What footy and kids have taught me about tolerance, understanding and behaviour in recent weeks – An act in three parts

I’ve had three situations recently where kids, and football, have taught me a lot, caused me to reflect on my actions, and given me faith in the future.

1. Mother’s Day sees our Under 13s in a close tussle with the boys from Fitzroy at a very windy ground near Victoria Park. There’s a strong wind towards the northern end which is where we’ll kick in the last quarter, and the three goals we are down at the last change is nothing as all the scoring (bar one goal to us), has been at that end. The Roys stack the backline with two extra players and it’s a game where there are lots of stoppages.

There’s a bit of niggle going on, and in the last five minutes, a tall blonde forward who moved into the ruck, starts a lot of pushing and shoving with one of our smallest but best players, Jack.

Jack’s brilliant, impossible to dislike, with a cheeky grin and attitude that will take him far in life. Incredibly brave, he’s the sort of kid who loves getting in and under. The sort of kid who was bitterly disappointed when he turned up to school footy on Saturday morning away at Mentone, only to find that Friday’s rain hadn’t turned the ground into a mud heap, which is how he likes it.

Jack and the tall forward with surfer hair, push and shove away from the ball for the last 5 minutes of the game, when it’s clear that despite our best efforts, the better team will prevail on the day. They keep at it for longer that you usually see in this level of football, and I am worried it will escalate. The siren goes, and I am concerned but I shouldn’t be. Despite all the niggle and pushing, the moment the siren goes, both thirteen year olds turn to each other, instantly shake hands, and walk off, not a word of spite spoken, expect for well played.

This is in stark contrast to me and an opposition father who carry on like dills while the boys are lining up to shake hands. I think we were both at fault, but I am pretty sure the video review would award the three points for being a dill to me. I look forward to the return game against the Roys not just because we are two well matched sides, but because I want to take a leaf out of Jack’s book, find the dad and say well played.

 2. Sunday just gone sees us up against a very tough and physical side with a sadly poor reputation in junior football. After having the wood on them in Under 10 and 11’s, we have lost to them four times in succession, although the opening round of the year saw us play well to come back after losing our full back to an injury in the opening minutes and despite playing with seventeen, take the lead in the final quarter before tiring to lose by a kick and a bit.

The boys are always nervous against this mob, remembering some unfortunate past incidents including the only sending off I have ever seen in junior footy, for an Under-11 king hit on our star player.

We are down 2.2 to nothing at the first break, however the strong wind to the northern end means we feel we can bounce back. Three straight goals in the second quarter and a late one to them mean it is one point in it at the half. We go into the final quarter eight points down. Posters to both sides from gettable shots add to the excitement.  A late bad injury to one of our boys again reduces us to seventeen and in the last two minutes, a free kick is paid to our small forward, who already has three, about thirty metres out on a slight angle. I’m too far away to see the decision, but there was a pack and it was paid for too high.

Despite noises from the opposing players that sound like Harry Potter’s dementors at a heavy metal concert, Joey P kicks truly to put us ahead and a number of stoppages in the last 90 seconds see us run out winners by four points.

The game was played at a reasonable standard considering the mud from the turf wickets slowing the run through the middle, and there was a complete absence of any of the niggle that has characterised games between these two sides in the past. The spirit and play was fantastic.

As the dejected players wander towards their dugout, they are greeted by a screaming figure, their coach, directing his spit and bile over their heads towards the two central umpires. He informs the two young men in white, loudly in front of his disappointed and impressionable group, that they are a disgrace, should have a long look at themselves and were shocking. Umpires escorts move towards them quickly and the coach tears off his bib, presumably to avoid identification.

I laugh at the coach’s vitriol, causing him to be even more inflamed when he sees me. When asked what I am *** laughing at, all I can say is “You”

The boys line up to give three cheers, with the lads from the losing side showing no lack of voice when called upon for three cheers for the umpires.

I worry though that the boys, after playing a game in such good spirit, will now react to their coach’s anger, both what they saw on the field and after a chat in the rooms, but when both teams later have boys standing in line at the canteen, the losing side volunteer even more calls of well played, seek out players they were on to congratulate them individually and talk soon turns to the shock loss of the previously undefeated top side earlier that day, news of which has travelled across the suburbs quickly.

There’s hope in this, and not just because the umpires will put the issue in the match report. Seeing kids brush the disgraceful behaviour aside made me realise that they can tell the difference between right and wrong at this important stage of their lives.

