The cost of free speech

I can’t remember the exact season, but suspect it was 1993. The game had barely begun when a stick-like bloke a couple of rows in front and a few seats to the left started, and virtually didn’t stop. Every play the Cats made was loudly criticised, and every Cats player demeaned, and all with a bellow that belied the man’s diminutiveness. It didn’t matter whether the players did something good or not; they were roasted.

It was annoying and the thing that most annoyed me was that he was wearing a Geelong jumper. If there was one thing I hated back in those days, it was Cats supporters who bagged the Cats.

I’d had enough towards the end of the second quarter, and I yelled out to him that I wanted his autograph.

“Why,” he asked?

“Well, I can tell you’re obviously someone who’s played League footy.”

The people around us sniggered, but he came back with that classic line.

“I paid my ten bucks; I can say what I want.”

It’s a line that can’t really be countered, but having said that, he was far more civil in the second half and the game was far more enjoyable without his dribble.

I’ve had a number of verbal stoushes at the footy, often with Cats supporters who were anything but. It seemed to me that many supporters did not understand what the word “supporter” meant.

It really hit home one day at the MCG when the Cats were playing Collingwood. I can’t be certain, but I think it was the day Gazza took “that” mark over Pert. Anyway, the Cats got off to a flyer and by quarter time we looked home. We were pretty happy with ourselves during the break when suddenly, the Pies supporters started.

“Colling-wood” <clap><clap><clap> “Colling-wood” <clap><clap><clap> “Colling-wood” <clap><clap><clap>

It was loud; it was inspired; it reverberated around the ‘G, and; it was disconcerting. I am not a Collingwood sympathiser, but by crikey, I got a whole new respect for them and their supporters that day. Support is most required by a team when they are struggling. Collingwood was struggling, and their supporters responded. That was true support.

In my experience as a Geelong fan up until several years ago, we tended to be most supportive when we were clearly in front, became critical when games were close, and said very little when we were being beaten.

Predictably, the Maggies came back that day and made a contest of it and if memory serves me, a new, young player by the name of Houlihan was on fire and created pandemonium in the stands.

Around the turn of the century, I said to one Cats fan during a game that I was quite clear on how he felt about David Mensch and suggested that he give it a rest for the remainder of the game.

“I paid my money; I can say what I want.”

In the early noughties, a mate and his wife were part of the group that I regularly went to the footy with in those days. He hated anyone swearing around his wife and he’d tell them so. There were a variety of responses, which on one occasion was physical, including the “I paid my money” response.

In 2008, a Carlton supporter directed a tirade at Darren Milburn suggesting he performed sexual acts with his mother, using the one four-letter word that is still deemed truly off limits in public, foreign films excepted. The woman he was sitting next to, and whom was old enough to be his mum, punched his arm and said, “Watch your mouth.”

“I paid my money.”

We’ve all been at the footy or other events for that matter, where there’s been clowns to the left, jokers to the right, idiots in front, and imbeciles behind.

Now, I presume we all believe in the right to free speech, and anti-censorship to a great extent. But there has to be a line, doesn’t there?

I’m no prude. I love the passion the game draws from people, the witty remarks and insightful observations made, and the good humoured niggling and taunting that occurs between opposition supporters. But is there a point where someone’s right to free speech becomes an abuse on others? And if there is, does the cost of admission give us permission to ignore that point?

Now that I’m at this point, I don’t know why I wrote this. And it is actually two themes rolled into one. I miss the footy.


  1. Graham Black says

    Not sure that the purchase of a ticket also includes the purchase of the right to be offensive or annoying to those in the vicinity?
    I too get concerned about the loyalty and support shown by a small number of “fans” when Cats are losing. The most recent experience for me was in late home and away match against the Swans in which Cats struggled to find their normal form and consequently lost. At one point (either the 3rd or 4th quarter) Tom Hawkins messed something up with his short pass going directly to a Swans player. This was met by an outburst of derision and boos from some in the crowd. I could not help but wonder with Hawkins’ great efforts in grand final if there was any reflection at all from those who had readily abused him 6 weeks earlier?

  2. And every club has supporters like these. We have tickets in the Ponsford Stand that mean we sit in the same seats for all Collingwood games at the “G.” Unfortunately so does a certain loudmuthed Pie supporter whom I will one day work into an Alamanac Report. Miseryguts (as we refer to him – not to his face he is considerably larger and younger than I am) spends his whole match bagging Collingwood players and the coach. In 2010, when it was clear even to people who know nothing about football that the Pies round the bounday strategy was central to its success, Miseryguts was still ranting about Collingwood’s failure to play through the middle.

    My wife had the theory that Miseryguts was innumerate since he was still bagging our players when we were ten or fifteen goals ahead. You can’t complain because he is not swearing or being racist. He is just being dumb and a pain in the bum to all the Magpie fans surrounding him. …..End of Dave’s rant, thank you Pete for providing inspiration and opportunity to launch it.

  3. John Butler says

    Always a fine line this one Pete.

    Clever banter often makes a dull game bearable. But abuse is always likely to be in the neighbourhood for some.

    When Carlton hit the skids in the naughties there were quite a few ‘supporters’ who didn’t handle it well.

