Round 1: Crowd Behavior – The Six Golden Rules

So footy in Melbourne has kicked off and we could not have asked for any better games to kick us off. Richmond looked competitive against Carlton, Hawthorn just had the edge over Collingwood with incredible goals to Franklin and Gunston in the last quarter, and last night Hamish MacIntosh missed a shot after the siren to cost North Melbourne a victory over Essendon. And while all this was going on, on the other side of Australia, Fremantle upset Geelong in a match that involved hard contests, fights and a miraculous winning goal form Pavlich.

Yes the footy has been fantastic in Round 1, however after going to both the Thursday and Friday night clashes and reading about the aftermath, I feel the AFL’s biggest concern is off the field and not on.

Last year crowd behavior seemed to make it’s way into the papers more than usual. During the NAB cup racial insults were hurled at Franklin, a North Melbourne supporter punched Daniel Motlop and Eddie Mcguire put the issue into focus when he clearly ushered for a St Kilda supporter to be thrown out for insulting Andrew Krakouer’s criminal record while large reports of insults towards Stephen Milne’s criminal history from Collingwood supporters.

This last case caught my eye the most. Is calling Andrew Krakour a criminal really that bad? Particularly when he makes a symbol to his inmates as a goal celebration. Were fans allowed to call Ben Cousins a “druggie”  or bring up his past when he played for Richmond? I would’ve thought so. Honestly I’m not surprised the fan was thrown out however, imagine the security guard who doesn’t do what Eddie Mcguire tells him to do. He’ll be outed, shunned and probably dismissed for bringing negative publicity to his company. Is this really fair? Seems more like bullying on Eddie’s part to me.

I hadn’t thought about this issue for a while, the leadup to the season is always focused on the big games and not these sorts of issues. However what unfolded at the game’s over the the weekend has again made me question, what is acceptable at the footy? A question that the AFL seem to refuse answering.

On Thursday night sitting in the AFL reserve, I knew before the game had started that we were in for a rough night. Now that isn’t because I’m a realistic Richmond supporter and knew Carlton were clearly better than us despite pre season form going into the game, it was because behind me was a loud, incoherent undoubtedly biased  Richmond supporter sitting directly behind me. As the Blues ran onto the ground it occurred to me that he probably wasn’t the full dollar. As the Carlton theme song played he sang  along “We’re the team that always let you down”  obviously stolen from the sledging material of a nine year old.

Now there were heaps of Carlton fans around me. Aside from me, my mum and the witty man behind me I could not see another Richmond supporter. Infront was a large group of young Italian blokes and then the usual Carlton mob all around.

It didn’t take long for them to become fed up with the lone Tiger’s antics. Any free that went Carlton’s way either meant the Carlton player was acting, the umpire needed glasses or had money on the game. Every Carlton goal meant that a Richmond free went missing and everything inbetween those led to some reference to Carlton being cheaters. The Carlton boys infront got involved with him shortly after the first quarter started. They argued and swore back to him while old ladies further back told him to “shut up and watch the game.” Every time this happened he’d reply “I’m not swearing, I can say whatever I like!” The swearing part was right, which is much more than the Carlton blokes infront could say, but he was certainly making the game unpleasant to watch. This cycle lasted for entire game Mum and I were probably the biggest losers out of this as we had to sit inbetween and overhear these childish arguments, only when the game was out of reach for the Tigers in the 4th quarter did he finally quieten down. But was his behavior really that bad? Were the Carlton fans overreacting to man who clearly had mental issues? What is worse in a “family environment”  over the top loud swearing or simply obnoxious opinions and being downright annoying? I think the answer from most honest fans would be “depends on what team colors he’s wearing.”  If the Carlton group of blokes were in a Richmond area with the same Richmond supporter as well, who would the rest of the crowd favor then?

