Round 13 – Essendon v Hawthorn: At The Footy With Glenda: A Diary of a Dedicated fan


7.50pm, Friday,
14 June 2019


So I arrive at Docklands to see the Bombers play the Hawks, the hated foes.  No love lost there, it’s a fixture both mobs still long for even though the enmity is relatively ancient, stirred up as it is by the old timer warriors from the ‘80’s who can’t forgive or forget.


On arrival there is my son, now 32, and headed in a few weeks for a long stint overseas to further the career.  Before the season started he suggested we go to as many games together as we could. He didn’t have to say why.  I was really pleased that he wants to do that.  It’s a place of significant overlap between us, a place that requires a Whatsapp group with us and his brother, a place to have the chat that would bore the pants off the wider family group.  Who is in this week, what’re our chances, what’d you think about the last effort etc etc.  For the diffident or the uninvolved, a bit overwrought, for us, a vital link.


Also there, in standing room, Bay 42, as always, my cousin Glenda.  She, who took me to the footy when I was in Primary School, when my dad was doing shift work, when my mum was minding the younger ones.  Glenda.  Daughter and niece of former players from the WWII years.  Stan ‘Snowy’ Wilson.  One day he and Hugh Torney sandwiched Ambrose Palmer at the Western Oval and broke his collarbone.  Ambrose went back to boxing after that.  ‘Snowy’ with the many broken knuckles on both hands, who once whispered in my ear at 3/4 time in a game of Under 15s “if you see a head, kick it.”  Not entirely joking, not at all serious.  And her uncle Murray Exelby, an understudy to Dick Reynolds, a premiership player with the Dons (’42 I think), the lifelong bachelor, the giver of the best gifts at Christmas time, Uncle Muzza.


For her, the hook was in deep right from the outset, and to that end she’s gone to watch the Bombers every week for well over half a century, all the games in Victoria, a couple each year interstate where she can doss down with mates and relatives in the outposts.  A sister in Brisbane, mates in Perth and Sydney, avoids Adelaide.  The absolute archetype of the dedicated fan. Went to every single game in 2016 when others, me included, mostly found excuses.  Every game.  Staunch.


A few quaint habits.  Stands in the same place each game at the MCG (Under the clouds, only the truly observant aficionados will get that) and at the corporately named place (Bay 42, adjacent bar, chicken place and the loo).  Leaves at the 25 minute mark of the second qtr for a dhurry outside, marks the scores in the footy record assiduously despite the constant reminders on the screens throughout.  But otherwise, quiet, loves her Bombers, a few groans when mistakes are made but not much else.  Doesn’t bag her boys, doesn’t barrack against the oppo.


So, on this night, we settle in, in the spot, wearing the livery, right on game time.  Mostly Bombers, people we know (me, her, the son, Sarge, Jonesy and a couple of their mates) and some we don’t.  They include a few Hawk fellas, mid-30’s, their wives/girlfriends and, plonked in the back row of seats in front of the standing room another adult and 4-5 kids, 6-8 year olds, clearly the Hawk fella’s kids.


Right from the giddyup it’s a strange vibe.  The Hawk fellas are, to say the least, robust for their team but it’s OK-ish.  However we’ve been made.  The scarves noted and, I’m guessing, the age, condition.  Soft targets.  Pointed remarks.  ‘Bald headed flog’.  Me.  ‘The pharmacists.’  Essendon. Self inflicted wounds perhaps but still. Intentional and direct needling.  At first we bite back.  Used to ‘banter’ we can keep up but quickly it feels like circumspection and retreat are required.  We clam up.  This however, is an incitement.  In the words of the great Tinsley Waterhouse (there’s one for the trainspotters) they are “Full of Ink and Talking Shorthand”.  They lean in, jeer, claps in the face.  Not good.


At half time, the cousin has left for the dhurry, I’ve turned to Sarge for the review of all things – mostly the game but also this.  In the meantime the proud gladiators move in, take the cousin’s spot and mine (having moved away a few feet) and the son’s (off fetching the Schooeys).  I remind the young Lochinvars that the cousin’s return is imminent, that it would be good if she could resume her place and so on.  Tin ears this lot.  “Too bad mate.  It’s standing room mate.  You move, you lose.” And without a hint of irony: “It’s a free country.”


I turn to one of the young women with them (one of the seated kids’ mothers maybe) and say “Really?”  She shrugs, haplessly, helplessly and offers in apparent mitigation “They’ve been drinking.”


On Glenda’s return we grab the coats slung over the railing, I give her back her Footy Record wherein I’ve marked the last scores of the first half (by tacit agreement, a habit of decades) and explain.  We move.  Ten feet away.  The game proceeds, the Bombers win, the Hawks are sunk.  Yippee.


Did we consider calling in the guards?  Not really.  But would I have liked them nearby when this was peaking?  I think so.


