To Boo Must Become Taboo

Football supporters and supporters of sport in general have booed opposition (and sometimes their own) players for centuries. Booing performers has a very long history, The first written record of this behaviour comes from ancient Greece. At the annual Festival of Dionysia in Athens, playwrights competed to determine whose tragedy was the best. When the democratic reformer Cleisthenes came to power in the 6th century B.C., audience participation came to be regarded as a civic duty. The audience applauded to show its approval and shouted and whistled to show displeasure. It is an act which displays a certain displeasure at somebody or something. It is also an act which degrades, debases and demonstrates a lack of sophistication. Booing is not uncommon. In our magnificent indigenous football code, it happens almost on weekly basis. Opposition teams are booed running through their banner, home teams are booed off the ground after a poor performance, umpires are booed for their decisions and most shamefully, in my opinion, individual players are booed for a variety of reasons.

As we all know, booing is not acceptable in everyday life. Would you boo your local butcher for a lamb chop that you deem not to be adequately tenderised? Does the barista down the road cop an earful when your skinny latte is served in a cup and not a glass? Of course not (unless you are an absolute wanker). It continues to baffle me then, that we find it acceptable to go to a footy match and torment the very people that perform in such a way that it has made you pay good money for the privilege of watching their performance in the flesh. I understand that some members of our society, believe it is their right to display whatever their emotions (including displeasure), at the footy, because of the simple fact that they have purchased a ticket. I disagree. What type of example are we setting the next generation of footy supporters, who will indeed become the pillars of their future communities, when we engage in this mindless pastime? It can be a fine balancing act between barracking for your team and crossing over into the realm of pack mentality ugliness. The majority of footy fans mange to do so. Unfortunately, there are a growing minority, who do not.

Recent history is littered with examples of players being booed by supporters. In 2010, I was at the SCG when Barry Hall returned to the scene of so many wonderful performances as a member of my team. This time, he returned as a member of the opposition team. I sat and cringed throughout the match as thoughtless booing filled the stadium every time our former Premiership Captain went near the footy. This was a man who gave eight years of unadulterated joy to a supporter base who absolutely adored him. He left the club, not because it was his choice, but because he was clearly not in a healthy state of mind to continue.

Only last season, Essendon captain Jobe Watson was the victim. During a match in Perth, Watson was aggressively jeered for the entirety of the match. The reason being? He gave an honest answer in an interview. Perhaps naively ,he admitted that he may have unknowingly taken a banned anti-obesity drug, and was viciously targeted throughout his side’s clash against West Coast. The result? Jobe Watson finished the match in tears. Does any man deserve this kind of public defaming? Later that season, he encountered the same treatment in a match against Collingwood. The Magpies’ coach, Nathan Buckley says he’d prefer it if his side’s fans had not booed Watson, but that’s ‘just how Australian society operates’. Really? Are we the type of society who just accept the unacceptable because ‘that’s the way it is, mate’? Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher, believes that ‘if you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading’. If we continue to show such distaste in front of our children, where exactly are we heading?

Just last Saturday night, with over 72,000 people at the MCG, Adam Goodes was thoughtlessly booed for no apparent reason. A team mate of his was facing up to his former team, and therefore, his former fans and was also booed throughout. This situation is directly comparable to Barry Hall’s, but in no way excusable. Goodes’ situation is a totally different kettle of fish. A proud Indigenous man of undoubtable integrity, he displayed courage that very few would, when taking a stance against racism in a match last season. I would hate to think that this is the case, but I have my suspicions that his public pinpointing of racist behaviour has influenced an ignorant minority’s decision to publicly shame the man himself. If this is the case, this is the most abhorrent display of all.

Is it sufficient to stray from socially acceptable behaviour just because you have paid an admission fee to attend a football match? There are many more examples of champions of this great game that we all know and love, being booed throughout a match. The examples provided here, all involve greats of our sport. For a variety of reasons, pockets of most AFL venues feel the need to abuse the very players that they would normally celebrate if they found themselves in another setting. No doubt, there will be opposition to this point of view. I can hear it now; ‘It’s a man’s game’, ‘Harden up’ etc. etc. These are young men doing their best for the clubs and the game that we all covet so much. Yet, we are choosing to taunt and ridicule them. And why? Because ‘that’s just the way it is’. Please. Is this a reflection of the society that we have become? I understand that this is not a recent phenomenon. I just struggle to understand why it happens in the first place.




