There’s a Place in the World for an Angry Young Man….

A Richmond mate described Liam McBean’s debut as ‘ordinary.’

I immediately took exception. I don’t really know why, other than the fact that it seemed incredibly harsh to describe a kid in his first game as ‘ordinary.’ I mean, isn’t ‘ordinary’ the nice way of saying ‘useless so-and-so’ in polite company? I know that when I’ve described a player as ‘ordinary,’ it was with maximum malice intended.

As the conversation progressed, it was decided that watching McBean at the ground didn’t show him in a favorable light. He wasn’t obviously impressive or flashy. It was only with the additional perspective of the TV coverage that you were able to unpack his contributions to the contest and truly appreciated his efforts.

I dunno though, I think there might be something more to it than that.

Recently I read an article in WSC (the quasi football fanzine from the UK) by Harry Pearson that brought into focus a sensation I have been having on-and-off for a while now. I have what he has coined: ‘Frustration fatigue.’

Pearson rather eloquently describes the phenomena using a Middlesbrough supporter but it is a universal concept. Sitting at a Boro game, Pearson asks his mate where the bloke they call ‘Jesus Christ Boro,’ has got to.

We all know that supporter don’t we? The ticking-timebomb-type. You know it’s coming but you can never predict what passage of play is going to tip them over the edge this week. When will that moment of perfect-storm frustration arrive that makes them suddenly launch up out of their seat, as if suddenly administered an electric shock and give it both barrels with their catch-phrase: ‘WHAT-ARE-YA-DOING-SAINTS?!’

Pearson’s mate replies to his question in an unexpected way- ‘He’s still there…(but) he doesn’t shout anymore. He stopped last year. He just sits there now. Its kind of sad and eerie- Like Jack Nicholson in ‘On Flew Over The Coockoo’s Nest.’

It was at that moment, upon reading that exchange, that I realized that ‘Jesus Christ Boro’ man might be me.

Once upon a winter bleak, I used to rage and froth and spout vitriol with the best of them. Watching St.Kilda was a physical pursuit. Abuse would be hurled at opposition players with gleeful force. I once shamefully (although perhaps not that much because I’m still telling this story semi-regularly) screamed at Brent Heaver to get up and stop acting like a weak dog. I was on the half-forward flank at Princes Park and was only so bold because I was with a mate and we were confident that if this kicked off we could take a hundred Carlton supporters.

When I got home that evening and saw Heaver’s leg broken in at least three different places on the replay I felt sub-human.

It didn’t stop me raging of course but there was at least a slight pause for thought. I clearly knew I wasn’t being rational when abusing professional athletes over a fence, all the while nursing a beer and a pie of course. Every fan realizes that absurdity but isn’t all sport a suspension-of-disbelief? We fool ourselves into believing that we have the innate right to venture an opinion based on having paid money to our club. Perhaps that’s why your own players tend to cop it as well? Hell hath no fury like a supporter spurned by his own player.


I have another Richmond mate that despises David Astbury. Just flat out hates him and actively celebrates when he is dropped. No matter how often you mention his poor luck with injury or his spells in the side where he contributes reasonably, he will have none of it. He simply hates him and the sheer indignity of him daring to wear the #12 appears to rise his blood further.

I can’t really cast the first stone, God knows I hurled that rock at Daniel Healy years ago. For those not of Saints persuasion, Daniel Healy was a rangy left-footer who kicked six goals at Subiaco on his birthday. There is no better way to stake a claim as a cult hero than that. Unfortunately, he then flittered in and out of the side for the rest of his tenure. He was a classic of the in-betweener genre. You know the type: He was a footballer too good not to dominate at a lower level, yet just not quite there as an AFL footballer.

It’s easier to describe in cricketing parlance strangely. There is such a thing as a great First Class cricketer. Marcus North is my go-to when describing this idea. North was an excellent State cricketer and had a very long and successful career. The kind of career, in fact, that eventually demands you get considered at Test level. When he was given the chance to represent his country he scored five Test hundreds, a great return no doubt but all the while his position in the Australian team was undermined by his inability to string his form together. He kept getting out cheaply. Then he’d suddenly peel of a ton. Then straight back to struggling. He was good enough to find a way but sustaining it was beyond his talents.

