That’s ok – we’re invisible

You might’ve noticed what happened to Fremantle on Saturday night. However it is likely you saw nothing at all.


The Dockers are the AFL’s invisible team. Invisible club. Brought into the competition in 1995 not to ‘grow the game’ or ‘expand the reach’ but to dilute the power of the other WA team because some, like Kevin Sheedy, thought the Eagles would become some kind of super-power. “Juggernaut,” he said.


And so Freo was ushered into the big league. Concessions? There were few. Financial injections? No, the new club paid for the privilege of joining in.


One day late in 1994 I went to Dockers HQ to interview coach Gerard Neesham. The club had a staff of three. It grew quickly. Soon there was a recruiting manager who had never been out of WA. Did they get everything right as they built a list? Well, no. Did they do ok in their first season? Well, yes. Did they get a bit of extra help from the AFL. Well, no – nobody at head office noticed them.


Events late on Saturday were just another example of what happens when you’re invisible.


Remember Sirengate. That day down in Tassie when the umpires didn’t hear the final siren. Ignored the pleas of players and pushed on pushed on pushed on until St Kilda had levelled the scores. Fremantle needed to bring in the lawyers to win that game they’re already won


Remember the day at Subiaco Oval when a passage of Freo play was unusually interrupted? By the umpire marking the ball. Gotta laugh, don’t you?


And you almost certainly don’t remember the worst of them all. A game at Docklands between Fremantle and Essendon. Matthew Carr missed a shot at goal but was infringed as he took the kick. The umpire blew the whistle and took control. Full of authority he marched straight to the Essendon player who had given away the free kick and said: “The ball has gone through for a behind. Do you want to take another kick or keep the point?” The Essendon player thanked the umpire for his concern and opted to keep the point Carr had scored. The ball was then kicked back into play and the game continued. Unusual? Yeah, but it happens when you’re invisible.


Fremantle coach Justin Longmuir was full of dignity after the game on Saturday night. Fans were indignant. Or numb. We’ve seen it all before.


How does it feel?


“You’re invisible now. You’ve got no secrets to conceal.” (Bob Dylan)




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About Les Everett

A Footy Almanac veteran, Les Everett is the author of Gravel Rash: 100 Years of Goldfields Football and Fremantle Dockers: An Illustrated History. He is the WAFL correspondent and uses the money he makes from that role to pay for his expensive websites and and fund the extravagant Vin Maskell at


  1. matt watson says

    Interesting examples there. I recall Carr’s incident but can’t recall the please explain the umpire would’ve received…
    No doubt the AFL didn’t help Fremantle upon their inception, but I’m not sure they’re invisible.
    Not to me anyway. I loved how they beat the Cats at Kardinia Park in 2013, and I was hoping they would upset Hawthorn in that year’s grand final.
    I always support them in the derby too…
    The footy gods don’t always take care of the teams we love…

  2. There were 2 frees to the Dockers for soft “after disposal” contact in the last quarter. Both were not paid down the ground. I thought all were unnecessary – but the free to Docherty was consistent with how it was umpired all night. But paying it down the ground was not.
    Then again on balance of play and scoring opportunities after half time………

  3. Les
    Freo weren’t given the huge leg-up that the Weevils enjoyed, nor do they get the constant “too important to fail” support that the clubs north of the Barassi Line. But they’ve hardly been a basket case. Ultimately “visibility” comes with performance. A handful of finals and one unsuccessful trip to the big dance in 25 years is not a track record that will have the AFL fixture boffins falling over themselves to schedule you in Friday night blockbusters. I’m not sure the Dockers can argue consistently unfavourable treatment by the umpires either. I didn’t watch the game against Carlton but I heard that Blues’ fans were going feral at some earlier decisions that went against them. And as PB says, one goal after half-time and a total score of 36 points ain’t going to win you too many games. Every club has a few “we wuz robbed” stories. But that’s very different from consistent bias which you seem to be implying.