About Joe Moore

Learned the art of the drop-punt from Derek Kickett as Jamie Lawson watched on. And thus, a Swan for life. @joedmoore1979


  1. Tony Tea says


  2. Joe

    I like your piece but I disagree. I wrote a piece myself earlier this year when Rafa Nadal got a tough time in the Oz Open, because people thought he was exhibiting excessive gamesmanship:

    As I mentioned, it’s not clever or classy, and I look like a dill when I do it, but as long as I am not booing someone for illegitimate reasons, like his skin colour or anything like that, I reserve the right to dislike a player on the field and exhibit that publically.

    I don’t have to like someone but as long as I do it reasonably, that’s Ok. There’s not much difference between saying a player is no good when he gets the ball to booing.

    I completely agree that booing Goodes makes no sense and if it was linked to the Pies incident last year, would be shocking.

    But if I want to give Ballantyne a hard time, or a player who decked one of my boys, I think I shoudl be able to.

    It’s just theatre


  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    I am with Sean above and I know I will raise my booing to a new level if Hird is ever allowed to coach again

  4. Couldn’t disagree more.

    The players are out there to play Gods and Monsters, they are not workers, they are performers. Unless we boo (or cheer) there is no performance. Thats why the greek audience were encouraged to cheer or boo, because we want resonance from and in our performances.

    Footy also serves another (dare I say it, Dionysian) purpose. That is for us to be someone else for a few hours. To cheer, boo, yell and swear because in life it’s not allowed.

    We are better people for our booing and cheering on the weekend, are better for Hadyn Ballantyne et al (oh god, choke, spit; can’t believe I wrote that).

  5. sean gorman says

    Joe there is booing and then there is booing – part of the unwritten social contract ( right or wrong) in sport is one’s right to boo. if one boos a player who has been stretchered off because they dont like them that is piss poor. if on the other hand chris judd is booed by chardonnay slurping wing nut toasticals when he returns tp subi that is just pure entertainment. also to boo Jack Reiwoldt is one of the football fan’s great joys. I also think that people were booing hird and the bombers and not necessarily jobe.

  6. Well argued Joe, but I respectfully disagree.

    Money is paid and as long as it’s not racially, religiously or sexually abusive, people can boo all they like.

    I think the Swans cop a bit because of the ‘teachers pet’ perception. Goodes, Tippett, Franklin, Kennedy, Jack, Hannebery, McGlynn… not many teams wouldn’t want them on their list, and with two flags in 8 years (and a real chance to add another in 2014), the notion that Sydney needs special assistance no longer washes with rank-and-file footy fans.

  7. Pamela Sherpa says

    Excellent article Joe. I support your view.

  8. Dave Brown says

    It’s funny, Almanackers have been accused of groupthink a couple of times over the last few weeks. Judging by a majority of the comments it seems that many of us are on the same wave length here.

    A compelling argument Joe, but I also have to respectfully disagree. Human behaviour is contextual. What is considered as acceptable behaviour varies in the home, the workplace, the pub and the football stadium. Just as you would not boo your butcher or your barista, you also do not clap and cheer them and ask them to autograph your butcher/barista merchandise. The context is so significantly different that they are not analogous.

    Notwithstanding that, the context should be regularly reconsidered, as you have done. As it is no longer acceptable to racially abuse people and hopefully soon describe people as might BT, perhaps booing will go the same way. However, as others have described to dispense with cries of disapproval would be at the expense of the great sense of theatre that football provides us with. Football gives us good and evil, heroes and villains, redemption, tragedy, victory, Hayden Ballantyne. By booing and cheering we participate in that theatre. Strip that away and we are left with a bunch of highly paid athletically gifted young men from all over the country playing a similar group of athletically gifted young men.

