This week sees the long awaited debut of Australia’s latest experiment in sporting franchises – the GWS Giants. Long awaited by me, that is. As I said in my blog about my last Swans game as a Swans supporter, I have been an Australian Football devotee for 31 years and this is a great time for me. Finally, I can go to Homebush every time I want to see a football game. Finally, a stadium where the club has access to the best seats and bars. Most importantly, however, the AFL has a team in one of the largest population centres in the country. I have been asked why I am so passionate about a brand new team – because it’s about the region, it’s about the game, not the franchise.
At work, I have made it a experiment in social observation to make myself a total Giants fanatic. First of all, people know where I sit in the staffroom.
I also have my Giants coffee mug and lanyard. All little things – I used to use fairly bland things as coffee cups and lanyards. The impact has been interesting, however. Each time I walk around the school at which I teach, there are students telling me about what they know about AFL and the Giants. There will be the student whose cousin plays for a local youth team. The students who, as a cohort, undertook an Auskick program run by staff supplied by the AFL with Giants uniforms. The other students who were there when two players visited school, as a result of the work of some savvy staff at the Giants. Students are impressed by school visits by any impressive looking sportsperson in a uniform. There are still students who talk about “the tall one”, who was Jonathan Patton. Then there are the students who have seen the Giants on the news, on Sunrise, on various media outlets. The ones who speak of Israel Folau and express an interest in how he will go in the AFL. The interest is there, in the schools, amongst those watching shows other than the evening news.
Some recent media reports about the Giants, however, demonstrate a fairly standard method of reporting the Western Suburbs. Stick a Camera in Main Street, Blacktown and Ask the Locals. That’s not going to yield a realistic picture of what kind of knowledge would exist in the wider community about GWS, in the same way Sticking a Camera in Penrith Plaza will yield a realistic idea of what is believed about asylum seekers in the region. It does get the sound bytes media outlets want. If these same producers really wanted to know what was happening, they could do some research and ask the school teachers or other professionals who work every day in the western suburbs.
The other perspective in regards the Giants concept and Blacktown is the mistaken belief that the Giants are a regional Blacktown AFL team. It’s not. It’s a team for the city that is for the greater west. If those same cameras went to Blaxland or Springwood, they would find plenty of people who have either stayed with the Swans or have made the switch to the Giants because they like the game and want to support the team connected to their region. The same can be said for the Hills District and areas of Campbelltown, who have had an AFL playing culture existing for many years – unlike Blacktown, which is still largely a league town (and will continue to, I believe).
The other factor in GWS’ favour will be the large number of people in the district from other states who love their AFL and their team. Many of the supporters I saw at the first NAB Cup game in Rooty Hill (their training ground is closer to Rooty Hill than Blacktown) had scarves for various teams. They will still support the teams of their previous lives, but will take out Giants’ memberships and will go to the Giants HQ in Homebush. This is because they are such rusted on supporters that will see the new club run around, playing the game they love in an easily accessible location, rather than take the journey out to Moore Park. They will also find more in common with the fans of the new club, who will, I can envisage, feature more working class members than I suspect would make up the supporter base of the Swans.
That is why the Giants will be interesting and for media outlets looking for the full story, they need to work a bit harder than sticking a camera in a street. This is a year long story, even a five year long story, as the AFL try something that is very risky. The possible payoffs, though, are big. Already, I’ve heard parents wanting their children to play AFL rather than rugby league, due to the perceived lower risk of injury. If that view catches in the western suburbs and the Giants start to have success, the AFL will have succeeded in their plans.
Personally, I hope that is true. My daughter already likes the game and wants to see them play. I want to grow old in the orange and charcoal, singing that very cool song from the Cat Empire’s Harry Angus. I want to see a team that embodied that great line We Will Never Surrender.