That would have been a knock for me once. I would have certainly called North useless. No doubt. Now I think of Marcus North as a man who should be proud of what he achieved when his country asked him to step up. Clearly though, I wasn’t in that headspace when I stood up as Daniel Healy was being dragged for costing us a goal and screaming-

‘That’s the last time you play for us Healy!’

So what has happened to me lately? I don’t jump up and down and hurl abuse like that anymore. Have I lost my passion? Don’t I care as much? Or have I, as Pearson suggests run out of rage? He posits that:

‘….(E)very man is born with a finite well of bitter rage.’

Apart from excluding 50% of the population (woman supporters are equally as passionate as we all know!) I suspect he might be right.

The urge to abuse players has subsided and now I find myself entering a strange new phase. I am now in tune with their struggle, caring about what becomes of them. The proof of that concept is Adam Schneider. There is absolutely no shadow of a doubt that a younger me would be full-throttle in conveying my displeasure at seeing Schneider still going round in the red, white and black. I can actually hear my 20-something self, ranting about him:

“I mean, why is he even still on our list? All this talk of age-profiles and building a contender by getting games into the kids we’ve drafted and here’s this small forward with a limited engine, still getting games? He’s hopelessly left-footed, with the turning circle of Scotty Lucas but half the height and weight… and don’t get me started on those missed goals against Essendon.”

The abuse I would have hurled his way would have been reported to anti-social hotlines. Yet there I sit, watching Schneids (I even use his nickname) go round and I find myself wondering what he brings to the team. Is he a good mentor? Does he bring a ‘good vibe’ to the change-rooms? He certainly appears to be heavily involved in getting our structures right out on the ground. His gesticulation-per-minute rate is ridiculously high that’s for certain.

Point being, Adam Schneider would have once had me out of my seat screaming: ‘JESSSSSSUS CHRIST!’ Yet I now spend that time wondering what his plans for the future are. Will he drop back into the lower leagues? Perhaps he’ll hang around as a development coach? I wonder if his family is planning for life after his career and whether he is satisfied with his time in the league. I’m contemplating his existence and imagining how he is dealing with his footballing mortality, rather than suggesting, in no uncertain terms, that he is being paid to kick goals from point blank range and he should do it every time.

What’s happened to me that I now consider a footballer as an existential thought exercise?

My Richmond mate (the one who hates Astbury) once took great delight in taking down a Geelong supporter in front of us because he happened to venture an opinion to the ether. The comment wasn’t directed at him, it wasn’t really that outrageous. It was about the umpires’ inability to pay appropriate free kicks.

Red rag met Bull apparently. I was simply there because, well it was footy and my mate had invited me. In my youth, my lack of skin-in-the-contest would have meant nothing once the sledging started. I mean, the Tiges were getting spliflicated and our Geelong supporter (wearing Chappy’s number on his Guernsey just to up the antagonism levels) was still not happy. He was asking for it.

The longer the game went the more snide my mate’s asides to him became. They were clearly mean-spirited and I was secretly impressed by the Geelong supporters ability to not take the bait. During the half-time break, perhaps to release some pent-up anger, Chappy-lover tweeted his displeasure about the Little League being temporarily suspended for a corporate 9’s game. My mate stored that little nugget up until the third quarter began and hammered him for that too. It was a master-class in the kind of vitriol I was once adept at and yet I was sat there like McMurphy after the lobotomy.

Why was I now happy to enjoy the public-flogging vicariously? Where is the bloke that went to a North Melbourne v Adelaide fixture with one objective: To sit behind the goals and give it to Modra and Carey on rotation for an entire match? Why didn’t I want a piece of the character-assassination?

Have I matured? Is that what this is?

Or, do I now think about the game differently?