 3. I’m talking with my two children; one an avid footballer aged 13, his sister, 11, a casual observer but with no real interest . We are talking about Adam Goodes, what happened to him twice, why it is wrong and how he reacted. Both kids find this sort of stuff bizarre and can’t understand how people can be called these names in this day and age. My daughter (despite choosing the Swans as her team for a few years, as their combined colours made pink) expresses surprise that Adam Goodes was even indigenous.

Later, when we talk about how other players must feel, like my son’s beloved Franklin and Rioli, she again is surprised to hear they are indigenous. To her, they are footballers, not a colour or heritage. I could see this as ignorance or missing the point, but actually, she’s right, they should be judged on their merits, not something immaterial like colour.

Sean Gorman writes in his Maurice Rioli story in Footy Town that for many whitefellas, our interest in AFL is the only contact we’ll have with indigenous Australians which is sadly correct.

I ask my son how he’d react if one of his teammates, our reigning B&F winner, who has a Japanese mother and Australian father, was racially abused. Ben couldn’t understand the question: why would Piers get abused in the first place, he’s never seen him as different?

At Ben’s last school, there were a high number of kids from Chinese families. I asked him once where Johnno Zhang was from. He thought about it for a while, then said “Glen Iris”.

Of course he is, my question didn’t make sense to him. Regardless of surname, heritage or complexion, Johnno is a kid from Glen Iris, not a boy with parents who were born overseas.

To him, and his thirteen year old mates, issues of race and heritage are immaterial. They understand and get issues of indigenous Australians and our lamentable history in this area.  But they judge people on interests, friendship, how hard they go in for the ball and their overall character.


It’s situations like these that give you hope, and also educate older blokes like me to open my eyes.


About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.


  1. Sean, you’re blessed with a couple of lovely kids there, mate. Very touching story. Thanks for sharing it with us

  2. Lea Mother in Law Partridge says

    You are right again. It is hard for older Australians to suppress the ” this is the country only for Anglo Saxons ” mentality. Our brilliant and tolerant children, loaded with more latent talent than we ever dreamed of, can teach us so much.
    Another insightful piece, Sean. Now get home and cook dinner.

  3. Sean Gorman says

    I wish I was incorrect Sean but sadly it is what it is.

  4. Thanks T Bone

    Lovely kids that are a credit to their mother. They have their mothers looks too thankfully.

    I do think though that most 13 year olds, despite the young lady who gained infamy that Friday night at the G, feel the same way, I don’t think they see colour, and get racism. They are growing up in a multi cultural society and see people as people more than our and other generations did.

    I think though that the issue this creates, and I’d be interested to see Sean G’s view on this, is if they don’t comprehend it, will they seek to understand it? It’s great that kids see people as people, but does that mean they’ll not seek to understand history or a past of intolerance, or just assume that everone gets along? I see the shock on their faces when you try to describe the Holocaust or the Stolen Generation, they just can’t understand that world. But as positive as their acceptance is, will they assume that everything’s fine now?


  5. Pamela Sherpa says

    Interesting Sean as to whether ignorance is bliss or otherwise . I was stunned when the girl at the centre of the Goodes drama was reportedly unaware of it being Indigenous round and then asked myself did it really matter if all she wanted to do was see her team play a game of footy.
    When in Cambodia a couple of years ago I was shocked at how many people I met had never heard of Pol Pot and the killing fields and how surprised they were to discover that it wasn’t that long ago in history.

  6. Sean Gorman says

    A great deal of people said what the young girl had said was ignorant and nothing more. Gilbert McAdam also said Rendell was not racist but ignorant. The simple fact is at the beating heart of racism is ignorance. That is it’s life force!. I like Pamela was stunned that the girl did not know it was Indigenous Round and its significance on the AFL calendar. Ignorance’s best friend indifference. Was she too invested in spreading sauce on her pie that she did not take a moment to wonder what all the announcements were about? Or the cover of the Record was? (Nicky Winmar)

    I would ask you all to ask yourselves what was last Indigenous issue raised at either Federal or state level of significance before an election for Indigenous Australians? What is the specific language group of the Indigenous people where you live (off the top of your head)? What does NAIDOC stand for and when is it on the national calendar? (off the top of your head). A famous Indigenous footballer told it to me like this: He was sick of going to Bunnings and being the only blackfella there! Until this issue (that is acceptance and REAL understanding) becomes a seamless, tacit, part of our day to day then we have a long long way to go. Yes there are always ‘gaps’ in peoples knowledge but if this thing is staring them smack bang in the face and they still don’t know or give a shit we are in trouble. I have said this till I’m blue in the face – reconciliation is not about hugging every countryman you see – it is about education – will get off my soap box now.