  4. David Zampatti says

    Les, I think you know (probably because I’ve regaled you with it many times) of our mutual friend Mr Warner and (in small part) my theory that the umpiring of a game is the result of a complex, and sometimes contradictor, web of syndromes, few if any of which tend to be of much assistance to the Dockers.
    I’m reminded of the most illuminating moment in my professional association with Dave W, when we sat in a Melbourne radio station programme director’s office as he gently explained the reason why he wasn’t playing The Suburb’s latest single: “ Well (he explained) it’s not a serious record, and it’s not a novelty record. It’s sort of a throwaway record. So that’s what we did.”
    I think Freo are the Kookaburra Girl of the AFL; we can’t be taken seriously, but we don’t have novelty value, so we get thrown away.
    The last five minutes of the Carlton game was a classic example of it; in fact the most egregious throwaway decision was a couple of minutes before the cataclysm of the last 30 secs, when the rapidly maturing “if he played for a big Melbourne club people eould be sitting up and takin notice”) Brennan Cox juggled a mark twice before grasping it, by which time the umpire, inexplicably had called “play on” and didn’t reverse his patently wrong decision.
    As for the cataclysm; Brayshaws mid-air prop and soft contact happens dozens of times a game; awarding the downfield free kick where it stopped rather than where it crossed the line despite the boundary umpire indicating the spot; blithely handing the ball to a player running in from afar rather than the one right at the spot actually pleading it was his to take, had all the hallmarks of the “Let’s not spoil the party” syndrome, and Freo doesn’t have one of its own to counter it.
    In other words, faced with lots of stuff going on and clocks ticking and players carrying on, the umpires took the only course they were hard wired to make.
    They threw Fremantle away.

  5. John Butler says

    It’s always disappointing to lose after the siren: Carlton experienced that recently against Port. So I read this discussion in that context.

    One thing Carlton supporters have come to learn is that life looks different from the bottom. In our years of pomp and circumstance it would be fair to say that it often felt like we got a pretty good run from the umps. You wouldn’t find many Blues fans who think that now.

    I think Dave Z is getting at something, although I’d substitute the word syndrome for presumption. It feels like the umpires have an unconscious set of presumptions underlying their decision making – presumptions that rarely seem to favour struggling sides.

    Enhancing this is the fact that the umpiring in general this season has had an increasingly random feel about it. I have seen many games this year where it really felt like the umpires had no feel for the game they were officiating.

    As for Saturday night, I thought the umpiring was generally shambolic, so the fact that the game ended in confusion was hardly a shock.

    FWIW, I thought justice was served in the end. But then, I would.

  6. Phil White says

    Great work Les, only Freo supporters truly understand what it is like to ride this train. I wouldn’t expect anyone from Victoria to get it or even care. I have been onboard since day one and I ain’t getting off. For me the football media has much to answer for, as their constant pandering to Victorian clubs means you see and hear little about Freo’s victories, tragedies, highlights and blunders. Some times this is not such a bad thing when you consider the propaganda they serve up consistently. I can recall many interesting comments about Freo games over the years from Victorian based reporters who clearly couldn’t hack it to stay up and actually watch the match. They missed some great and awful footy moments that are the tapestry of the Dockers.

    One of Freo’s other invisible challenges has been the historically rigged AFL fixtures, justified by being for the good of the game, but really being for financial gain and to maintain the status quo. I am OK with this, just be honest and say this is why Richmond never leaves the MCG. This AFL norm has seen Freo travel the country to places far and wide, regulars in Launceston, Darwin, Canberra and now we live in Cairns for 4 weeks to play one match. Clearly when you’re flying that far every 2 weeks what’s a little bit further matter, Hey. The all time sum of Geelong, Richmond, Carlton and Melbourne’s games played in Launceston is 4, Freo clearly love it down there and have been 12 times. They truly embrace the anytime, anywhere philosophy with not even a murmur, as that’s where they are sent, anywhere the AFL likes. Just another hurdle, but no grumbles from Freo. It was interesting to compare the recent comments of West Coast to Freo about the Gold Coast hub, reflects quite a difference in culture. I like JL and Peter Bell’s style, I am sure one day in the distant future they will tell all, but no complaints and anyway you wouldn’t hear about it in the AFL media.

    I believe in Karma and what goes around comes around, so hopefully one day if Freo stay true to their values and work hard they will get their rewards, that will be quite a day. I don’t expect anyone in Victoria will care much, unless it is their team being shafted by an inexplicable chain of umpiring blunders, weird fixtures or unique tribunal suspensions to lose the GF.

    Les you have captured some of what it’s like to support Freo, but it would be great to do a deeper dive some time as your audience has much to learn. Having been at many a game in the West and even at Freo’s only appearance at the GF, when that Freoooo Freoooo chant starts to echo around the stadium confusion sets in to the opposition and their supporters. I saw many perplexed Hawks faces at the G that day in September 2013, “what is that sound, where is it coming from, how can it be that loud?”, sadly it never grew to its full crescendo that day. It is when that “Lillie like” noise rises, rises and lingers that you truly understand you are part of something much bigger than you knew or anyone in Victoria can ever comprehend. Go Freo!

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