This, post 199, is dedicated to the concept of supporting sport and the importance it can have to people’s lives. Last night, I took my family to the Melbourne Victory v Western Sydney Wanderers’ game at AAMI Park in Melbourne. It was a beautiful night out – it looked outstanding from where we were sitting.
I will preface the rest of this post with the comment that I really want the Western Sydney Wanderers to succeed as a club – and that their success in terms of onfield results and off field membership reach has been remarkable. I was one of those people who went to support the Parramatta Power in the old NSL:
Which is why I rather like this alternative logo for the Wanderers:
The problem for the Power was that the supporter base never really built – partially because soccer was trying to distance itself from the old clubs like Marconi, Sydney (Croatia) United and the like – associating instead with league clubs like the Parramatta Eels. There was certainly no chanting at Power games or intense groups like the Wanderers’ Red and Black Bloc (RBB).
Last night we arrived to see the RBB arrive at the overpass bridge that leads to AAMI Park, singing their chants and banging their drums, taunting the opposition Victory supporters. The chants and songs didn’t stop inside the ground – indeed, they seemed to remain exactly the same throughout the game, a touch like a bagpipe drone in the background of the game. But they like to stay in unison with each other and hold their passion. It’s as if making their voices heard is more important than watching the game and cheering in tempo with its rise and fall. It’s a unified passion the Wanderers’ fans have in spades. One such example of that passion was also shown earlier in the day, when Wanderers and Victory fans fought in Melbourne’s streets:
Another example of said passion was midway through the second half, when a couple of the RBB set off flares, which one of my children thought were gunshots:
I know that this doesn’t represent the actions and attitudes of most Wanderers’ supporters – that it seems to be mostly a few testosterone driven blokes who like to appear like they are Big Men by fighting and setting off maritime rescue devices. The chanting, however, is an interesting phenomenon in terms of supporting sport – whether to continue with the same chanting throughout the game, or just let the game carry you through it. It’s a question raised also by the repetitive chants used by the Barmy Army being carried through the country.
When it comes to my idea of sport supporting, when you sign on as a supporter / member of a club, you are also agreeing with the club culture, not only whether they are winning or not. The kind of supporting attitude exhibited by the RBB can be – and is – explained, however, as “people having fun”. They aren’t, however, the kind of fun or support for me – which is why I haven’t climbed onto the Wanderers’ train and attended games at Parramatta Stadium. Not that this should or would matter to the club or its supporters – it’s now a tight, large group that buys up the memberships quickly and fills home games before the season begins. They are happy with the culture they have built in this short time and take it everywhere they go. And some people want to know – especially media outlets wishing to characterise soccer as a violent game off the field. It is for this reason that the Wanderers’ administration really needs to address the problems of flares and the result of a touch too much passion in terms of off field fights – it does reflect badly on a game trying to appeal to families.
The thing about team culture has also built around the other Sydney football club that has experienced recent success – the Sydney Swans. It has, over the past few years, recruited players who not totally succeeded at their previous clubs and built them to fit the Sydney way, or built players from their youth. It’s been a great way for Sydney to stay “under the radar” and have success with unheralded players. It has also helped to built a distinctive Sydney Swans team culture to the outside world.
Two recent decisions has shaken that image for some – the signing of successful Adelaide forward Kurt Tippett and the superstar half forward Buddy Franklin. The signing of two expensive, successful stars from other clubs have shown the intent of the new Sydney – to win by using every inch of their salary cap. Plus, show that the club has little issue with Buddy Franklin bringing his sexist, nasty and selfish ways to the Swans. It’s certainly shaken my other half’s commitment to the club, which has been strong since 1995. She is refusing to support them while Buddy is playing. She is just waiting for him to be injured in order to watch again. For me, it confirms a sneaking suspicion that all of the top clubs in the AFL have a “whatever it takes, whatever cash it takes” attitude to staying at the top – an EPL attitude, but with a salary cap to bend to a club’s will – the Swans are no different from the rest. It’s also a ridiculous deal that should backfire on the Swans – Franklin will not last anywhere near the nine years they have paid him for. The deal and what it symbolises has shaken a bond I have had with the Swans since their arrival in Sydney in 1983.
Perhaps, though, my bond wasn’t ever that had by most members and supporters of sporting clubs – that of total, almost blind dedication to the colours and song. That a perception of a team culture isn’t as important as winning, as raising the cup as many times as possible. Many Swans supporters would think I’m a turncoat and traitor to finally sever my support for the club for ephemeral things like this, Buddy’s clothing line :
Instead, these same people would claim that I and others making this kind of stand about Buddy should leave politics and consideration of sexism out of our sport supporting. But many can’t, anymore than a club fundamentalist can sway from supporting their team no matter what happens.
It is for this reason I will continue to enjoy sport as a spectator, separated from having the type of rusted on passion that we have seen from RBB members and from Swans supporters who love the idea of
Buddy missing from a set shot Buddy scoring a goal from the sideline in the red and the white.