Getting some dirt on your boots


The rain smatters in mostly from the west. It won’t break a drought on its own but it will allow the red-brown clay of the Adelaide plains to stick to your shoes and make the Size 3 leather footy as slippery as a politician being asked about climate change.


I turn my back to the play and head to the bench, it’s early in the last quarter. A 10 year old boy shivers under his hoodie, still upset.


“Mate, this happens at footy. If you let the name calling put you off your game, they’re always going to do it. If they’re niggling you it’s because they’re scared of you”


I stop there. His father is hovering but I am also unconvinced by my own words. They’re not afraid of him and he knows it. No words from me will convince him otherwise. They’re niggling because it’s fun and had the desired effect.


As the game finishes, a disappointedly uncompetitive loss, the boys stomp off to air their grievances. They let the conditions and the opposition get the better of them tonight.


“He swore at me, called me a c*^t.”


“That whole time I was in the forward pocket, number 17 was pushing and grabbing me and calling me names”


“That one kept hitting me behind the play”


We trot out the mantra: “They are trying to upset you. If you let them, they win.” They did.


So, what do you do, what do you tell them? Ignore it? If you retaliate you’ll likely get caught (as happened a number of times on the night)? The best thing you can do is win the footy and show them the (imagined) scoreboard?


These boys have grown up in a different time to their parents (to state the bloody obvious). I wouldn’t be silly enough to suggest bullying doesn’t exist in today’s schoolyards but can say with a level of confidence it’s a heck of a lot less common. At the very least different, the playground no longer thrums with it. Schools are also more likely to take action when it occurs, as are parents.


So, why do we tolerate behaviour on a football field that we wouldn’t tolerate off it? Why do senior players who commit assault not get charged with it? The rules are different but the line is unclear.


Is the football/sports field the last stronghold of acceptable (maybe even condoned) bullying? If so, why should we accept it? I think I might stop telling my son those same tired old things. Perhaps it should no longer be “ignore it”, rather “there is more than one way to retaliate and, if you are going to, be smart about it”.


Maybe if they swear at you, swear back better – goad them into indiscretion. If they niggle you, niggle them back when you are sure the umpire isn’t watching. If they hit you, go down and stay down so the umpires are forced to act. Tell the umpire what is going on so they either act or are complicit.


Oh, and have fun, that’s why we’re all here… I think.


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About Dave Brown

Upholding the honour of the colony. "Play up Norwoods!"


  1. Dave – best way to beat a bully on the footy field is to get leather poisoning.

    I remember talking to Syd Jackson about the horrible abuse he copped, particularly from over the fence in the 1970 Grand Final. His reply? “Silly buggers didn’t realise that abuse made me play better” he said with a beaming smile. I’m sure it still hurt him but his revenge was sweet.

    Resilience is the key.

  2. I hate to say it’s not just the kids Dave – when my then 5 year old played Auskick in his team guernsey other parents told their kids he was scum. I’m not sure what he hears on the field now in under 8s but I suspect with his nature it won’t be a sport he persists with, which is a shame.

  3. Rulebook says

    Dave a v interesting debate I only umpire college footy now days and there is v v little bullying and as you can imagine I jump all over it v quickly.i am probably a believer in general of giving it back verbally with humour and repartee

  4. In the sixties a certain Central Districts footballer, TOM G was reputed to spit gozzies over his opponent after he had kicked a goal. Apparently Sturt footballer John Halbert was the recipient in one match and had green muck all over the back of his jumper. Story goes one day he did it too often over a North Adelaide player he turned immediately and biffed him a beauty, unfortunately right on front of the umpire to cop a suspension. Tom G got off scot free. That was most certainly a case for more than 1 umpire.

    PS I do know that player’s full name but won’t disclose it here (it’s hard to spell).

  5. Dave, sounds like we could write a book on this.
    It is tough to witness your kids having to go through this. And tougher for them, of course.
    Kids can be very cruel.

  6. Dave Brown says

    Thanks for the read and comments.

    Agreed, Dips, but what of the kids for whom leather poisoning is not a realistic option? As you say, resilience is key.

    At least in your deplorable example, Marg (I mean, seriously, the Port/Crows thing gets so toxic at times), the rights and wrongs of it are clear. That doesn’t make it any better for the child on the end of it of course. The bit I didn’t go into is how a team might deal with such issues as a group. Hopefully he finds something of worth in that.

    Thanks Rulebook. We are finding most weeks we have a first year umpire with a supervising umpire with not much more experience. Their ability to monitor/control the spirit of the game is extremely limited.

    Incredibly yuk, Fisho. Presumably the North player felt it was worth it. Guessing not too many were upset when he headed back west.

    Kind of amusingly, Smokie, the lad also gets regularly physically worked over at netball. He is the best midcourt player in a not very good team so the opposition will regularly put a tag on him (he copped an elbow to the head last week). He may end up better learning to physically assert himself on the netball court rather than the footy field.

  7. Obviously you know whom I was writing about Dave. If even half of the stories I heard were true, it was good he went home. The tragedy of it all was that player was actually a bloody good footballer.

  8. Dave , interesting article but I have to disagree with your opinion of bullying in schools . As a teacher of 40 years, I think it has never been worse .In fact it is appalling , as are the manners and behaviour of children in general. Schools do little about bullying because they are In fact quite powerless .Dips says that resilience is the key . True, but here is the underlying problem. Children are no longer educated in an environment that allows and encourages it.

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