I think that might indeed be the case. Certainly I do still have the passion to watch a game of footy, any game, anytime and enjoy it. I get excited sure, its just that the anger has subsided. I am beginning to suspect it was righteousness all along. Perhaps my new mildness is simply reality seeping in? It’s hard for me to be riding Schneider when I know full well I couldn’t do what he does. To be an AFL footballer might have seemed plausible to the angry young man but to the man pushing 40, who secretly hopes Dustin Fletcher goes on next season so he can go on saying a bloke his age is getting a game in the big time, well, that dream has died. It’s been in the ground way too long now to exhume it. My dream of being an elite footballer was clearly always a pipedream but I held onto the delusion with a vice-like grip. When you’re young you can convince yourself that you could be in the AFL if you wanted to. You just chose not to. The righteousness is fueled by a belief that you care for the club more than this pack of useless slobs.

I now find myself torn asunder from that anger of my youth. I guess I’ve come to realise that passion for your club doesn’t have to be white-hot.

God, imagine me now talking to my younger self at the footy:

“These blokes out here should want it more, how hard it is to hit-up a target?”

“Funny you should say that son, it’s much harder than you imagine you know. How about you just sit back down and enjoy the game?”

I’m pretty sure I know how my younger self would have replied to that advice. And he would have thought I deserved it too.







  1. Cat from the Country says for sharing your rage and your maturity shows.
    I used to hurl abuse at players, but somewhere along the line I realized I had no right to do this.
    These young men give up so much to play at the top level. They do their best and sometimes their best is not good enough for us.
    So now I hurl support. I encourage them; tell them “You can”

    I still get frustrated when they don’t play to my expectations! However I feel like a true supporter and always do my best to find the best in people and situations.

  2. aussie80s says

    Great article, one of the best I have read here … or anywhere for that matter. This article speaks to me as I have gone through a similar transformation.

    In my younger years I invested so much devotion to following my club that what happened in the space of two hours, once a week for half a year defined my life. I would wear a footy jumper in January, all my Primary School photos had me in my footy jumper when the others wore their Sunday best. At the time it may even have saved my life as I had little other reason to live.

    I have since found a complete contentment in life and as a result it has just become a game of football now. An enjoyable pastime that fills two hours in an otherwise busy week.

    I still groan when an umpire calls ‘push in the back’ when I know it was ‘holding the ball’, when we kick it to a 3 on 1 situation when a glance to the left would have shown a player wide open. I have seen many Daniel Healy’s and David Astbury’s in my time and wondered what the recruiters had seen in these men. But it is only a shake of the head now.

    Perhaps that irrational parochialism is just masking other issues in life and this is the vent that we used relieve that.

    Football now complements life rather than defines it. Hopefully you also have contentment acceptance rather than frustration fatigue.

  3. Dave Brown says

    Great piece, Tom. Can definitely identify with it. It reminds me of some study I read a while back that said something along the lines of football stadia being a ‘safe space’ for men to express emotions that they feel, where life provides no other avenue for expression. So your expressed rage is not so much personally about Healy as you attaching that release of that emotion to him. If true, of course the outcome is that this men’s safe space is not safe for others who are entitled to occupy it.

    I am of a similar age to you and find the fact that I am old enough to be the dad of footballers coming through and have a greater understanding of human frailty has changed my perspective towards the more ‘useless’ of the breed. That said I’ll still somewhat gleefully watch / listen to other supporters tearing strips off their favourite targets.

  4. Tom,
    The same thing happened to me.
    Football was everything. I’d abuse players, mine and the opposition.
    I was doing this as a kid and it continued until my thirties.
    I’d lose my voice watching footy on TV.
    One time my neighbour called and asked if everything was alright.
    I told her I was watching North Melbourne.
    Oh, she said.
    Now I’m far more content to sit and watch.
    I cheer and applaud. If I curse or utter a comment, it’s not at amplified volume.
    Not sure why the change.
    Maybe it was a few times when the scoreboard was retribution, or when there were a few unnecessary arguments.
    Maybe I just figured it was time to watch and not look silly.
    Maybe now I’m older I don’t need that release.
    A psychologist should do a thesis on it…

  5. Enjoyed reading and thinking about your reflections in this piece, Tom.

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