    Personally, I save my boos for thugs and the most appaling of umpiring decisions. The infrequency of its use adds to its potency. But tell me I can’t boo and I will cease to cheer.

  9. Joe Moore says

    Some pretty strong views here. I am certainly in the minority on this one, as I had fully expected to be. Dave, you make a great point about context, and I would definitely feel foolish asking my butcher for his autograph! Steve,I am glad you enjoyed the piece, but I never intended to make this a Swans issue.
    There does seem to be a common theme here that paying money for a ticket gives one the right to boo and swear at the footy. I could not disagree more. I am all for expressing yourself at the footy but I would personally prefer it done in a more respectful way, with perhaps the odd thought spared for the members of the crowd sitting nearby. Afterall, these crowd members paid the same sum of money for their seat as you did.
    I also believe that the ‘theatre of sport’ would not suffer through the absence of booing. My thoughts are that it would actually be enhanced. Our great game provides unbelievably great entertainment as it is. I love that footy brings out the passion in people and that in our society, we are free to express our opinions, but I continue to come back to the same questions on this issue. Why is it necessary? Don’t we have some kind of responsibility to be role models?

  10. Dave Nadel says

    Booing is the crowd’s involvement in the game and it can be part of the home ground advantage. I rarely boo opposition players but I frequently boo umpiring decisions. Back when the Pies played at Victoria Park I have no doubt that crowd noise intimidated some of the umpires. It doesn’t seem to work as well for Collingwood at the MCG but I notice that Adelaide Crows have always done well at influencing umpires both at Football Park and at the Adelaide Oval.

  11. Rick Kane says

    I just like a discussion centred on the word, boo.

  12. Michael Pola says

    Booing seems to have grown more prevalent over the past years and I notice that some supporters are bigger booers e.g. Hawthorn. Why were they booing Adam Goodes last week and why do they only seem to boo when lining up for goal. I don’t feel it is an especially smart or intelligent form of involvement in the game, it actually reminds me of those mindless morons at the Aust Open tennis whistling after each and every beeping of the old electronic line monitor. I mean is it really still funny the fiftieth time ? Herd or mob mentality perhaps
    I much prefer the verbal abuse especially the witty type that one does encounter sometimes, those that question whether the umpire’s parents ever actually got married for example . In the “old days” booing was reserved for a select few players and rarely directed at a team and rarely considered de rigueur . Examples of the select few were Big Carl, Greg Williams, David (the pugilist) Reece-Jones and Phil Carman to mention a few. Booing was reserved for the deserving in other words, and they way it is practised today just shows a lack of imagination like wearing a baseball cap back to front. The worst case of booing I have seen was years ago at Vic Park when the Collingwood intelligentsia booed the victorious South Melb little league at half time. This tended to put me off booing as a means of comment and naturally one did not want to emulate Collingwood supporters

  13. Waz Wallaby says

    Not particularly well argued, though it is difficult to make a solid argument against booing.
    Footy is theatre (well, in reality, just a game!) – when it’s not soap – and liberal doses of audience participation add colour and atmosphere, and, of course, decent chiacking can also add humour!!
    The game often requires such necessary deflation!!!

  14. Keiran Croker says

    I am pretty much with you on this one Joe. Though I appreciate that there are many different perspectives. I did not particularly mind the theatre of the Hawks fans booing Buddy. On the other hand I think the booing of Goodesy was something quite different. Only those doing it could tell you exactly why.
    Even though I suffer from a healthy dose of white line fever I aim to direct my support to my team and refrain from abusing the opposition. I even manage to appreciate a good bit of play, or mark or goal from the opposition, as long as we win!

  15. Patrick O'Brien says

    Interesting. European soccer fans will break out in a rash (?) of booing when they feel the style of play on the field is not up to the standard they expect, when it is – to quote Jorge Valdano – ‘shit on a stick’. That’s closer to the Ancient Greek iteration of expressing displeasure than booing of individual players based on hatred.

    And, of course, there’s booing and there’s booing. Sometimes it’s nasty; other times it is very much tongue in cheek.

