’t win enough games there’s the very real chance it could ultimately be drummed out of business, much like many believe the West Indies should be relegated to a “second division” of Test cricket.

Diehard footy fans like St Kilda’s eloquent Jen Muirden, enthusiastic Yvette Wroby and effervescent Yoshi, Footscray/West Bulldogs stalwart Neil Anderson and Melbourne devotee Joseph Ryan, to name a handful of Almanackers, deserve to experience the ultimate tribal joy, just as I look forward to the Windies’ handful of Caribbean nations turning the corner on Boxing Day. I hope the next two weeks fly and that footy gives me a leave pass me so that I can consume myself with cricket.

About Pete Carter

Author of Dreamer, Drifter, Drunk, 1919 The Royal Domination Begins and Fitzroy's Fabulous Century: The 100 Greatest Victories, 1897-1996 (see; diehard Fitzroy supporter who's never forgiven the AFL for its "clinical execution" of the RoyBoys; fanatical fan of and club historian at WAFL club East Perth, the Mighty Royals; lover of all things willow on leather (we're only talking cricket here).


  1. Neil Anderson says

    Enjoyed your article Pete and thanks for the mention regarding wanting to experience that tribal joy. I suppose I have to accept that I’m in that desperate category of supporters waiting for success.
    The Dogs are a lot closer to it now than they have been for a long time. In the meantime, like Kerrie Soraghan, it provides plenty of material for the Almanac and for her blog the Bulldog Tragician.
    The two sports that I follow are AFL and test-cricket. And you’re right, a tight match gives you the excuse to stay a bit longer in front of the TV. That and when the Aussies are winning at least.
    While you wait for the next two weeks for your cricket fix, according to the Herald- Sun today. there are only 67 days til footy’s back!

  2. Thanks, Neil, and apologies, Kerrie, for overlooking your passion to the red, white and blue (love the Bulldogs Tragician reference).
    Neil, having seen Footscray’s only flag, you perhaps harboured hopes of a dynasty.
    Hopefully Luke Beveridge (I find it ironic that he played for the three “drought-stricken” clubs) can continue on with his good work in 2016.
    So footy returns on February 18 – I wonder when Round 1 proper kicks off?
    I subscribe to HG and Roy’s philosophy (slightly paraphrased here) that “too much cricket/footy is never enough”.
    Hopefully the Melbourne weather is kind between December 26-30, having attended the 1998 Ashes Test in Arctic-like conditions.

  3. Jennifer Muirden says

    Thoroughly enjoyable read, Fitzroy Pete! As a long suffering masochistic one-eyed Saints supporter, I particularly admire your ongoing loyalty to Fitzroy Football Club. I know if the Saints even became extinct or merged with another club to become a totally different entity I would find it very difficult to find it in my heart to barrack for them. In fact, I may well go all out in protest and join the late Keith Dunstan’s Anti-Football League!

  4. Thanks for the wonderful feedback, Jen. Indeed, there must be times in your life when you wonder “Why Saints, why!” and despair of seeing a premiership in your short (thus far) lifetime. However, I believe in omens and hope the 50-year anniversary of 1966 produces something special for you and the passionate Red, White and Black Army. Some view my decision not to follow the Brisbane Lions as a perverse form of self-denial, of almost becoming a Trappist Monk in essence, but I’ve been able to look at footy from a detached perspective since. But I hope merging or relocation never happens to St Kilda, Jen, because the AFL needs one of its “great eccentrics” to prop up Melbourne’s south-east corner and beyond. Fingers crossed you can resist the Keith Dunstan pull.

  5. Jennifer Muirden says

    Ha, ha … I think it’s fairly safe to say that I will not be joining the Anti-Football League anytime soon. Many thanks to SAINT NICK for the wonderful Christmas present of an imminent return to our spiritual ground at Moorabbin! GO SAINTS!

  6. Actually, Jen, I heard via a series of emails from a wonderful Saints friend of mine who you may’ve met at the footy (it is a small world after all) that the return to Moorabbin was Saint Nick’s gift to the club on the 13th Day of Xmas. Let’s hope that in 10 months’ time your profile pic has you carrying BOTH the 1966 and 2016 premiership cups.