Now while this story may seem very tame as it did not lead to any evictions or physical fights. If we can answer “was this behavior acceptable” from a relatively mild incident like this, we could perhaps stop the bigger accidents that do occur. During the fourth quarter the Carlton man infront brought everyone’s attention to a scuffle in the forward flank on the opposite end of the ground. The end result was that everyone in first 4 rows were evicted from the ground, I have no idea what happened but something of that magnitude is concerning. Perhaps it could’ve been avoided if there was a “code of behaviour” in place.

The second incident I saw took place when I was working at the Collingwood v Hawthorn game. I was in the Hawthorn members area, however some fans would stand behind them from both teams. Personally I was oblivious to any crowd behavior problems. Why would anybody care about the crowd when the two likely grand finalists are neck and neck in the final quarter? However after Gunston kicked the sealer things began to get hostile. A Hawthorn fan in a seat had stood up and was now nose to nose with a Collingwood supporter, both ready to fight. Security separated the two, as expected the Hawthorn members said the angry Collingwood fan started it and as a result only he was evicted. As the situation died and the security were escorting the Collingwood fan along the concourse a separate Hawthorn fan got out of his seat, ran up the aisle to continue yelling at the evicted man, this led to the two pushing each other before security again seperated the two, only the Collingwood fan was evicted. Eventually security’s manager came to the scene where after hearing the story told the second Hawthorn fan he too was evicted.

After this I thought that I’d seen the worse, sadly the next day I read in the Herald Sun that some young Carlton fans beat up an old Richmond lady and that they were looking for witnesses? Witnesses? How is it that at a game with hundreds of cameras focusing on every bit of play to pick up sling tackles and bumps, we fail to have vision that shows criminal offenses in the crowd?

It seems to me that if the AFL does not take a stance on this issue then these occurrences will continue to happen in any night games involving two Melbourne clubs. I have made a list of rules as to the etiquette off football fans at grounds, if followed I’m sure we’d get less fights and evictions.

1. Absolutely no racist or prejudice comments: Probably the one and only stance the AFL has taken. Definitely the easiest thing to say no to considering society worked this out a long time ago now.

2. Swearing must not be directed at anybody: I think minor swearing should be tolerated as this is a very passionate sport for the fans however swearing at umpires, players or people in the stands sends a very negative message towards children to have the right to be at the game. I usually swear under my breath which goes unnoticed. Obviously not all North Melbourne supporters are going to say “Bugger” when Hamish MacIntosh misses after the siren.

3.  Do not aggressively interact with strangers around you: Most crowd rows seem to begin with simple things. “That was a push in the back umpy!” “Stop complaining ya dickhead!” And it goes on from there. People should be free to say what they think, but unless they call up talk back radio (or write on that doesn’t mean they’re inviting your analysis.

4. Have a high tolerance for the people around you: In my history of watching AFL the only person who I have ever told to shut up and sit down is my Dad. You came here knowing you were going to be in a public area with people with different opinions than you, if it affects you that much you can now watch every game live at home.

5. Police the people you go to the game with: Very few people go to footy matches alone. People need the attitude of making sure they’re mates are doing the right thing rather than “sticking up for your mates no matter what.” I remember a Hawthorn v North Melbourne final I went to where a drunk Hawthorn fan was becoming aggressive towards a North Melbourne father and son in front. The issue was taken care of much quicker than the security guards could because the Hawthorn mates told their friend to pull their head in and took him away from the situation then apologised to the North Melbourne father after.

6. Do not act obnoxiously loud and continually bash the other team: I put this rule last because it is the only rule I am unsure on. It must be said that some people go to big footy games looking to fight. I know where to find a large group of drunk Collingwood supporters and I know what to say to make them fight me. However I do feel that in most cases rules 3 and 4 should overrule this one. I think the most humiliating thing for somebody to do is to sledge a player who they don’t know the name of. For example last year at Richmond v Dogs a man yelled out “Leave Deledio alone 22!” In my books, Dylan Addsion should be off limits to that man. Complaining about every umpiring call is also annoying and going on about it also grows tiresome quickly. Perhaps the rule should be don’t sledge the umpires until the replay is shown clearly proving your case. However even in this circumstance, umpires are umpires and you should move on pretty quickly.

