Supporters The Lifeblood Of Footy Clubs

It was two unconnected, though related events on my recent time down in footy’s heartland – Victoria – that underlined a very real truth: without the fans we do not have a game.

My mother stated that players change, club administrations change, nowadays jumpers change and even venues change. But the one constant is that there are always supporters. For the most part those supporters have been around for years and years – outlasting the players that fleet across a club’s landscape (with the possible exception of Dustin Fletcher who appears intent on playing well into his third decade).

A quick drive into the Sorrento footy ground in my old home town illustrated the point. The juniors were out on the field that I once played on as a teenager, despite the wind chill factor making it about five degrees out there. I had the audacity to see myself out there as I looked, but soon realised that my body cannot do the things it once did.

Here was the new breed of kids coming through. A new era. It would be their turn on the footy stage for the better part of a generation. Yet, parked in the safety and warmth of their cars by the boundary line – or out on the field braving the elements with the kids – were the people of past generations. Once upon a time they were the players, fans or club people of the past.  Today they are in different roles (and clothes) but still there supporting that club.

I left Sorrento 30 years ago on a journey of my own, yet these people stayed in the town and still support that club. Blokes I went to school with are now coaching the kids.  Mothers of the kids on the field who were once the girlfriends of the players of the past, still at the club and doing their bit to keep it going. Former business owners in the town who are now presiding over the fortunes of the club in 2015. The same people I bought ice-creams from in the ‘70’s. The supporters remain proud of their clubs and throw whatever they can into it, decade after decade, to keep the team on the field.

I see this also in the growth of the team I am a part of in Cairns. The team cannot exist without the people who give their all each week to keep the wheels turning. My club is just 10 years old, but if it follows the Sorrento template. 30 years from now some of the kids running around in the Under 10 teams will be president, head coach, secretary. Their own kids might well be running around on the field.

A further example hit me yesterday when I visited the AFL club I support. I am always dreaming of going to my own “Mecca” of footy – the halls of my own beloved AFL club. Whilst all clubs in the AFL are huge businesses long removed from their local club origins, and as a result sometimes seem aloof and distant to the average supporter, my experience was different.

As I walked the hallowed halls (at least, they were hallowed to me!) I met people in all manner of positions – administrative staff, shop staff, a player, a coach, a couple of visiting fans – and without fail they were open, proud, honest and welcoming.

The one galvanising feature was a love of the club. All of them were supporters of that club. All were living out a part in the progress of that club. Like local clubs on windswept ovals, the biggest of the big cannot survive without its supporters. No matter how good the players, how good the current administration, how good the marketing department and how deep the coffers at the local bank, it can all fall apart and fold if the supporters are not there.

Fitzroy is a classic case. They were dearly loved by their supporters, but they didn’t have enough of them to survive. The clubs most under threat now are those with the lowest memberships and associated crowds at games. When those fans stop believing, for whatever reason, and turn their backs on supporting their clubs then the end is nigh. Ask any Fitzroy or South Melbourne fan – or any fan of clubs across the world that have folded due to lack of support.

Some of the greatest players in the VFL played for Fitzroy. Kevin Murray, Gary Wilson, Paul Roos, Gary Pert, Harvey Merrigan, Warwick Irwin were from my era. Prior to that were Brownlow Medallists like Haydn Bunton, “Chicken” Smallhorn, Allan Ruthven. There were enough great players in most eras to beat the best – they did win eight premierships. But once the support dropped off, so did the club. No use using the incarnation of the Brisbane Lions as evidence of a revival. Fitzroy left us as an AFL/VFL club.

We do not want to see it happen to any club anywhere at any time. But the financial realities of football will ensure it happens again and again. Once the supporters lose their reason to follow a club, that club becomes unsustainable – regardless of who pulls on the jersey or who makes the decisions.

It was so refreshing (in more ways than one – BRRR!) to see the support for the Sorrento kids last week.  It is always a joy to see the people at my own club get in every week to make the club stronger (our younger grades rarely win a match, but that hasn’t stopped our list growing, along with help of associated parents and supporters). It was also incredibly refreshing to visit an AFL club and feel that I was a welcome part of their family – something I had always privately hoped but not really expected.

I will watch a match tonight on the television and support my team. But at the same time I will be conscious that the 22 players on the field are just the tip of an iceberg that keeps them on the field and playing each week. Just like Sorrento, Pyramid Power, my first junior club Clayton and clubs of all levels world-wide, those 22 players are there because of the mighty support behind them.

Supporters are the absolute lifeblood of footy teams – and all power to them.



About Wesley Hull

Passionate lover of Australian Rules football. Have played and coached the game and now spend my time writing about the game I love and introducing young people to the game through school coaching. Will try and give back to the game what it has given me for more that 40 years.

Leave a Comment