    The Simpsons episode when Mr Burns buys professional baseball players for his softball team features a great moment when Marge chastises Bart for booing and he replies that they’re professionals and can deal with it. Cue close up of one of the players wiping a tear of pain from his face.

    Question: Is it ok to boo Suarez?

    Oh, plus 1 to Rick Kane: ‘I just like a discussion centred on the word, boo.’ Generally, I think anything onomatopoeiac is to be encouraged.

  16. Prize to you Patrick: Best Use of the Term Onomatopoeiac in an Almanac Comment this Week.

    Boo is a beautiful word.

    I am a boo-er in the Greek sense and in the Down-by-the-old-bull-and-bush sense. But rarely.

    I’m also a stomper in the opera sense.

    Here’s a thought: what’s your boo threshold? I am not easily drawn into boo-ing but when I am it’s almost an instinctive response. Gee, I hope J. Diamond is not reading that.

  17. Patrick O'Brien says

    “Here’s a thought: what’s your boo threshold?”

    Much like karaoke, only when drunker than an Irish poet.

  18. Ben Footner says

    I love booing, it’s one of my favourite things. It’s the perfect way to voice your displeasure without being offensive or derogatory.

    It’s also part of the theatre, and a great way to purge all those boos that could have been given during the week to said butcher, barista etc.. All week I have to wear a mask and be polite to all and sundry even though at least 50% of them are giving me the shits. When I go to a sporting event I find it a great way to release negative energy.

    If I wanted to sit at a sporting event and clap politely I’d move to North Korea.

  19. Booing threshold: The Seinfeld episode where Jerry goes to Kramer’s girlfriend’s office (Toby) and heckles her while she’s at work after she ruins his act the night before with her heckling: “you gotta be tough in this business Toby…. Boo….BOOOOO!”

    I put it out there, that there’s no more onomatopoeiac a language than Yiddish: Shvitzing (sweating), kibbitzing (yarning, telling stories, talking too much), naches (love, affection), shlep (to travel – oy vay, I’m shvitzing like crazy after shlepping all the way from Caulfield to Northcote in this heat). Shlemiel/klutz (unco, a bit of a fool)

  20. Michael Viljoen says

    I’m sorry, but I’m not following your reasoning for saying we shouldn’t boo. Perhaps your saying we should never be negative but always convey positive affirmations over the fence. The atmosphere at sporting competitions should only ever be nice, if I’m understanding you correctly.

    Never boo; never sledge; try not to dirty your uniforms, or scuff up the grass.

    So what do we do if a player or team deserves to be booed? Are there no villains or culprits on the field? When someone crosses the line of acceptability, what do we say? How do we let him know?

    Ty Vickery’s effort was not exactly exemplary the other night against West Coast, and he readily apologised for his actions after the game. Hopefully that memory will be put behind Vickery and West Coast supporters going forward, but the boos he received on the night hardly seemed inappropriate for such a mistimed action. The booing from the home team did seem to affect Vickery and helped West Coast’s cause at least a little.

  21. Good read Joe. As a long time footy lover and attendee, I admit, as a teenager I used to get into the jeering at matches. It was never in relation to someone’s race or colour, but more to do with something they did in the play that I didn’t agree with.
    I stopped doing it though in my later teen years when I attended a match with a friend who knew lots of opposition fans in the area we were in. Out of respect for my friend and her friends (and because I was outnumbered in a huge way! ) I didn’t boo the opposition and although I cheered and screamed and was elated by my team’s one point win, I didn’t do any jeering that day. After the game some of the losing side’s supporters came up to me and thanked me for not engaging in that. I was appreciative and it taught me a lesson that I’ve never forgotten. Cheering is fine and great fun and adds to the whole theatre and atmosphere of a great game. Jeering and booing, while also being a part of the theatre and atmosphere, if exhibited the way it has been lately and targeted to individuals, is akin to bullying and intimidation in my view.
    I guess that day at the footy when I was young helped me to develop a social filter. That is what seems to be lacking at a lot of the games where the Jeering and booing have taken hold.

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