So there are my six rules to crowd behavior, they’re easy to follow, tricky to police and rely on self evaluation of fans. Perhaps it would be easier to make sports grounds like MCG a dry zone but that would be unfair to people who go to the footy, drink and do the right thing. It is a tough issue in which only one thing can be made clear, the AFL refuse to take a stance on the issue and are yet to make an attempt to fix the problem.


  1. Nice work. Also at the Richmond v Carlton game there was quite a big fight that broke out early in the final term, unfortunately with kids all around. While I was too far away to know what the cause was, it was a group of 5-6 young blokes who were led away by the security and cops. Wasn’t good enough. It’s certainly an issue that needs adressing

  2. Pamela Sherpa says

    Michael, when I go to a live game, I book tickets in the dry zone whenever possible . Any crowd fights I have seen at the footy have been the result of too much alcohol.
    You’ve raised some very pertinent points about crowd behaviour. I honestly don’t think the AFL will do much to address it -They want the revenue from bums on seats and beer sales.

  3. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Terrific, thought provoking piece Michael. Booze and tribal passion are often not a good mix. People lose their inhibitions, which is okay in certain places, but they also tend to lose respect for themselves and others. I agree Pamela, any trouble I have seen and been involved in has been alcohol fueled. Would it be such a huge sacrifice to not drink for 2 and a half hours?

  4. Mark Doyle says

    Michael, You are exaggerating the behavior of AFL footy fans. I am a regular AFL attendee in the AFL Members (section M) stand and the Geelong Social Club members stand and observe very few examples of bad behavior, except for the feral Richmond supporters in the AFL Members. It could be an interesting academic sociological study for you psuedo intellectual almanackers to analyse the behavior of the feral Richmond supporters.
    I believe your comments are made about the small number of morons who sit in the cheap seats of the public areas and come from the cultural wastelands of the Melbourne outer suburbs and the northern and eastern suburbs of Geelong, where the people are poorly educated and have poor standards of moral and ethical behavior.

  5. The term “psuedo-intellectual” usually says more about the accuser.

  6. I have only attended a couple of AFL games in Melbourne so my comments are based on limited experience.

    I was surprised by how good the crowd behaviour was both inside and outside the ground particularly for a sport that has very passionate club support. I have more experience of English football crowds which usually include a large poisonous element.

    That being said I like Michael’s suggestions. Far better to try and improve crowd behaviour before it becomes a significant problem.

  7. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Mark, I’ve seen it enough in the MCC over the last 10 years. It’s not just the stereotypical ferals. I do agree that the incidents are generally isolated, but the language and in-your-face attitude of some gets worse the more tanked they are. Night games are more notorious because of the chance to get lubricated before the game.

  8. Michael Allan says

    Mark I too sit in the AFL reserve and yes in that area I have never seen a physical confrontation like I did on Friday night. I think that is partly because we pay more for memberships and tickets, the more you pay, the less you spend on beer, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore what happens in other areas of the ground. It’s like saying “I sit in the MCC and never see a fight so it’s not an issue.”

    Also to pick out one team is very unfair since all clubs would have horrible supporters who attend games. I also don’t think I’m exaggerating at all, I said that if we made grounds a dry area then that would be unfair on the majority who do the right thing. I’m simply commenting on the events I saw at the games this week and asking who is in the wrong and how can we stop these occurrences.

    And to say it’s a socio-economic issue is very unfair. The fact is that the current footy culutre allows us to act differently than we would elsewhere. The ten year old boy who goes to the games surrounded by a mob of beer and swearing like say a the Richmond “grog squad” then grows up with that behavior as the “right way to act at the footy.” It has nothing to do with their wealth, background or where they live.

  9. So Mark, can I deduce that your ‘pseudo intellectual almanacker’ reference is a tautology?

  10. Michael Allan says

    I think it’s an oxymoron Phantom.

  11. Good response, just checking Michael.

    I would argue that there is nothing pseudo regarding the intelligence of almanackers.