Is this by way of a slap at Hawthorn and their supporters?  No way.  I’ve got Hawk mates who wouldn’t dream of it and I’ve seen Bombers screeching at the surroundings with the worst of them.


Somehow, of late, barracking appears to have become something else.  Cheer for the red and black.  Cheer for the poo brown and the mustard if you will.  But can we leave this out?  The intimidation, the jeering, the bullying.  I think that is clearly what needs addressing.


Footnote:  the women with those inked up heroes apparently got into them because by game’s end they’d moved further away too.  I note a few sidelong glances of apparent rebuke. They gather up the kids and leave.  Meekly.  A good time had by all it seems.


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  1. A very interesting and worthwhile report, thanks Trevor.

    I have always been curious as to why so many football fans go to the game with the intention of getting pissed. I qualify this by saying that I do not mind a beer – and can drink with the best of them. I have the occasional drink at the footy (I had a couple with my son in Hobart on Sunday), but I would never contemplate drinking to the point of intoxication.

  2. Well said Trev. Haven’t experienced it personally in Perth or interstate in the last 20 years, but it happens. Have had interstate team barracking mates abused and assaulted at games in Perth. Hard to know what to do about it. I thought about breathalysers but the worst are probably on ice more than booze. And some people are funny as a fit and harmless when pissed.
    You describe it very well but the abuse and intimidation you describe is “just a bit of fun” to others. My response would be to sit/stand somewhere else – but I know that just lets the idiots win.
    Never argue with a fool or a drunk because they drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.
    Glenda sounds a beauty. And Uncle Muzza. Great read.
    Hope you have a similarly miserable experience on Thursday night.

  3. I’ve certainly had some interesting experiences with opposition fans at the footy. One particular day, in the late eighties at Football Park, before the seating was in, I and 2 friends were talking amongst ourselves during half time. I don’t remember what we were discussing, but we weran’t rubbishing anyone..

    Suddenly, a “lady” attacked one of us from behind with an umbrella. She was quite viscous and it took a few minutes to restrain her. What got her going was anybodies guess. Quite shocked, we three moved away from her. Fortunately our friend, although badly shook up, our friend was not seriously hurt.

    Whether she had been drinking we never bothered to find out. However, the redeeming factor, for us,was that Norwood won.

  4. Trevor Blainey says

    Smokie, and we’d had a couple but only a couple. but i’m way past the stagger home.

    Peter_B, yes we moved. the juice not being worth the squeeze we decided. and yes, your last remark, i could engage with all day, every day. that’s banter as i see it. and in this case on Thursday the miserable experience will be in front of the box.

    Fisho, this wasn’t in that nutty mould but it was disconcerting nonetheless. not at the higher end of things to be fair, but still unnecessary.

  5. I know the exact situation you have described Trev. It is not uncommon in standing room -which is how I like to watch footy. It is aggressive. It is also arrogant. I also move away in that situation.

    The whole fan question is obviously complex.

    I didn’t get to much Melbourne footy until we came down from Queensland in 2003. However I was in Melbourne for all of September 1995. I went to all four finals on the first weekend – and saw only one piece of aggro in the crowd. That was walking out of the MCG after NM v Richmond when a North fan responded to a less than gracious Richmond fan. There was an argument as we were walking crammed together and through an exit. It wasn’t much – certainly didn’t get to scuffle stage – just pointing and angry words. I don’t think parents even gathered their kids under their wings. I did observe angry Carlton fans when their crack and favoured side was behind to the Bears and in a bit of trouble until Kouta went nuts in the last quarter. Worried Carlton fans were getting angrier until their team recovered. Most anger was directed at the ground and at the team. But some derogatory comments were sent our way – for supporting the Bears. “You’re not even a proper football team,” was the theme. It was best not to respond.

    I wrote about how friendly the crowds were that weekend.

    The vibe at the Gabba and Carrara was always friendly. Picnic sort of vibe. The Hill was anti-authoritarian and cavalier. We were united in opposition to the coppers and later the security zombies (who were justifying their existence). But it was more Ralph and Sam. And self-regulating to a large extent. Then the Gabba was redeveloped to an all-seat stadium at which point it became a generic sports venue (what a disappointment considering the character the old Gabba had). Again fans didn’t get too worked up. They were served up a lot of great footy for a decade (1995-2005). It was a very engaged and appreciative crowd.

    In Melbourne I observed far more anger in crowds. Behind the goals at Princes Park – angry! But more theatrical angry. Among the Hawks fans at the MCG – sometimes hostile. Occasionally aggro. Among the Tiger Army – who were at that stage copying the Barmy Army – which was just plain derivative (and weird).

    I have mixed feelings about the whole issue. But, overwhelming, over the years I have been intrigued by and entertained by individual people in the crowd and by most groups (but not all).

