The Dying Art of Sporting Conversation

Much media time has been invested in the wonders of the new Perth Stadium.  It looks great on TV.


LED hyper-brilliance.  Over-saturated colour.  Flashing signage for the 10 second attention span.


An epileptic’s nightmare.  But marketer’s love it, so the omnipresent 7Media (the West Australian newspaper and the AFL broadcaster) tells us that we are all in adoring thrall.  Having spent $1.6 billion ($1500 per household) the State Government (all parties) feverishly concur. 


We haven’t progressed much since Nero fed christians and slaves to the lions at his new Colosseum. If you can’t give them bread, give them circuses.


To me it’s concrete and steel – like all modern sporting stadiums – pumped up with fast food and flash lighting to make the surface appearance better than the substance.


Sport meets Stormy Daniels.


It would be churlish (moi?) not to acknowledge some benefits:


  • 20,000 extra patrons
  • Plentiful toilets
  • Generally more comfortable seats (though ours in the newer part of Subiaco were similar)
  • A wider ground gives more space for creative play and should allow WA teams to adapt better to finals at the MCG


The rest leaves me cold:


  • Access is worse given 50% more patrons arriving and leaving at the same time
  • Ridiculously expensive, tasteless fast food and soapy flat beer in plastic cups (hint – bring your own sandwiches and coffee – we had to explain to an incredulous 30-year old the amazing properties of a thermos – we told him there was a mini microwave in the tin)
  • An injury inducing rock-hard playing surface with a grass “covering” modelled on me and Gazza (I know we wanted a WACA type surface – but only in summer and on the pitch area)


But what really makes me angry is the Nuremberg Rally atmosphere of blaring music and groupthink spruikers.  My Eagles no longer run through a banner.  Pre-game assorted nymphettes (Stormy Troopers?) inflate a blue appendage with a yellow helmet for the players to emerge from.  Music blares and we are implored (ordered?) to stand and “Join the Huddle” before the bounce.


We steadfastly refuse to join in confected collegiality. Is our dissent being covertly monitored? Will men in black leather overcoats be calling around to casually inquire about our physical disability? Will we be “reallocated” to the back stalls next season?


Ein Reich; Ein Volk; Ein Eagles?  


It gets worse through the game. Advertisers blare through half time. The late Tom Petty is resurrected at 3/4 time to screech that we Won’t Back Down. (Stuff it – we’re 10 goals ahead of the homeless young Suns and this game is dead boring – backing down would make it a bit of a contest).


I hate the stage managed striving for uniformity. What we buy. What we consume. Now we are being told how and when to barrack.  


But above all I hate that there is so much noise that I struggle to hear and be heard. Footy has always been about community for me. It started 55 years ago together with my grandparents huddled defiantly on the outer mound at Thebarton Oval in Adelaide barracking for our loss leading West Torrens Eagles. My tribe now is the Avenging Eagle, her brother and his son.


“Do you reckon we ought to shift McGovern forward, we need a marking target?”


“The new kids have injected a bit of zip into the side.  Darling and LeCras look to have found some a new lease on life.”


“When Nic Nait crashes the pack, every orthopaedic surgeon in the stadium must have his heart in his pocket.”


For me attending live sport is the shared experience of observation, questions and wit.  


I can live with spontaneous crowd noise that rises and falls with the crescendos and lulls of the contest. But not being told when and how to cheer. Or worse still having my quotes and questions drowned by dead Americans and advice on how best to clog my arteries or borrow for a Bali holiday.


When wizened English cricketer Patsy Hendren fielded all day in front of the old Hill crowd at the SCG in the 1920’s, the legendary barracker Yabba implored the English captain to place him elsewhere. “You’re too ugly Patsy, you’re spoiling the view.”


Eventually relenting, JWHT (Johnny Won’t Hit Today) Douglas was sent to fine leg. Before he got half way, Yabba yelled “send back Patsy” and the crowd and players erupted in spontaneous laughter.


Sandpapergate and the Banking Royal Commission tell us that our society might be richer, but our culture is poorer, than in the Great Depression.



  1. All so true, Peter. Surely it can’t just be that we’re no longer part of the ‘modern generation’?

    I thought the SCG was bad enough, with increasingly loud crass music blaring right up until the first bounce (and sometimes even after); then Sweet Bloody Caroline screams out at us every single week just before the second quarter starts; half-time is a nightmare of so-called music, ads and God know what else, and then the three quarter time $1,000 give-away starts just before the siren for the last quarter, with everyone waving blue and white CitiBank banners while some camera-in-the-sky swirls its focus onto the screaming masses; and in amongst all of that we have the Dance Cam, where the camera reveals how well we can wiggle our hips – or otherwise!

    I would never ever wish deafness upon myself – to say nothing of the visual onslaught – but…..

    How I loathe it all!

  2. I also really love the chats with friends and family at the game. I haven’t seen the new Perth Stadium in person, but that monstrous light show after Freo got up over Essendon a couple of weeks ago was enough to put me off (plus the flights cost a mint). So you’re not alone, Jan and Peter – as another 30-year-old, I cringed at the thermos part. I weep for my generation sometimes!

  3. Yvette Wroby says

    Lest we have a moments peace at a game. Lest we have a thought that has room to move. I hate it too. I will survey young people at the next game and see what they think. But it makes me cranky and irritated. Are they trying to keep us away. Well written Peter.

  4. I presume, the AFL administrators will only listen when we stop turning up and instead watch (and support) our local clubs instead.