  7. G’day Fitzroy Pete,

    It is interesting to read your writing and thanks for mentioning my name on your piece.

    I agree with you. Footy fans are passionate of supporting their clubs and I reckon family and suburb where they live influence which club to barrack for. Even I have never lived in Australia although have visited several times (Gold Coast and Sydney), I picked St Kilda because they played in Wellington that I love and is nearby where I used to live.

    A barman at a footy pub in Osaka told me that he preferred cricket to footy because cricket connects family and Australia. Even there are some domestic cricket competition, I would say the sport is played in nation basis more. Then fans are supporting their country. For me, supporting Black Caps is more likely to happen because I have lived in New Zealand (sorry Aussies).

    And hi Jen. I’m so glad that you are very passionate St Kilda supporter. I am very happy to go for the Saints because of nice and enthusiastic fans. Same as you, I am loyal to the mighty Saints. No Anti-Football League for us! And happy move back to Moorabbin. Hope the Saints will win the flag in the very near future!

    I used to follow baseball, but I no longer watch the sport because it is so boring and I was sick and tired of seeing selfish team owner who is a media tycoon. The game plans are defensive too much and poor media coverage distracted me from watching. My hometown Sapporo had longed to have a team for years and decades. Then one of clubs relocated. I was kind of a fan but the local TV station chose to broadcast rubbish entertainer centred show, so I stopped watching the sport. Also my hatred feeling to the city led me to hate the team based in Sapporo. My emotion to the baseball team is as strong as its to my least footy club. Other footy clubs are much better than that baseball team. This strong feeling to the baseball team is out of my trend (opposed to the passionate to St Kilda Footy Club).



  8. Thanks, Yoshi, I appreciate you commenting on my story. I never knew that you began supporting the Saints because of their Anzac Day games in Wellington (3 or 4 years now?), but it makes perfect sense. Interesting comment from the barman at the footy pub in Osaka – I would’ve thought footy would be more of a family game than cricket because of its shorter duration but each to their own perceptions.
    Regards baseball, I actually wished the game lasted longer than its 2-2.5 hours. Years ago, I attended a Blue Jays versus Kansas City Royals game at Toronto’s Sky Dome (I think) and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The fact that vendors bought beer around, rather than having to go and get it myself, added to my favourable impression. Perhaps you’ll eventually get to like the team that was relocated to Sapporo.

  9. G’day Pete.

    It’s good to see your perception of baseball. I feel many people like different stuffs in general. That is why people travel, I reckon. Vendors selling beer and drinks happen in Japan for baseball games. While I was attending university in early 1990s, I had a temporary job at a baseball stadium selling soft drinks. It was good to see games without charge, but my muscles were sore after work.

    I am happy that the simple reason why I go for the Saints makes sense. But now I have much more unique and strong feelings to the mighty Saints.

    Cricket is good to watch for me too, but I don’t have much opportunity to follow thanks to busy work. I hope you enjoy watching cricket.



  10. Yoshi, perhaps if you’d been selling beer instead of soft drinks your muscles may not have felt as sore because your tray would’ve quickly been emptied. Not wanting to encourage people to partake in the demon drink, of course. My preferred “vice” while watching sport is the ice-cream van, particularly during long, hot days as a boy attending cricket matches at the WACA.

  11. Haha, Pete. Possibility. But sore muscle hit me because I had to go up and down stairs around the stadium. After the physically hard work, I complained about sore muscle to a girl who was the classmate at high school. Oops I try not to remember her to avoid sentimental of the past, but the memory has come up. I need a lovely Western lady to move on. Footy versus cricket story was not supposed to tell you such a past story. And oh now I do not talk to her any more (like Scott Watters and Chris Pelchen if the Real Footy article was correct).

    Your idea selling ice creams at a cricket ground is awesome! Indeed I would buy it!! Also it would be a good idea for A-League. We need to feature light refrigerators so that ice cream clerks won’t get sore muscle.



  12. Actually, Yoshi, I was eating ice-creams rather than selling them. I don’t think I could be trusted to sell ice-creams, as I’d eat them to ensure they didn’t melt.

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