    [PS. I wonder whether the dry areas of days gone by was a simple approach which had some effect?]

  6. Trevor Blainey says

    I’ve stood in that same place many times and the mood has always been funny and good hearted. A lot of Bombers of course, fellow travellers as it were but no real dispute with the opposition fans. Luck of the draw this time i guess. They’d have harassed whoever they were near. the difference with this was that it wasn’t the usual howls about umpiring decisions or dastardly deeds by opposition players. all fair play in my view with the usual caveats. as i said above their targets were us. they hopped in early and kept it up. despite the booze (and you know John I’m not disinclined to enjoy a beer) they were wily enough to be treading that line that is so frequently cited. you’ll note that i scarcely mentioned the game in this piece. that was the effect. the small mercy was that the Dons got over the top of them in the second half so i could at least reflect that they’d have left with a shitty liver.

  7. Drugs. Its a huge issue. We assume people going to the footy after “having a few” but I’m of the view that its more likely a few pills. Combine that with over-hyped games, some booze, media intensity around the “massive” consequences, general societal disengagement – gee there’s PhD in there somewhere.

    I’ve experienced similar Trevor. It doesn’t frighten me but it does put an edge on the night. And I reckon it would frighten older and younger people. Intimidation is the tool of the bully.

    But when you think about it everything is combative these days – the law is combative (it punishes but doesn’t reward good behaviour), the thugish behaviour of tax authorities over hapless taxpayers (guilty unless you prove yourself innocent), the traffic!!, the political debate.

    The couch at home becomes more and more inviting.

  8. Trevor Blainey says

    this conversation as it’s played out (the wider one i mean) has had a lot of commentary about people are and aren’t allowed to do. my PhD thesis would address this notion. the cheer squad images being played over this commentary aren’t very good on any analysis. the cameras frequently find the howlers and the middle finger wavers. of note is that a lot of them are middle aged and the rest are teenaged one heavily influenced by the other i suspect. those images are frequently ugly and they’ve been the voices of bewilderment when the current crack down has been orchestrated. i’m not in the camp that says if you pay your money you’ve got a right to to say what you like. in The Age this week an article described a situation where the writer was at a Lions game with her niece and opposition supporters in front of them got into Luke Hodge throughout about being washed up. but they went further and exhorted him to kill himself repeatedly until (Luke being Luke) he told them where they could stick their advice. in the time honoured forthright fashion. at which point they cheered and high fived one another.

  9. Dips

    The river. And sitting by it.


    PS Could the North Fitzroy Arms be considered a river?

  10. The NFA has a certain tranquillity. Bit cold by the river today (in Melb).

  11. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    I’m with you Dips. The couch, the heater, the cat, the red, the vibe of gentle home in which the score of the game can be heard … the mute button.

    We often have ‘sauced’ opposition supporters (blokes) behind us in the O’Reilly. Mostly it’s annoying, sometimes entertaining when they have a wit. Infrequently it’s plain disgusting and like you say, Trevor, overrides the rhythm and poetry and nuance of the game completely.

    But I’m also with you Dips that it’s a symptom of our more aggressive, assertive, combative, defensive society du moment. And a patrolling force with similar qualities won’t come anywhere close to meeting and softening what is.

  12. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    What I forgot to say was … I also loved this writing and its characters above everything!

  13. Trevor Blainey says

    Mathilde, thanks. They’re characters alright.

  14. Zachariah says

    Interesting piece, Trevor. I think you hit the nail on the head;

    “Did we consider calling in the guards? Not really. But would I have liked them nearby when this was peaking? I think so.”

    I’ve been in plenty of similar situations at the footy. Usually we end up moving away. Occasionally Dad will ask someone to tone down their language if there are kids around, which usually makes it worse but it’s a reasonable request. The presence of security is meant to help curb bad behaviour or the escalation of it. Given the threats of violence we’ve had directed at us at different games I’d prefer them there than not. Patrolling the aisles obviously set the wrong tone but the conversation generated by it will help them find the right balance.

    Alcohol (and maybe drugs) is definitely a factor but I think the larger part of it is the anonymity of the crowd. People do and say things they never would in other settings because they can get away with it in the crowd to a larger degree. Their behaviour is less noticeable amongst the genuine barracking and they are harder to identify and they are unlikely to have to face the people around them again. It also works in their favour that most people will ignore it or move away rather than call them out or call in security, especially if their behaviour is not quite enough to require intervention.

  15. Trevor Blainey says

    Zachariah, thanks. the point I don’t think I made strongly enough was that there were kids there. Theirs. They were just far enough away (in seats) to probably be oblivious to what was going on. But their partners weren’t oblivious to it, more resigned to it I think. “Boys will be boys” is an overworked excuse made on behalf of a lot of poor behaviour on and off the field.

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