We’ve lost our sense of play when it comes to barracking for teams. Going to the footy should be a joyous occasion where we dress up in club colours, cheer, support, barrack and banter with fellow supporters regardless of who they barrack for. It should be an escape from day-to-day pressures and a safe haven from the increasingly divided and angst-ridden world we live in.
Yet, over the years, ever so gradually, banter has transformed into mean-spirited sledging, where fans take aim at opposition players, and each other, in very personal, sinister, hurtful ways.
This is not entirely new: recall the fans who booed Adam Goodes; so much so, Goodes considered abandoning the game altogether.
Those who partake in mean-spirited sledging in the grandstands justify their actions by stating they paid for a ticket so they can do what they want. “Freedom of speech,” they proclaim. They then take aim at those not enjoying their aggressive discourse as being soft, or easily offended.
Well, you can’t buy yourself a ticket to be bad person. And let’s be honest, it’s hard to find the good in trolling, throwing punches and hurling beer over TV hosts.
The AFL should be worried about these incidents, all which occurred over the course of one week. Rather than highlight the positives, they should take great offence at the behaviour of those who seek to ruin the footy experience for others.
If they don’t, parents will stop taking their kids to the footy and the family game will be no longer.
When I was in my early teens, my family sat in the middle of Essendon and Sydney fans who bantered all day long. They didn’t know each other, but they were funny. Their comments had those around them laughing. They even made each other laugh, and by the time we got to three-quarter time, they decided to have a beer together.
When the siren sounded, Essendon had won by three goals. The Sydney fan walked down the aisle and shook the Essendon fan’s hand, wished him luck, and told him he’d had a great day.
While anger divides, play unites. So, lighten up. It’s only a game.
Sam Duncan is a regular columnist and a lecturer in sports media and marketing.