General footy writing: Support the [real] supporters

by Patrick O’Keeffe


I don’t really hold any personal grudge against Andrew Demetriou. I haven’t met the bloke. I know that he played football, though I was too young to recall his playing days, which ended before the VFL competition had entered my consciousness. I once held open a restaurant door for him. He didn’t acknowledge my display of courtesy, which caused me to feel slightly aggrieved. Nevertheless, my concern is not with restaurant doors. My concern is for the rusted on, diehard supporters of the AFL competition.

With the World Twenty20 Championships about to commence in England, hot on the heels of the second installment of the Indian Premier League, it is worth noting that this format of the game was developed to attract people who don’t actually like cricket. This in itself is quite humorous. However, the popularity of this format is threatening the primacy of Test cricket. Cricket administrators must think long and hard about the level of support for Twenty20, and the nature of that support. They must also consider the loyal supporters of the longer form of the game, who scarcely recognise Twenty20 as cricket.

I remember the booming support for basketball in the early 1990’s. Unfortunately, this proved to be all too fleeting. Perhaps this sudden rise, then decline in support for the game can be attributed to basketball being considered by many as a passing fancy. Perhaps those drawn briefly to basketball didn’t have a genuine historical attachment to the game. When the novelty of seeing a big slam dunk wore off, they drifted back to the various football codes. At least, that was my experience.

This leads me back to the AFL Administration. I’m just not sure what to make of it all sometimes. I’m concerned with the disturbing regularity with which the AFL Competition is portrayed by the AFL Administration as a marketable product, to be consumed by empty-vessel consumers. Referring to the possible inclusion into the AFL of a team from West Sydney, AFL Chief Operating Officer Gill McLachlan recently stated that “We need to succeed in terms of securing the right level of support”. Sadly, I fear that Mclachlan was referring to corporate support, not the two million people in Western Sydney who have little interest in the AFL competition. Maybe it doesn’t matter that no one will support these expansion teams, as long as television networks will still pay through the nose to broadcast their games.

It continually mystifies me, why a sport with such a rich history must be referred to in such dehumanising terms. I’m constantly being told that “footy is a business”. Well, perhaps the AFL is a business. Maybe the balance sheets are more important than the scoresheets. Perhaps a clean, fast game; devoid of big clashes, shirtfronts, dust-ups and screamers does look good on the telly. Perhaps the television networks are more important to future of the game than the millions of supporters who have loved footy since they could walk. Perhaps people who don’t love the game, matter more to Administrators of the AFL than people who do.

Referring back to restaurant doors, I am wondering if the most trenchant of football supporters are being taken for granted, in this brave new era of AFL expansion and corporatisation. Evidence of this is no more apparent than in the efforts to include teams from the Gold Coast and Western Sydney in the AFL competition, rather than inclusion of a team from Tasmania. Lamentably, the AFL seem to consider that the AFL supporters in Tasmania will always be AFL supporters, and that there are no new supporters to be gained through supporting the push for an AFL team from Tasmania. Such thinking is terribly flawed.

The apparent willingness of the AFL to ignore the passionate bid for an AFL team from Tasmania sends some ominous signals to supporters of the AFL competition. The AFL is telling us that they would prefer to cater to potential new supporters, who may currently prefer rugby league or soccer, than existing supporters of the competition.

Interest in Twenty20 cricket will wane. Evidence has emerged that this is already occurring. Support for basketball in Australia evaporated almost as quickly as it emerged. The AFL Administration must consider themselves extremely fortunate. They run a competition which has significant support, which has a rich and proud history and which is supported to the hilt by millions of people across the country. They must look after these supporters, not take this support for granted.



  1. Patrick – spot on. The only thing you left out is the AFL’s desire to make our game nice and clean so parents won’t think its too rough, and not let their little darlings play the game. Heaven forbid that their soft, fat, indulged little kids should get dirt on their knees. Imagine that, arranging the rules of our great game for people who have doubts about it in the first place. As Harry Who used to say “Amazing”.

  2. Pamela Sherpa says

    FOOTY-Patrick , the problem is -what can supporters do about the business that sport has become if they have no say in it?

    BASKETBALL The state of the game at the elite level isn’t always the measure of the health of the whole sport. For example there are basketball competitions in Melbourne that have a waiting list of 20 teams that want to register to play.

    CRICKET. I don’t think it has to be either/ or. Different forms of the game maybe but it’s still cricket.

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