    Apparently Stephen Hawking’s one great sorrow is that he has never had a footy report published in the Almanac.

    Which raises the question. Who would Stephen Hawking barrack for?

  12. John Butler says

    Carlton, Phantom.

    We’ve always been the club of science and reason.

  13. Yes JB but little Stevie only deals with fact and logic.

  14. John Butler says

    Phantom, having held back the Collingwood hordes in so many grand finals, protecting civilisation from the ravages that more Magpie wins would have inflicted, I find it churlish that you try to deny us our due.

    It was Carlton who made the land safe. And Stevie H would acknowledge that.

  15. You’d have to say in general that footy crowds are well behaved. A Scottish mate of mine is still amazed that fans can co-exist. He used to be fearful of his survival when away to Rangers and Celtic…in particular Rangers.
    There’s still individuals and small groups who can spoil a footy match though. I witness it maybe 4-5 times a season. And yes, Richmond, Carlton, Essendon and Collingwood fans seem to be the usual suspects…Hawthorn fans every now and then too.

    I think the 6-point plan is actually a fair and reasonable guide. A good balance of have fun but don’t take it too far. I follow Richmond for what it’s worth

  16. Pseudo Intellectual, JB.

  17. John Butler says

    I know. It’s been a perennial accusation. Right from the time I was toilet trained (aged 6).

  18. Perhaps a fine physicist such as the Hawking boy would barrack for Hawthorn JB.

    All I have heard from their supporters this weekend is they are ‘absolute stars’.

  19. haiku bob says

    hard for the afl to introduce a fan code of conduct.
    very tricky to enforce.
    repulsive and half-witted comments aside, there is a lot of wit in the air-waves at the footy.
    i once stood within earshot of mick molloy at a game.
    nothing but vitriol and abuse flowed from his sharp tongue for 2 hours.
    it was one of the funniest afternoons i’ve ever spent at the footy.
    would be a shame for that to be sanitized unnecessarily.
    (and as a collingwood supporter, i can barely spell obnoxious, let alone know what it means).

    it all comes down to individual responsibility.
    if i hear a racist or otherwise repulsive comment, i will do my best to let the person know.
    i’ve done it a few times over the years.
    including during last year’s granny at a pub here in stockholm.
    sometimes you even get an apology.



  20. Ed Harcourt says

    Hawking would barrack for GWS. He adores black holes. Schrodinger would no doubt be a Cat fan.

    When does one go from being a pseudo-intellectual to being an intellectual? Are they even on the same continuum? I hope I’m always a pseudo-intellectual.

  21. Good to air these issues, Michael and I agree with you in theory. Personally I have not encountered any seriously bad behaviour in the last decade of regular AFL attendance. That is probably because of the one-sided nature of interstate crowds. But I have a Collingwood friend who I know to be a good person, and she says she and her children have been spat on and sworn at at Subi – merely for wearing Magpie colours and conventional support. She refuses to go to Collingwood away games here and that is a sad indictment of the feral minority you describe (and that is not confined to ‘uneducated’ ferals). In practice I agree with Haiku Bob, and I struggle to see how your worthy principles could be practically enforced. Maybe just an awareness program, with name and shame ‘report a ratbag’ emphasis. But the ‘he said/she said’ nature of tribalism in a mass environment would make enforcement imperfect and frequently unfair. Thanks for raising a thorny problem.

  22. Yes Ed, is that Cat alive or dead. We will just have to wait and see.

  23. Steve Castieau says

    Footy fans that continually knockand abuse players on the team they are allegdly supporting and thise spectators that give thir own running commentary of the match are the most annoying people to sit near

  24. Phil,
    the standard of behaviour in the Cricket Club has deteriorated markedly over the past few years. And an acquaintence of mine (an employee of the club), who has sat on the disciplinary sub-committee, tells me that the MCC is increasingly concerned and appalled by the situation.
    Of course, as an egalitarian club, it cannot stop people from the cultural wastelands joining, as long as they have two signatures on the nomination form.