  5. “Nothing has changed the nature of man, so much as the loss of silence.” – Max Picard.

  6. Kasey Symons says

    As a fellow Eagle, I agree that that jumping castle is an abomination.

    I’m still excited to travel to Perth hopefully soon to see the new stadium. I do like bright lights and shiny things and the LED doesn’t offend me so much – but the ‘music’ (noise) may be the thing that might ruin it for me…

  7. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    PB – I get your frustration loud and clear above all the meaningless noise. It has really put me off going to the MCG and Docklands. I used to love having a chat and sometimes running commentary with the people around me. “Observation, questions, and wit” is missing to be replaced by “We will decide which song you must sing and when you will wave your scarf.”
    At least the toilets have improved for you, or does ‘I won’t back down’ blare in there too ?

  8. Earl O'Neill says

    Great work, Peter, love yr style. Nearly fell off the chair laughing upon reading about the nymphettes.

  9. I don’t think you will get any dissenters here, PB.
    Nor virtually anywhere else, I reckon.

    Greg Baum has written about this issue in the Age on a number of occasions.

  10. Colin Ritchie says

    Spot on Peter! I hate all the razzamatazz.You can’t hear yourself speak, let alone hear the person speaking to you, no time for quiet refection or contemplation, or even to make a phone call. The noise overwhelms all!
    Through the late 60’s and the 70’s I would meet with a group of friends at The Prospect Hill Hotel in Kew (now a Dan Murphys) for a couple beers, discuss the Essendon match then head off to the game. With our pies, hot dogs and chips, and a can or two we loved nothing better than to discuss and analyse aspects of the game as they happened without any distractions to divert our attention. The only distractions we wanted to hear was the roar for a goal, or some good play by the Bombers. The quarter breaks enabled more in-depth conversation and we all looked forward to putting in our two-bob’s worth. Difficult to have that sort of conversation these days unless you yelled! Sometimes I think it would be nice to bring back the “good old days!”

  11. Thanks all. I treasure the traditional Australian vernacular and dry wit. At work I almost “put it on” for effect and the 20/30 somethings fall about themselves. I honestly tell them it is how everyone spoke when I grew up. They think it is both funny and honest, but somehow it has been lost in the onslaught of American culture through social media and TV.
    I sometimes feel like the last holder of the language of a dying tribe. It’s more than strine, it’s a sardonic, resigned but hopeful way of looking at the world. Expressing that sentiment plainly but inventively with humour.
    Whatever it is I think its worth preserving beyond the Over 50’s, and Knackers are some of the last holders of that tradition. With the death of the front bar it is now most alive in sporting crowds.
    When looking to find the source and time of the story I remembered about our greatest barracker Yabba, I was pleased to see that Richard Cashman’s biography is on the public record through the NSW Library.
    I look forward to reading it and wonder if we need a Yabba Society dedicated to preservation of our traditional language, humour and attitude.

  12. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Laconic instigation, hey PB?

  13. Why talk to your neighbours?
    Can’t you follow each other on Twitter?

    At the big league footy we’re nothing more than captive cash-cows, stuck in the clinkers.

    Advertising brings the money of course, but what they’re creating is awful.
    Boycotting advertised products might be a good way to go.

  14. With you all the way, Peter, even back as far as the early 1960’s when my grandfather used to take me to Thebby Oval and throw me over the fence to get Lindsay Head’s autograph (for the 6th. time). Adelaide Oval is the same, apparently we must have NOISE at all times between sirens and before the game. I sit with a family and friends group of up to 15 and, at Footy Park, used to enjoy the discussions, family news et cetera. Adelaide Oval has stopped all that sort of nonsense, you cannot hear yourself speak or think. Result is I now go to about half as many games as previous. Worse still, it seems to be spreading to the SANFL, where even us season ticket holders in the Quinn Stand at Alberton are subject to a fair bit of extraneous noise, although, to be fair, the speakers seem to be World War 1 relics, so not quite so bad. End of rant.

  15. Dave Brown says

    Yep, get thee to a state league where you can drink a decent beer, have a chat and mourn its death by 1000 matches. If only the raffle ticket winners (as sold by a knacker) could be heard over the PA at the Parade. Bugger it, go to local footy where you can see every dollar you put across the bar/canteen actually go back into the club; where there’s some hope at least.

  16. Interesting thread..especially your observations upon dying use of a particular style of vernacular language except perhaps in the sporting arena. Very true. I guess though, a new vernacular will arise…perhaps without the sardonic dry wit.

  17. Luke Reynolds says

    “For me attending live sport is the shared experience of observation, questions and wit.”
    Nailed it Peter. The administrators seem to forget we are attending an Australian sport, not an American sport.   


  18. John Butler says

    Welcome to stadium football, PB.

    The ‘Stormy Troopers” deserves to catch on.

    You answer your own question with your piece, really. If we could hear ourselves think we might notice how so much more is being desperately splurged to create so much less.

    Still, at our age better toilet access is nothing to be sneezed at, so to speak.


  19. darryl kernaghan says

    nothing to add bar my concurrence, it’s as anti social as a basketball game

  20. Peter Cahill says

    Well…….all I can say is, ‘Me too’ to all of the above!!! And to think I was the only one who thought there was too much extraneous and vile noise at the mcg for the Hawks v Tigers game. It was so awfully loud. I wrote to the Tigers CEO about it. Complained bitterly. I know, sadly, there will be no change. I’m 69 and have begun to think that it’s actually what the younger generation want, but is it? The most galling thing is the music right up until the ball is bounced.


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