Are you match day experienced?

As published by The Footy Almanac, 8 April 2015

As a football child of the early ‘Eighties, weaned on the terraces of Victoria Park and bum-numbing bench seats of Waverley, I’ve experienced a lot of match days. Probably somewhere in the region of 500.

Wide-eyed kids notice a lot of things that as an adult you don’t see or no longer give a toss about.  Besides that which directly relates to the game, it’s the peripheral stuff and rituals that add up to make it Bruce McAvaney special.  Now as a father of 6 and 8 year olds I’ve come full circle, and the little things I’m seeing again through their eyes.  Early days it’s an adventure that you hope has them hooked.

Along the journey I’ve come to the Earth shattering conclusion that apart from my team winning the best MDE is curated by the fans; not confected by the League, commercial partners, ground announcers, well meaning venues or club marketing departments.

March together!  Dance now!  Roar louder!  Kiss now!  Clap harder!

Oh pls, STFU!

Naively, I held out hope the AFL’s push down to venues and clubs might herald a new dawn of fan focused delights for those who make the effort to extricate themselves from the comforts of home.  If what I witnessed at the MCG’s Carlton v Richmond season opener is an indication of what’s in store then I’m going to poop on this party.

Having spent a motza on ground encircling LEDs, the MCG’s new toy caused more aggravation than Captain Carlton and his ridiculous hovercraft ‘Betty Blue’.  Besides the danger posed to epileptics, some fans bedazzled by the brightness and unyielding distraction of the ever changing billboards even reported suffering headaches.  Watching on TV engendered the same conclusion; this is technology designed to maximise profit, not enhance the spectacle or fan engagement.

After being assured betting agencies would no longer pollute the scoreboard, lighting up the ground as an invasive Bet365 billboard during play was disgracefully sharp conduct.  Additionally, it would be interesting to know whether players attempting set shots at goal were put off by downtown Vegas behind the sticks.  If the League and clubs (who control the content) were truly serious about MDE and creating a sense of home, why not replicate the old banners draped around the ‘G on Grand Final day?  And while they’re at it, keep them static until the breaks.  Then give sponsors carte blanche to foot the game’s bills. 

A distant memory, particularly for Tigers fans; BET NOW kiddies! 

I always considered cheer squads as being a primary driver of the match day vibe.  In recent years several have been decimated by dictatorial club hierarchies.  Up until ten years ago Collingwood  boasted the largest assembly with the most floggers, the biggest banners and the loudest support.  By comparison, last year’s cheerless squad was as healthy as a mute anorexic on oxygen.  It’s no wonder given club management sacked them and made them reapply, stripped banner making duties and enforced a ‘ten commandments‘ (there was actually 15) to the media gagged remainder willing to stump up the exorbitant fee.

Of course some might say run throughs are passé – a waste of time and paper – but don’t underestimate the charm they hold for the kids.  As a youngster, finding out what poetic mastery was on the banner, watching the duffle coated zealots strain themselves hauling it up and praying wind would rip the other team’s to shreds was a major plank of old school MDE.  In addition to the basic chants that would quickly envelope the ground and lift the team, phone book snowstorms behind the goals also made for a carnival atmosphere.  Don’t get me wrong, the game itself was first and foremost, but if the AFL is to snare the next generation, working out what equates to a desirable MDE is indeed important.

What poor old Fitzroy would give for a match day experience; Footy snowdome

Marching to the ground like sheep and the incessant chanting and unfathomable politics of the tribal soccer dynamic (seemingly more importance than the game itself) is not the model I’d like to see in AFL.  However, Port Adelaide’s lauded pre-match variation on the ‘you’ll never walk alone’ call to arms succeeds because it stirs emotions, it’s been embraced by fans and there is no obvious ulterior commercial motive.

peanut man
Peanuts, peanuts!

Back in the day there was also random characters such as the peanut man (John Boyd), ‘Hoges’ the can collector (a slightly derelict Paul Hogan lookalike) and any number of larrikins you’d count on seeing week to week.  Back to my initial point, it was the personalities on both sides of the fence and the way the crowd was invested in the game which fed on itself and made it The Big League.  Not choreographed dancers, fireworks or other Yankeephelia.

And if the AFL is serious about growing the game and encouraging diverse participation then curtain raisers are an easy no-brainer.  Hours of downtime before the first bounce could surely be replaced by TAC Cup, VFL, women’s footy, multicultural games or RecLink Football League.

Creating a fantastical MDE is a bit like attempting to throw the party to end all parties.  The key is not trying too hard.  Don’t go for contrived party games when the guests are still sober.  Let the drinks flow, play some decent tunes and the fun will start organically.  Be the enabler, not the ringleader.  People will find their own rhythm; fans don’t want to be treated as props or directed like movie extras.

Embed from Getty Images

@JeffDowsing

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