  7. Neil Belford says

    Food for thought Sean. How is this for an idea.

    Why dont we celebrate NAIDOC week here at the Almanac. Given that the passion here is sport and Australian Rules in particular it is fair to say we wont be travelling too far outside the stereotype, but still, why not a week for anyone with a story to tell that has a link to Aboriginal and Islander Australians. Amongst our number I think we can do a pretty good job of at least one a day.

  8. sean gorman says

    neil – that is what im torkin about – great stuff – (ps sorry for all my typos in my last post was in a rush an what not).

  9. Sean G

    I am out of my depth on some of the stuff you are talking about, as you’ve forgotten more than I’ll know about this field. I am pretty comfortable I have the understanding bit right in my life, but have admitted before in these pages that I am lacking in the education component.

    For kids, I’m really interested in what you see our role as adults and parents is to their involvement in this issue. Do we look back, share with them the shameful past of this country and get them to be compassionate and understanding in part to right the wrongs, or do we look forward,(not ignoring the past but investing more in education and future compassion), and get them to treat everyone with respect based on merit and ability?

    Football has a role to play, so do the pages on publications like this, as do soap boxes that enable educators like you to stand upon and help us learn.

    Neil’s idea is great. Our kids need to know about Doug Nicholls and Syd Jackson just as much as modern players.

    Sean C

  10. sean gorman says

    Sean C – well we need to do both because without or history we are diminished. This is not to say we wallow in it as that also is unhelpful as victimhood is a blight just as much as racism is. – I say this as someone who has grappled with a deep reading of historical issues re indigenous and non-indigenous relations and I have come to the conclusion that it is an honest approach is needed. What do you do? you give as balanced as possible view as honestly as you can – and if you don’t know you find out as best as you can.

  11. Stephanie Holt says

    While digesting the work or Alamancker Seans, can I just note that “dill” is a great word. our language needs more such light and delightful insults.

  12. Sean G, thanks, good advice from someone who knows the field better than most of us. As parents, we’ve got a responsibility to explain teh past, be firm that it was wrong and that the future generatiosn have a chance to set teh example and bring us together.

    Stephanie, tehanks, the word just seemed to sum up how I acted. “You dill” was what came into my head about how I behaved, and it seemed apt


  13. A update from the last few weeks:

    Two seperate Casual racism incidents with me being witness to two seemingly sensible adults I had an association with who made terrible ‘joking’ racist jokes or comments, brushing them off lightly when greeted with some awkwardness by those nearer me.

    A senior executive whom I (previously) respected and who helps a charity with indegenous links who stated that she felt that Goode’s behaviour and reaction was disgraceful and that he should have left a poor 13 year old girl alone.

    The wife of the coach in question in the story above who abused the umpire apparently went to the umpire’s rooms after the game and continued the abusive tirade. She’s also their team manager. Imagine what that kid is learning. The two umpires didn’t want to make a fuss or go to a Monday night tribunal and so no report made. Two weeks later a player from their other U13 side is yellow carded within the first 5 minutes of a game for striking off the ball.

    An under 14 basketball match (which due to a strange quirk of birthdate cut offs is mostly populated by 11 and 12 year old girls) is marred when a parent of an opposition player (who won) seeks to end a great and close game by abusing our starring (and incredibly fair) player for apparently using her elbows too much. Not surprisingly, she reports this abuse in tears to her father who then gets into a slanging match with the abusive dad

    We have so far to go guys.


  14. Thanks for the update Sean. Sport is a stage full of passion and emotion on which the (‘adult’) participants play out our fears, traumas and neuroses.
    Once you see it in that light it explains a lot even if it doesn’t help with how to respond. I know in my own life when I have been under stress I have often interpreted people and events that were not logical or helpful. My own over-reaction then heightened the issue even further.
    “Such is life” as a wise Subiaco philosopher once observed. My philosophy is never to argue with drunks, wives or footy coaches/fans when they are angry (imagine all 3 at once – see Avenging Eagle circa 2005 GF). However if you can get them in a quiet place when they have calmed down, and you approach them from a point of understanding rather than criticism, they will often concede they were ‘over the top’ and ‘could handle it better next time’ (the AE was much nicer in 2006).

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