The player lies face-down on the ground. He hasn’t moved since copping a hit to the head that has left him prostrate on the ground for almost a minute.
Around me, opposition fans too many to count spew out venom and vitriol at him on a level that I haven’t experienced for some time. You’d think he’d done something wrong. He hadn’t. He’s a known ball player and a great of the game, with multiple premierships to his name.
I wish I could say that the following happened in Western Australia, when Cats Superman Tom Hawkins was carried off the ground with a serious concussion against the Eagles, exposing him to the verbal abuse that Geelong coach Chris Scott publicly called out.
It would be so much more convenient if we could make this out to be a WA problem; limit this type of behaviour to certain teams and states. They were, after all, the same supporters who famously cheered football giant Dermott Brereton’s serious knee injury, ‘back in the day’…
But be careful, Chris … my experience happened not in that animalistic environment that is the WACA, but in the fiery cauldron that is the MCC Members section of the great MCG.
It again involved a Geelong player, Paul Chapman; but this time against the Hawks. With the Hawks down early and making a mini-run that turned into a mega-run, Chapman was cleaned up, with the Hawkers taking the ball down the field for a goal.
I admit this was a game that I was emotionally detached from. With my Bombers (fortunately) not playing, I was able to take in a good game, soak in the atmosphere at the G for the first time in almost two years and watch two great teams who distinctly do not like each other battle it out…
Not heading back anytime soon
So it’s ironic that in a game that gave us one of the great endings in football, I walked away fairly confident that I would not be back too often in the future. Outbursts like the one following the Chapman clip soured what used to be a rite of passage ‘back in the day’, the (almost) weekly visit to the footy…
Blame the Hawks fans?!
Look, I would love to make this out to be ‘a Hawthorn thing’. Believe me, nothing would make me happier! But let’s be honest, with examples such as this epic game as well as the controversial Eagles-Cats matchup that followed, no team appears exempt.
And talking to a friend who was at the weekend Bombers-Blues debacle, the frustrations of the losing Dons supporters boiled over into open hostility towards opposition supporters, fellow supporters, and of course, the worst of the worst – projected at the players themselves. What are we, Richmond?! Yes, even those fair-minded upstanding citizens at Bomberland are equally implicit in this issue.
Bitter sweet, without the sweet…
There were three elements from the Friday night Hawks-Cats game that left me with a sour taste –
1. The venom – What was coming over the fence was beyond, ‘Whoa! Cop that!’, to coin an outdated 80s cricket colloquialism…! It was ferocious, vitriolic and feral.
It provoked thoughts like, ‘What on earth did Chapman do to them?!’ prompting answers such as ‘Nothing’ and ‘Oh yeah, played really well in every big game against them’ sprang to mind…
2. The language – Ok ok, I’m no angel here, but this was at a whoooole other level. You name the starting letter, we had it … loudly.
I’ve chatted with other people about where they go when they go to the footy with their kids. Alas, it seems as if, from the Medallion Club at Etihad to my own experiences at the uppity MCC, you’re never far from boorish boofheads with a vocabulary not extending past 4 letters…
Hey Aussie bogans, watch the EPL and learn some clever sledging … seriously.
3. Is this your first game?! – Any tackle that stuck was met with screams for an immediate free kick, followed by howls of abuse if not given.
I get that every team who is getting comprehensively beaten will, when ‘finally’ given a free kick, give a massive ‘bronx cheer’. But this went on and on. And. On.
Sorry, but had I travelled in a time machine back to the SCG in the late 80s (or whenever Sydney are playing well, thus attracting fans) and jumped on as bandwagon supporters with a bunch of New South Welshman!? Wasn’t I at the home of football, the MCG??
The lie – ‘Just letting off steam’
There are a couple of ways in which we justify this type of behaviour. One is by saying that it’s ‘just small pockets of supporters,’ or ‘everyone has them’. This of course conveniently places the blame for our overt obsessiveness into someone else’s lap.
The other is the lie that we have allowed ourselves to swallow … that ‘it’s just letting off steam’. That this is healthy activity; a good outlet for the frustrations or rigours of another busy week.
Unfortunately, it’s not true.
In terms of our anxiety or emotional health, yelling, screaming or complaining at a bunch of people who can’t hear you doesn’t actually release the adrenaline and cortisol, which are the stress hormones. You don’t feel calmer, you actually increase these elements.
So in fact, the opposite occurs. For men particularly, our venting or getting physical can bring about an adrenaline high which, given that slight element of testosterone (!), makes us feel powerful and strong. This masks whatever is the true origin of our hurt and anger.
So we never deal with the root cause.
Look, I’ve been with plenty of mates, myself included, and seen us all do and say ridiculous things. Normally it’s more about trying to be controversial or to get a rise out of your mates than genuine anger… But we’ve all seen or experienced when the line’s been crossed.
So, we’re forbidden from going to the footy then, right? Wrong! Go, enjoy, cheer your head off, boo, scream ‘Ballllll!!!’, whatever… But, if and when you lose it, don’t make it out to be for some worthy cause.
There are plenty of other options once you’ve had your footy fix, ideas which will actually help you deal with stress, from exercising to reading, getting outside, massage and so on…
A friend was copping a bit of friendly fire recently after professing her love for the return of Big Brother. In terms of great ideas, it’s up there with Australia’s boycott of the London Games. Wait, we were there?!
In fighting back in jest, my mate commented, ‘Am I not allowed one bad choice?’
It’s this type of entitlement in more serious areas that speaks concern into our world. ‘I might gamble a little bit, but I don’t hit my wife.’ ‘Yeah I smoke, but I don’t do illicit drugs.’
How else in the world would the pornographic novel ‘50 Shades of Grey’, that piece of s&m crap, outsell Harry freaking Potter on amazon.com?! ‘It’s just a book.’ ‘Portraying a bondage and indecent power-laced fictitious tale won’t do any harm…’
The reality check
As we walked out en masse after the crazy finish to Geelong-Hawthorn, there was a lady with a walker standing in one of wide paths of the MCG, waiting to go in the opposite direction. It seemed as if she might have had many of her belongings with her. The far faraway look in her face spoke clearly of a person with mental health concerns.
As she stood there blankly, my heart couldn’t help but go out to her. Here was someone in genuine need and there we were, our night made or ruined by a bunch of professional sportsman with no personal connection to any of us…
Literally thousands of people were streaming past her, prompting one to say, ‘Lady, you’re going the wrong way.’
I think we were…