  25. What are they up to Smokie? Failing to doff their hats to the the pure breds representing the ‘old money’ of Melbourne.

    Baw Haw, I say old chap, he looks a bit common without the old boys tie.

  26. Rick Kane says

    Mr Phantom, MC Stevie the Hawkiest might talk of Brightest Stars or Absolute Magnitude but the only reason he’d be concerned with absolute stars was if he was flicking through an old New Idea at his local GP. Along with Hawking, another Hawks fan would be Quantum man, Richard Feynman.


    As for crowd behaviour at the footy, I think it has improved over the years not deteriorated. I still marvel that 80,000 people can gather to watch such emotionally draining competitions and there is so little tension, aggression and whatever between opposing fans. Especially as we wend our way through the crowds outside the stadium after the game, just trying to get to Jolimont station

  27. Nostradamus would be a Hawker as well Rick.

    He was the doyen of dead certs and from what I hear the Hawks are dead certs this week and in the GF.

  28. Rick Kane says

    Who told you the Hawks were dead certs? Name names. I haven’t heard one Hawks fan getting smug about playing your lot. I have beads of sweat appearing on my forehead thinking about next Monday. Particularly after watching the brilliant match in Perth. I grimaced a few times being reminded of just how powerful and skilful and football smart are the Cats.

    I called them as being too old this time last year. You reckon I’m going to make that mistake again.

    Of course I reckon we’ll win, that’s the prerogative of a fan. At a slightly higher level called analysis, I’m concerned. It goes back to the last time we played the Cats, before the Finals. You could almost feel the Hawks acquiesce to the Cat’s might. We have to break that hold, not just for the 4 points but to prepare for the next time we meet as we head towards the pointy end of the season. And that, my friend is going to be a hurdle and a challenge.

    Nostradamus certainly wasn’t on our side in 2008.

  29. Danielle says

    i think i break about 3 of those rules…oops lol

  30. Tony Robb says

    Good piece Michael
    The behaviour of crowd members just reflects what is happening outside the ground in King St every night of the week. Piissed young blokes who want to flex a bit go muscle in front of their mates. The footie used to be self regulated by the behavioural expectations of the crowd itself. Now they are too frightened of being hit and given a kicking so they say nothing. The poms got rid of the problems inside the grounds by ensuring every person had IIDs or memberships. Poor behaviour led to the loss of those passes and life time bans. Not a bad idea really. I’m not sure where the line is for such a decision or who should make the call but I think we all know when it has been crossed.

  31. Jeff Dowsing says

    There are certainly parts of the ground, particularly some standing areas, that you wouldn’t take your children, girlfriend or someone new to the game. And that is simply a foul language and poor taste sensibility.

    That said, it’s trifling compared to the work that goes into ensuring that relatively piddly 7- 20k A-League crowds keep themselves nice. The isolated incidents at blockbuster AFL games aren’t worthy of too much hand wringing.

    Police escorts of fan groups to get them to and from the ground to the station… ridiculous. I don’t care how much they claim to be victimized by an AFL biased media, too many soccer fans have a juvenile mob mentality that I find difficult to understand. Many are more caught up in the peripheral aspects of the experience than the game itself.

  32. Schrodinger understood that momentum is more relevant than position – more evidence he was a Cat fan.

    As for the crowds, I am quite an intense punter at times so I’ll be slow to judge. Personally I think part of it has to be a function of the magnitude of people in a small area. Get 50-100,000 people together from any part of the world in any realm and shit will happen now and then.

    My mate was a witness to the incident at the Carlton Richmond game – he was quoted in the HS article – and his account was interesting, and largely unreported.

  33. Come down to the Wynyard Footy Club Rick. I will introduce you to them. They are milling around like Argentine ants in grandma’s jam cupboard. They are packing in so close you can’t even hear yourself fart.

    You should win this week It will be our VFL side once the MRV has it’s say. But don’t write our Two’s off just yet they have already beaten Collywood three times this year.

  34. There go the big gates at the Pies home games Tony.

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