I loved beating Geelong on Friday night but one thing kept bugging me

By Mark Simms

I wish they wouldn’t call Subiaco Oval ‘Patterson’s Stadium’. It hurts. At the beginning of the season,  I thought I might be able to ignore it, and concentrate on the money for ‘grass roots footy’- an evocative phrase- but I’m struggling.

I’ve been thinking about why it hurts. Why do I feel like a religious nutter whose holy place has been desecrated? Why do name changes arouse emotion when surely a rose by any other name smells the same?

If you’ll excuse the amateur cognitive science, in my opinion, the essence of it is that we get attached  to the world using names- we locate ourselves physically, culturally, socially and emotionally via names. They are the crucial organising points for all this information and hence our identities. Names, including the names of our football clubs, are part of our map of the world by which we travel through life.

Hence when the names of important things, like football grounds imbued with cultural and sporting meaning, change then our inner organisation is suddenly at odds with the world. And this is experienced as an uneasy unsettling phenomenon.

I heard on Radio National’s Occam’s Razor last Sunday that there is a heated argument in botanical circles over the term ‘Banksia’. The speaker made the case for renaming other species ‘Banksia’ on the basis of evolutionary history, but he understood the pain this would cause.

He likened having your favourite specie’s name changed  to someone coming into your house and declaring that your wife has a new name, and he hypothesized that the brain’s name and emotional centers were anatomically close.

If you’ll excuse another amateur digression, this time into philosophy,  the German philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that a unified self was only possible in a world of persisting objects that behaved in systematic ways. He couldn’t imagine selves existing in a world in which objects changed and behaved randomly.

Now I doubt Kant had Subiaco oval in mind, and I don’t think he would say that people in Perth are at risk of vanishing into a cloud of  ontological confusion,  but I think he might agree that when important names change more or less randomly there are real psychological effects for people. He might put it like this:

People like to feel that they live in real places, it’s part of what makes them feel real- and real places don’t change their names at the drop of a hat.

Losing this feeling of groundedness is part of the cost of selling the naming rights to Subiaco oval that the WA Football Commision didn’t take into account. (Was it theirs to sell, by the way?) Each time Bruce McAvaney added a ‘Patterson’s Stadium’ to the call on Friday night tens of thousands of people watching felt a kind of disconnect, alienation, and frankly an unpleasant sense of being bullshited to.

I must express my gratitude to the  ABC for keeping Subiaco Oval alive  this year, the West Australian Newspaper having gone over to the dark side,  forgoing their role as a chronicler of our state’s history and colluding in this dubious sale. And, I noticed Dennis Cometti couldn’t help himself referring to ‘Subi’ on Friday night in a mild act of resistance to the  dead hand of economic correctness.

I know it sounds a bit melodramatic but I think a community can be weakened when names are changed undemocratically because a community runs in part on shared names and shared memories. They are part of its cultural capital. People have no shared attachment to ‘Patterson’s Stadium’. They’ve never heard of it, they couldn’t care less about it, but people have thousands of memories of Subiaco Oval and these are suddenly marooned or cut off from Perth community life in 2011.

Names and emotions go together.To quote the band Incognito,

‘I hear your name and I feel like making love’

Now I wouldn’t go that far about hearing the words Subiaco Oval, but for me and a lot of people it is a warm word resonant with associations.

The name Subiaco, incidentally, comes from the name of an Italian town near Rome. Benedictine Monks from the town set up the ‘New Subiaco’ monastry in the 1850’s and in 1881 the new  train station in the area was named Subiaco. Going back further, the Emperor Nero’s artificial lakes originally gave the Italian town Subiaco its name from the latin Sublaqueum, meaning under the lakes (Wikepedia).

Further, on the poetical history of Subiaco, when Subiaco won its first premiership in 1912  the players and supporters retired not to some exclusive nightclub but  to the Subiaco town hall to hear the poet CJ Dennis give renditions of his poetry (Diehards: the story of the Subiaco Football Club, by Ken Spillman ). How things change.

Finally, and as a hint to the AFL, I think part of the reason Australian Football is so entrenched in certain parts of Australia is that people are emotionally attached to the old names and colours. Early in their lives and naturally attending to emotionally salient cues in their family and social environment, children get bonded to the sounds and colours of the family’s football club. Clubs and codes survive in part on this system of attachment in much the same way that religions do.

Lose the names and you lose your hold on the folk.




  1. Call it Crazy Pat’s Stadium.

  2. John Butler says


    I know what you mean. Princes Park will never be anything other than Princes Park to me.

    No matter how generous Dick Pratt was.

  3. More power to you brother. I never use any other name than Subiaco in my Eagles pieces. Both on principle and for practical reasons. Stockbrokers and shares cost myself and several friends a lot in the GFC. I know its caveat emptor, but I still can’t say the sponsor name without a bitter taste.
    Well said, Mark.

  4. Great piece.

    I still call Brisbane “The Bears”, most probably because my strongest memories of Geelong/Brisbane games are from those days (eg. 37.17.239, Ablett bump on Gastev).

    Words, which includes names, are everything. Using the wrong ones often end in conflict, like the time I called my best mate’s wife by his ex-wife’s name.

  5. Pamela Sherpa says

    Well said Mark.As well as the disconnect you mention the name changes are also confusing . It’s hard to work out where games are actually being played sometimes,

  6. forwardpocket says

    Even old New York was once New Amsterdam.
    Take me back to Subiaco Oval, No! You can’t go back to Subiaco Oval.
    If you have a date in Subiaco Oval she’ll be waiting in Patterson’s Stadium.

  7. Skip of Skipton says

    What is this ‘Patterson’s’ that Subi is now named for anyway?

  8. Richard Naco says

    Patterson’s is a curse, Skip, if I may be allowed some flowery prose.

    Just as Skilled is the appropriate adjective for the game being played as it should be played down at Kardinia Park.

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