    You felt like telling them to go talk to a Doggies or Saints fan.

    As Dave says, everyone’s got ’em.

  4. Darren Milburn had everything that was coming to him…

    I must admit, I have been guilty of mercilessly slagging the following Cain Ackland and Cameron Cloke – but not anywhere close to the same extent of the Essendon-supporting octogenarian sitting behind me at Princess Park in the early nineties who let fly at Jon Dorotich with a routine that was as racist as it was opposed to self-love.

  5. Peter – I think any seasoned footy goer has experienced all the ugly supporter types that you refer to, but to turn it around, let he who is without fault cast the first stone. Going to the footy is a liberating experience because you do get some license to let off steam in a way you wouldn’t otherwise. As barrackers, we all undergo something of a personality change and sometimes, it’s not a pretty one. However, what is acceptable behaviour or not depends on your surroundings. The problem with the ugly supporters is their lack of awareness of this.

    Let me make a confession to illustrate this. In 1980, as a 16 year old, I found great entertainment among the feral, foul-mouthed larrikins who gathered behind the Richmond goals each week. Basically, you could let rip with any obscene comment in that area and no-one would mind.

    But come the finals, I had seats on the forward flank among supporters of both sides and people of all ages and dispositions, including a family of Geelong supporters next to me. Evidently, I’d been using some fairly colourful language through the first final (Richmond v Carlton) which, as neutrals, they’d tolerated in silence. But two minutes into the second semi final against Geelong, I had a go at Gary Malarkey and the Geelong dad snapped. I was given the rounds of the kitchen about my behaviour to the point that not even an 8 goal haul by Kevin Bartlett could provoke me to make any further comment.

    The point of this is that the freedom of speech argument is a “shades of grey” one. Any supporter with an ounce of self-awareness should know that what’s acceptable in one part of the ground may not be in another. I learned this lesson early – others seem to take longer to wise up.

    PS Dave – I sympathise with your plight. We gave up brilliant reserved seats for Richmond home games because of the foul-mouthed supporters around us. We’ll never get such a great vantage point again but the overall experience has improved immensely.

  6. Clearsighted says

    With you completely on this, Peter. Yes, supporters can “pay their money” but, for starters, they are in a public place and there are rules about this.
    Love the banter and quick wit that can evolve around those supporting their teams but have no time for the gutless wonders who dish it up to their own, leave before the final siren if their team is losing, or those beered-up heroes in the crowd who, in a group, will pick on one or two.
    They are certainly out there wearing the colours of all teams, but seem to have a higher representation in certain clubs – due perhaps to higher membership numbers:higher quota of dickheads ratio, or higher membership numbers:higher quota of arrogance in the herd.

  7. Peter Baulderstone says

    Footy watching is much more engaging when the crowd is 50:50 with the supporters of both teams. The one/two team towns like Perth are a much more sterile experience.
    The barrackers that I find most bemusing are the old dears, who are passionate in their love for the Eagles but whose footy knowledge stopped about 1970. “Kick it long” they constantly yell despite the fact that we only have 2 players in a heavily outnumbered forward line. “Get on your man” they scream as the Eagles flood back into a space covering zone defence.
    Periodically I get exasperated, and go to say something. But they paid their money, and they are so passionate. I bite my lip and remind myself not to be a smart arse and let them enjoy their experience.

  8. Clearsighted says

    Heaven forbid that someone might patronise the ‘old dears’…

  9. Peter I concur! I get really annoyed with the anti-social behaviour, loud obnoxious attitudes and most of all the swearing at the footy. I go with my son and have at times used his presence to remind some loud-mouth to keep his language under control. I am the sort of person who can’t ignore this stuff, seeing it as part of the slippery slope to lawless disregard that affects so many other parts of modern society, and I am prone to confront people. I try to be tactful. I try to be empathetic. I try to encourage them in more positive directions. Usually people respond with a degree of acknowledgement and deference to the presence of others, especially kids. But, on more than one occasion I have been abused, told to shut the $%&* up and &@#% off. The worst instance was with a group of North Melbourne fans at Kardinia Park this season who looked at me as if I was from Mars and criticised, abused and verbally attacked me for having the audacity to suggest they were in a public place where there were still some rules and expectations for decent behaviour and language. It got ugly to the point where I was pretty sure I was about to get thumped. My son was worried ( so was I) and the rest of the game was tense and uncomfortable.
    I’m not blaming, or making excuses but they were getting through the beers which I’m sure A. made them more volatile and B. deinhibited.

    There are numbers you can call or text to report bad behaviour at most grounds but I’m not sure of how effective or immediate their responses are.

    I can tolerate people who have more volume than knowledge or who become so passionate and excited that they let off steam, but I truly resent the people who ruin other fans’ experience at the footy with their swearing and abuse. Paying for a ticket is not a licence to do whatever you want, and I’ve paid for my tickets too and just want a safe and comfortable environment for me and my family to watch the footy.

    This is a pet peeve of mine in case you haven’t noticed, sorry for the rant but good to see that many others share your/my feelings.

    NB. I don’t like “supporters” bagging players, from their own team or the opposition. I hated the way David Mensch was treated for instance and there are plenty of others. The old motherly advice seems totally appropriate to me: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

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